Monday, February 11, 2013

How Like A God

I had an interesting discussion a while back, on the topic of how "atheists want to be their own gods".

Now... I never know quite what to say when that particular accusation comes up. To be honest, I don't really understand what it's supposed to mean. Are we supposed to want to worship ourselves? If so, how? By composing little hymns to praise our power and wisdom, maybe? I don't know about you, but I could only do that if I were being ironic - if I were making fun of myself. Am I supposed to want to think that I'm the most important thing around? That doesn't make any sense either. I do all sorts of things - for my wife and children, to pick easy examples, but also for complete strangers - that I wouldn't even consider if I were trying to look at myself as the most important thing in the Universe.

The least nonsensical interpretation that I've been able to come up with is that maybe I'm being accused of wanting to decide for myself what's right and wrong. The problem there is, well... Everybody does that. You can base your decisions on what you think God wants, or you can base your decisions on something else - the Golden Rule, say, or some sort of Utilitarianism - but you still have to decide for yourself what's right and wrong. This is why it's possible to have Catholics who use birth control, for example.

I'm probably overthinking it, though. If I pull back a little, it really just sounds like someone flailing around verbally. It's the sort of thing you'd say if you just couldn't wrap your mind around the idea that it's possible to not worship anything.

But, while discussing the accusation, one of the people I was chatting with asked: "Could we make ourselves gods?"

And that reminded me of a line from L.E. Modesitt - I think it's in The Parafaith War - which notes that as technology advances, worshippers have to make more and more dramatic claims about what their deity can do, just to keep up. (I'm paraphrasing.)

A great many things that we take for granted today - instantaneous communication with nearly anyone, the ability to see things happening miles or even continents away, bubbling magic potions that reliably cure your stomach aches, reliable transportation at ridiculous speeds - would have seemed miraculous not so many generations back. Even a lot of the abilities that were previously the province of gods and demi-gods can be reproduced by human beings now; the Ark of the Covenant was said to have struck down fifty thousand and seventy Bethshemites in one go, but the man-made destruction of Hiroshima accounted for at least three times that.

Are we our own gods? No, I don't think so. But I think that someone from a couple of centuries back would hard-pressed to tell the difference.

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of this for some reason: "Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say 'YES'!"


Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!