A Petition to GodSlayers

This is a petition to all the God Slayers out there. I will not ask you to stop slaying the Gods who live in the homes of your relatives, peers, or neighbors. I only ask that you think about why they exist.

Like you, I am free from the tyranny of Gods. My fate is something I control. I am grateful for this freedom. I imagine you are too. I don’t think you are the warmongers the media make you out to be. You do not slay Gods for sport. You slay Gods because Gods are delusions. They do not exist. They are excuses for events and phenomenon that have real causes.  You believe the idea of God and magic robs the individual of agency over his or her own fate. Gods are tyrants of fate. You want people to be free. After all, if “Sam” didn’t explain everything with that one silly delusion, she might be able to see the actual causes. She might be able to change her fate.

The rejection of God and other forms of magic is agency, control, and autonomy. It’s freedom. The question I raise, is what allows us to take this freedom.

I think the common assumption is that our freedom from God is taken through knowledge. That through rationality and empirical evidence we can coolly assess that God do not exist. The belief in God(s) is then seen as stemming from ignorance. In our information driven society knowledge equates to (some) social mobility and power. From this perspective, belief in God (sustained ignorance) limits individual growth, progress, and is detrimental.

I want to suggest an alternative theory.

The problem I see with tying a belief in God to a state of ignorance is that it ignores function of supernatural explanation in human life. Supernatural explanations serve to provide psychological relief in the face of uncertainty. For example, prehistoric humans see lighting; it is terrifying, random, and completely unknown. So they create a God/supernatural force to explain it.

Now this is where you kick in and say, “but we can actually explain it.” Yes—in that case—but what other sources of uncertainty in human life? What about Death. Gods provide psychological relief for the phenomenon of death and its uncertainty. You are able to cut ties with Gods and other forms of supernatural explanation, not because of a higher level of knowledge, but because of a higher level of affluence. You do not actively grapple the uncertainty of death, thus you have no immediate need of Gods or other supernatural explanations for protection.

If you are reading this, the assumption I am making is that you: live in an affluent country, have a high degree of education, nutrition, and economic opportunity. If all these things, or even some of them, are true, then Death is not immediacy in your life.  You don’t worry about your death or the death of your loved ones on a daily basis. Life divorced from death is pretty much a novelty of the 20th century. A novelty afforded to those with significant privilege.  I expect to live into my 80s, if not much farther. I do not worry about dying tomorrow, or in the next five years. I imagine you don’t either. Our lives lack the all encompassing uncertainty that demands supernatural explanation.

Now try to imagine the type of people who need Gods. Their lives have limited agency. They are old, seeing death potentially looming over the next decade of their lives, or young and lacking the education or material resources to see socio-economic progression as possible. There are people who must eat fast food daily. There are people who must work jobs of hard labor for decades.  People whose life expectancies will reflect these limited opportunities. If a person grows up in an environment where friends, children, and community members dying is a common occurrence, where living to 50 is impressive, Death is a constant reality, a reality they must in someway grapple with.

My petition to God Slayers is not to embrace God, but to understand why other people do.

It is not that they are waiting to be pulled from ignorance. God and supernatural explanation are necessary given the circumstance of their life. You might find someday, when you are old and dying, or if your community suffers the unexpected residency of death that you too demand an explanation. God gives some control to people whose lives afford them little other options for control. It is unfair to ask people to abandon this explanation when you have no alternative to give them.

The rational/empirical explanation is not an alternative, because it does not provide comfort. What it provides is a potential for transformation. For some people that is comforting, but it can also be a tremendous burden trying to actualize that potential. One more thing to fail at. Also, we must accept that some situations are beyond immediate transformation.  In such situations, it’s cruel to tell people their suffering is due to their own ignorance/inefficiency, because ending that suffering is a historical rather than personal endeavor.

                        

What is the harm in believing in Gods? I agree that Gods and other supernatural forces are delusions, fictions of various cultures. But fiction isn’t irrevocably harmful. We tend to conflate “Truth” and “Goodness” but the two are separate entities. Having the truth doesn’t mean you will not do harm. It does not make you good. There are plenty of people who posses correct explanations and use them for immense harm; there are plenty who live in fiction and are tender, loving, agents.

If your parents, children, friends, believe in God or other supernatural explanations. Why is it so bad? In most cases these explanations are not actively harming people. They provide the comforts of nostalgia and routine to the chaos of life. The cases where they are harmful are extremes that should not be used as representations of the whole. If you really think your friend’s belief is hurting them, I guess that is a different matter, but I would be careful about making such a judgment. It is impossible to know the screws and bolts that hold another person together. I know for a fact that without a great deal of fictions I consume on a regular basis I would find it hard to motivate my life. God may be a delusion, but not all delusions are bad. Before you brandish your sword, use that gift of rationality  to weigh the actual costs and benefits.

Lastly, I would encourage you to reflect about why you are a God Slayer. I used to be God Slayer. The reason I attack Gods was not to help people, it was for an ego boost. It made me feel secure about myself and powerful to think I could slay Gods. I am not saying this is your motivation, but I would ask you to think about it. The hardest thing to do is to sheath a sword. We gain wondrous weapons, and feel compelled to use them. It can seem that if we put them down for a second they will rust. I say this not just about intellect and reason, but muscle, and charm as well. There are many skills that make a person powerful. These skills become weapons to attack the ideas and meaning of others. There are times when attack is necessary, but to attack everything is not the pursuit of truth, it is violence.

The Limitations of Identity

In a culture that claims to have shed notions of caste and fate, every individual bares the burden of exceptionalism. In a country of idols and virtual celebrities, the realm of greatness no longer belongs to seasoned masters and virtuosos. Greatness is granted to the unique and bold. This mundane exceptionalism is perhaps a heavier burden than fate, because if being yourself, truly and fully, defines greatness, what does that say to us who are not yet great? Are we in some way not truly ourselves? Or is our “self” somehow inferior? The only bearable answer is to blame the arena. We do not shine because this is not our stage. And here we find the purpose of identity, setting our stage.

Identities broadcast desired arenas of interaction. Situations, topics, locations that we want to go because they are safe places we feel confident, sure, and bold. We establish identities to establish these arenas. And in that work, conversation and interaction is reduced to personality warfare.

For example, the person who wishes to establish themselves as smart assaults people with a war chest of facts, quotes, beliefs, and authors; anything to turn interaction into debate.

For to person who wishes to secure the role of “funny” every word is filtered through sarcasm, allusion, and joke. Conversation is not a means of aquiring information, it is an infiinte jest.

For the person who wants a role of status, interaction is a constant reminder of their conections, their history, who they know.

When these three types (along with all the other types) are put into the same room, the same interaction, what to do, and what to say, becomes a fight to establish each individuals desired stage. Instead of listening and reacting. Instead of taking chances with new thoughts— or just thinking less—people chain themselves to these identities. They tell the same stories and maxims. Suggest the same activities. They believe these identities set them apart. They believe by knowing how to state exactly who they are, they are “free” and “enlightened.” They are not.

The free and the enlightened do not  limit the possibility of what they might become. If everywhere you go, with everyone you meet you talk about the same things, in the same way. You play the same games, and live in the same small bubble of interaction, you are trapped. You are trapped by the idea that you must have an identity; that you cannot be plural; that you must choose instead of being everything at once. You are trapped by the safety of a world that makes you feel powerful.

Americans spend much time deciding which role to pursue (smart one, funny one, wise one, caring one, loyal one, strong one, etc). Once they have decided, there is a great pressure to secure this role for themselves. Abandon this notion. Joy comes not from dominating one role, but from the freedom of being everything. People are smart, sensitive, strong, stoic, chimeras. Relinquish the role you fight so hard for.  Don a mask, go out, and play.

Intellecutal Abuse

Where for previous generations the significant question was “right or wrong”, for many Americans today the more important question is smart or dumb. We love our amoral geniuses, our Sherlocks, our Houses, our Da Vinci’s, brilliant individuals whose cruelty, depravity, and at times immorality we allow because it comes wrapped in neat logic and dazzling intelligence. TV shows like Dexter or Breaking Bad suggest that the modern hero isn’t a hero at all; he is an intelligent villain. Why is that? When people use physical prowess to manipulate and belittle others we call it abuse. Why then when they mental prowess do we celebrate it? Is there even a difference? Let’s look at an example:

Allen is at a bar. He sees a pretty girl, and wants some way to impress her. There two guys laughing loudly at the table across from him. He knows he can take them. So he goes over glaring at the two, and says “Shut up.”

What has Allen done? He has effectively created a stage to display his best attribute: arm and torso muscles. If the men comply, it shows he is superior. If they don’t—good—he’d prefer a fight. He’s seen enough Disney movies to know that no one likes the guy who swings his fists for no reason, but if they attacked him, then he could really show off. Allen is giving the two men no choice. Even by declining they are not avoiding a physical confrontation, they are losing one. Allen has forced them to be his foils, pulled them into a physical contest against their will for the sake of making himself look better.

Now let’s look at another example.

Allen is at a diner party. He sees a pretty girl, and wants some way to impress her. Two guys are chatting across the table about Communism. Just from hearing the level of vocabulary they use, the ideas they are exhorting, he knows he can take them. So with a cocky smile he cuts their conversation, “That’s not what Marx means at all.”

What has Allen done? He has effectively created a stage to display his best attribute: his brain muscle. If the men comply, it shows him to be superior, if they don’t—good—he’d prefer a fight. He’s seen enough Disney movies to know that no one likes the guy who doesn’t know when to shut up about what he knows, but if they attacked him first then he could really show off his argumentation. Allen is giving the two men no choice. Even by declining they are not avoiding a mental confrontation, they are losing one. Allen has forced them to be his foils, pulled them into an intellectual contest against their will for the sake of making himself look better.

What is the difference between bar Allen and diner party Allen? There isn’t one. Both men force others (against their will) into their arena of dominance. Allen from the bar pulling them into a physical confrontation, Allen from the dinner party pulling them into a mental confrontation. Both are acts of aggression.

In large, society criticizes forcing physical confrontation. It still happens, but on a much smaller scale. On many public stages forced physical confrontation is both socially and legally unacceptable. The result of this is that young men (and women) who have the muscles to physically dominate learn to suppress the urge to. They can’t just hit someone or wrestle him to the ground to create a winning scenario for themselves. Alternatively, there is no such norm or law for forcing mental confrontation. Young men and women who can remember greater amounts of information, or who are make quicker mental connections, can logically pummel and pin whomever they want. Some readers might argue, “There is a difference between hitting someone and proving them to be illogical.” I disagree.

Being able to give or take a hit largely depends on commitment, namely a commitment to certain groupings of muscle. I choose not to lit weights or do abs-workouts on any regular basis. Because of this my arms and abs are underdeveloped. I know how to do these things. At one time I did do these things, but because of life, time, stress, and other passions I choose to stop practicing. My arms and abs are out of shape.

Being logical is also a product of practice. Some one can know how to be logical, they might have been very good at it in college, but because of life, time, stress, and other passions they choose to stop practicing. They are mentally out of shape.Or maybe they are fit, but not training to be a heavyweight. Either way, it is the individual’s freedom to be weak, physically or mentally weak. I can choose not to devote time to lifting or curling or crunching. Another person can choose not to devote time to reading or writing or thinking. Neither of us deserves to be attacked for it.

As someone who loves ideas, and avidly trains to be mentally stronger, it is easy to criticize ideas and decisions, to keep a running count of thoughts and point out any and all contradictions, to don the seat of authority and gleefully repel every attempt to take it from me. These are the behaviors of an intellectual thug. Might doesn’t make right. Neither does intellectual might. Just because you can convince someone of something, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can point out the weakness in someone’s thought, doesn’t mean you have the right too.