How hard would it be to kill a god?
Let’s take the big one. The god that calls himself God. The great I am. How hard would it be to convince the majority of those who currently believe in him and live according to his word to the best of their abilities, that he is not real? We started this blog with the famous Time Magazine cover lamenting the potential death of God. What would it mean to successfully bring the human race to an agreement that the idea of HIM is silly?This weekend I found out.It’s disheartening. It’s also astonishing.The human mind is capable of incredible things when it feels threatened.
We know that religion was conceived in the minds and hearts of people who were afraid. Afraid of nature, afraid of death, afraid of losing those they loved. Of being alone. Of a life that has no large scale purpose. If you look at virtually any of the world religions, they attack all or most of these fears. Any religion or world view that fails to attack these fears on behalf of the poor mind it has infected is not long for this world. This is why deism/atheism/agnosticism have all struggled, but also why I’m cautiously optimistic about our future. Science is helping us, more and more, to understand these fears, the mind, and the world, and our knowledge is increasingly giving us an understanding that fills some of these needs.In the beginning, science began rooting out some of our simpler fears, like thunder. Eclipses. Storms and the oceans.The more we understood these fears, the less we feared them.And consequently, the less we needed hundreds of gods to represent each of them. Now science and philosophy are beginning to give us a better understanding of the greater fears. Listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about our bodies as “star dust” and see science begin to assuage our fear of being meaningless. As we begin to better understand the state we assume when we die, we are only now starting to realize that it is not a state to fear. Our brain activity slows and ceases, and while we will be alone, we will have no concept of it. We will be at peace, because we simply will cease to be. The real terror is the concept of eternity. Living forever, unable to die or cease, even existence must become monotonous. Anyone enthusiastic about eternal life hasn’t given it enough thought.My co-blogger, Jon wrote a beautiful short piece on this concept of knowledge on the march, and I hope he’ll publish it here, as it is more eloquent than I’m capable of. He it as science chasing and overcoming the many gods as they retreat to the deeper, murkier, more mysterious places. But as science continues on the march, these gods have fewer and fewer places to hide. I’ll stop there, as I’m essentially plagiarizing at this point. Thanks, Jon.
This weekend, I had a friend in town, and I decided to take him to one of the best kept secrets in Louisville, Ky., the fantastic Muhammed Ali Center. It’s a museum dedicated to the Louisville native, cultural icon, and three-time heavyweight champion of the world. Ali is arguably the greatest boxer in modern history. He was a powerful puncher, but not overwhelmingly so. The way that Ali defeated his opponents was by out-thinking, and being much, much faster than them. Watching him fight was fascinating.As his often more powerful opponent would chase him through the ring, Ali would dance and bob, and circle away. His opponent would plod forward, as Ali danced and skipped around, seeming to have unlimited energy. If he was cornered against he ropes he would slip away, or he would do the “Rope-A-Dope” and block as his opponent fired away, with punch after punch. As Ali withstood the storm, his opponent became exhausted. His head would dart back and forth like a hummingbird. It was rare to see anyone ever land a clean shot.
During some matches, if he had particular disdain for an opponent, he would talk to them during the match. During his title match with George Foreman, he was pummeled during one exchange, and then as he and Foreman locked up in a clinch, he whispered “Is that all you got?” Foreman later recalled the bout and said “Yep. That was about it.” Another fighter, Ernie Terrell had famously refused to call Ali by his newly adopted Muslim name, instead referring to him as Cassius Clay, his birth name. During the bout, Ali pounded Terrell, and repeatedly shouted “What’s my name?” at him.
The next day Jon, myself, and our friend Aaron all travelled to the Creation Museum in Northeast Kentucky. As I said earlier, I was amazed at the ability of the human mind to ignore evidence, delude and confuse itself, and maintain a belief that it sees as self-preservatory in the face of overwhelming evidence. When I began to see atheism as not just the unfortunate, undeniable truth, but as a beautiful, preferable alternative to religion, I began to understand that religion can’t just be ignored, but should be dealt with. It has negative effects on people and cultures. It distracts us from the people who love us and divides us in favor of a non-existent god. It creates rifts in families, friendships, and marriages. It is the impetus for war. It points to a “heaven” that serves only to make this amazing world around us seem tedious and broken by comparison. I was convinced that a good punch in the mouth with a balled up fist of reason was all most people would eventually need to come around. What the Creation Museum has taught me is that thought, like most of my initial thoughts about things, was foolish.
Here we saw a multi-million dollar altar of self-deception. In the face of overwhelming evidence, this museum created an expensive, colorful, interactive argument that was paper-thin and full of holes. But it serves it’s purpose. The majority of it’s attendees desperately want it to be true. They have taught their children based on it’s truth, they have lived based on it’s truth, they have given up very much, and stand to lose very much, should this paper-thin argument full of holes ever break to pieces inside their mind. They are rooting for the Creation Museum to work on them. God help them (literal translation) if it fails.
So when the PHD from Vanderbilt who’s either the master of self-deception or an outright snake-oil salesman (I’m not sure which. Perhaps both?) tells them that fossils are virtually worthless as sources of evidence, they laugh and nod in approval. And later when he builds an argument against the real greatest story ever told, Jurassic Park, by listing all of the systems of dinosaurs that would need to change for them to become birds, like the respiratory system, the digestive system, and the scales on their skin; no one reminds him that all of those assumptions he’s just made about respiratory systems and scales all come from, well… fossils. We are told that the theory of an earth merely 6,000 years old is just another interpretation of the evidence, augmented of course by an important source of information, the Bible. Of course in their mind, the Bible is a primary source, written by a single entity (God) who was present for all of this. Cave-drawings that resemble dinosaurs prove that men lived alongside dinosaurs. How could a man draw something he’d never seen? We can know dinosaurs existed just like we know Spiderman and Calvin & Hobbes all existed. Because no one can ever just imagine anything. Except here at the Creation Museum, we’re experts in imagination. It’s holy fan-fiction, as credible as the tightest, most thoroughly researched argument from the most unbiased scientist on the planet, as long as both sides, seller and buyer, are working together.
Now, let me turn my attention for a moment. You there. Yes, you. The christian in the corner. I see you. You’re the one who’s forward-thinking. You with the liberal interpretation of the Bible, seeing Genesis as figurative, and likely enjoying this read. The simple-minded literalists are nothing like you, right? Yeah, I see you over there. How can you laugh at this? This is all being presided over by your god. Your perfect god who provided the perfect book, and has the perfect plan, and never leads one of his sheep astray, has allowed his message to become so convoluted and open to interpretation, that he reigns over the lives of literalists and liberals. Fanatical abortion-clinic bombers, and humble charity workers both do so under his obscure guidance. Where is your god when this Confusion Museum and it’s patrons are fooling each other with convoluted twists of logic to make a god-shaped peg fit into a logic-shaped hole? When the world stands by and mocks them because it’s just so foolish, where is he? How can you believe in God when he presides over this kid-centered funhouse of deception as his kingdom? He created it all. You’re ignoring just as much basic evidence and simple common sense as the literalist. I was right there with you. I understand. But reason is calling you, calling you home.
You look away. Maybe you roll your eyes, but you can’t tell me why. You sheepishly (double pun!) mutter that God isn’t responsible for the behavior of his followers. That you can’t let bad christians divide you from God. And now you’ve chosen your side. And herein we find why I was so foolish to think that a mind could be changed so easily. God living within our mind is Muhammed Ali between the ropes. He is brilliant. Stunning to watch. Mesmerizing. Our basic understanding of science and history can swing at him with an iron-fist and his head will dart like a water bug out of the way. We will chase him, track him, and cut off the ring, but we will find that in most minds there are no ropes. Nowhere god can be cornered. He backpedals from our arguments, popping us in the mouth here and there with cliches and logical fallacies. The home crowd is rooting for the champ, and they cheer as we stalk him with our better and better understanding of this world, aiming to deliver a blow that will turn out the lights on his reign. He is laughing at us and mocking us. “What’s my name? I AM THAT I AM.” He derisively shouts. He throws weak jabs at us that don’t really sting, but the audience is enthralled with his skill. Once we’ve discussed carbon-dating, and fossil evidence, and rock layers, and the size of the universe, and string theory, and simple psychology that explains your love affair with this false savior, we find ourselves out of breath. God whispers through the delusional mouth of the trapped fundamentalist… “Is that all you’ve got?”
We shrug our shoulders, and sigh. “Yup. That’s about it.”