“That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre
In the beginning, there was life, vicious but harmonious life. That life grew and morphed while eons passed. Life split off from itself as tree branches to receive the sun, and each branch received its own power. One gained self-awareness named itself human.
At the dawn of that first intelligence human beings looked up and found themselves alone and exposed, fragile and lost. Unable to cope with such suffering humans shouted to the heavens “Let there be God!” And so it was, and nature, seeing what they had created prostrated herself before her creation, and man, seizing his new power, prostrated himself before his.
“Among all the creatures of creation, the gods favor us: We are the only ones who can empathize with their problems.”
― David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
The Gods have been with us since we became who we are, religion is part of our evolution. Through them, we found meaning, we found a reason to cooperate, and we were able to explore who we were from the safety of a celestial stage.
This universe is cruel and deaf to human suffering. We need these agents working on our behalf. Having a being, or beings, to pray to, to hear our cries, and to offer rewards for struggling and sacrifice makes life a little easier. It gives us hope and keeps us optimistic is the face of hard, confusing times, and death. The Gods provided a means to bend this world to our will, if only we behaved and believed just right.
Having a God to answer to and power beyond our own to fear encourages cooperation, compassion, and self-control. Societies may not have formed if it were not for religion and ritual to bind us and keep us struggling toward a common goal. We might not have worked so hard to overcome ourselves if there were not a picture of perfection in the sky to strive for.
We needed not just an explanation for the way the stars moved in the sky, the way the seasons changed, and why bad things happened. We needed to explain ourselves, who and what we are and where we came from. We needed stories to justify and glorify. We needed ritual and punishment. We needed a celestial companion, who would make it all right and make it all meaningful.
The Gods were the answer for why we live, how we should live, and what would become of us when we cease living. Religion made tolerance of stress and suffering a virtue and promised rewards for enduring, and punishment for refusing. The Gods gave us a place to give up your worry and uncertainty to a higher power and get on with the business of building our world.
But the Gods didn’t just provide the individual meaning, they also facilitated the formation of societies. Religion keeps us all on the same page, it kept us working together and cooperating. It kept our eyes on a higher purpose so we can let the pesky problem of individuality go and keep our place and purpose. Religion justifies the hierarchy.
“That wasn’t any act of God. That was an act of pure human fuckery.”
― Stephen King, The Stand
The Gods are said to have made us in their image. I believe it happened the other way around. I believe that God was created in our image and as proof, I point out just how jealous, fearful, cruel, incoherent, and ignorant every God ever created has been.
I point to how easily each of us can find justification for whatever worldview we wish to impose on others in any religion with a God to sign off. I point to the diabolical among us who’ve found it so easy to use these cruel and ignorant Gods to humiliate, massacre, and wreak havoc on the rest of humanity and how easily they have found followers. The Gods, it seems, do our bidding, not the other way around.
Then again, whether any gods exist or not, or whether religion has been for the better or the worst in human history is a moot point isn’t it? Like money, race, class, and gender roles, all human constructs may be illusions but the have real world meaning, purpose, and consequence. Religion has meant something to humans and every human life and lineage has been impacted by it. Whether your ancestors were saints or burned at steaks, you have been shaped by a God.
The Gods are hard-wired into our genes and into our culture. They serve a need, a deep, primordial need that is in all of us, even the most iron-willed atheist.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
When Nietzsche said “God is dead” it was not in triumph, he was mourning what we had killed in ourselves. He was grieving our loss. We are clutching at knowledge hand over fist and the more we gain, the weaker the Gods become. There is not much left for them to give us and more and more their comfort is hollow and their promises empty. We have left open a gap in human need and provided nothing for the human spirit. We are all, even the believers left among us, now starving for spirituality.
Nietzsche spoke specifically of the loss of morality, but religion has provided so much more. We have lost our answers. We have lost our structure, our purpose, and the hope we had of eternity. We have lost our celestial stage and our celestial companions. We have only loneliness, fragility, and the absurd. We have suffering and eventual extinction, that is all.
I may not know much about religion, I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I know about that need. I envy those who still have such comforts.
I wish God was real. I wish heaven were real. Even hell would be preferable to passing on to nothing at all. I wish there were a being, any being who looked down on me and cared for my little life. I wish I could earn something more than the lot I was handed at birth. I wish for miracles and eternity. I wish to ease my suffering and find peace and closure. I wish God could hear me, but I know there is nowhere I will find him but within myself.
It is strange to have an illusion be ingrained as deeply as my DNA. I am aware of the illusion, but I may never be truly free of it. Evolution has not carried us that far but I hope one day far from now humans will find what they need with a firm hold on reality. I believe one day we will have the power to look at the world just the way it is in just the right way, we can find something there to honor and suffer for.
Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.