God

“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.

***

 

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Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter G under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Lukas Bornhauser on Unsplash
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Jean-Paul Sartre on Freedom and Responsibility

“I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

I have been interested in Sartre for a long time, but I haven’t yet gotten around to reading his most famous book Being and Nothingness. From what I have read about him, though, his philosophy sounds like something I could definitely get behind.

Sartre was an existentialist. He followed and endorsed a philosophy that faces the weirder and more painful aspects of the human condition, and attempted to shed light on the truth of the human condition. At the center is the fact that humans are alone, and we are wholly responsible for what we do in life. There are no single sets of rules and no single meaning for any of us and to believe in such things is to believe in an illusion.

The philosophy sounds depressing, but when you study it, think about it, and come out of the other side gives us a better sense of freedom and optimism.

I may not have read him, but I have collected a few of his quotes. Taken out of context I can’t be sure what he means, but some speak to me nonetheless. My favorites have to do with humans accepting the fact that God does not exist. I don’t want to debate this because the point isn’t whether God is or isn’t real the point is that for people who know he doesn’t exist the realization, despite appearances, can be jarring and upsetting.

“That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.”

 Jean-Paul Sartre

As most religious people assume, letting go of God does leave quite a void. The trick, and for some nonbelievers, the entire crux of it all, is to face the hard truth. You have to accept that the emptiness inside you is a reality. To deny it is to lie to yourself and to waste your life in lies. Existentialism begins with seeing that humans are untethered and free. As Sartre would see, our existence comes before our essence. We are here before we have a purpose. If there is a God, things are the other way around.

Now, facing these facts are hard. So, of course, most humans spend their whole lives running from it all. We would rather believe we have to do this or that, that we have rules and have to follow social constructs. We would rather give up our freedom of choice and say that our purpose and plan was laid out before we got here, and further give it up by believing that we must do this or that once we are here than deal with the uncomfortable fact that at any time we can do anything we like.

“We are left alone, without excuse.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Whenever you think you can’t leave your job, you can’t leave your spouse, you can’t pick up and move to Austrailia, you are lying. You can, you always can. To say you cannot is to lie to yourself, and remember, lying to yourself only limits the quality of the life you will have.

It isn’t easy for us to do those things, but it isn’t impossible. The biggest hurdle is capitalism, and from what I understand,  Satre had some things to say about that too. Capitalism makes us feel trapped.

The point is you should never let yourself get stuck. Never forget you have more freedom than ever feels possible. And as we all know, with great power, comes great responsibility. You are free and with that freedom, the option of blaming anyone else for who you are and what you do is no longer available.

The loneliness, the freedom, and the responsibility are all scary things but to turn from them is to turn away from seeing the world for what it is and enjoying all that life has to offer. You have only one life, don’t waste it on illusions. I don’t mean God entirely, I mean the illusion that whatever you have is all there is and that all there is is what other people say you can have.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Just like any philosophy the entire truth of being is not contained in any one but a little bit of wisdom can be found in each. There are things I don’t agree with Sartre on exactly.

For example, I agree that for humans, existence proceeds essence. There is no implicit purpose in our design. I also agree that there is no designer. I don’t agree that there is no design. DNA  gives us our design and to some extent determines some of our nature. The way Sartre has explained things, I think he means to say that each human being starts as a blank slate, and that isn’t true.

I believe there may be some limits on what we can and can’t do; I just believe there aren’t as many as we think there are. We have much, much more freedom than we can ever imagine. The sad part is we act in ways that limit our own freedom, both as individuals and a society.

I hope to read Sartre’s work soon, and I hope to pull as much wisdom as I can from him. I will treat him as I would any other great mind. I will take what makes sense, what can work for me, and what I think will improve this world and use it. The rest I will toss. From what I have heard of the man I expect to keep more than I throw away.

“Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”

 Jean-Paul Sartre

***

Written in honor of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 111th birthday.

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G is for “The God”

People died all the time and for most of them, the first thing they wanted to do was speak God.

I couldn’t tell you how long I had been waiting. The line was very long so I know it was a long time. Things didn’t change much here. Day and night didn’t follow one another the way the did on Earth, not that we could have seen it anyway. The waiting room had no windows. It had great furniture, though, very modern, very minimalist, very gray. I am guessing it had been at least a few years.

“Danny Hamilton, God will see you now.”

I was startled by the sound of my name. I hadn’t heard it in a while. I walked to the desk and she motioned me back. There were glass front doors all along the hallway and I walked back worrying I wouldn’t know the right door to enter. Turns out I had no reason to worry, I knew the door when I saw it. His name right on the front, GOD. I knocked.

“Come in, come in!” God’s voice wasn’t as impressive as I’d imagined it would be. He sounded energetic but not entirely positive. I hesitated at the door wondering if I was in the right place.

“I said come in Danny! I have many people to see and no time to waste. Come in!”

I took a deep breath and readied myself to meet my maker. I opened the door slowly, my palms were sweating I was so nervous. A large desk came into view and then, a pair of Chuck Taylor’s propped up on the desk. I pushed this door faster, skinny jeans, a too tight shirt, oh my God, I couldn’t be in the right place. I don’t know what I expected exactly but I do know that what I saw was not it. God was one of those twenty-something start-up hipster douches.

His baby face was smooth, not clean-shaven, just smooth. I don’t think he could’ve grown a beard if he’d wanted to. His black, thick rimmed glasses looked plain but I assumed they were expensive. I wondered why God would need glasses and then realized they were fake, obviously.

“So, I assume you have questions for me. Go ahead.”

“Who are you?” That wasn’t what I came to ask but I guess it was the most obvious question given who I was looking at.

“Of course. I am that I am, just as you are that you are. I am the alpha and omega. I am love and light.” He didn’t even look at me when he said this. He was scrolling what looked like a tablet but was clearly a few generations past what I had last seen on Earth.

I was shocked. “What kind of answer is that? I thought you were a busy man? Don’t give me that crap.” I already assumed he was arrogant and full of himself, the way I assumed all twenty-something start-up hipsters douches were.

“Haha! Yes, one of the smart ones! Yes, we don’t have time to dilly-dally but there are so many who would be happy with this answer that I save more time by starting with it than by getting into the boring details. Details most are not actually here, to hear. Haha! Here? Hear? Did you see what I did there?”

I felt my mouth hanging open, and my forehead wrinkling in confusion. It was obvious someone on Earth had told a very big lie one day. This was not “God”.

“I know, I know, I am not what you expected. I used to apologize for that, not anymore. It isn’t my fault you all decided you knew who I was. I was telling the truth about my limited time though so please, ask what you came here to ask.”

Fine, God was an asshat but at least, I could still get my answers, my closure. I could move on from my life and this stupid conversation. Thank God I’d never been religious, I could tell this had nothing to do with anything they were teaching about creation or morality.

“If you are really God,” I squinted my eyes in suspicion here, “Then tell me, what are we, and why did you make us?”

“Ok, I am going to answer that but you have to promise not to get angry, I don’t like people yelling in my office. Do you promise?”

I nodded. Seriously, what the fuck is this?

“Where I am from is not so different from where you are from, the biggest difference is, for us, death comes slowly, an eternity in your time.”

“Because we live because we live so long nothing matters much. There was no passion, there is no fun. So, I looked around and saw everyone being all bored and blah and I thought to myself there is a great idea here somewhere, and sure enough there was.”

“What if we could live vicariously through beings who felt? Who clung to life because they could lose it at any moment. Beings who had to pack as much emotion and action into every minute in order to feel as much as we did until the end of time? What if I could make these being and charge a fee for others like me who wanted to see what life was like when there was so little of it?”

“I set up the parameters, free will, a basic set of emotions, and a planet with everything you could ever need. I had no idea you all were going to take it all in the direction you did and there were a few times I thought about wiping the slate clean and starting over, but subscriptions were through the roof and the feedback was good so we let you all go.”

“Humans are a hit and I owe all my success to your ability to be all at once conniving and downright evil and all so inspiring and beautiful, all in one little lifetime. Thank you.”

“Does that answer your question?”

I just sat there staring, speechless. I never thought speechless was a thing until now. I didn’t know where to start. I could not believe this is what I was hearing. I was angry.

I actually growled, “Wait, so, you created us because you were….bored?”

“You promised you wouldn’t get mad.”

“Fuck that! Do you have any idea what is happening down there? Do you have any idea what we are going through? People are hurting, people are dying, people are suffering. I can’t even tell you how incredibly disappointing this is. I can’t even begin to describe how much of a fuck up you are or how much I hate you in this moment.” I was fuming. My life hadn’t been so bad, as far as humans lives go, but there had been sadness, there had been loss, there had been confusion. This “God” in front of me could have made all that better. I was beyond fuming.

“Well, that is very typical of you. Most humans who get this far feel the same but that is because you all have developed a tendency toward skirting responsibility.”

“What the fuck responsibility did we have in this?”

“Look, I might have made you, but I didn’t make any of you do any of the stuff you did. I gave you a jewel of a world inside a bubble filled with enough beauty and mystery to keep you busy for eons. What did you do instead? You made up stories about me and set about destroying everything I had given you and each other, your only companions in creation. How is any of that my fault?”

He had a point, I suppose. Still, our flaws still had to be his fault. He could have made us better. We were his responsibility.

“You were supposed to help us.”

“No, you made that up. I didn’t promise anything I just wanted you all to have fun and be entertaining. You all sat around projecting your shit onto me and now you want to line up after death and take your shots? I have to say I honestly resent having words put in my mouth this way.”

“I might have created man, but you were the ones who created monsters. So I created a company and I let you be you. Now you tell me to do something about it. What do you want me to do? Do I take away your freedom? Would you have wanted to live without it?  Do I kill you all quickly or allow you to live and hopefully learn with the chance that you might kill yourselves in the end anyway? You tell me what to do?”

I pretended to think about that but I got his point immediately. I had nothing to respond. He might have made us for stupid reasons but a life was better than no life and any interference meant a loss of our autonomy. More than that I saw something else that let me know there was nothing let to say. Any human would have done worse for a quick buck and a little entertainment.

In that moment, I fully believed he was God and we were created in his image.

***

Author’s note: The plan for this challenge was to post small pieces of fiction that read more like excerpts rather than stories with a true beginning, middle, and end. I think instead, these have turned into something in between, some more, some less. Please bear with me, these are my first attempts at writing fiction. You can find them all under my AtoZ2016 tag.

Featured image via Pexels

In the Beginning There Was Physics, and It Was Good

“In the beginning, there was physics.”

― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Before time existed, it did not, and before there was any place at all there was no place. The human mind cannot fathom this and so we must concern ourselves with only what has come after and what has lead to the existence of us, Homo Sapians, the universe made conscious to observe and experience itself.

In the beginning, 13.8 billion years ago, there was only space and time. Out of no where they were sprung. There were one then, just as they are now, and they spread out all around in the Inflationary Epoch. Hotter than you can imagine,over 10 billion degrees, too hot for anything to exist, there was only energy and the one-unified force. Gradually this cooled ever so slightly and allowed the formation of particles and the beginning of gravity, which would come to dominate over everything.

In the beginning, there was no God, there were only neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons, and neutrinos. There was no heaven, and there was no hell, but there was in fact light. The very first photons were extremely powerful. The early universe must have looked dazzling as the free electrons scattered it the was droplets in a cloud do. Light was everywhere but there was no one there to see.

When those free electrons were absorbed to form neutral atoms, the Universe suddenly became transparent, but those same photons can still be observed today as the Cosmic Background Radiation.

A great battle would take place between the particles and anti particles. There were the protons and antiprotons. There neutrons and antineutrons. There were electrons and positrons. There were neutrinos and antineutrinos. Even though the photons showed up, they are their own antiparticle. They battled and when pairs met to fight they both were annihilated.

The universe keeps cooling. The last of the antiprotons and antineutrons annihilate with protons and neutrons and in the end there were a few more of one than the other. Protons and neutrons win out over the antimatter and the bask in their victory surrounded by a sea of radiation.

The Universe is just a fraction of a second old.

For minutes the remaining particles interact and interfere with one another, some turn from one type to another. The balance is thrown off and there are protons and neutrons everywhere, and they are hot. They with nothing more than to fuse together but the photons will not allow it. Things keep cooling, it’s been four minutes now and finally the fusion is allowed to begin but just a bit too late to make anything more than hydrogen and helium. The universe must exist for many, many million more years and await the first stars formation until we can get carbon.

At that time there was a grand emergence of the first starts, quasars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and they all moved and formed according to the laws of gravity. They were made and unmade in a cycle that we refer to as the “cosmic evolution”. That phrase is often used to include everything that lead to the formation of life on a tiny blue planet, orbiting an unremarkable star.

Another kind of evolution would begin there and eventually there would emerge a group of beings who refer to themselves as “humankind”. They didn’t know it yet but they were the result of billions of years of matter and forces moving and influencing everything bound within the confines of a space-time that had popped into existence a mere 13 billion years before. These “mankind” would evolve and form an insatiable curiosity for what was out there in space and they would wonder where they came from.

They would make up stories, but those wouldn’t last long. The truth was what they wanted and they discovered math and physics, and they invented telescopes, and they looked deep into space and back into time and saw a glimpses of what had come before….

And it was good.

“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”

― Neil deGrasse Tyson

In response to Daily Post’s Blogging U. course, Writing 101 assignment: Hook ’em with a quote