Saturday, March 9, 2013

"And Ye Shall Be As Gods"

My friend Andrew posted the following Carl Sagan quotation on Facebook:
“But surely there is a message in the heavens that the finiteness not just of life but of whole worlds, in fact of whole galaxies, is a bit antithetical to the conventional theological views in the West, although not in the East. And this then suggests a broader conclusion. And that is the idea of an immortal Creator.

By definition, as Ann Druyan has pointed out, an immortal Creator is a cruel god, because He, never having to face the fear of death, creates innumerable creatures who do. Why should He do that? If He’s omniscient, He could be kinder and create immortals, secure from the danger of death. He sets about creating a universe in which at least many parts of it, and perhaps the universe as a whole, dies. And in many myths, the one possibility the gods are most anxious about is that humans will discover some secret of immortality or even, as in the myth of the Tower of Babel, for example, attempt to stride the high heavens. There is a clear imperative in Western religion that humans must remain small and mortal creatures. Why? It’s a little bit like the rich imposing poverty on the poor and then asking to be loved because of it.”
To which I responded:
"I think our mortality is something that makes us much more precious--and infinitely more valuable--than any god man could dream up. Think of that...we invented an infinite god; what is the greatest thing our infinite, invented god could invent? Only us, only mere mortals."
To follow that train of thought to its natural conclusion, we invented the god who invented us, therefore we invented us. Human beings will always need stories--and we will always tell stories--but we are coming increasingly into an age where we needn't insist that our stories are anything more than stories. Great ideas and horrible ideas have incubated in the womb of religion; religion has allowed us to depersonalize our thought, to project our values, and to create a grand narrative to our lives. Increasingly, we can see behind the myth of religion, and look at the mechanics of what it has allowed us to do. It was a stage in our intellectual and spiritual evolution; it was the birthplace of the sciences, of philosophy, of art, of civic mindedness, and curiosity in general. I am feeling magnanimous this afternoon, so I won't get into some of the uglier things it birthed.

But we increasingly don't need it. In our humility and naivete we created gods and told stories about how they created us, and how they want to facilitate our growth to make us closer to them. We are coming to realize that there are no gods, and that we are the authors of our own stories, and our own world. 

Mankind is growing up.

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