The Q&A Hole: Considering All the Different Gods Available to Humanity, How Do You Choose Which One to Believe In?
With Russell Glasser, Cristine H. Legare, David Wheeler, and more.
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
8:55AM, Tue. Oct. 25, 2016
“Oooh, Lord, you are so big, so absolutely huge,” as Michael Palin intoned in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. “Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you.”
Palin’s movie chaplain was addressing a particular god – one of the currently famous ones, one of the several you can find ventriloquized by 140-character wags on Twitter these days.
But there are many, many, many gods, of course, as generated by mortals throughout human history and a little bit before. Doesn’t the esteemed fabulist Alan Moore subscribe to the divine newsletter of some arcane snake god? And isn’t it possible that failed U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz is actually the Antichrist?
Also, as ever, Cthulhu fhtagn.
So, what with nuclear (or biological or climate-change) Armageddon drawing ever more nigh and all, we figured now is a good time for this ongoing Q&A Hole column to ask a few people:
CONSIDERING ALL THE DIFFERENT GODS AVAILABLE TO HUMANITY, HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHICH ONE TO BELIEVE IN?
Russell Glasser, president of the Atheist Community of Austin: None of them, obviously. We should believe things based on available evidence. People always try to cope with the unknown by inventing stories about all-powerful beings that explain everything ... and nothing. Back in ancient Egypt, they decided that Ra pulled the sun across the sky every day in a giant chariot. The more our knowledge has advanced, the less we need quick fixes for real understanding. Hundreds of religions compete to offer their version of magical thinking, but offer no test for deciding between them. Sometimes, the answer to unknowns is "Wait until we know more."
Maggie Maye, comedian: If the god in question encourages you to be hateful or hurtful to others, it’s the wrong one. Your God should motivate you toward love and kindness for humanity, and being the best version of yourself.
David Wheeler of Dragon’s Lair: I don’t. I’m an agnostic. Because I can’t prove that there is not a god – because you can’t prove a negative – I must accept the possibility that there is one; and, therefore, I’m agnostic. I sort of take the Fifth there. Because I can’t get around the un-caused cause of the universe. I don’t know why any of this exists, it doesn’t seem to make sense to me – so, eh, once I figure that out, then I’ll probably just be an atheist. Until then, I don’t worry about it too much. But if you were gonna choose one, I think you’d go for the neatest one. The one with the best powers, the one that dresses the most nattily. Like, Zeus – Zeus gets around, doesn’t seem to have a lot of inhibitions, is very sex-positive.
Shannon McCormick, improviser, actor: The thing is, it’s a cultural thing – you get indoctrinated to it as a little person. As more of a comparative-myth kind of guy, I don’t think anybody should choose any of them to believe in. But they’re all kind of cool to learn about.
Cristine H. Legare, director of UT’s Cognition, Culture, and Development Lab: Religions with “Big Gods” evolved as a solution to adaptive problems of living in ever-larger and more anonymous groups. Fear of punishment by a Big God (Jehovah, Allah, etc.) deters selfish behavior (the threat of eternal damnation is pretty terrifying) and promotes prosocial behavior among group members (which is why, for example, people often donate money to members of the same religious group). But Big Gods can also increase hostility toward other groups (hello Crusades, ISIS, insert favorite example of a holy war between religious groups). I dutifully attended Catholic mass for two long decades because religious faith is typically determined by the cultural context you were raised in and the uterus you emerge from. But if I got to choose a god to believe in, I’d pick a punishing, omniscient, and all-powerful god that demanded prosocial behavior directed towards humans of all cultural groups and backgrounds, as well as all other species. A Big Bad-Ass God that required caring for the planet, and all of its inhabitants, or else. Having dominion over the earth (in Judeo-Christian style) really hasn’t worked out well for our species (or the rest of the planet, for that matter). We humans are our own worst enemies, and always have been. A little help from a designer deity that terrorizes us into caring for others and our planet may be in order.
Rebecca A. Zarate, neuroscientist, artist: I was in Catholic school for nine years. I asked my dad why he sent me there if we weren't really practicing Catholics. He said, “I just wanted you to get an idea and pick and choose what you liked.” (Go Dad!) And based on all the ideas already out there, I chose to create my own idea of god. My definition of a god is what awes and humbles you. I am awed by science and nature, by the animating force that attracts and repels protons and electrons. And I am equally awed by creation, the creation of something that never was.
Christopher Brown, lawyer, author: I choose which god to believe in by observing the world around me, the same way that I think most of our gods of ancient times were derived from what was happening in the natural world around us. There’s this great bit in Gordon Frazier’s The Golden Bough, where he explains how the story of Baldur and immortality came from these ancient people in Europe seeing a few species of plants that appeared to stay alive through the winter. So I guess I’m looking for some deity who can survive the kind of global crisis I see coming our way. I have yet to find her.
Wayne Alan Brenner of Minerva’s Wreck: My father has a small collection of gimme caps hanging along the central roof beam in his garage in Florida; the front of one of those caps displays the words: “Everybody’s Got To Believe In Something. I Believe I’ll Have Another Beer.” If I needed to be serious, though, my Pikamas thing pretty much covers any response I could otherwise come up with.