Deicide As A Path To Personal Growth
Reflections on Atheistic Religions.
An essay donated by Nick Tolk
Gods are ideal. Each embodies the flawless attributes of some facet of human existence. These facets can be as broad as the notions of
good and evil or as narrow as the concepts of fertility, war, love, or wisdom. These ideals give people goals to work toward or strive
against. Gods exist to be worshipped, revered, and used for guidance by all those who need a higher power to help maintain their adopted frame
of mind. They exist to provide a foundation in an otherwise chaotic and unfair world and give meaning to otherwise short and painfully
insignificant lives. Unfortunately, using figures that do not provide us with any direct communication or assistance to guide our actions and
assure us that everything’s okay can often lead people to cloudy logic, irrational devotion to religious mediums, priests that claim to be in
closer contact with the gods than the people who invoke them, and fragile moral foundations based on a person’s faith in the improvable.
This paper will examine the sources of these gods, the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating them into religion, and potential
solutions to the pitfalls that are inevitable when deities are used as a basis for religion.
Gods are dynamic. Few people reach the end of their life with the same
concept of the gods that they had when they started life. I have
personally known several gods during my brief time in this world:
I was young, I was raised to believe in the Christian gods Jesus and Satan and I was trained to pursue the good teachings embodied in Jesus
and to shun the evil influence of Satan. (As a side note, I am familiar
with the Christian myths that identify Satan as a fallen angel instead
of a god, but I believe that most Christian churches treat him more like
an embodiment of evil, making him an evil deity by most definitions.)
As I grew, my view slowly shifted from the Christian dyadic to the Deist notion of monotheism. I saw God as a powerful creator that was neither
good nor evil and that had no active role in life on earth. This shift
was based partly on my inability to perceive any evidence that a
supernatural force was affecting my life on earth. Although there were
many things that I didn’t (and don’t) understand in the world, none of
them directly suggested that there was a magical entity controlling
them. Also, the notion that a simple, insignificant creature like
myself could communicate directly with an almighty creator struck me as
Later, I began to envision gods as aspects of myself – the good, the bad, the loving, the warlike, the wise, the impetuous,
Eventually, for reasons that I will try to outline in this paper,
I began to try to remove the abstraction that had been introduced
through the incorporation of gods into my life. I accomplished this by
carefully examining the gods I knew and trying to identify why I needed
them. As I vivisected my gods, I was able to get in touch with myself
on a level that had been impossible before. The guidance and
reassurance that I had only been able to achieve by communicating with
my gods through prayer, I was able to receive from within through
careful reflection and mediation.
As I got to know myself better, I
found that I no longer needed abstract figures to guide me through life – I had always known everything that my gods did, I just hadn’t been
able to get in touch with that knowledge without creating omniscient
personalities with whom I could communicate. As I identified the
motivations behind the creation of my gods, they lost their power and died.
Gods can be comforting. When a person is severely discontent with their
present situation, they sometimes provide themselves with solutions that
cannot be directly supported by logic. This could be as simple as a
person sacrificing food to appease a god that assures him that the crops
he needs to feed his family will come in successfully, or as intricate
as a person’s dedication to gaining the favor of his God through
worship, despite any direct response or evidence that He even exists.
When our crop doesn’t come in, one of God’s messengers is there to tell
us that we are just being tested and that we’ll be provided for if we
are faithful. God’s message can provide hope and a spirit to recover.
When we’re worried that our kids don’t listen to us, we still haven’t
cured any major diseases, we still haven’t published a single
best-seller, and it’s starting to look like we’re going to be stuck
struggling all the way through life and then dying without ever being
able to meet any of the impossible goals we’ve set for ourselves, one of
God’s messengers is there to promise a second chance – either through
reincarnation or through eternal life in a magical land of happiness.
God’s message provides a reason to carry-on living as good a life as
possible, regardless of whether or not a noticeable difference is made
in the world around us. However, this message can only provide us with
as much hope as we can allow ourselves according to our degree of faith
in its origin.
A much sturdier but more difficult alternative would be
for us to accept that life is painful, dangerous, and short and learn to
live with it. That life is painful is unavoidable and more or less
undisputed. "Life is suffering" is a rough English translation of the
first noble truth of Buddhism. The point that we must decide for
ourselves is whether suffering is part of some divine plan put in place
to test our resolve, or just a natural side effect of growth.
Gods can make life easier. Nearly every situation can be made easier to
handle if we’re willing to turn some part of it over to a god. For
example, it takes a less well-developed social conscience to tell the
truth because God demands it than to tell the truth out of a desire to
live in a trusting society. Assuming that all of the things that have
gone wrong in our lives are a part of some larger plan is more comfortable than accepting that we live in an unfair world. Assuming
that we’ll live forever is easier than accepting mortality. Assuming
that the discomforts in our lives are simply trials that must be endured
saves us from having to work to make life more comfortable.
Unfortunately, these gifts from God usually come at a price. Basing
moral decisions on divine guidance creates a moral platform that is
dependant on an unwavering faith in a world with a very colorful
religious spectrum. Refusal to face a world that is sometimes unfair
and cruel makes us even more vulnerable when things don’t go as we’d
hoped. Refusal to accept our own mortality sometimes leads us to devote
our lives to preparing for our deaths, a rather morbid consequence of a
strong belief in an afterlife. Finally, refusal to seek the roots of
the discomforts in our lives allows us to hide from our own roles in
making our lives more difficult or more comfortable.
Demand for an afterlife is selfish. If a person is very lucky, he will
get to spend a century as a small living piece of an impossibly complex
network of life before he’s returned to the raw matter that formed him. Compared with the thought of eternity, one century is a painfully
short time, but it’s all we get – most of us will get much less. Death
is the price of life and we all have to pay it. Pretending to be
immortal won’t help. God’s messengers tell us that this miraculous gift
of life isn’t all we deserve and that He has more to offer. We get the
irresistible prize of eternal life for the small price of faith,
worship, tithing, and unquestioned allegiance. It is those of us that
believe that our roles in the world define us and that act out of a
desire to see the world improve without any promise of reward or threat
of punishment that truly learn to love the world.
Gods can be vengeful. Vengeance is a difficult urge to quell.
Accepting that life is unfair is difficult and we all have our own
methods for coping with the anger we accumulate from the situations we
face where we feel that we’ve come out behind. It is very convenient to
turn this imbalance over to God. An unfair event might be tolerated
more easily using the assumption that it is just a trial sent by God to
be endured. Similarly, the situation might be diffused using the
assumption that the perpetrator of the unfair incident has just added
some bad karma to his soul and will eventually reap the consequences of
his actions when he dies. These principles and similar interpretations
of these principles guide the basic moral and ethical decisions of many
people. It is easier to accept a loss with the promise of a return.
Gods can be judgmental. While telling the truth out of fear of
damnation is certainly better than lying, fear of postmortem retaliation
or reward is an inadequate ethical explanation of why lying is wrong.
Trying to stay in good favor with God is a good reason to act ethically
for all of those with a strong faith in His promises, but a more
scientific explanation is required to guide the doubtful. This dilemma
has lead to the emergence of religions much more focused on ethical
guidance than on rituals and the supernatural. Also on this point, when
a group of people rallies around a common god, they quite often will
reject the existence of gods invoked by others. Although this paper
focuses mainly on my chosen path and its importance in my life, there
are an unlimited number of paths through life – polytheistic,
monotheistic, and atheistic – and there is no arbitrary way to say that
any single path is more valid than any other. This idea has inspired
religions such as Buddhism that demand no specific set of beliefs
regarding the supernatural.
The Buddha himself believed in gods, but said that his teachings could
be just as useful for the gods as they were for man. When he spoke of
the influence that the gods had on his life, it sounds like he
envisioned them more as facets of his personality than actual physical
entities. This flexibility allows a person to incorporate the best
points from more than one religion into his way of thinking and to find
a path through life that is perfectly tailored to suit him, instead of
relying entirely on external advisement. The Buddha’s quest for
enlightenment was not the first, but it was unique because he observed
no preset dharma and had no religious advisor during his quest. He
taught that no leader was necessary and that change must come entirely
from within. Buddhism embodies some of the best points of religions
that do not necessitate specific deities. The Theravada school of
Buddhism is entirely atheistic but, despite common stereotypes of the
godless, it is strictly disciplined and demands absolute selflessness
from its students. Buddhism uses a sense of universal empathy with all
living things to motivate good behavior instead of allegiance to any
central supernatural figure. While on this point, it would be
irresponsible not to note that all atheistic religions are not as
socially responsible as Theravada. The disturbing teachings of Anton
LaVey and the Church of Satan illustrate that, when used by
irresponsible persons to rationalize their actions, the liberation
provided by eliminating deities can make people more powerful whether
they are motivated toward good or evil.
Gods are unnecessary. Any person can learn to live so that gods are not
needed to motivate their ethics or to provide easy and convenient
solutions for the difficult parts of life. In his 1930-NOV-9 essay Religion and Science written for the New York Times Magazine, Albert
Einstein called the drive behind the ethical actions of the most
religiously evolved persons the "cosmic religious feeling" and said that
it "…knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there
can be no church whose central teachings are based on it." He also said:
"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy,
education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.
Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of
punishment and hope of reward after death."
Gods can be dangerous. While many people need their threats and
promises in order to convince themselves to act ethically, the many ways
that gods make our lives easier typically carry hidden costs.
Identifying the gods’ roles in life and seeking explanations and
solutions that do not necessitate supernatural solutions can lead to
more stable, natural religions. With a solid emotional foundation and
sufficient time dedicated to contemplating life’s most challenging
points, atheism needs not be pessimistic, chaotic, or depressing. While
it is impossible to relate fully in a paper of this length, probably of
any length, an internal "cosmic religious feeling," like the one
described by Einstein in his essay Religion and Science, can be a
sturdier motivator than any supernatural being invoked by any religion
for those who do not require those beings to exist. It is not until
we’ve internalized our guiding spirit and the motivating force behind
our actions, abandoning hope for salvation and fear of damnation, that
we can finally take full responsibility for our actions.