Are There Many Gods or None?

    Here's a silly little offering that's just bound to piss off a lot of people. Nevertheless, as has often been said, what's the purpose of writing if not to irritate people?

    Having said that, let's begin.

    Imagine that you're walking down a busy street in whatever city you live. As you wander down the sidewalk, you see a fellow surrounded by a group of people. As you near, his voice grows stronger and clearer. You stop to listen to what he has to say.

    "Ladies and gentlemen" he proclaims, "the Grand Wizard of the Velcorvians has charged me with the task of bringing his vast wisdom and teachings to the backward people of Earth. The Wizard traveled for eons just to offer an eternal life of happiness and health. Through the ages of mankind, the Wizard has watched over his children from on high. You, too, can sup at the table of the believers. You, too, can discover the comfort of the true believer. You, too, my friends can live for all eternity. All you must do is offer a small monetary gift and to express your acceptance of the Wizard as the giver of all and the source of life."

    The crowd was beginning to thin as the speaker droned on, telling the remaining few that only through the goodness of the Wizard could they go to the land of Noodles, a place where only true believers can go.

    Further down the street, a young woman in a white, flowing robe was pacing back and forth, mumbling to herself. You come closer, not knowing if you should cross over to the other side of the street or if you would be safe just ignoring her, looking the other way as you pass.

    Her mumbling becomes more intelligible and you realize that she isn't just talking to herself. Instead, she seemed to be speaking to someone else, although no one was anywhere near her. Your curiosity is aroused so you stop just beside her. She continues her conversation, completely unaware that you are standing there.

    "I beseech you to bring unto me your guiding light. I pray that you will hear my plea. Make me your vessel and your tool. Let me be your shining leader of men" she intones in a quiet but intense voice.

    Suddenly she sees you standing there. Her eyes become huge, her voice louder.

    "Heed me traveler," she shouts, "The only path to enlightenment and peace is through the telepathic transmissions from the worm people beneath your feet. Only through the act of opening your mind's eye to these blind entities can your eternal soul be reunited with those who devoured all before you."

    You avert your eyes, moving swiftly away and down the street. Her voice softens as she resumes her quiet conversation.

    The next block seems peaceful enough. No one is standing on the sidewalk nor are any crowds apparent. As you saunter along, looking into the windows of the shops and offices, you sense a sweet aroma emanating from a screen door a few doors further on. You are enjoying the smell of jasmine when you hear a strong male voice coming from the same door. You slow, wanting to delight in the bouquet that seems to surround you there on the sidewalk.

    You peer through the screen, hoping to discover the source of the wonderful scent. The male voice grows in volume, his words strong and forceful.

    "You are all dirty in the eyes of our lord Kalua! Your very souls are in danger, my friends. Unless you kneel down before the power of Kalua and his many countenances, unless you hand over your very life to the worship of Kalua, your soul will forever wander through the darkness of The Nothing!"

    You're becoming weary of the constant barrage of religious demands. The jasmine no longer smells as sweet or as welcome.

    Onward you trod, hoping to discover a way to your destination that will allow you to circumvent any further religious rants.

    Nonetheless, as you turn the corner towards your home, you see a grand spectacle. Before you is a huge edifice created out of massive stone blocks. Its windows are cacophonies of color and light. Its spires reach towards the skies. From within you hear the voices of many people singing what can only be religious tunes.

    You decide to listen for a moment to learn what these folks are saying.

    "Praise the lord, our savior and creator. We pray that you save our souls and guide us with thine light. Take us up into heaven and save us from Hell. We are sinners and we ask your forgiveness."

    One young female breaks away from the crowd and comes to welcome you.

    "I've just come from the street beyond" you say, "and it is full of weird religions that worship invisible entities and believe that they can talk to those entities and be heard. Some even seem to carry on conversations with these strange beings although nothing appears before them. They fear unseen but eternal retributions from unseen but judgmental forces whom, they claim, is perfec and loves them. I have come to witness the beliefs that fill this amazing structure."

    "Come in, then, and listen as we speak to the son of our god. With our prayers, we seek to better understand the words of our god that were written thousands of years ago by mortal men."

    "But" you stutter, "if the words were written by mortal men, how can you believe that your god had anything to do with them?

    "Oh, because these men told us that god had told them what to say, of course. God's invisible hand is everywhere, you know?!?"

    You shake your head, finding yourself once again in the company of those who can believe in the unknown, the unseen, and the unproveable. Little separates the many beliefs save the follower's desire to believe that there is a difference. If God does exist, would he or she want anything to do with folks who can believe without ever being certain of the truth of their beliefs? What is the difference between a god who uses telepathy to share its message with its followers and one that uses a book written by people hundreds of years after the events?

    You return to your walk home, wondering if anything will ever come to pass that will prove that one belief is intrinsically closer to whatever unknowable truth there may be out there.

    You remember a science fiction story you read long ago in which the main characters were called "Gods". They were, according to the story, simply members of a race of creatures from afar. These beings had brought the beginning of knowledge to the humans that had just stepped out from the Stone Age and into the early Bronze Age. Since these "Gods" had arrived from and left into the skies, those that witnessed these events and retold the stories over the next centuries, came to the firm belief that "God" lived somewhere up there. Since "up there" was God, then "down there" must be where God sends the bad people.

    You ponder on your own feelings about the nature of god. You wonder, if one exists, how superficial that god must be if the puny minds of mankind can condense it all into a small bunch of printed pages. If god does exist can he or she or it have the power to listen to the billions of individual prayers on just this one tiny planet. Can he listen to those to all prayers out of an infinite universe of planets? Also, if the habit of earthly followers can be used as an example, why would god listen to an admitted sinner who is asking that god alter the destiny of the universe in order to give the adherent what they want? If two people pray for different outcomes to the same events, how does god choose which prayer to answer? If god answers one prayer over the other, does this create a holy choice of one follower as more loved than the other? What about the near universal need of gods to be worshipped and feared? If god is, indeed, omnipotent, why pick on someone infinitely smaller?

    Finally, you must ask yourself why people who play children's games for money always thank god for victories but are at a loss as to the cause of defeats? Wouldn't it naturally follow that, if god helps the winners then he must have helped the other team to lose?

    Is there any way to believe that god exists without the need for someone else to lead you to him? Does god really need your money in order to have his work accomplished here and, if so, why does he give so much of it to the people least likely to share it? Does god listen to your words when judging you or does he watch your acts and thoughts? Is it enough to proclaim that you believe in him or must one behave as if one does? Are churches a testament to god's power or to man's wealth? If god came to earth today, would he first visit a church or the poor? If money is, as the Bible says, the root of all evil, why do preachers keep begging for more and more of yours?

    If, as some folks would have us believe, the son of god once walked the earth among men, did he poop and pee like the rest of us? Did he ever catch the flu or a cold? If he ate spoiled meat, did he ever experience diarrhea or throw up? If he sneezed, what was the correct response from his followers?

    As you walk up to the door of your home you realize that you may never know the answers to these questions. In fact, it suddenly dawns on you, you may never understand deeply enough to form the right questions. If any entity is omnipotent to the degree necessary to create an infinite and astonishing universe such as you live in, does there exist any purpose in trying to describe that existence in mere words?

    Maybe it is enough to just treat each and every human you encounter with the love and respect that a father would expect from his children. That way, you cover both possibilities and, in the end, you may even make life a wee bit better for your fellow planetary passengers. If there is a god, then you've achieved what would probably be expected of you. If there isn't a god or some sort of after-life, then you've at least behaved better than most.

    As you open the door to your home, you see your children playing and laughing over some silly board game they're playing on your rickety old card table. This, you realize, is the best proof of god. The joy and purity and openness of the very young is as close to mirroring god as can be found on earth. You sigh, finally satisfied that, while some questions may never be answered in this reality, there are some clues left hither and yon for the attentive.

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Copyright 11/18/01