Killing gods

Gary Lenaire

“Ask the rector to lend you any good book on comparative religion; you will find them all listed. They were gods of the highest dignity - gods of civilized peoples - worshipped and believed in by millions. All were omnipotent, omniscient and immortal. And all are dead.”

 

“The Hell of dead gods is as crowded as the Presbyterian Hell for babies”

 

-H.L Mencken, Where is the graveyard of dead gods

 

Elvis Lives

Gods are like rock stars--they’re idols. In their youth they parade about with skinny physique and scanty clothing, make a lot of noise, and fill huge halls with fanatical followers. Rumors of them are endless and the press never leaves them alone. Their alleged words are published worldwide. Fans will do almost anything to get close to these gods. They put up wall-posters of their images, wear their jewelry, drink their wine, purchase their music, and wait in long lines all night when it is reported that their superstar may make a rare appearance. Some have even sold all of their possessions in an attempt to get closer to their idols. For some people, the bankrupt and washed-up gods are fun. They are cheeky mythology. We can go to toga parties dressed up as them and be confident that they are not looking down with loaded lightening bolts. Other gods are thought to be very real. 

 

Elvis Presley is so famous that when he died, he didn’t. He became a sort of, well, god. Countless “sightings” of the King of Rock and Roll have been documented since his death on August 16, 1977.

People just don’t want to let go of their idols. Even if you don’t accept that Elvis survived the grave 30 years ago, his fame is unavoidable.

 

Colonel Tom Parker, the Dutch-born wheeler-dealer who managed Presley, predicted after the singer's death that the legend—and the marketing—would live on. “Elvis didn't die. The body did,” Parker was quoted as saying 30 years ago. “This changes nothing.” Forbes magazine ranks Elvis as the second-highest-earning dead celebrity after Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, with an estimated $42 million from licensing deals in 2005-2006. That represents a 40-fold rise in revenue from 1979, when Priscilla Presley stepped in as an executor of the estate after the death of Elvis' father Vernon.

-Kevin Krolicki, Reuters, Aug 10, 2007

 

Burning love? According to U.S. News & World Report, on August 16, 2007, an estimated 75,000 fans paid tribute to the King in Memphis on the 30th anniversary of his death. The temperature was 105 degrees. The heat actually claimed the life of a 67 year old woman from New Jersey attending the festivities. -U.S. News & World Report, August 27, 2007

 

I must admit, Elvis has served as a source of much entertainment for me. Even the 1970s sweaty, chubby Elvis was great. I mean, white polyester, bell-bottom jump suits with high collars? Pseudo-Karate kicks and all…priceless. The aspect about Elvis that is most interesting to me was his off-stage performances. According to some of his back-up band members, Elvis would demand that they sing Gospel songs with him, often until early morning hours. Cocaine (allegedly), prescription drugs, and the Gospel…wow. Elvis, in his own way, was a god. Gotta love him.           

 

Legendary gods are born and then, somewhere down the line, they die. But why are they born? Why do some of them live very short lives and others for centuries? After all, most humans believe in some sort of god. Politics, economy, war, religious leadership, and many other elements factor in to the longevity of certain gods. But there is a more refined and complicated reason for religious progression and metamorphosis. In the same way that good health is frustrated by disease, human evolution is riddled with and by religion. For example, the abscess that is Catholicism promotes the AIDS virus by rejecting condom usage. According to Catholic Church, the activity of extramarital sex is thought of as more evil than dying of AIDS. That is nothing short of insanity.

 

Gods don’t usually die from a single blow. Sometimes they bite the dust after numerous battles. Many of them die tragically. Adonis, Dionysus, Osiris, and Attis (Egyptian, Roman, Greek gods) all lived before the time of Jesus. According to religious history, they all suffered gruesome torture and died horrific deaths. They also allegedly rose to triumphal life. Interestingly, none of them are around to talk about it, including Jesus. The Greeks and Romans, whom were masters of this rising Christ folklore, would later attach the dying and rising god story to a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth. This officially happened in 324 C.E. (Common Era) when Emperor Flavius Constantine decreed Christianity as the official Roman Religion. With the help of Jewish and Greek Christians, the Jesus Christ cult became a legal Roman religion. And since Rome was the foundation of modern culture, that religion has grown like no other. All other Roman gods were to gradually die of apathy. You see, there must be necessary elements to keep a god alive; whether political, religious, or military influence. Tradition survives only when people are united in its purposes and will to pass those things down to subsequent generations.

 

An argument has been made by Christians that Jesus predates the other “dying and rising god” myths. Many scholars disagree on this but to me it is irrelevant to the divine claim. What if the Jesus Christ myth is older than Adonis? That doesn’t, for an empirical second, make the Jesus myth any more credible; it would simply make it older. A falsehood is a falsehood, no matter how many years senior it is by comparison. However, and for the record, Inanna (also known as Ishtar) died and returned from the grave circa 4000 B.C.E. Also, Osiris first appeared in the Pyramid Texts around 2400 B.C.E., making him one of the oldest gods in extant records. And, lastly, Adonis’s cult was primarily made up of women near 600 B.C.E. These gods are much older than the Jesus Christ myth. Falsehood is falsehood, regardless of its age.

 

Let’s face it; people are just as willing today as they were in the past to believe in things that are enormously unlikely to be true. One could make the argument that modern humans are even more prone to believe in nonsense. How can this be? I thought modern humans think more critically and are wiser than their ancestors. This is not necessarily the case.

 

Man has been creating, worshipping, and destroying gods for millennia. The sun, for example, is perhaps the oldest of the natural bodies to be fashioned into deity. It’s the source of our life on earth, indeed. That alone has spawned the sun god, sun of god, and god’s sun (son) myths for millennia. From equinox to solstice the sun has found its place in divine history. Go ask the Egyptians who Ra represented or the ancient Greeks who Helios was.

 

Priests have constantly insisted that gods are real, that they influence nature by way of supernatural means. With the tens of thousands of deities in so-called existence, let me ask you a question: are they real? If you are a theist (a believer in some kind of god) you most likely deny the reality of the gods outside of your religion. Therefore, you can now understand how I feel about your god: I do not believe in your divine super-being. I am like you in the sense that I see those “other” gods as false.

 

I have found an amusing strategy when asked whether I am an atheist to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon-Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.' -Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion  

 

Dead gods become mythology. Zeus, Apollo, Amon-Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, Adonis, Dionysus, Osiris, Ate, and Aphrodite are just a few of the gods who, in their time, were taken dead seriously. Fierce wars were fought and countless people killed because of the faith that people had in them. For many years children were taught from birth that these gods were very real and were to be worshipped and or feared. Newer and better gods were dreamed up and the previous gods lost their place in faith. Once the new deities took power, the former ones joined their position among the “false” gods. Many of the gods were assimilated into a new god; that is why names and attributes are often similar from god to god. In this respect, gods are often like supernatural organ donors for up and coming gods.

 

It is interesting that gods who lose the faith of their followers are then assumed to be “false” gods by believers of later generations. For the most part, only the gods who enjoy contemporary followers are deemed to be candidates for “real” status. The gods who are able to replicate their appeal throughout generations can thus enjoy longevity. 

 

So who are (were) these deities? Generally speaking, a god is someone who is divine or supernatural. Some are super-heroes, some super-villains. Though there is no proof that they actually exist, people none-the-less ascribe huge importance to them. Gods are not found to be walking (or flying) around town or in the countryside. They are simply imaginary personalities dreamed up by religious people. This imaginary process is a complicated progression made up of many components. Humans are the hosts of religious replication. The sun, moon, mountains, weather systems, sex, birth, puberty, death, food, and water, are but a few of the many ingredients participating in the embryonic symphony of deity.  

 

The names and characteristics of gods meld with other legends and cultures to become similar but distinct gods. We observe many Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman gods sharing very similar personalities, powers, and nomenclatures. The Christian devil, for example, has a long history of changes brought on by the influences of time, cultures, and religious doctrines. In different legends, he has been an angel, demon, and a god. In short, all gods (including Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, and Satan) have gained their current forms by the many legends of angels, demons, and christs throughout history. And, they will not stagnate. They will continue to change as they have for centuries. 

 

The Bible God is a human. Yes, you read it correctly. More specifically, Yahweh is a misogynous man. Further, he is actually many men. The most popular god, Yahweh is the amalgamation of thousands of years, thousands of myths, and thousands of manuscripts. He is a male-driven, anthropomorphic conception parading as a sky god. The power he wields is fueled only by the humans who continue to breathe life into him. I should know, I was one of his voices for many years. To the point, the breathing clay formed the lifeless god. All gods have experienced this divine birth. The life…and death of these larger-than-life beings are interesting indeed. The origins of all faiths and their combined myths are religion starters; they also produce the contradictions that confuse their followers.

 

The Aztecs were some of the vilest people in history. Huitzilopochtli was the Aztec god of the obsidian knife who sprang forth from his mother’s belly to kill his siblings. He, like many other gods, had no human father. In one year 50,000 youths and maidens were slain in sacrifice to him. This happened about 500 years ago. The Aztec faith was exceptionally bloodthirsty; much like the history of the Christian Church. Another god, Tezcatlipoca, was also charming. He is also known as Titlacahuan, “He Whose Slaves We Are.” He was the warrior god of the north and the god of sin. In Toltec mythology he was the adversary of his brother Quetzalcoatl. It is said that thousands of virgins were sacrificed to him each year.

 

Many gods of history are currently residing in the “where are they now” file. Others, however, are alive and well (or so their followers say). Some of them are extremely famous and some are rather anonymous. 

 

“All mighty gods in their day, worshipped by millions, full of demands and impositions, able to bind and loose - all gods of the first class. Men labored for generations to build vast temples to them - temples with stones as large as hay-wagons. The business of interpreting their whims occupied thousands of priests, bishops, archbishops. To doubt them was to die, usually at the stake. Armies took to the field to defend them against infidels; villages were burned, women and children butchered, cattle were driven off. Yet in the end they all withered and died, and today there is none so poor to do them reverence.” 

-H.L Mencken, Where is the graveyard of dead gods

 

You might be a religious person. If you are, you probably have such an imaginary friend; a crusader of righteousness and power, perhaps. Like all the other people who believe in these divine pals, you believe that your god is real and not just mythological like the other false gods. Your god is alive and well, of course. How swift the human mind forgets. As I pointed out in my first book, love can be blind. Pardon the blunt edge of my tone but we only have a few pages together and I don’t want to dawdle.  

 

In an attempt to “one-up” all the other gods, an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent god was constructed from other gods and their attributes: Yahweh. I don’t mean to insinuate that Yahweh was created overnight. No, he was shaped and reshaped over many generations and from several gods, angels, and demons who contributed to his many attributes (that’s why his attributes are good and evil). Big problems surround Yahweh, however. If he is omniscient (knowing everything) then he is quite aware of the evil he allowed and chooses not to spare his beloved subjects from the sting of pain and suffering.

 

Nietzsche is Dead

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) proclaimed, “God is dead.” These words first appeared in The Gay Science, section 108 (New Struggles), in section 125 (The Madman), and for a third time in section 343 (The Meaning of our Cheerfulness). It is also found in Nietzsche's brilliant work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which made the phrase famous.

 

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?"

-Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125

 

Faith in gods is not dead at all. Nietzsche, however, is very dead. Many 19th century philosophers estimated that the advance of science and technology would gradually decrease the percentage of believers in the world. It didn’t. What happened?

 

Here in the 21st century, I can say with confidence that Zeus, Adonis, Dionysus, Osiris, Ate, and Aphrodite are quite dead. Oh yes, a remote few claim to worship these dinosaurs but to the masses they are deceased. They’re dead because they were never alive. If they were actually ever alive, they most likely lived as humans, not gods. Facts are rarely the cause of divine death. Time is a dangerous warrior that all gods must face. If facts, common sense, evidence, and reason were to alone do battle, many of those gods would still be living. In a superstitious world, time is a god killer. Because humans promote the “validity” of their faith, most gods outlive their individual worshippers.                 

 

Time has generals on the battlefield, however. Their names are Politics, Religion, and Money. Time cannot finish the job of god killing without this partnership. Time is held at bay when the political, religious, and financial environment is ripe to support and replicate belief in a specific god. Christianity has won many battles against time because nation after nation has politically, religiously, and financial endorsed it. The nation to victoriously emerge from Palestine was Israel. The Jews, though pagan in their ancient origin, conquered the other Palestinian tribes. The defeated tribes (nations) lost their land and eventually their gods. So is the history of the gods.

 

It has predominantly been the European countries that have kept Christianity alive through the centuries. That eventually gave birth to American Christianity. By keeping Christianity breathing, Yahweh gets an added life support as well. Yahweh, after all, is the father of Christendom. Judaism and Christianity have survived due to political, religious, and financial support. The Jesus Christ god may well have died out in the fourth century had the Roman culture not adopted it as the official religion of the empire. Jesus, then, is alive and well topping the all time charts at a whopping 2 billion followers. The Catholic Church has the majority of those believers.

 

Nietzsche didn’t see that coming, but he should have. Christianity in the United States isn’t what it used to be. No, it is far greater than ever:

 

“A Gallup poll of American Adults published in the Wall Street Journal on January 30, 1996, reported that 96 percent believe in God, 90 percent believe in heaven, 79 percent believe in miracles, 73 percent believe there is a hell, 72 percent believe there are angels, and 65 percent believe the devil is real.” “In a revealing book, The Churching of America (1776-1990), the authors point out that for the past two centuries American Church membership rates have risen from a paltry 17 percent at the time of the Revolution (!), to 34 percent by the middle of the nineteenth century, to over 60 percent today.”

-Michael Shermer, How We Believe, pp. 21-22

 

Many believers complain that in recent decades science and secular society have been a negative influence on American culture. By the above statistics, however, one could make an excellent argument that open-market church growth has been the primary and rising negative influence in America! So if America has become “immoral” in your opinion, then take a look at its primary (60%) influence: the churches!

 

The belief in life after death combined with America’s open market place has allowed churches to expand dramatically. Europe, on the other hand, controls the church through state run finances. It all adds up. The first American politicians were generally people of personal property and trade. They were businessmen. Freedom of religion, the free market, and the fear of death has given Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha, and the other gods a seemingly eternal life within the United States and other regions of the West.

 

We do not need to wait around for others to put their god in the ground. We are the individuals who give life to these invisible friends and we are the ones who terminate them. As I said before, my faith died because I killed it. But this was not murder; it was self-defense. There is no room in the human mind for both nature and a god; it’s either you (nature) or your god (non-nature). To coexist in your mind with a god is to commit intellectual suicide. You will be continually prone to error, deceit, and irrational skepticism. If you do somehow destroy the cultish faith that tries to own your psyche, then you can live at peace with the nature you were born of.