The Existence of God(s) as Cosmic Horror (Pre-Draft)

I have a somewhat interesting perspective on the possible existence of higher powers… one I haven’t seen someone else really focus on… and I thought it’d make a nice appendix to the book on fiction that I’ve been accumulating notes for over the last two decades.

(If nothing else, as an example of a worldview you may not hold, so you can practice recognizing the defining traits of a worldview so that you can embody yours in your worldview more effectively.)

Now, given what I specifically plan to focus on, it’s going to take me several cycles of writing out a draft to tease insight out of my brain, then distilling the points that are sufficiently on-topic back into point-form notes, and then repeating… possibly waiting a week in the process to let my perspective on the writing shift… but the first such “just let things flow” draft was interesting enough that, despite being all over the place, I was encouraged to share it, so here we go.

(Bear in mind that I imagined what are in-line quotes in this post to be floated asides. I just don’t feel it’s worth the effort to try to implement that before I renovate my blog template.)

It is not uncommon for Christians to look at dictators who have been claimed to be atheists, and to see them as people convinced that they exist beyond all law. That morality is made-up, that, with no absolute authority, “all is permitted”, and that, like a spoiled child, their wants and desires are the most important thing in the world.

Now, a much longer article could be written about how that is rarely the case, and how you are unlikely to find someone who believes themselves to be evil yet manages to achieve power. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party was outwardly religious and Hitler himself held many crackpot beliefs. Josef Stalin’s beliefs are unclear, but it is known that he saw the Russian Orthodox Church as a political rival.

However, you can find tons of atheist rebuttals like that. This is about why a healthy-minded individual might not only see gods as being as fictitious as unicorns, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy, but see the cosmology thus described as explicitly evil. (There. I said it.)

First, think about why one would want an absolute authority. They want that certainty in their life… but that assumes said authority is deserving of being absolute.

When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, and that’s my religion.

Abraham Lincoln as Quoted in Herndon’s Lincoln (1890), p. 439

Search any religious text on Earth, and you will not find any ideas or morals beyond what could have been produced by the most forward-thinking person of the period in which it was produced. Worse, for the older books, they often enshrine ideas we now consider to be so bad that we must pick and choose which of the passages to obey and which to ignore… hardly an absolute authority and evidence that our morals come from somewhere else.

And why does this same God tell me how to raise my children when he had to drown his?

Robert Green Ingersoll, Some Mistakes of Moses (1879), Section XVIII, “Dampness”

Rather than finding absolute authority comforting, I find it a terrifying prospect. Imagine that you were a slave in some ancient society, and the religious books said that was your lot in life. If they’re the works of fallible humans, then there is hope for a more equitable future… but if they’re truly the word of some godly force, guiding the universe, then you have no hope. Existence itself will bend to keep your people oppressed.

Worse, though, think about the state of existence. If gods exist, then the absolute authorities that people desire seem perfectly OK with their thousands, millions, or billions of years of attention having left us to clean up countless sources of needless suffering, such as guinea worm disease (an African parasitic worm that can grow over two and a half feet long and must be slowly drawn out of the body over several days), Loa loa worm (a parasite that sometimes burrows into human eyeballs), Leprosy, and countless other horrifying conditions.

Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, Vol. II, ch. 2

Wanting to delegate ultimate authority to some immaterial super-adult is a very human perspective, but also a very childish one. “Better to enshrine the flawed, unjust laws mankind’s bronze-age ancestors were able to conceive into the very fabric of the cosmos itself, than to accept the terrifying uncertainty of being responsible for our own fates”. I, on the other hand, find it far more terrifying that all the ills around me are because some supreme being chose them to be that way… that we’re trapped in this cycle of suffering and injustice because some dictator who can never be overthrown wills it to be.

If the universe has no gods, and is uncaring and amoral, then there is hope because every cause of our suffering is small and mortal and can be overcome. In general, humans instinctively fear the unknown, so anyone who is comfortable with part of the status quo will act to preserve it out of fear that the alternative will leave them worse off. Multiply that by several billion, and mix in our instinctive predisposition toward dominance hierarchies, and it makes all the sense in the world that evil continues to exist.

To me, the prospect of organized religion being correct is a far more terrifying cosmic horror than anything Lovecraft ever wrote, because Lovecraft wrote about beings and forces that rarely noticed us and only menaced us when we got caught under foot… religion makes claims of powers that, ostensibly, have had thousands or millions or billions of years of active interest and chose this for us.

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

Steven Weinberg, Freethought Today, April, 2000

Why should I find it comforting that some ultimate authority with suspiciously human characteristics supposedly put us into this mess and has plans for us, when evil people seem to find perfectly good justifications to do evil things anyway, and good people have become more moral than the “moral authority”?

Beyond what Mr. Weinberg says, though, religion is an insult to human dignity because of how readily it steals the credit for our successes, shames us for the instincts supposedly put into us by whatever sadistic puppet-master made us to populate his cock-fighting pit, and attempts to stifle the true shining feature that distinguishes us from all other species on this Earth: Our insatiable curiosity and unflinching desire to investigate the true nature of our universe.

The whole idea that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden because they dared seek knowledge tells us everything we need to know about the founders of religion and its true purpose.

CDenic on YouTube

That said, I’ve gotten off-topic. The interesting core part of my perspective which I haven’t seen others touch on is that “if you think on it enough, any setting where the power that motivates the universe flows through a thinking divinity will become cosmic horror”.

Fundamentally, I find it inherently horrifying to imagine a setting where there can never be any hope of humans being truly free to sit, unbeholden to the whims of some higher power… and, frankly, I find myself suspicious of the upbringing of anyone who longs for that. It just sounds a little too much like someone who’s developed a trauma bond with an abusive father and, having been forced out into the world, seeks to replace them.

I think anyone who left their home to escape a controlling father can probably understand why the idea of a celestial counterpart one can’t escape even in death might be horrifying.

There. I’ve said my piece. Even if you’re an atheist, you probably didn’t think of the Lovecraft comparison, so, whoever you are, sit and cogitate on it. Expanding the mind always makes for better authors.

In later drafts, I want to dial in more closely on the subjective psychological aspects of my perspective, how they interact with the feel, tone, and atmosphere of a narrative, how they relate to fantasy and other settings where tangible, empirically demonstrable power is available to mortals at the will of higher powers, and possibly how it interacts with how equally horrifying I find the prospect of nanotechnology, given what understanding I have of the world as-is from my expertise with computer programming.

(You think COVID-19 is scary? Imagine that it can leave you trapped within your body as it’s remote-controlled by someone else.)

As a matter of fact, I’ve already started another “draft, then distill cycle” even before starting to distill the first one, and here’s what’s come of it so far:

Imagine for a moment that you’re a child with a capricious, controlling father. All your life, he has done things that he says you’ll thank him for when you’re older, even though something deep inside you says “This is unfair. This is wrong!”

Now imagine that you’ve been told you must obey him, even as an adult, and that his decisions will be no less inscrutable.

Now, imagine that his name is God… the ultimate inscrutable father figure, rewarding and punishing you, seemingly at random, always telling you to trust him because “It’s for the best”. A father figure who you will be beholden to for eternity, even in death.

Take away the name “God” for a moment. Doesn’t that seem like a terrifying prospect? A capricious father who you can never escape?

If nothing else, it should be a damning indictment of human social instinct that there exist religious women in Saudi Arabia.

Religion is rooted in the primal assumption that an intelligent force lies behind observed events wrapped in efforts to make that misconception less terrifying. To welcome gods into your worldview in this age when science has explained so much is to welcome a sweetened medicine long after it has proven not only non-efficacious, but actively harmful to your health, because you are addicted to the sweetener.

P.S. To anyone who thinks I “hate” God, please read what I wrote more closely. This is my objection to the idea of God being real. I could expound at equal length on the idea of Harry Potter being real, but that doesn’t mean I believe the Wizarding World exists.

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Existence of God(s) as Cosmic Horror (Pre-Draft) by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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