I have a lot of friends who are atheists. While I disagree with them (leaning more toward polytheism myself), I can’t blame them for feeling that way. When humans talk about god they tend to get plumb ridiculous.
It isn’t hard to imagine where the idea of god originated. We can visualize one of our very ancient ancestors standing beside a tree scratching his crotch when – KABLAM!!! – a giant bolt of lightning hits the tree and blows it into a million smoldering pieces. Being a thinking primate, our ancestors’ initial reaction was probably deeply profound. Something along the lines of, “HOLY SHIT! WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THAT???”
A little later, he probably tried to reason out exactly that question: “What in the hell was that?” He would have noticed, of course, that whatever IT was, IT had come from the sky. From up there, somewhere. Therefore, he would have arrived at his initial conclusion: there MUST be a, “somewhere,” up there. There must be some place up in the sky that the lightning monster came from. Just for ease of discussion, he thought, let’s call it, “heaven.”
So did the lightning monster fall out of heaven? Did it slip over the edge and tumble down to earth? No, he’d reason; upon consideration it was much more like it was THROWN from the heaven place because it hit really hard. As he turned this over in his brain cells, it would dawn upon him that if it had been thrown, then there must be someone up there in the heaven place who threw it. And when we throw something at someone, it’s usually because we’re pissed off. Therefore, the heaven person must have been pissed off at me, he thought, and he threw a lightning monster at me, but he missed me and hit the tree. Poor tree.
So just in the space of a few hours, he’d worked out that there was a place in the sky called heaven, that someone lived in it, and that he had a very bad temper that caused him to throw things at people he was pissed off with. And he decided that, just for ease of discussion, he’d call that heaven person, “god.”
Now, of course, the next step would be to figure out why god was pissed off and, logically, it must have had something to do with what our ancestor had been doing when the god person threw the lightning monster at him. And when he thought back on it, he realized that he’d been scratching his crotch. “Aha!” he thought. “The heaven person must not like crotches because . . . um . . . we use them for sex! That must be it!’
And just like that, he’d invented the concept of sin.
So we can see that our incredibly wise ancestor was able to come up with the notions of heaven, god, and sin, and deduce all of that from the presence of a lightning bolt that hit a tree. Brilliant, really.
There were a few flaws in his reasoning about god that would come back to haunt us. First of all, the god person seems to be a bit on the irrational side. Why wouldn’t he like crotches? They’re perfectly nice human apparatuses that make us feel really good, so what’s his problem with them? Especially as the idea that the god person actually MADE us evolved, it seemed more and more problematic that he wouldn’t like our genitals. If he didn’t like them that much, why didn’t he just make us with something else between our legs, like, I don’t know, a flower or an extra foot or something?
Second, we can see that god has a really bad temper. A really, really bad temper. If he didn’t like what we were doing, he could have just sent a nice angel with a handwritten note that said, “Hey, that’s really irritating, so knock it off.” But, no, he has to blow up a tree.
Third, we see that this god person is very strongly associated with bad things happening. If a tree blows up or there’s an earthquake or a flood or a tsunami, it’s because god is PISSED. It’s a punishment, presumably because we’ve been playing with our genitals again.
We can see that idea pretty clearly illustrated in the Tarot card called The Tower. Most of the Tower-Being-Hit-By-Lightning myths have to do with punishment for human hubris. Those idiots were trying to build a tower so high that it would reach to the heaven place and the god person got pissed and blew up the tower, just to show them that HE owned the heaven place and not them.
There’s actually a conundrum hidden in The Tower card that theologians have wrestled with for centuries. If god loves us, and god’s all powerful, why does all of this bad stuff keep happening to us? I mean, if he can control everything, why doesn’t he just make good stuff happen to us? Why is there cancer and fires and floods and why do terrible, terrible things happen to people?
The traditional answer goes right back to the idea that god is an extreme control freak with a really bad temper. He WANTS for good stuff to happen to us, but we keep doing the wrong things and so he HAS to make bad stuff happen to us. Because we’re crotch scratching sinners, doncha know?
Native Americans had a slight shift in that perspective that makes a major difference in how we view the world. They noticed that there is a factor in the universe which physicists would later label as, “entropy.” The definition for entropy is, “a lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.” Another way of putting it is that any organized system will start to disintegrate.
On a practical level, that means that just as soon as we get things arranged to our satisfaction, they start to fall apart. It’s like when we clean our houses and then a week later they’re a mess again. Entropy snuck up and bit us in the ass.
Native Americans built that into their theology and we might call it, “the shit happens,” principle. Yes, there are loving, benevolent gods who want our lives to go perfectly well and want us to be happy. But sometimes shit happens. And when it does, it’s because of the Trickster Gods, like Coyote and Raven. The benevolent gods are busy weaving a beautiful tapestry of life, but the trickster gods are over there in the corner unraveling it as fast as they can. They’re entropy and they’re making the system disintegrate.
On the one hand, this allows us to have loving, caring gods. On the other hand, it explains why shit happens. In this scenario, the lightning bolt that hit the tree our ancestor was standing next to would have been sent by Raven or Coyote. And they would have been laughing their asses off when they watched him jump.
That turn in their theology was actually a very important step. First of all, it acknowledges that shit happens. Second, it says that shit happens, JUST BECAUSE. It doesn’t necessarily have a damned thing to do with us or whether we’ve sinned or we’re scratching our crotches again. It just happens because entropy is a part of the fabric of the Universe. Coyote or Raven are always there, turning our orderly, sensible worlds upside down, JUST BECAUSE. So it gets rid of the concept of sin and we don’t have to feel guilty about our genitals anymore.
Most importantly, though, it gets rid of the nutso, bipolar, control freak, mean bastard that we’ve had running heaven. It’s not OUR fault that shit happens, but we also don’t have to invent a crazy god to explain it. No more vengeful patriarch who’s just itching to throw us into eternal flames. No more voyeuristic stalker who’s counting how many times we masturbate so he can punish us for it. No more crazed Jehovah demanding that Abraham shove a knife into his son’s chest to prove how much he loves god.
And, all in all, the heaven place is much nicer without him.
Dan Adair is the author of, “Just the Tarot,” available on Amazon.com at a very reasonable price.