Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gods and Superhumans

When we use the word superhuman, we usually have ideas of mythological humans, such as Heracles from Greek legend, one of the most prominent heroes in our archetypal array. And there is an almost literal namesake in Superman, who was originally written and drawn by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster respectively in 1932 and remains a popular comic book hero today. Heracles is less the superhuman alien that Kal-El is under his alias of mild mannered Clark Kent than a demigod, a bridging of the human and divine. This relates to something important about the various gods people believe in; they have always had some human element to them, but eventually behave in what many regard as bizarre or inhuman. Believers trying to defend the unexpected actions of founders of various religions, such as Jesus, say they don’t think like regular humans. A more pertinent example of this is directly related to Jesus in his alleged claim that he was God in the flesh. Any defender of God’s genocide and other atrocities it commanded the Israelites to perform says that any human judgment of the ethics of those commands is missing the point. To paraphrase a piece of scripture, “God’s ways are not our ways,” And the devout are expected to buy this completely without further question because, not only is God mysterious, but powerful. It’s that worship of power that motivates me to ask whether god is simply a puffed up word for a superhuman.

Religious people, particular those of the theist variety, vehemently deny that God is in any way a projection of their own desire for power and dominance over the world that they possess in a small way over nature. They insist that God is the basis of our own dominion over those things below us, but this is circular reasoning, since you presume God’s existence without considering the basic explanation as to why we have the power we do, which is technological advances. The idea of us having such power over the primal elements that surround us is justified in religion by our being created by God and given power by its decree, so as not to contradict God’s sovereignty as the creator of the entire cosmos. We get a mere piece of it and are to be satisfied with that. But isn’t it ironic that we humans are created in God’s image and are therefore special in the eyes of our creator? This only seems to reinforce that notion of all the gods we’ve believed in through countless ages being either exaggerated explanations of exceptional humans or the dual psychological compulsion to make ourselves feel secure and to see agency in otherwise chaotic aspects of the world around us, such as the weather. As much as we like to think of ourselves as standing over other things, we also submit ourselves to something above all human authority and simultaneously assert we have great power ourselves because of it. One is said to be free because they are a slave to God, for instance. I’d agree that you’re a slave to God, but I don’t see you gaining freedom because of that. We make declarations of war all the time in order to preserve our own culture for as long as we can, but time will inevitably show us up and eliminate it in a conflagration of our own hubris turning on us. Nuclear weapons may raze our cities to the ground in mutually assured destruction of our enemies. Humans seem so advanced, yet literally behave no better than animals in taking each other down in order to feel more justified that we survived longer, that we were the final aggressor.

The graphic novel, Supergod by Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny, investigates an interesting alternative history where humans seek to create something likened to their various gods to protect them from enemies. America, Britain, China, Iran and other countries across the world have either already succeeded or are working feverishly in competition with their global siblings to make symbols of religious or national significance. They’re not always named after gods, but still stand as super-soldiers to fight on a level much like a sentient weapon of mass destruction. Jerry Craven is an astronaut that was altered with technology much better than even the Six Million Dollar Man. Morrigan Lugus is a conglomeration of three astronauts from the UK affected by extraterrestrial mushrooms that have taken over their bodies. I could go on describing each of the gods that stand out in the story, but suffice to say, the vast majority are directly related to or indirectly reference divinity in their construction. Iran designs Malak al-Maut, an alias of Azrael, the angel of death in Islam, with the idea of connecting it directly to God’s mind. India creates an android AI with self replicating machinery called Krishna, famous character of the Bhagavad Gita, and Russia actually has two over the course of the novel, one a robotic cosmonaut and the other a reconstruction of its brain in a similar vein to Krishna. Virtually every one of these anthropomorphized weapons turns on their creators in one way or another, reflecting the idea that superhumans, like gods, don’t think like humans do and thus their solutions of protecting a country don’t always go as expected. Krishna vaporizes 90% of India’s population and utilizes their matter to construct machinery to clean the Ganges’s pollution and solve the crisis of excessive numbers in the same instance. Maitreya of China, a technological marvel able to manipulate people on a subatomic level, doesn’t kill the political prisoners it was supposed to use to demonstrate its powers, but uses the guards, officers and scientists for his own ends of gaining information for Chinese supremacy. And Malak (ironically a word for angel in Arabic) is anything but a guardian seraph, destroying the facility it was created in and leaving a trail of destruction wherever it walks. Dajjal, made in Iraq and named after the Islamic Antichrist, doesn’t serve a huge purpose in the story, but brings up another intriguing idea about what the perspective of a god might be. He is said to see in terms of future possibilities, like tunnels leading to futures where he is more or less likely to exist. His lack of sanity is emphasized because, as a veritable god, he doesn’t need to exist alongside others, but stands apart as a being with a perspective that might drive normal humans insane.

What I ultimately drew from the premise and plot of this story is that governments, human groups on a scale likened to religions, deceive themselves and everyone around them into thinking that they create greater weapons for the sake of arms race advantage, to protect their national ideals, or other such delusions that seem altruistic. But in the end, every sort of search for power boils down in one way or another to the human desire for ultimacy, particularly power, and embodying it by their own will. We’ve worshipped idols throughout history and as Christians commonly say, they don’t even have to be concrete, but for the most part they are. Money is a means to influence and dominance in the economic world and is advanced through modern advocacy to amass gold and silver in the event of a currency crisis. Military spending is justified on the grounds of fear of future terrorist attacks and invasive wars in other countries by the mere suspicion of possession of dangerous weaponry are done under a similar pretense of eliminating future violence preemptively. This isn’t even about criticizing people’s hypocrisy, but it is an indirect result of the bigger question I’d pose. Is there any real distinction between superhumans and gods when the use of the super- prefix can be applied merely to the claim that gods are greater than humans, but still possess particular human traits? God is said to be the origin of humanity and we are said to reflect it with our ability to reason and choose between good and evil. If God reflects human characteristics, but has such immense power that with a mere thought could eliminate everything in the universe, then the problem arises as to whether God resembles anything like our humanity in scale. Not to mention God is able to justify itself without even using its power, but with the mere holding of that influence over our puny heads, a-la Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” sermon. And since God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, one might defend God’s actions, whatever they might be, as part of a greater plan we don’t understand through our limited perspective.

Christians claim they don’t worship God out of fear in terms of aversion, but fear in terms of reverence to its holiness. I ask where the big difference is when many openly relish in the idea that God will make everyone bow to it in the end times and condemn unrepentant sinners to hell. That sort of sycophantic worship reveals what God’s real form seems to be: a tyrannical despot who wages a war between itself and its creations which it could have prevented, but chose not to in order to give the illusion of free will to  beings who have no capacity to actually resist in any ultimate sense.  I know it seems hypocritical to be ranting against a deity that I don’t believe in nor believe has any relevance to humanity, but I believe in God as a concept that others believe in, if nothing else, and I cannot deny that God is relevant to other humans. This is why I write, this is why I read, and this is why I study religion. It continually demonstrates both the best and worst in humanity, but in no way has convinced me of its truths that I cannot see in more secular philosophies. There may not be gods in this world, but we often see ourselves as bearers of their legacy, and that’s dangerous enough to me. I can only hope we realize our human limitations and stop ourselves before we inevitably collapse under our own excessive expectations. Until next time, Namaste and aloha. 

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