Monday, August 28, 2006

In God's Image

When people talk about how man is created in God’s image, they usually go on about certain qualities of human nature – free will, moral qualities, rationality, etc.. Man should strive to be good because God is good, and all that jazz. However, I think this approach places the cart before the horse.

Instead of assuming that God has certain qualities that he endowed us with, only then reflecting upon what those divine gifts are, perhaps it may be more fruitful to examine the issue in reverse. That is, if we are created in God’s image, by observing human nature, we gain insight into God’s qualities as reflected by our behavior in this world.

It is for this reason that I cannot believe that, were God to exist, He would be benevolent. Even at our most altruistic, we are selfish to the core – especially when the game is zero-sum. We seek to increase our power and take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. We slaughter our fellows with swords and bombs. Though capable of works of profound beauty, we are equally capable of horror beyond comprehension, and it is in this image that we are created.

Indeed, this image of God explains the age-old Problem of Evil (“How can an omnibenevolent god allow the evil to prosper, and the righteous to suffer?”) is really quite simple: God is not good. He is an abusive Father, who generously gives His children gifts and black eyes. Cursed art Thou, o Lord, Tyrant of the Universe, who causeth the winds to blow down the walls of the orphanage, and raiseth the waters to drown the widow in her bed.

When the Problem of Evil comes up, I often think about my eighth grade science class. Towards the end of the year, my school received a large number of brand-new computers. To celebrate, my teacher had us play SimEarth – a game by the creators of SimCity where you took a bare, inhospitable planet and tried to create a lush, green paradise teeming with life. As I tinkered with the angle of my planet’s axis and seeded my new oceans with nutrients, I remember thinking that, from the perspective any beings in my Creation, I was God.

Though I cared for my Creation, I gleefully smote my planet with meteors and volcanoes. Destruction can be just as fun as creation – no doubt, a sentiment I share with God. As Satan (played by Al Pacino) put it in The Devil’s Advocate:
Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He's a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do? I swear, for his own amusement, his own private cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It's the goof of all time. Look, but don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, but don't swallow. And while you're jumping from one foot to the next, what is He doing? He's up there laughing his sick fucking ass off! He's a tightass! He's a sadist! He's an absentee landlord! Worship that? Never!
Power corrupts, and omnipotence corrupts absolutely. God is a kid with a magnifying glass, burning ants for no reason but His own entertainment – and, by the look of things, we are created in His image, for we would act no different in the same position.
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