Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bug and Man

After deciding not to, my squeamishness overcame my scruples and I washed a big black bug down the drain (making me less fit, happy, and productive). Though I caused its death (somewhat against my own will), as it struggled and then went under, it could not have had any conception that it was murdered by a more powerful being (to the extent that it has any "conception" as we think of it at all). At first I thought perhaps, just as I was a sort of God to this bug, smiting it capriciously, perhaps a God exists beyond our human consciousness. Then I realized that this thought made little sense. I think, rather, what the bug demonstrates, is that there may be power/force beyond our conception. It is error I think to then assume that this unknown is, in fact, a lot like us. (I really like Stanislaw Lem's "Solaris" and "His Master's Voice" because they challenge our assumption that an alien being will be like us. Instead, he imagines that even the most basic communication may be impossible. They may well be so "alien" that we can't even quite understand how to describe them or whether they're "alive" or "think.")

It's easy to see that over time, God's realm has shifted as our understanding of the world has increased. So too has our conception of God changed as our conceptions of ourselves have changed. Old Jehovah was kind of a capricious king. He acted like a human. He was irrational, pissy, played tricks and jokes on people seemingly because he was way stronger than them, and demanded blind obedience to the death. (Which makes him a lot like the Greeks' and Romans' primitive gods.)

God has evolved to become more civilized. He understands who you are. He is love. He cares about your feelings. He is not into dominance for its own sake. He just wants righteousness to prevail the world over.

Forgive me this gross oversimplification. I write only of the Christian God and ignore the fact that there are myriad interpretations of God's personality. But I'd wager volumes have been written tracking how the persona of the Christian God has shifted along with culture, just as many surely have spoken of how God appears to be a projection of humanity's hopes and fears into the void.


Anonymous said...

Hey, interesting stuff. Yes, why is even a bug's life precious? Something to do with God I suppose.--s29

John Althouse Cohen said...

Check out The Evolution of God by Robert Wright.

vacuous said...

In Buddhism all lives are considered precious, and I try not to kill insects, although I could be better at it. I recall our hike in Algonquin Park where the mosquitoes left me no choice. Of course, given the choice between a human life and a mosquito's, clearly the mosquito's life should be the one forfeited. Although this makes intuitive sense, there is also Buddhist scriptural support, as pointed out to me by Lama Inge Sandvoss. Namely, it is said that injuring a buddha or killing a bodhisattva has far greater karmic effect than killing an "ordinary being." In other words, the greater the level of consciousness, the worse it is to kill that being. Since mosquitoes are manifestly far less conscious than humans, it makes sense that killing them would have less of a karmic imprint. On the other hand, intentionally saving an animal's life can have a lot of benefit.