[Rather than going for a cheap laugh to open our third book, I decided to start with a little reflection on the importance of asking the simplest questions – starting at the very beginning.]
Given the right mix of friends and adult beverages, I’ve never found a subject as entertaining (and maddening) as the greatest paradox mankind has ever pondered; “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” At first blush, the question might appear frivolous, little more than a fun riddle for teasing children. That is, until you are fortunate enough to witness a lively adult debate on the matter between spirited Ph.D’s that eventually escalates to raised voices, toppled bar stools, and broken beer bottles.
For me, the first three words of the entire Bible eventually led to more questions than answers concerning the origins of the universe, man, and perhaps, most importantly for the context of this book,… god(s). That is to say, in chicken-or-egg terms, the most important reciprocal question for believers of any religion might be, “Which came first, god or man?”
Of course, before such a question can even be asked, I should concede the existence of an ideology so prevalent that it comes with its own fancy label: presuppositionalism. For many ‘believers,’ all of the answers worth asking have already been long answered by their own particular ancient sacred texts. Or, in layman’s terms, “If the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” No questions necessary. Or allowed. For many, a the ‘which came first’ question concerning that person’s ‘one true god’ might seem completely nonsensical. After all, why bother philosophizing about such a well-established foregone conclusion, it’s blasphemy!
One of the commonly attempted ’gotcha’ arguments you may have heard from those who reject the latest observational science of origins goes along the lines of, “But, something can’t come from nothing, therefore someone had to create it all in the first place!” Almost too conveniently, according to their presuppositionalist stance, that ‘someone’ just happens to have a name that just happens to belong to their particular god of familial, geographic, and/or cultural probability.
To entertain the assertion that “something can’t come from nothing,” one might simply respond, “Well, then who created your God?” Of course, a common counter claim might be that their particular god defies any natural criteria by being infinite in time and space, leading one to ask, “What exactly was this god doing for the millions, and billions, and trillions of years before finally becoming bored enough to create an average planet near an average star on the edge of an average galaxy, just for average little ol’… you?” And that’s where I’ve found the overarching question to really be hiding. When somehow a question of the origin of the entire universe really comes down to how it all relates to… you and your place in this big scary universe.
A couple of years ago, I happened across a BBC interview with astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss. Across the bottom of the screen was the closed captioned transcription of his profoundly simple-yet-mind-altering response to a viewer’s question, “What people need to understand is that the entire universe doesn’t exist just so that you can be happy.” Ouch! I wrote that line on a sticky note that is still perched above my computer monitor as a constant reminder that, contrary to my best efforts, I might not actually be the apple of the universe’s eye.
It is in this vein that I’ve come to the realization that there is nothing ’monotheistic’ about any religion. That is to say, for any given religion, there appear to be as many gods as there are followers. Millions of followers means millions of Gods, each strangely, or dare I say conveniently matching whatever the follower is looking for in their deity du jour (requirements subject to change without notice). The only thing all of these billions of gods seem to have in common is their startling inability to speak for themselves. Now, just imagine if choosing a mate were as opportunistically one-sided in our narcissistic favors.
As one of my favorite Christian authors, Anne Lamott beautifully stated, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that He hates all the same people you do.” In the case of the chicken or the egg, we may never know which came first. As for the genesis of gods and monsters, I must admit, I’m now a firm creationist. It is suddenly embarrassingly obvious that man’s gods are constantly being created and modified to fulfill our primal needs and do our darkest deeds according to our own very primitive image and will.
I often hear critics of religious leaders lament, “they just act like they have all the answers.” I can’t say that I disagree with such a characterization, but I’ve come to wonder – what if it all goes a bit deeper than that? In the end, as I find myself moving further away from the faith of my past, having all of the right answers seems infinitely less important than being willing to ask all the right questions to begin with. To me, the very progress of a society seems to be dependent on being open to answers that might challenge the very foundations of what has been accepted as “truth” that leads to complacency among the status quo.
In that spirit, this book isn’t intended to tell you what to think, but to simply encourage you to think along with me, to think for yourself. I invite you to join along as I grapple with a few of the questions that have been bouncing around my crusty noggin for the last few years.
This illustration and commentary can be found in our third book: