You have no power over me.

Posted: 2 August 2010 in religion

I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.
-Jareth, Labyrinth

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there is, in fact, a single non-specific deity (or discrete group that is worshiped as a singular body, like a pantheon or trinity or something).  There are a few ways that this deity could manifest, and I’d like to take a moment to explore their worthiness to receive worship.

First, a few definitions, just to make sure we’re all on the same page:

Omniscient – All-knowing.  An omniscient deity has infinite knowledge, and can see every part of the universe, even what you do in the shower.  May or may not take perverse pleasure in this.

Omnipotent – All-powerful.  An omnipotent deity has infinite power to effect every aspect of the universe.  From the specific gravity of ice to the lottery numbers for next Tuesday to the fate of your hypothetical soul once your body dies, the Omnipotent has absolute power.

Omnibenevolent – All-good, all the time.  An omnibenevolent deity doesn’t have a mean metaphysical bone in its theoretical cosmic body.  It is incapable of evil on any level.  It is, essentially, an infinite supply of your favorite food that you can eat for eternity and never get fat from.

Let’s look at the permutations and their worship-worthiness.

1) The Omnicient:  A god who knows everything but is relatively powerless or inclined to act?  Sounds like the NSA to me.  Unworthy.

2) The Omnipotent: A god who can control every aspect of the universe, but doesn’t actually know every last detail of what it can control?  Sounds like Congress! Unworthy!

3) The Omnibenevolent: Basic really nice guy.  Sure, it’s the kindest, most giving person you know, but is it really worth total subjugation of your will?  Not really.

So, single-aspect deities are pretty much a bust.  Time to mix and match!

4) The Omniscient Omnipotent:  All-knowing and all-powerful!  A deadly combination, at best.  Without the omnibenevolence, there’s no telling how psychotic this deity could be.  Furthermore, what’s the point in actually worshiping this deity?  At best, you can hope to ward it off so that it doesn’t turn its all-seeing eye your way.  This is the very model of the Christian deity, and look how that turns out? A sociopathic nightmare that’s just as likely to reward you for eternity for reciting a few magic words as it is to punish you for eternity for not saying those words right.
Definitely unworthy of worship.  Fear, maybe, but not worship.

5) The Omnipotent Omnibenevolent: It’s all-powerful and all-good.  Unfortunately, it’s not all-knowing, so it can’t put that eternal power to eternally good use.  This is actually the most pathetic deity out there, because “worship” accorded to it becomes a simple act of calling it forth to make your life easy.  It is the replicator from Star Trek.  “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot” may as well be its holy mantra.  Actual worship of this deity is nothing more than a mechanical interchange.  It’s not actually worship.

6) The Omnibenevolent Omniscient: All-knowing and eternally good?  Well, that sounds like a great big ball of fun, but what has it done for me lately except be sad when suffering abounds?  Without that omnipotence, this deity is just a metaphysical lump,  not worthy of anything even close to worship.

OK, none of those worked out too well, either.  All three seemed to be crippled by the one thing they lacked.  So, let’s put them all together:

7) The Omniscient Omnipotent Omnibenevolent: The big prize.  Infinitely knowledgeable, Infinitely powerful, eternally good. Just one little problem:  Suffering.  The existence of the Trifecta is completely disproved by the existence of suffering in the universe.  If there was such a deity, there would be none.  But more to the point, such a deity wouldn’t require worship, and if it did, there wouldn’t be any point.  It would simply know whether or not you were worshiping (and doing it correctly), and would change you to make sure you were if you weren’t, because not doing it right could lead to suffering.  So, you wouldn’t have any control over your worship, which would actually make it slavery.  You would have no choice in your participation in it, and therefore, it’s not actually worship.  The question of this deity’s worthiness is moot – it cannot not be worshiped.

So, there you have it.   Either there’s no possible way for them to exist, or they’re not worth worshiping in the first place.  So what’s the point?

  1. Josh says:

    “If God is good, and God is all powerful, there shouldn’t be suffering.” Thank you for reiterating one of the most oft-repeated arguments in theodicy. I hope you didn’t think you were saying anything new or provocative. There’s nothing new under the sun, after all.

    You’re assuming that God ought to act the way humans do, if a human were all-powerful. You and I would FORCE the world to be good, or at least to fit our definition of “good,” what we consider “good” from our limited perspective. We would remake the world in OUR image, for WE ARE GOD NOW.

    Christianity takes the exact opposite approach. God is all-powerful, but chooses kenosis (“self-emptying”), chooses to limit His power and Self in order to create things other than Himself and to give them free process (for Nature) and free will (for humanity). We screwed things up, on a pretty massive scale in some cases, but God’s response wasn’t to snap His fingers and make it right (which would be a use of force) but instead to join us in it, to become one of us, to heal the world through suffering and weakness and self-giving love.

    We find this offensive because it’s not what we would do if we were God. We’d use the power for ourselves, to further our own ends, to create the world we want, not to love it as it is, warts and all, and be a part of the madness that seems to have no direction.

    Furthermore, God does not “require” worship as if it benefited Him. God was doing just fine before we came along and invented things like rape and lobotomy and nuclear arms and Jersey Shore. Worship is an act of self-giving for others — just as God gives of Himself — and it is how we were meant to live: selflessly, honorably, nobly. Call this slavery if you want; nothing’s wrong with being a slave if your Master is perfect. But slavery is forced, worship is not.

    Nobody is holding a gun to your head and making you pray. Sure, people say you’ll go to Hell if you don’t pray and believe. But if you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in Hell either, so what’s the difference?

    Finally, if there is no God, or there is a God whose interaction with us is impossible/nonexistant, then the only *reasonable*, logical outcome is nihilism. If there is no God, or God doesn’t matter, then nothing matters. Nietzsche, Sartre and Dostoyevsky didn’t agree on much, but they all agreed on this: “If there is no God, all things are permissible.” This thrilled Nietzsche, nauseated Sartre and was, for Dostoyevsky, proof that all men secretly believe in God — for only a mad man believes all things are permissible. If there is no God, and the concept of Him is a fallacious and even laughable man-made concept, then the concepts of justice, mercy and love are also man-made and subject to the very same scorn, derision and deconstruction. They’re just as worthless and hold no real power.

    The point, then, is that if there’s no point to God, there’s no point to seeking justice for a wrong done. Or showing mercy to those who are suffering. Or loving one another.

    • Còmhradh says:

      I hope you didn’t think you were saying anything new or provocative.

      To my knowledge, such a thing has never occurred on this blog.

      You’re assuming that God ought to act the way humans do, if a human were all-powerful.

      I really should have specified “creator deity.” Your counter-arguments are valid if said deity happened upon a pre-made universe. However, an omniscient omnipotent omnibenevolent deity wouldn’t have created the capacity for suffering. In fact, I can’t imagine them creating much of anything that we’d recognize. To paraphrase Dr. McCoy, nature is disease and danger. It literally thrives on suffering and death.

      Considering Judeo-Christian tradition holds Yahweh to be the creator of the universe, yhe answer to the question of evil: Yahweh is not omnibenevolent. He is, after all, the self-admitted creator of evil. Case closed.

      Finally, if there is no God, or there is a God whose interaction with us is impossible/nonexistant, then the only *reasonable*, logical outcome is nihilism.

      I reject that completely. Simply because my existence is the result of 13 billion years of random events does not mean that my existence is meaningless. I am a cell in a greater whole, a part of the body of the universe. Insignificant as I may be, unimportant as my life and death will be in the cosmic scale, I have purpose. I do not view everything as permissible simply because I lack the threat of eternal damnation.

      To counter that “logic” dictates that the lack of supreme law means I should be free to do what I will without consequence, completely overlooks that we are social beings. Logically, I should be kind to my fellow being because to do otherwise, to be what one would consider immoral, would lead to rejection from the whole. So, logically, I don’t need a god to be a moral person.

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