Belief can be a briar patch of thorny ignorance. Paraphrasing Ernest Becker, “When we place all our eggs into one basket we tend to clutch that basket for dear life.” The problem with this strategy is that such clinging has a tendency to lead to a fear-filled, fear-based lifestyle.
We’re more likely to “play the victim” under such a state of existential fear. Most of the time these baskets are passed down from generation to generation and we’re told that it’s in our best interest to also place our eggs into those same baskets. So there is typically an exorbitant amount of social pressure involved.
But there is a far superior strategy: to take things into consideration rather than believe in things; to maintain open-mindedness by remaining curious and skeptical rather than apathetic and convinced. Like Gerry Spence said, “I’d rather have a mind open by wonder than one closed by belief.” The important thing is to remain circumspect. Take all the information into consideration and then weigh it against reality. Take it in, process it, and then let it go. Don’t cling to it. Learn from it. Then move on with your humility intact. Like Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
If only it were that simple. Alas, the human condition is itself a briar patch. And sometimes that briar patch needs some jostling. It needs to be shaken up a bit. Its thorns need some taming lest they become too sharp. We must be able to maintain our curiosity lest we stagnate or even devolve as a species. In short: we need to astonish ourselves. This sometimes means forcing a state of astonishment. And that’s where creating a god and destroying it comes into play.
The self-astonishment gained in creating and destroying a god prevents us from being too rigid in our position or opinion. It enriches us by providing us with new ways of being, by broadening our awareness and understanding, by opening wide our eyes, our hearts, our minds, and our souls to the awe-inspiring miracle of the universe and our place within it. It keeps us spiritually and existentially vigilant. And if that’s not convincing enough, here are four other reasons to create and destroy a god.
1) Because it’s creative
“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” ~ Bertolt Brecht
Who created all things? Who created Yahweh? Who created Allah? Who created the Flying Spaghetti Monster? My answer is another question: who cares?
But many people would answer my question with: a lot of people do. Fair enough… In a universe where energy can neither be created nor destroyed, where it can only ever constantly change from one form to another, and as an agent of change myself, I’m cool with that.
I’m cool with sincerity, but not so cool with seriousness. A creative sense of humor seems to be in order. Like Aldous Huxley said, “All gods are homemade, and it is we who pull their strings, and so, give them the power to pull ours.” Creating power constructs is an admirable task, but not being able to cut the strings to such power is lamentable. The gods can either be adjuncts or puppeteers, guides or tyrants. The choice is ours.
So let’s be creative. Let’s think extraordinarily. What are some other names we can call this infinite nothingness/somethingness, this all-encompassing interconnectedness? Rob Brezsny calls it the Blooming Haha. I call it the Dancing Nothing. My alter ego Jester Guru calls it Trickster Apocalypse. Most people simply call it Love, or God, or the Divine. We can call it whatever we want. That’s the beauty of the artistic process. We’re free to create or destroy anything we so desire. The same goes with creating and destroying gods. We just need to become better at it is all. And part of becoming better at it is learning how to let go.
If, as Mark Twain said, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” then it behooves us to come up with better rhymes and discard what doesn’t work. We are a social species with a historical tendency to create gods. The problem is we also have a historical tendency to prop those gods up and revere them through a kind of myopic and dogmatic blind faith. The problem is there are too many baskets being filled with eggs and not enough new baskets being made. And especially not enough baskets being made out of the refuse of the old.
Do not deny the creative death (dying life) you carry in your heart. The gods are dead, long live the gods: thus the present must die so that the future may live.
2) Because it’s humbling
“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” ~ Tony Schwartz
Creating and destroying a god is an extremely humbling process. It helps us get over ourselves. It helps us mediate infinity into a finite construct, and vice versa. It helps alleviate the conflict between the god and worm inside us by allowing for a cathartic space within which to pour our existential anxiety.
We create a god and it fulfills us spiritually and symbolically. We destroy a god and it instills us with courage and humility. It builds us up just as it tears us down. This way, power never gets to the point to where it can corrupt absolutely. Like Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Is it not this: to debase yourself in order to injure your pride? To let your folly shine out in order to mock your wisdom?”
Build a god. Pour your passion into it. Then tear it down so as not to remain spiritually stuck or existentially stagnant. Then build another one. We’re all creative. We’re all destructive. We just need to learn how to get better at doing both. Like Sir Isaac Newton said, “To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” We can all be that “child” playing on the beach, where the sand castles are gods and the tide is the constant reminder that things change, and must change, in order for beauty to be beautiful and meaning to be meaningful.
3) Because it makes us more courageous
“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.” ~ Terence McKenna
Relying on outdated gods built by our forefathers is boring. Leaning on those gods like they were crutches is cowardly and pathetic. There is a far more superior approach: stand on the shoulders of giants and see further than they did. Challenge yourself. Will yourself into fearlessness. Dare yourself to walk the tightrope between man and overman. The ropes extend from one giant’s shoulder to another. Human wisdom cannot be contained.
It can only ever be a process that changes. It’s less like a single giant knowing all things, and more like infinite giants connected to all things. We are all giants, just as we are all the ones who stand upon the shoulders of giants. It’s all connected. We’re all connected. And the way we tap into the wisdom of this connection is by challenging ourselves to walk the precarious tightropes that connect the Truth.
This is dangerous, sure. But courage is only ever courage when there is danger, when there is uncertainty, when there is pain to be learned from. Creating gods in order to achieve enlightenment, or the divine, or nirvana, takes an immense amount of courage, but destroying the very gods that got you there takes even more courage, tantamount to Promethean-Nietzschean proportions (See “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him”). Like Prometheus himself said, “I would rather be chained to this rock than be the obedient servant of the gods.”
Don’t limit yourself to a single giant’s shoulders. Don’t limit yourself to only one “sacred” text. Don’t be a victim of the ordinary. Don’t allow your vision to be clouded by the smoke and mirrors of the herd-like human humdrum. Steal fire from the gods if you have to. Topple thrones and melt down sacred idols if need be. Like Cecil Beaton said, “Be daring. Be different. Be impractical. Be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” Indeed. Destroy your throne of gold, you must. Crutches have always had more utility in dust.
4) Because it’s funny as hell (or heaven)
“There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.” ~ Daniel Dennett
There is nothing funnier than witnessing grown adults froth and spittle in religious fervor over having their cherished beliefs questioned or challenged. The key, on both sides of the religious/spiritual divide, is to to cultivate a sacred sense of humor. This means being sincere while not taken oneself too seriously.
If we can speak our own mind without being overly serious, then we are practicing a good sense of humor. If we cannot speak our own mind without being overly serious, then we fail at practicing a good sense of humor.
Creating and destroying a god achieves this sacred sense of humor because the process itself is the epitome of not taking itself too seriously. It is inherently anti-dogmatic and therefore free of being overly serious. And furthermore, it is free to develop into a humor of the most high.
Here’s the thing: art does not prevail despite failure, but through it. Art, if done exceptionally, is always vandalism. The same thing applies to creating and destroying gods: creating a new god, if done exceptionally, is always blasphemy. There will always be those who cling to outdated values. But there’s nothing saying we cannot have a good sense of humor about how we go about challenging those values. That’s precisely why Quixote is my co-pilot; we know all the rules but the rules don’t know us. No windmill is safe… Pun intended.
Just ask yourself this question: would you rather the thrill that comes from daring the gods and failing, or the safety that comes from accepting a low-grade ennui and succeeding.
Now consider what Joseph Campbell asked us all: “The old gods are dead or dying and people everywhere are searching, asking: What is the new mythology to be, the mythology of this unified earth as of one harmonious being?” Our answer should be to create this new mythology, a self-inflicted mythology. And it begins with destroying our outdated gods and then creating updated gods from their sacred compost. Our gods can either be a phoenix that courageously rises out of its own ashes, or a stagnant fixture we grovel under in dogmatic cowardice. One fits with cosmic law and one does not. It’s as simple as that. The key is maintaining the transitory.
When it comes down to it, all we have is the in-between. We’re stuck in a fleeting impermanence disguised as a permanent. All we have is a beautiful rending within which to relish. We’re constantly being torn between spirit and flesh, between the sacred and the profane, between life and death, and between infinity and finitude. We might as well own up to it. We might as well get better at being ephemeral. Creating a god and destroying it is doing precisely that.
Like Simone De Beauvoir said, “Man lives within the transitory or not at all. He must regard his undertakings as finite and will them absolutely.” Regarding our undertakings as finite is the humility gained from destroying our gods. Willing our undertakings absolutely is the sacredness gained from creating our gods. Both are necessary in order to maintain the beauty of the transitory.