God Never Asked to be Worshipped: We Have Made God in our Image

It is a basic tenet of pretty nearly all religions that the deity or deities whom their followers believe in, whether they are the gods of the ancient Greeks or Egyptians, the pagan[1] gods of the Norse people, the Sun God of the Aztecs, or the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, expect reverence, worship, and obedience from their creatures, meaning us, and are angered by acts of disrespect and disobedience.

But what is the basis for this belief? This widespread belief is based primarily on the fact that it is written in the holy books of these religions that we should honour, worship, and obey the gods or God, and thus a tradition of behaving in this subservient manner has developed. When humans began to believe in God, an all-powerful Being that is believed to be the Creator of the Universe and all earthly Life, they became fearful that this Being would punish them if It was sufficiently displeased. All the terrifying events that take place in the natural course of things, such as disease, famine, sickness, natural disasters, attacks by hostile human groups, or being maimed or eaten by other animals, were henceforth attributed to God’s wrath. And thus was born the idea of “sin,” a transgression of one of God’s many rules, which, it was believed, would be implacably punished by divine retribution.

There is an important difference between the terms “Father” and “Creator” when they are applied to God. In the view of many religious people, these two terms are interchangeable. However, this widespread belief is wrong, for the term “Father” has a very specific human connotation that the term “Creator” does not. Whereas a human father cares about his children in an intimate and personal way, and, moreover, does not care about other people’s children in the same way, a Creator such as God does not have such an intimate, personal concern for one’s creations.[2] For example, most human fathers, provided they are able to do so, would never allow their children to be eaten by other animals; but God the Creator has created Life so that it – at least the animal part – must consume other life forms in order to exist. An example of the confounding of these two terms is the Christian belief that God begat a human child named Jesus, whom It sent into the world in order to save humanity from its sins. Similarly, the ancient Greeks believed that Zeus begat children with human mortals that attracted his fancy. But these anthropomorphic beliefs about God overlook the fact that begetting offspring is a necessary compensation for the mortality of all living creatures, and hence, an immortal creature like God has no need to produce offspring.

The ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes made the astute observation that if other animals believed in God and could create works of art, as we humans can, then they would make their god in their particular image. Thus, horses would make God in the image of a horse, whales would make God in the image of a whale, eagles would make their God in the image of an eagle, and so on. Similarly, he observed, the Ethiopians have made their God resemble them, having dark skin and a flat nose.

The attribution of emotions to God is another example of our mistaken human-centric conception of God’s nature. Like other animals, we humans experience emotions such as fear and anger only because we can be harmed by other creatures. Fear makes us flee from danger, while anger emboldens us and makes us physically stronger than we normally are when we are in the presence of a threat to our life or well-being. But since God cannot be harmed, it follows that God has no need of these and other emotions. Hence, all the many biblical passages that speak of God’s wrath or anger mistakenly attribute to God emotions that It almost certainly doesn’t feel, since God is not a mortal animal.

Apart from human beings, there are no other organisms who believe, or have believed, that they must kneel or prostrate themselves before, while giving thanks to, God – the Creator and Preserver of Life on Earth. There exist some species, such as crocodiles, which have existed for hundreds of millions of years[3] – in other words, for a period that is much longer than we humans are likely to exist – but which do not worship God. And yet, God does not punish them for their failure to worship It, as religious people believe that God punishes those humans who fail to worship God.

I believe it is accurate to say that, for approximately three billion years, since the time that Life first appeared on the Earth, there has existed no species whose members were aware of God’s existence, and hence, were capable of worshipping It. Even if this is an unjustified extension into times about which we know very little, and about the behaviour of the creatures that existed in those times, it is nevertheless true that, at the present time, of the very large number of different species on the planet, many millions of them, we humans are the only ones who engage in the practice of worshipping God, thinking that our worship is pleasing to It. But surely, if God wanted to be worshipped by Its creatures, then It would not have waited so long a time to create a species that was aware of Its existence and paid It homage and reverence.

To declare that our worship of and obedience to God is pleasing to It is an exaggeration of our importance. God is not like human beings: It does not feel emotions or have human desires, which many religious people mistakenly attribute to God. This is something that we easily misled humans have great difficulty understanding, namely just how utterly different God is from anything in our limited, finite, narrow, and selfish human experiences. It is because we can only understand other creatures through our senses and our limited human experiences that we often attribute to them the same desires, emotions, and motives that we would experience in similar situations. But this tendency is nowhere more likely to mislead us than when we try to understand God’s nature.

Let us consider the following analogy: each individual human being is less to God than a bacterium is to a human being. Do we humans demand obedience from bacteria and expect that they will worship us, as it is said that God expects from us? Clearly not. A person who behaved in such a ridiculous manner would be considered insane. The same holds for larger organisms such as mice, rabbits, insects, snakes, fish, birds, and bears, from whom we expect neither worship nor obedience. So how did we arrive at this widespread but, in my opinion, erroneous belief about God?

The answer is, from our naive human tendency to anthropomorphize God, so that we attribute to God our particular human tendencies, desires, and reactions to things. For it is only human rulers who expect obedience from their subjects and demand that they worship and revere them. Hence, since God was conceived by our simple ancestors to be a kind of Supreme Ruler of the world or Universe, it naturally came to be believed that God, like all human rulers, expects to be obeyed, worshipped, and revered by Its subjects. Moreover, since human rulers are angered by disobedience and will swiftly punish the transgressors, it was believed that God is also angered by disobedience and disrespect, and will swiftly punish the sinners or disbelievers who dare to offend It. But we humans are not that important, no more than bacteria are important to us, except when they can impair our health or cause our death. However, since God cannot be harmed, certainly not by anything that we humans could do or neglect to do, it follows that the many reports of our species’ importance to God have been greatly exaggerated.

So what follows from this? Does it follow that we can do whatever we like because we no longer have to fear God’s wrath? No, for to conclude such a thing would be just as foolish as to maintain the belief in our special status. God created Life and then subjected it to the Conditions of Life, because these conditions allow Life to survive indefinitely and multiply into an astonishing variety of different forms. Afterwards, although I believe that God intervenes periodically to maintain the conditions that are necessary for Life to continue to exist and flourish on the Earth, or to correct physical imbalances or conditions that, if they were allowed to develop unchecked, would lead to the extinction of all Life, God does not intervene in the lives of individual creatures on a regular or personal basis, as many of us silly, egotistical humans believe. Furthermore, although, as I have argued in this essay, a failure to worship God is not displeasing to the Creator of the Universe, and hence will not be punished by It, it is my conviction that the wanton and reckless manner in which we are presently destroying a great many other life forms, or driving them to extinction, while we ravage and plunder the Earth to satisfy our extremely selfish desires, is displeasing to God and that, if we do not soon mend our evil ways, God will act to put an end to our monstrous desecration of Its Great and Glorious Earthly Creation.

[1] The use of the word “pagan” indicates that the speaker or writer does not believe in the god or gods that one is discussing. Of course, this term would never have been used by those who did believe in their god or gods. Generally speaking, the usage of this term arises only when a religion no longer has any followers, usually because it has been replaced by a different religion, which is preferred for various reasons over the old religion.

[2] Even among mammalian fathers, there are considerable differences in how much they care about their offspring. Many mammalian and other animal fathers are merely sperm donors who contribute nothing to the care, protection, feeding, or survival of their offspring. In some species such as fish, it probably happens that fathers unknowingly eat some of their own progeny, a cannibalistic paternal indifference that may appear horrific and abominable to us.

[3] In my opinion, the fact that the crocodile has survived for hundreds of millions of years with very few evolutionary changes, long after their cousins the dinosaurs became extinct, is due to the fact that it is a highly effective predator, and hence, serves to preserve the Law of Balance. Unlike other carnivores that eat large animals, as the crocodile grows larger and more massive, it does not become less effective, as is the case with, for instance, all the felines that must run to catch their prey. Its long, powerful jaws filled with pointy teeth means that any animal that is once caught between them will almost certainly not be able to escape. In addition, the fact that crocodiles live in shallow water, such as in rivers or at the edges of lakes, means that they can catch and consume all manner of species, including those that live in the water, on land, or fly in the air, when they come to drink, which they must do periodically.