March 12, 2019

When Gods Die

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I recently found myself thinking again about how reading ancient Greek mythology facilitated my atheism in many different ways. The more familiar I became with their myths, the more parallels I started to notice between what they believed and the Christian dogma I had been told was true. But what really did it for me was recognizing that these Greek gods died long ago and were now widely recognized as myth. Nobody still worshipped them, and it was somewhat difficult to believe that anybody ever had. I found myself suspecting that the same would eventually happen to the Christian god. And while it has not happened yet, at least not here in Mississippi, I still have the suspicion that it will eventually happen.

Has there ever been a culture that believed in gods at one point but completely abandoned them to become secular without any new gods being created along the way? I have not been able to think of one so far. Intermediate gods always seem to be involved. The old gods give way to new gods. The new ones never seem to be thrilled with the old ones, and it should come as little surprise that the old gods eventually fade in popularity before dying out altogether. And when that happens, they are finally recognized as part of the culture's mythology. It becomes increasingly difficult to comprehend how anyone could have believed in them.

I imagine it seems obvious to most atheists that the Judeo-Christian god is no different from the various mythological gods that humans have worshipped through the ages. It is no more real, no more present in anyone's life, and no more deserving of worship than any of these other gods. And yet, contemporary believers in this god do not seem to recognize this at all. They think their god is real. Some claim it talks to them; most just have faith.

Our ancestors believed in different gods. They communicated with different gods and had faith in different gods. These gods were eventually replaced with new ones. That doesn't make the new ones any more real or the old ones any less real. Shifting from one set of gods to another reflects change but not necessarily anything we should call progress. Progress would involve realizing that our modern gods are no different from those we correctly see as myths and recognizing that we no longer have any need for them.