San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Inventing God

Wasn’t it Voltaire, that quintessential leg-puller and simultaneous propounder of eternal truth, who proclaimed, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him?” No matter, because the truth is that we all, at the very moment of our birth, invent him, though we don’t know it because we don’t yet have the words to give him a name. Let me explain.

The picture on your TV screen exists in several entirely different but simultaneous forms: as a shower of photons, a pattern of charges on a flat grid, a stream of electrons, an electromagnetic disturbance in space, then more electrons, more photons and finally as a random pattern of activated neutrons in your forebrain. The point being that although for you it physically exists as no more than a pattern in your brain, you have absolutely no reason to doubt that it faithfully represents a real activity taking place in a remote TV studio and even, if it happens to be a recording, in the distant past.

So what has all this to do with God? Well, you had a rough time getting born, and, in the terrifying process of exchanging your comfortable lodging for a harsh new world where you had to learn within minutes how to breathe and drink just to survive, you were scared out of your wits. That experience was laid down in your forebrain as a random pattern of activated neurons marked “bad,” although, lacking words, you couldn’t yet give it a name. And later, whenever you disliked something, it was because part or all of that pattern had been recalled: a small part for a bad smell, a larger part for a kick in the stomach, and in all its primal horror when faced with extinction.

But then, having survived your birth, you get your first meal, the warmth of an attentive body and every wish fulfilled, stat. Little wonder that after the shock of birth, the new and delightful experience gets permanently stored in your forebrain as a random pattern of “good,” although, lacking words, you can’t yet call it that. And ever after, whenever you are feeling happy, it is because part or all of that pattern is being recalled, depending on the intensity of your feeling.

So whenever in your subsequent learning process you are repeatedly informed that God is good, he automatically becomes permanently associated with the “good” pattern, just as being told that theft, rape and murder are bad will forever associate with the “bad” pattern. Hence, “good” and God are with you all your life, at least from the time you can understand words, though potentially he was there all the time. Which is why I say you invented him, just like Voltaire said, though not exactly what he meant.

But then Voltaire was expert in ambiguity, deliberately provoking you to feel good and bad at the same time.

And the TV analogy was just to reassure you that God can exist as a random pattern of activated neutrons just as easily in your Bible, in a cathedral or in the fragrance of a rose.

Oh, and by the way, now you know why your Bible, at John 1:1, starts with “In the beginning was the Word, and … the Word was God.”


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