Here’s Your Chance!


There cannot be a God, because then we could not endure not to be gods ourselves!” I would like to spell out one implication of Nietzsche’s battle cry in this brief column. Too often such titillating declamations die away into rapidly fading echoes because we cannot really imagine what difference they would make in real life. They seem to express a certain brand of attitude, defiance, I guess, but unless they can be shown to make a difference in the living of life, the Superman remains an empty ideal. There’s nothing wrong with an empty ideal, mind you: it serves as a challenge for us to fill it. If we don’t, we will have failed to earn that wisdom or its fruits. So can we make some sense of our own “godhood?”  

By the way, I place the term in lower case as a way of indicating that I am using it “under erasure.” As Nietzsche said with regard to “truth,” there is none. But we must retain the category of “truth” precisely in order to remind ourselves of its emptiness. Otherwise, our favorite fictions may begin to creep over into the other, empty, category, and we will begin to regard them as truths, as we once regarded the fictions we have since rejected. In the same way, we dare not set ourselves up as real Gods, because that would be like thinking you are Napoleon. (Though come to think of it, one of my favorite historical characters, Louis Napoleon, or Napoleon III, did after a fashion strive to play the role of his more famous uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, another favorite of mine. And it was the younger Napoleon’s Icarus-like attempt that makes him one of my favorites!) 

Here’s what I have in mind. One of the major reasons individuals give for rejecting belief in a providential Deity is poor job performance. His worshippers seem to be paying him for nothing: the world looks just as bad as it would if no one were overseeing it. And so why not conclude there is no one overseeing it? It’s not just that no one is showing up to work; no, there is no one to show up for work! Nor can you. The job’s still open. That is, it would be if it were an actual job. But it isn’t because the job description is just too vast. Look at the mildly amusing movie Bruce Almighty, where an average jerk gains the power of God and doesn’t know how to wield it. Big surprise, right? As if anybody could. The answer to this one’s prayer is going to stomp on that one’s toes. No one could keep it all straight. In fact, that’s really what we’re saying when we exclaim, “God alone could do so and so.” Nobody could. God is no one, as when Polyphemus cried out “Noman is killing me!” 

But I want to suggest that you and I do after all, each in our own tiny way, have that job, whether or not we are doing a very good job of it. It is nowadays common to hear it said that each individual makes his own reality. I am convinced there is significant truth in that maxim. Our world is, on one level, the product of our subconscious, instantaneous judgments and perceptions of what we see happening around us at each moment. We feed input through certain grids, some hard-wired into the human organism, others shaped through learned (or mis-learned) experiences. We are not seeing the whole thing, the “undifferentiated manifold of perception,” but only an interpreted and even censored version. We need to try to understand these mechanisms, as Kant did, through sustained introspection. “Why am I inclined to think people do not take me seriously? Is it something I am reluctant to admit about myself? Dare I face it?” “Why am I so pessimistic? How do I really know that the future must be a replay of the past?” And so on. This is where the “affirmations” of New Thought come in. They are attempts at reconditioning our thought patterns. I used to ridicule the idea—that is, until I understood it. 

We create our worlds also insofar as we send out signals inviting certain responses, positive, negative, friendly, hostile, icily indifferent. We may not be aware of the invitations we are sending out, asking others to behave toward us in a certain way, and they may not consciously be aware of the transaction either, but we are exchanging eloquent signals with those around us. How others treat us is often surprising just because we are conscious only of the response, not what elicited it. 

Naturally, many people we encounter are riding roughshod over us just because we happen to be in their way, and we had nothing to do with it. We didn’t invite or create such behavior, any more than we somehow caused a traffic jam miles ahead that is making us stand still on the highway. I may be a megalomaniac, but I’m not a solipsist. 

Equally true and equally important, we create each other’s realities insofar as we allow each other to. Think how many times someone’s chance remark or thoughtless deed has depressed or angered you for a whole day—or much longer. They cast a pall over your day, or your life. Consider how an encouraging “word in season” has lifted you up, opened a way where you had not noticed one, given you heart and hope. Someone, many others, are creating your world with you or for you. 

If their input is negative, you ought to be able to fend it off. Fundamentalist motivational speaker Bill Gothard was, like the stopped clock, right despite himself occasionally, as when he argued that, when someone insults you, you needn’t get all bent out of shape over it. Just realize that the insult came to you for one of two reasons. First, maybe you deserved it. The insulter’s lack of tact aside (grow up, will you!), maybe they’re right. In that case, why be sore at him? Take the rebuke like a man (or if you prefer, like a “mature adult.” But I prefer to say “man” since I figure women are more mature anyway and don’t need the advice.) and correct the flaw. You really ought to thank him for bringing it to your attention. 

Alternatively, you might not have deserved it. In that case, the bullet has missed you. Instead of licking the wound you didn’t actually get, turn your attention to the gunman. It’s his problem, not yours, that led him to insult you. In his own confused and coded way, he might even have been asking you for help! Either way, get down to business helping yourself by improving, or helping the one who would have offended you if you were insecure enough to take it seriously. 

In any case, you can learn to screen out other people’s attempts to control your emotions. You can stop them from polluting the world you are busy creating. But remember, too, that your acts and words are influencing the other person. You are creating his or her world, probably thoughtlessly, like the idiot Demiurge Azathoth. Take thought of the creative fiats you hurl from your modest Olympus! Your little words, pats on the back, jokes, comments, approvals, will write the script for another. You are the man behind the curtain in the Emerald City: you are the god about whose shoddy providence they are complaining!  

Great is your power over another, if only you knew it! Be a kind, beneficent, and deliberate creator. To take on that burden is to undertake the job left vacant by the death of God. To take his place, “must we not after all, become gods ourselves?” No wonder the mythical God did such a poor job! You can hardly blame him after all: the poor chap didn’t exist! But you do. In your small or great sphere of influence, do God’s job right!


So says Zarathustra.

Robert M. Price
July 2008


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