We imagine that there is only one such thing as “God,” and it is the personified being that sits atop the Pantheon of our personal religion. Whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or iPodist, you worship something and/or someone. But I’m here to tell you that you’re worshiping many Gods, all the time, and you don’t realize it.
Gods are ‘real,’ but not as we think of them. They surpass reality. They represent an energy that we embody in a form that we can understand. That energy may be infinite and be representative of that eternal unknowable creative force which defies all attempts to constrain and name it. But we try. And so, we create many “Gods,” to suit our moods, anxieties and purposes.
These Gods reflect the societies that imagine them. Humans weave the archetypes of our history (the repeating motifs that well in our unconscious), and bundle it with the current shape of our problems, concerns and pestilence; from this we create our new Gods. We now call these “superheroes,” but they’re Gods, nonetheless.
The Chimera: Half-Man, Half-Animal
The demi-Gods and mystical creatures of ancient myth drew from nature and the eternal forces to create a melange of forms. Horse-men, goat-men, wood-nymphs, water-sprites, Kraken, mermaids, cyclops, Medusa – these are animal and nature spirits loosed in the body of we humans, inhabiting us with the un-restrainable power of the animal world.
We worship animal-human hybrids, too. But unlike the Egyptians, who put dog and donkey heads on humans, we tend to favor spiders, bats and wolverines.
In the early 1960s, a God was created who could navigate the towering world of metal and calamity of automobiles that was redefining the headspaces of millions of people. Spider-Man’s magic only has value among and between a series ofmassive metal boxes – ie, skyscrapers – to spit webbing onto the face of modernity and catapult across Manhattan.
His particular mythic magic only came into existence when the human mind bundled the ancient archetype of God-Man with the new magic of “radiation,” (this was the initial ’cause’ of his ‘superpowers’ – ie – demi-God status). Thus, the shrinking boy-man Peter Parker was revealed to be the infinitely courageous animal spirit, (great-great-great grandson of Typhon) who could surmount the psychological noise of the modern world and find a core of morality.
“The radioactive Spider-Man” was ditched in the re-imagining that took place after 2000, and it was swapped with genetic engineering as a source of ‘magic.’ The problem was, in the 1950s, people could be led to worship x-rays, but now, few to none believe that dangerous ionizing radiation does much but render people sterile and cause cancer. (What will they replace ‘genetic engineering’ with when the public has learned its shortcomings?)
The nuclear age also spawned Godzilla, God-lizard bred of magic and radiation. And in the power of the atom – and power of the Sun, our mythic mind reached to a renewed interest in the cosmos to bring us the King of our “superhero” pantheon.
In Superman, we have the rebirth of the mighty Apollo, Helios, Horus and Ra, golden, gleaming Sun God, who draws his powers from the Sun, and is here, like Dionysus, Prometheus and Krishna, to benefit and protect human kind, whom he genuinely loves. (He even impregnates one of us, like Zeus did 100 times, to create God-Men.)
Superman was, like Spiderman, born in the modern “polis,” the metro-polis of a Chicago or New York, born to ‘leap’ those same ‘tall buildings.’ That leaping was transmogrified to flight in later editions of his myth. (That is how myths change, by the way, to please audience tastes.)
Gods of War
Mars, Ares, Thor, Poseidon – all Gods willing to throw a heavy hammer, iron fist or hardened spear through an enemy’s skull. Mars, the patron saint of the battlefield, drank the blood of the battlefield and was born anew in every battle and every war. But we’ve retooled our war Gods to fit our technical, crowded age.
Batman, the urban God of war, dresses in military hardware, creeps like a Ninja, and obliterates his enemies with fear of the demon that he emulates. He breaks bones, cracks skulls, and (with the exception of the pale movies and comics in which he’s been ‘Christ-ified’), he leaves the bodies of the summarily judged and executed in his wake.
Another military-industrial deity, Iron Man flies by the talent of a magical ‘scientific’ device that sits where his heart should. It’s now the laboratory that has taken the place of lightning and thunder. It’s ‘science’ and the military-industrial complex that our aggressive ‘rational’ culture seeks to worship.
Thor (like Indra, Zeus and Yahweh) is a master of the lightning bolt – that plasma-charged arc from heaven that must have fascinated and terrified ancient people as much as it does us (when we’re outside in the storm). Thor is both an ancient European myth and a modern movie franchise. (Say it with me: things don’t change, except in arrangement and technology.)
Gods of Peace
Every era has its Krishna, it’s Lord of love and peace. We had Jim Morrison, who wanted to be Dionysus, but he was all too human. Spider-Man is, in many ways, a God of rationality, of wisdom; like Hermes, he’s fleet and uses cleverness to defeat overly-confident rough enemies, because he cannot match their strength (at least, this was the conception – the movies have made him invulnerable).
There is, in India, the Lord Krishna, whose life and death prefigure our Jewish ‘savior’s’ in too many ways to be a lucky stumble. But, to Americans, there is only one true God of love and peace. And his name is Josh. Or, would have been, if not for translations from the Greek, which transfigured it to…you know.
But he was a God of his time, too. Jesus’s magic dealt with the issues of the age:
Hunger and Food Scarcity (making one fish into two fish, into red fish, into blue….no, no, no. Just…many fish – and same with the bread);
Safety at Sea (walking on water in a storm) in an era where drowning while fishing (and getting caught in a storm) had to be a fairly common occurrence.
Healing lepers (when leprosy was a terror in cities and towns). Dealing with corrupt officials (plus ça change…) And so on.
The civilization’s technological level, daily habits and physical structure builds its Gods. You can deconstruct any culture, analyze its hardships, restraints, geology, geography, food abundance or dearth – and you’ll begin to paint a portrait of its deities.
We, clearly, worship a notion of laboratory science, as all our modern Gods have ‘scientific’ origins. The most strident intellectual fight ongoing in the 19th and 20th Centuries is precisely this: the argument between those who hold to the ancient Near-Eastern thunder Gods, Gods of war, revenge and solace; with those who worship the neophyte God of laboratory invention, reductionism and petrochemical decoupling and re-coupling.
I’ve left out some of the most powerful Gods of our age: The “Democracy” Myth and Cult; the HIV Demon, The Vaccine Savior, and the 9/11 Mystery Cult. (You can read about those in my book, “Official Stories”).
We’re always a tribal, myth-making, God-worshiping species. Nothing will ever change that. I suppose all that’s left for you to do is – choose your God.
Which one do you believe in?
Liam Scheff is author of “Official Stories,” drilling to the core of the gooey religious center of science.
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