Voltaire once said that “if God didn’t exist we would have to invent him.” Our imaginations are, of course, limited by our evolutionary past. To us, God has to be human-like. God must be benevolent, meaning it’s actions must seek to benefit humans. Why wouldn’t we invent a God like that? We are human-centered by our very nature. We feel that we deserve our self-designated special place in the universe.
What does that mean that humans deserve anything? Did humans do something, aside from merely existing, for which we deserve anything? Why does one deserve rights? Dignity? Happiness? Safety? Freedom? Fairness? Justice? Purpose? And from whom – or what – are we owed these things? This sense that we, as humans, deserve these things is why we would have to invent God. Our innate anthropocentric disposition requires there be someone or something from which we are owed these things. These concepts that exist only within our own minds.
The God of Abraham is not the only God humans have created, though. Sure, there are numerous other religions, but I mean our history and our institutions. We venerate our history because it’s what created us. And we can change who we are depending on what parts of history we emphasize. We exalt our government and its institutions because, like God, it has our interests in mind. The government may not be benevolent by any stretch of the imagination, but a benevolent government is the ideal that we ostensibly wish to achieve. But governments come and go, transient fictions held in the collective minds of a population – or, at the very least, the thugs who benefit from defending that fiction.
The real question is, can humankind persist without inventing gods? Is it truly possible to live as Camus’ absurd hero? The absurd hero casts off the illusions of the various fictions we use to delude ourselves that we have intrinsic meaning. The absurd hero doesn’t wallow in nihilism or give in to suicide. As Camus says in “The Myth of Sisyphus,” we have to imagine Sisyphus as happy, despite knowing the futility of his existence – condemned to push a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down again so he has to start over. We, like Sisyphus, must come to grips with the pointlessness of our actions, and yet continue to do them. Not by pretending they’re meaningful. The absurd hero carries on in full knowledge of the paradox in which they exist – the human need for meaning in a meaningless universe – and does so happily.
Is this possible, though? Or will it inevitably lead either to nihilistic despair or embracing the illusions of our human-created fictions? I, for one, think the absurd hero is the ideal, but that humans will never achieve it. We have too much evolutionary and historical mental baggage. But, the absurd hero doesn’t necessarily have to be human, does it?