When it is said that someone is “playing God” the opposite is often the case.
“However you define divinity, we now inhabit a universe in which everything is free to create its own future. God does not work to a predetermined plan, but the Universe itself creates an order through allowing the energetic forces at play to work with the materials to hand.”
When we accuse people of “playing God,” it is usually because they have over-ridden the natural flow of events in order to make things run to a plan they had predetermined. Well, however you wish to define your supreme God character, this doesn’t seem to be the way that He, She, or It goes about things.
You could be forgiven for suspecting that some of the breath-taking wonders of the natural world were planned by a divine being. But the Universe and everything in it was evidently not planned by somebody kind of like us but one heck of a lot smarter—God sitting at the Universal Computer, plotting out all those microbes, molecules, and chromosomes; making peaches soft and iron hard; deciding where the mountains and deserts go, and who the lightning strikes. If you were God, wouldn’t you have better things to do? Wouldn’t you build some handy labor-saving device into the system that made things work out on their own, giving you the time to chill out and enjoy the more important aspects of being universal energy?
However you define divinity, we now inhabit a universe in which everything is free to create its own future. God does not work to a predetermined plan, but the Universe itself creates an order through allowing the energetic forces at play to work with the materials to hand. The science of chaos theory has recognized that when you have a large number of seemingly unconnected events flowing freely, they are more likely to form relationships, a flowing stability, and order than they are to descend into a mess of tangled relationships that don’t work. This looks like a bona fide universal rule, yet for a long time humankind has worked on the principle that order must be deterministically shaped from the chaos; order and stability were created according to either our master plan or our linear interpretation of God’s divine plan. Today’s mainstream God of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism is often perceived to have planned our world in detail, and dictated how we should behave, right down to specifics of hair styles, choice of diet, and types of sex.
Of course, it is the failure of these top-down commandments, God-given or man-made, that is the most frequent cause of grief to our species. For reasons that we all innately understand, our emotional reaction to the death of tens of thousands in a devastating earthquake or tsunami is dwarfed by the horror of deaths inflicted by evil-doing humans when bombs are ripping apart innocent shoppers and commuters—people like us. The fifty million human lives claimed by the great flu of 1918 and 1919 are eclipsed by the eight and a half million slaughtered over the prior four years in World War I. The hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the tsunami of 2006 will have faded into the past long before the memory of the 2,800 lost when the Twin Towers were reduced to dust five years earlier. Hurricanes blow, volcanoes erupt, tectonic plates quake, waters flood, people are lost, and this we have been living with and living through for a few million years. We live on the Earth and must accept that it has a destiny of its own that may or may not fit in with where we choose to locate cities and our personal lifetime goals. But the impersonal and intentional killing by human beings of other human beings makes us shudder at a more visceral level.
Putting our trust in God and loving God form the core of many religious teachings, combined with the overall rule of showing consideration to others. Yet by the time this trust and love are filtered through central control they too often become obedience to the church’s instructions and fear of the Lord should you disobey them. The greatest prophets sought to share their wisdom with us so that we might better pursue the path of being fulfilled and happy human beings. These prophets sought to give us principles and tools, not preachers and rules.
God’s power is based on allowing every element of creation to be free to create and enjoy its own destiny in a universe that seems magically programmed to create order from the bottom up. We enjoy this order in everything from the delicate skin of our Earth’s atmosphere to the complex colony of bacteria that operate within our gut to help us turn what we eat into what we are. This free system works, and when we use our considerable intellectual powers to construct an artificial structure that attempts to forcibly control the system, we are not playing at being God—we are ignoring and obstructing the greatest tool that God built into the Universe.
As human beings, we are endowed with freedom of choice, and we cannot shuffle off our responsibility upon the shoulders of God or nature. We must shoulder it ourselves. It is our responsibility. – Arnold J. Toynbee, British historian, 1889–1975
This is the first of four excerpts from The State is Out of Date that will be published on Reality Sandwich.
Main image by Richie Diesterheft, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.