We Are Becoming as the Gods.
But What Sort of Gods?
It’s an idea at least as old as Eden. The serpent whispers to Eve, “in the day you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”
It surfaces in other books of the Bible as well. “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you,” writes the Psalmist. “We are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God,” writes Paul.
Early Christians also preached it, with Saint Irenaeus saying, “First we were made men, then, in the end, gods” and Clement of Alexandria saying, “If you know yourself, you will know God, and knowing God will become like God.”
But it’s not just a Judeo-Christian idea.
It’s also woven throughout the lore of ancient Egypt, China, Rome, and wherever else rulers were deified by their people. It’s a underlying theme of Greek mythology, which imagines a list of humans becoming gods.
It even has echoes in the Vedas, among the oldest known religious texts in the world. “I have tasted the sweet drink of life,” the Vedas say. “All the gods and mortals seek it together, calling it honey. When you penetrate inside, you will know no limits. … We have drunk the Soma; we have become immortal.”
More recently, it has surfaced in American religious teachings, with Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, telling his followers, “You have got to learn how to be gods yourselves … the same as all gods have done before you.”
It’s an idea that humans can’t seem to shake. We are becoming as the gods.
Give us 100 years or 1000 years or 10,000 years. Unless we experience an extinction-level event, we are barreling toward a level of understanding and power over nature that any human today would view as godlike.
But what sort of gods are we becoming?
I ask because the gods have not always been good.
The gods of the Greeks ate their children. The gods of the Romans did the same.
One Hindu god of destruction, Kali, cut off the heads of humans and wore those heads as a necklace.
And Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament, is said to have slaughtered somewhere around 3 million people.
The gods flooded the earth, caused pestilence, and called forth famine.
In certain ways, we’ve done the same. Since our species arrived on the scene some 200,000 years ago, the fossil record suggests we’ve laid waste wherever we’ve treaded—systematically annihilating other species, including our cousins the Neanderthals and Homo Erectus. Perhaps we become what we worship. Or perhaps we worship what we are.
And today, as our population balloons, so do extinctions across the planet—with researchers out of Duke University pinning the current extinction rate at 1000 times the natural rate.
Pollution, waste, destruction. Wherever we go, we bring it with us.
This may all seem foreign in our daily lives, but it’s not. For example, a dozen miles from my house sits Utah Lake, a lake that as recently as 1967 my Mormon ancestors dumped raw sewage into. These same ancestors overfished the lake and then re-filled it with carp, an invasive species that has overpowered other forms of life. Crap and carp — a combination that has contributed to an unhealthy environment where toxic algae blooms render the lake unusable in the summer months. I could swim there, but I don’t want to risk it. The actions of my ancestors hurt me, just as my careless actions today will hurt those who follow me.
It’s the sort of scourge we once attributed to the gods, and in this sense, unfortunately, we have already become like the gods.
And yet this isn’t reason for blind pessimism. After all, we’ve also become like the gods in hundreds of positive ways as well by eliminating diseases, discovering flight, restoring sight, communicating instantly around the world, and so much more. “These are the days of miracle and wonder,” the songwriter Paul Simon sings. And it’s true. If someone from 2,000 years ago were to see the present, they would be astonished at how much human life has improved.
So, it’s not blind pessimism. But it is a choice.
Will we follow the cruelest gods of the Iron Age, with their brutal tribal mentality—gods with a bloodlust for destruction, who embody xenophobia and sexism, and who yearn to cast fire on nonbelievers at the end of the world?
Or will we evolve toward better visions and more compassionate possibilities?
I wish I could say, but I can’t. What I hope for are visions that consider the weakest among us, visions that compel us to reverse the trend of leaving death in the wake wherever we go. I hope for Eden—and more than Eden.
However, I fear that in too many ways we’re heading in the opposite direction. The gods of consumerism and corporate religion drub the planet, and calls for ecological sustainability are as feeble as echoes of a forgotten past.
What is certain—again, barring a extinction-level event—is that at least some humans will become as the gods. That is, they will transcend physical limits to such a degree that it will no longer make sense to say they belong to the human species, just as it doesn’t make sense to say we’re the same species as the great apes we evolved from. Give it 1,000 years. Or 10,000 years. We’re already on the cusp of seeing longer lifespans, enhanced brains, and biomechanically improved bodies. It’s only a matter of time before godlike enhancements exist.
But what if such godlike enhancements are prohibitively expensive for most humans? And what if the few who can afford those enhancements use them to acquire more wealth and power for themselves at the expense of the rest of us—and at the expense of the planet? If that happens, all our technological and biological innovations may serve to accelerate an apocalypse of our own making where a few humans become as the gods while the rest of us join our ancestral cousins as mere casualties in the fossil record.
And so we must ask:
What sort of gods do we want to become?