Who Do We Worship When We Kill God?
The human instinct to worship must be fulfilled
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Gambardella explains that God wasn’t actually killed and the idea of the deity didn’t disappear. God has just been “displaced from His central place in our civilization.” He also explains that Nietzsche believed this displacement could eventually be a freeing experience for man.
The ideas of the enlightenment gave us scientific explanations for events as opposed to ethereal reasons. This would be very true. Religion doesn’t have the power it once had in our society. However, the idea of displacing God has not stopped mankind from worshiping.
The idea of worship seems to be a central focus in the minds and hearts of mankind. From the earliest history of humanity, it has worshiped in some form or type. The archaeological record might best show this human desire to worship.
Structures of worship have survived thousands of years of wind and rain. Creation of these structures would be tremendous feats for societies without modern tools. Nonetheless, these ancient societies would stress their resources, bodies, and community in general to create these monolith structures for worship.
Humanity And Worship
Ancient societies across the world created massive temples and structures for the purpose of worship and religion. Often, it may be hard to recreate what life may have been like for an ordinary person in one of these societies. However, their religious beliefs and practices are often much better known.
The picture above is of Göbekli Tepe. It’s a series of T-shaped structures surrounded by stone rings that was excavated in Turkey. They are thought to be 11,000 years old. According to an article in the Smithsonian, the tallest pillars stand 16 feet tall and weigh approximately 7 tons. This place of worship was created with stone tools before there were large farming communities.
In fact, the article states that it seems like the creation of this site led to the establishment of larger communities and eventually farming in this region. So hunter gatherers stressed their limited resources and manpower to create this stone structure before there were even cities.
Brilliant structures of worship are often left by societies around the world as eternal monuments that they once lived and thrived. But, why would ancient societies such as these invest so much into these structures of worship? Wouldn’t the manpower and resources have been better used in food production or shelter?
Where Does The Desire For Worship Come From?
“Humans are 90% chimp and 10% bee.”
— Jonathan Haidt in the “The Righteous Mind”
In Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind” he looks into the psychology of human beings and why they believe what they believe. In his studies, he’s found that humans generally think of themselves and are selfish. They mostly behave like their ancestors, chimpanzees. They’ll take care of their own needs first, then think of others.
However, Haidt also explains that humans in certain instances also behave like bees with a hive mind. At times, a switch can be flipped which causes a human to think of the group before him or herself. When this mental state is achieved one will even die for the group they care for. They become a part of something much larger than themselves.
In Haidt’s book, he also examines the story of William McNeill. As a new recruit to the military, McNeill was sent to an army base to train. He explains that the trainers there never had them train with firearms, just march in unison and drill.
McNeill found the endless marching strange, but soon noticed a change. When the soldiers became good at marching in precise formation, McNeill began to notice something otherworldly about the practice. It was almost as if he slipped into another state of consciousness.
“Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall. More specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement. A sort of swelling out — becoming bigger than life thanks to participation in collective ritual.” — William McNeill (excerpt from The Righteous Mind)
McNeill would go on to write a book called “Keeping Together In Time” about how dance and drill can bond humans in incredible ways. He mentions how the Greeks used a flute to keep soldiers moving in a proper phalanx. Also, the Romans used calling cadences to keep formations. He also explains how ritual synchronized movements could aid in worship.
The father of positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Me-high Cheek-sent-me-high), developed a term “flow state” and referred to it as:
“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
In these states people seem to lose all sense of self and time. During his studies, he found that people tend to put these flow states above many other things. He studied musicians and artists that put art before money or fame. He found that these people tended to find a type ecstatic state, almost like an alternate world.
Csikszentmihalyi in his 2004 Ted talk explained the idea of flow is nothing new. He believes that ancient cultures invested heavily in chasing flow. In many ancient civilizations, it’s difficult to get an idea of their mundane life. However, you can easily find giant structures, such as arenas, temples, and buildings of worship.
The Greeks described a state they would call ecstasy. In the Greek version of this, they would leave themselves and enter another alternative reality. Csikszentmihalyi believes that’s what these structures helped ancient peoples do. They invested greatly in building these structures because these alternative states were so greatly important.
Perhaps humanity is wired to worship. It may flip the hive switch as Haidt describes, causing the individual to become part of something larger than themselves. The ritual synchronized movements in worship could help bring about that sense of being bigger than life as McNeill described. Also, the collective worship and the size and scope of the temples could bring about the Greek style of ecstasy. We modern people would call this a flow state.
All of these states occurring in one practice of worship would obviously make it incredibly important. Even important enough for a hunter gatherer society to break their backs creating stone monoliths.
What Happens To Worship If There Is No God?
When Nietzsche made his famous comment about the death of God, he addressed it as a displacement. He noted that science had replaced the divine as a way to explain the unknown. Nietzsche also warned that society may fall into nihilism or a belief in nothing, which could be a crushing blow to humanity.
Even if God is displaced or disappears, the desire to worship will still be innately present in human beings. It appears to serve a strong psychological need. Obviously, that internal desire will not be displaced. What will happen to that?
In Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Deus, he explains what a possible future for humanity may look like. He also looks at the world in the same light as Nietzsche. He envisions a world much less God-centered and explores how humanity replaces the divine.
In his world, humanity is still driven by that psychological need to worship. Harari sees that man will focus that worship in a few different categories.
- Humanity will worship themselves: The name of his book is foreshadowing to one of the paths he sees mankind will travel down. Homo Deus means “god man”. In humanism, mankind worships itself. Don’t listen to the word of God. Listen to your feelings.
- Humanity will worship technology: This will break into two areas in which humans worship data (dataism) and possibly AI.
The worship of humanism has been seen widely for a long time. In communism and other totalitarian governments, the state is worshiped. The idea of feelings has also taken center stage. We’re told to look inside of ourselves for answers instead of praying to heaven for them.
The worship of technology is newer, but it is being seen very readily today. In dataism the collection of data is the center of worship. The more knowledge that is gained and collected, the better the world and your life will be. All of this information gathered and sent to the ‘cloud’ will make the world infinitely better.
A 2015 article in Wired magazine showed that an algorithm that tracks Facebook likes can know you better than you know yourself. By collecting information about your DNA you see what diseases you may be subject to getting or what foods you should avoid. Amazon seems to know what you want before you want it. Humanity is only limited by the lack of data — data becomes the center of worship.
Harari also sees a possibility that man may worship AI. This may have already come to pass. Another article in Wired describes the first church of AI created by Anthony Levandowski. In the article Levandowski describes the divine nature of AI:
“What is going to be created will effectively be a god. It’s not a god in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it?”
This technology has no body and can be nowhere and everywhere at once. It’s omniscience allows it to know all things. With enough data it can know us inside and out as well.
Levandowski not only dedicated his church to worship of this all powerful AI — he’s hiring programmers to attempt to create this deity of ones and zeros. He also explains that humans came to rule the world because they were the smartest creature on the planet. He believes as computers become smarter than humans they will take over the throne as ruler. Levandowski’s church is attempting to create a smooth and painless transition.
Nietzsche saw a displacement of God in favor of science and reason. His main concern was a possible nihilism afterwards where man would believe in nothing. While this is possible and has happened, I believe that man is innately driven to worship.
The biggest problem I see with a displacement of God is what man will choose to worship in God’s place. As Yuval Noah Harari mentions above, there are a number of things that man may choose to replace God with. Humans will be driven to worship and belief in something. Unfortunately, the result may not be more freeing as Nietzsche predicted.
I’m sure the description of the church that worships AI will be disturbing to many. Something about humans worshiping a machine sounds like the plot of a bad sci-fi movie. However, it appears very logical in a way. If humans have this innate desire that drives them to worship, why not worship something with the characteristics of Levandowski’s AI?
Perhaps the ancient hunter gatherers at Göbekli Tepe weren’t as primitive as we believed them to be. They may have lived in huts and had stone tools, but they had a keen understanding of what drove humanity. They built a center of worship that created a community, which served as a building block for future cities and farming societies.
It doesn’t take an academic or philosopher to understand that present day technology and human worshiping mankind is lost in many ways. If you asked a person today what is the meaning of life, they would likely struggle to answer this. I have a strange feeling the peoples at Göbekli Tepe wouldn’t.
In our effort to displace God, I believe we may have disconnected from our inner selves. We may see ancients as primitive, but I think they were better psychologists in their temples than we’ll ever be in our universities. They understood the importance of worship and belief in their societies and invested greatly to promote this human need.
God may be dead, but our need for God and belief is eternal. It is part of us. It is the reason ancient societies worked so hard to create the structures we see standing today. The hive mind, flow states, and McNeil’s synchronized movements are psychological reminders of this. Göbekli Tepe may be 11,000 years old, but it represents a modern need. If we ignore this need, we’re apt to suffer because of this.
Thank you for reading my ramblings. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, please share. Thanks to Steven Gambardella. The idea for this article came after reading his piece.