Quantcast

«

»

Jan 03 2013

The Paingod

Once upon a time, there was a little paingod attached to humanity. It was mostly benign and useful; it was there to warn people not to step into that patch of thorns, that that spearpoint was sharp, that fire was hot, that you’d regret drinking that whole skin of beer in the morning. It brought with it the gift of empathy and forethought, as well, so the people were mainly well-served by its presence.

Humanity prospered and grew, and the paingod got ever busier; as societies got larger, not only were there more people experiencing or avoiding pain, but the complexity of their lives created new opportunities for pain. New diseases erupted in the denser populations, wars flared up between competing city-states, social stratification created breeding grounds for envy and contempt. The paingod also grew.

Now this is the thing about gods of all types: they are ambitious. They all aspire to be the greatest manifestation of their gift that they can be. After all, people had been defining god as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, so there was definitely pressure to escalate — if it wasn’t the greatest of all possible paingods, then it really wasn’t a god at all, now was it?

But now comes the tricky part. The paingod served humanity, and that was also an essential part of its existence. It could not simply lash out and promote death and suffering, like a cartoonish cult in a cheesy sword-and-sorcery novel; no, it had to convince people that their personal pain was a great boon, get them to revel in it, and also get them to willingy define their existence by their suffering. Then the paingod would be the the ultimate deity!

And so was hatched a cunning plan. The paingod would ask everyone to give it their pain as a gift; it would present itself as a savior to the world, telling everyone that they can find salvation from the suffering they experience by consecrating it to the paingod, that it loved them so much that it would accept their burdens and bear them for humanity. And it spread a story that claimed the paingod took on the form of a man and suffered heinous torture and died in agony, just to prove it was willing to take on the very worst that people could offer.

It was actually true. The man, though, was symbolic; it was the paingod, and it experienced every death and felt every person’s agony. There was no sudden change in the paingod’s role, only a clever semantic twist: now you metaphorically bestowed your unhappiness on the paingod as an offering, and it was no longer your fault or your responsibility, or anyone’s responsibility, really. It was the paingod’s will. Your duty was to bear up under it, and thank the paingod for sharing it with you.

And so it came to be that the people accepted the paingod’s rationale. When the inequities of their society bore them down, they wouldn’t rise up to change them — they’d go to the paingod’s church and praise it. When the paingod’s acolytes enthusiastically embraced their role in giving charity — after all, the poor and hurting were clearly the most blessed of the paingod’s subjects — they subverted that role into one of maintaining poverty and disease. They would provide a quiet place for people to die as slowly as possible, every moment one of redemption as you shared your pain with the paingod.

Every improvement that reduced the people’s suffering was shunned, and every social change that might make pariahs appreciated for who they were was discouraged. The paingod rules, and the only way the paingod can grow in power is if the misery of our existence were made the central focus of our lives.

And now we live in the world the paingod made, and true to form, it’s a world of pain.

We can’t end the pain, but we can kill the paingod and end the cycle of reinforcement. We can own our pain. It’s not the god’s, it’s ours — we don’t reduce it by pretending to share it with a supernatural being. We cause pain in others, and we don’t minimize it by claiming our sins are redeemed by the paingod — we accept the fault as our own, and struggle to change and repair and redeem ourselves. Tell the paingod that nobody died for your sins, they can’t…because they’re yours. The suffering we cause, the inequities we propagate, the unfairness and misery of a world split between those who have and those who don’t, those are all our responsibility, and no one else’s, especially not a paingod who feeds on grief and regret and sorrow and harm.

32 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    PZ Myers

    I blame the drugs and the great stabbing pain in my leg, again.

    Wait, no…I can’t. I take responsibility. IT’S ALL MY FAULT.

    Dammit.

  2. 2
    Inaji

    ‘S okay, PZ. What you wrote is good. Sorry you’re in such pain!

  3. 3
    billygutter01

    I’m sorry that pain is gnawing at you, PZ.

  4. 4
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Fascinating. That narrative is a central plot element in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen.

    I wouldn’t dare ruin the ending of that monstrous ten book series for anyone, but it’s fairly obvious that the ‘paingod’ can’t stay around and is causing too many problems to be allowed to do so. PZ suggests a fitting and necessary way to solve those problems.

  5. 5
    No One

    Pain, it’s sister fear, it’s brother anger, and the abusive uncle … hate.

    The four horsemen of misery.

    Heal well PZ.

  6. 6
    No One

    Is not recognizing pain in others the basis for altruism?

  7. 7
    Brian E

    So, we’re all to blame, but the paingod exists? Bloody hell, in this economy, what kind of evil are we in robbing the paingod of it’s useful employ and renumeration? We should all be ashamed and Papa Jo for forgiveness. Or the Kraken,whichever works best…

  8. 8
    Gregory in Seattle

    I kind of thought you were going with a Christian analogy: I remember sermons from my theist days of offering up ones pain to Jesus, who already bore the pain of the world yada yada yada.

  9. 9
    Rob Grigjanis

    [the paingod] was there to warn people…that you’d regret drinking that whole skin of beer in the morning.

    Paingods could always be bloody annoying.

  10. 10
    Inaji

    Rob:

    Paingods could always be bloody annoying.

    Annoying is a good descriptor of The Oh God of Hangovers.

  11. 11
    John Horstman

    Nice! This is an excellent little parable.

  12. 12
    Rob Grigjanis

    Caine: “Annoying is a good descriptor of The Oh God of Hangovers.”

    That’s why we were blessed with the twin Angels of Pacing and Hydration. Oh wait, those come from bitter experience and a refusal to succumb to the Demon of Moderation.

  13. 13
    chigau (違う)

    So the pain and the meds are stimulating this aspect of PZ’s creativity?
    I’m torn…

  14. 14
    Inaji

    Rob:

    Oh wait, those come from bitter experience and a refusal to succumb to the Demon of Moderation.

    A while back, my pancreas decided that even the Demon of Moderation was too good for me.

  15. 15
    Rob Grigjanis

    Damn, sorry to hear that Caine. Theology’s not much help there either.

  16. 16
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Subtle.

  17. 17
    David Marjanović

    And so it came to be that the people accepted the paingod’s rationale. When the inequities of their society bore them down, they wouldn’t rise up to change them — they’d go to the paingod’s church and praise it. When the paingod’s acolytes enthusiastically embraced their role in giving charity — after all, the poor and hurting were clearly the most blessed of the paingod’s subjects — they subverted that role into one of maintaining poverty and disease. They would provide a quiet place for people to die as slowly as possible, every moment one of redemption as you shared your pain with the paingod.

    You were thinking of Mother Teresa, weren’t you.

    Tell the paingod that nobody died for your sins, they can’t…because they’re yours.

    We built that!

    So the pain and the meds are stimulating this aspect of PZ’s creativity?
    I’m torn…

    Seconded.

  18. 18
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Tell the paingod that nobody died for your sins, they can’t…because they’re yours.

    flashbacks to teenage years listening to CRASS

    JESUS DIED FOR IS OWN SINS, NOT MINE.

  19. 19
    naturalcynic

    … that you’d regret drinking that whole skin of beer in the morning. Of course drinking a whole skin of beer in the mornong will be a problem. Or was it “in the morning you woud regret drinking the whole skin of beer the previous night.” Oh well, either way, it would be a problem.
    @ david #17: my exact thoughts about MT

  20. 20
    Akira MacKenzie

    Hey! I happen to like “cheesy sword-and-sorcery” novels, by Crom!

    ;)

  21. 21
    woodsong

    PZ, I hope you feel better soon!

  22. 22
    Akira MacKenzie

    Well, in all fairness, the afteraffects of drinking that whole skin of beer was probably better than those of drinking what passed for “potable” water at the time. Cryptosporidium and tapeworm ctysts anyone?

  23. 23
    Akira MacKenzie

    Edit: cysts

  24. 24
    mntraveler

    Oooo…you are so gonna get sued by Harlan Ellison. Just because it’s what he does…

  25. 25
    Stacy

    Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine. –Patti Smith

  26. 26
    DLC

    Kirk [angrily] “I Need my Pain!”

    And from the same movie: “What does GOD need with a starship ?”

    not from any movie: what does God need worshipers for ?

  27. 27
    rorschach

    Nice, and almost Planet of the Hats material!

    Get better soon, PZ!

  28. 28
    rolfschmidt

    Reminds me a bit of Terry Pratchett’s “Small Gods”

  29. 29
    echidna

    Caine:

    Annoying is a good descriptor of The Oh God of Hangovers.

    Caine, tell me that you are referring to the book character. I find Rhodri to be quite charming in the TV version of the Hogfather. Anywhere, for that matter.

  30. 30
    =8)-DX

    You are entering a world of pain.

    Actually in my country the paingod has mostly died. Not that there aren’t lesser deities struggling to fill the void through quack medicine and mumbo jumbo about fate – just that the paingod has gone, he’s a hobgoblin now. =P

  31. 31
    Therrin

    But what about the giant ants?!

  32. 32
    rdrotos

    Clever way to pull the christian tale out of it’s setting and put it alone in a spotlight. Strip away the “mysticism” and it seems kind of silly, yes? Really tho, this parable tells the essence of the christian central dogma – and then answers it.

    Much of the woes of the world would be redressed presuming everyone did not have some way to duck responsibility … What is that one quote (I read it in “The God Delusion” by Dawkins, but he cited someone else) – I am paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact wording – “bad people do bad things, but for a good person to do something bad, it takes religion” If absolutely no-one could say “the devil made me do it” (or, often, “I’m doing it for God” – which is the same thing when you think of it) I suspect many of our societal problems would diminish. Not go away, we are all still people .. but things would get better, of that i am convinced.

Comments have been disabled.