If you’ve got an idea in your head, and you want to know what’s wrong with it, write it down and publish it—you’ll immediately see all kinds of things wrong with it, and your audience will kindly help you too. (Seriously, they will, and you should listen.)
I’m not satisfied with my “Three Laws of Imaginary Gods.” For one thing, I’ve taken what is basically a single principle and stated it in two separate laws, and I’ve made repeated use of another principle that doesn’t even have its own law, even though it appears in the others. And if that’s not enough, I’ve thought of another law or two which really deserves their own entries. So with that in mind, and with a hat tip to Campus Crusade for Christ (or “Crude,” or “Grue,” or whatever they’re calling themselves these days), I’d like to introduce the Four Spiritual Laws of Imaginary Gods.
Here they are:
1) The Law of Inconsistency: Nothing your god is, says, or does, ever needs to be consistent with anything else your god is, says, or does. Or with reality in general. Things that actually exist are constrained by the fundamental laws of reality, but imaginary things are free to be a contradiction of whatever you want them to be, including themselves. Thus, for example, you can have a monotheistic deity who has no hope of ever reproducing who nevertheless has a reproductive role such as “male.” Or you can have a deity who is a union of no less than 3 male persons who is murderously intolerant towards same-sex unions. Or you can Person A who is the One True God, and Person B who is the One True God, and have Person A be an entirely different person from Person B. It doesn’t matter, because imaginary gods have no need for the kind of self-consistency that defines real things.
2) The Law of Non-Contradiction: No god who is supposed to be right can ever contradict you unless you want to be proven wrong. The whole point of imagining supreme beings in the first place is to vindicate what you see as right and true and good. You might have some self-deprecating motivation for wanting to prove yourself “wrong” in some sense, but even then any deity you imagine is going to uphold some higher standard that you ultimately believe in. Then end result is the same either way: your always-right deity is never going to contradict what you ultimately believe to be true and right and good. You created your god’s character according to whatever seemed right in your own eyes, and those are the only standards your god has to live by.
2a) Corollary to the Law of Non-Contradiction: If any prophecy, scripture, or other revelation seems to contradict you, it really means something completely different. If you believe salvation is by faith alone, and the Bible says, “a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone,” the the Bible does not mean what it says, and in fact somehow means the exact opposite. See also The Law of Inconsistency.
3) The Law of Power: Your god can do anything you can imagine, provided it can be achieved by imagination alone. Thus, you can create whatever story you like, by imagination alone, and therefore in a story your god can do whatever you can imagine—heal the sick, raise the dead, raise itself from the dead, whatever. Imagination alone, however, does not have the power to show up visibly and tangibly to be seen, heard, and recorded in a YouTube video, and therefore your god cannot show up to be seen, heard, and recorded either. Likewise, you can inspire people, by imagination alone, to behave in ways they would not normally behave, and therefore your god can also inspire people to behave differently. But imagination alone cannot pick up a pencil off the floor and hand it to you, and therefore your god cannot do so either.
3a) First Corollary to the Law of Power: Your god cannot do anything more than you can imagine. For example, if you can imagine your god creating creatures by molding clay figurines and then bringing them to life, but you cannot believe that new species, families, and orders could really evolve out of common ancestors, then even in your stories your god will never successfully create the kind of evolution that evolves new species, families, and orders out of common ancestors. It may be able to do any kind of magical thing you can imagine, but in actual practice it is also limited to what you can imagine. Of course, the Law of Inconsistency applies here too, so you can always claim that your god can do more than you can imagine, even though in practice it can’t.
3b) Second Corollary to the Law of Power: You can give your god credit for anything in the real world, past, present, or anticipated, without any explanation, without any connection between the two, and without assuming any responsibility for anything else. The god, in this case, is merely the passive recipient of the credit you are giving it, and consequently falls into the category of things that can be achieved by imagination alone. You imagine that your god is responsible for some real-world event, and therefore your god gets the credit for a miracle, or a judgment, or some kind of divine providence, even if the thing you’re giving it credit for is also imaginary.
4) The Law of Consensus: The influence of a god is directly proportional to the number of people who believe in it. This law is primarily interesting for its corollaries.
4a) First Corollary of the Law of Consensus: Imaginary gods must adapt their nature, motives, and values to conform to the expectations of the largest available consensus. Gods that do not adapt, do not survive. Gods who used to defend things like slavery, and polygamy, and child mutilation, must become increasingly offended by such things as society becomes increasingly horrified by them. Gods who fail to adapt to society’s evolving moral standards will find themselves abandoned, and their influence greatly diminished.
4b) Second Corollary to the Law of Consensus: People with common values, personalities, and cultures will adopt common gods. Legalists and authoritarians will adopt gods that are legalistic and authoritarian. Free spirits and feel-gooders will adopt gods that are free-spirited and that make people feel good. Social activists will adopt gods that care about justice. And so on.
4c) Third Corollary to the Law of Consensus: Religious conflicts are inevitable. Because imaginary gods rely on consensus to define their values, goals, and methods, there is no objective standard for believers to appeal to in order to resolve disputes between conflicting gods. Such disputes must therefore be resolved—if they can be resolved at all—by mundane disputes. In the best case this means debate and (hopefully) diplomacy. In the worst case, it can mean outright war.
Hmm, I’m seeing a lot of corollaries to the Law of Consensus, actually. Maybe I better stop here for now and just open up the comments. What do you all think? Not just about the Law of Consensus, but the whole thing. Too wordy?