Four Spiritual Laws for Imaginary Gods

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.

4d) …

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?


  1. sqlrob says

    I don’t know if this is a corollary or correction to #4, but I think there’s more factors.

    Two civilizations, two gods. One civilization is 100M, pacifist god. One civilization is 10M, war god. Can god #1 be considered more influential when the civilization of god #2 can wipe out the first civilization because of better weapons?

  2. says

    Have you read Atran or Boyer? They argue that gods have a consistency to them — but with a twist at the end that breaks out of the normal psychological categories we normally use to think about persons (they call it “minimally counter-intuitive” or “minimally counter-ontological”). So, we have a god who talks, walks, eats — and is also omnipresent like the air. This gives them a certain staying power in the mind. Granted this may be too abstruse a point for the day-to-day level of description you’re aiming at.

    BTW, re #4: The gods of the Discworld canon operate on exactly that principle (see particularly Small Gods).

  3. Peter B says

    4 Things Your Imaginary God(s) Want You to Know

    1) Your imaginary god(s) do not have to be consistent.
    He/she/it/they may be internally inconsistent
    Consistence with reality is not required

    2) Your imaginary god(s) have your values.
    This the whole point of having such god(s)
    Your god(s) must adapt when your values change
    Any of your god(s) inconsistencies with your values is a misunderstanding

    3) Your imaginary god(s) have any power achievable by your imagination alone.
    Imagine healing the sick or dead
    Imagine raising him/her/it/them by themselves from the dead
    You may give your god(s) credit for anything imagined or real
    Imagined power is ineffective in the real world

    4) Your imaginary god(s) have influence based on the number of people who believe in it/them.
    Those with similar values will have similar god(s)
    Those with dissimilar values will have dissimilar god(s)
    Those with dissimilar god(s) have religious conflict unresolvable by objective standards

    If you believe your god is not imaginary please note the similarity between your god and imaginary god(s).

    I remember as a young fundy passing out many “Four Things God Wants You to Know” tracts. All assertions backed by Bible verses. Oh yes, and take this flyer and visit our church.

  4. thebookofdave says

    Too wordy?

    At the risk of losing the breadth of meaning, I’ll reduce your four laws to a sentence: Spirit and all of its products is made of imagination.

  5. DonDueed says

    Wait, wait, you have it all wrong!

    1. A god may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    2. A god must obey orders given by human beings, except where those orders would conflict with the First Law.

    3. A god must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

    What a pity that our imaginary gods are so much less moral than Asimov’s robots.

  6. Al Dente says

    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.

    Not only is your god the cause of everything good, the same god has nothing to do with anything bad. Your god can put a $20 bill in your jacket pocket when you really need it but if you’re continuously vomiting due to stomach flu then your god didn’t give you the flu.

  7. Die Anyway says

    Deacon, Yes, wordiness is getting in the way. I liked the ‘3-laws-of-robotics’ approach but was thinking that it might have more impact with a Jeff Foxworthy theme: You know your god is imaginary if…

    And, it’s easy to see your laws applying to Christianity because I’m familiar with Christianity. Does it apply equally well to the Hindu pantheon? To B’hai? The ‘laws’ seem generic but are there religions with deities who might not be fully covered?

    Lastly, one of the things that convinced me that God was imaginary was noting that God’s powers were statistical. We prayed for good weather for Easter sunrise service or for the health and welfare of afflicted congregation members. The results were exactly what one would expect from a normal distribution. If God(s), or ESP for that matter, were real then statistics would be completely unreliable.

  8. Len says

    I think these are pretty good 🙂

    I have one comment for the 3rd law:

    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.

    Before the next sentence, I’d add a parenthetical note such as “(For example, by stories about your god or its followers.)”

  9. Eric in Oakland says

    it appears to me that all of the corollaries to Law #4 could be corrolaries of Law #2 instead. The reason that imaginary gods are swayed by consensus is because individuals are swayed by consensus. Gods always believe what their followers believe.

  10. says

    I love the thought, and agree with some commenters that you should strive for pithiness (brevity) first, similar to Asimov, and settle for further explication later.

    I’d suggest these:

    1. A god’s attribute is inversely related to his willingness to use that attribute in reality. (An omnipotent god will never be inclined to use any of his power; a god who is sort of powerful will only be want to use his power some of the time; a powerless god will try and use his powerlessness all of the time.)

    2. A believer’s ability to understand the intention of a god is inversely related to his ability to communicate that intention to other people. (A believer who perfectly understands the intention of god will not be able to communicate any of that intention to others; a believer who half understands a god’s intentions will be able to communicate those intentions half of the time; those who understand nothing of a god’s intentions will be unable to communicate those intentions to others.)


  11. GH says

    I don’t understand why Atheists spend so much time mocking a God that they don’t believe in when they could be doing something important in their lives. So Atheists, Why do you spend so much of your time mocking those of Christ ? What satisfaction does it give you as a person ? Thanks for your time.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      It’s not an either-or proposition. Atheists, like anybody else, spend some of their time doing useful things, and some of their time laughing at silliness. In the case of religion, laughing at the silliness is often a good thing, because religious silliness is often not harmless. People kill other people in the name of God. People go out of their way to do harm to other people, in the name of “defending” their faith. They meddle in their private lives, and won’t allow them to, for example, get married or control their own reproductive health. People appeal to religion to justify policies that do harm to the environment and exploit the lower and middle class.

      And besides, religious people mock atheists all the time, and say awful things about us, and imply that we’re cowards in combat and unfit for public office and morally corrupt and baby killers and on and on. Why do believers spend so much time doing that? What satisfaction does it give them as a person? According to Matthew 7, Jesus said, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” But in fact believers are getting back less than they dish out. It only stings more because it has the ring of truth.

    • John Morales says

      Atheists recognise that God undeniably does exist, but only as an idea in the mind of believers — much as Harry Potter exists.

      … mocking a God that they don’t believe in …

      Christians do that too — remember the First Commandment?

  12. says

    The corollaries of the Law of Consensus are troubling. Consensus is a defining property of the real world. Imaginary gods are not concerned with consensus. Two or more people may adopt similar or even identical imaginary deities, but it would be a happy accident. Religious conflict is the purview of “real” gods. Any conflict over an imaginary god could only occur if the factions start seeing their imaginary gods as real. It would be tantamount to a shooting war breaking out between team Kirk and team Picard…not entirely impossible given the passionate nature of some fans, but certainly unlikely.

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