“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
– Roger “Verbal” Kint in The Usual Suspects
“The mind is still haunted with its old unconscious ways; it broods on lost authorities; and the yearning, the deep and hollowing yearning for divine volition and service is with us still.”
– Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
The greatest trick God ever pulled was convincing the world that He exists. He then based all His other tricks on this one, conning people into believing (among other things) that He is omniscient and omnipotent. That He actually cares about people. That those who worship Him are rewarded after death. And that those who don’t are tortured forever and ever.
The fact that God doesn’t exist makes this the ultimate trick. The single greatest trick that anyone – magician, priest, politician or Ashton Kutcher – ever pulled or will ever pull. But how did a fictional character, of all people, persuade billions of actual people that He is real? Well…
It all began when some humans developed self-awareness.
When they believed themselves to exist as separate and special beings amongst all that they perceived. These evolved apes looked at their hands and down at their bodies and understood that these appendages obeyed their mental commands. They looked into still pools of water and saw their own faces. They had thoughts and realized they were thinking. And lo, they saw themselves as Godlike.
But they also grasped that the other moving things they perceived, but did not command, did not (apparently) think about their own thinking. But these entities could still damage human bodies until they stopped moving and started rotting. This scared the humans half to death. And they knew what death was, that they could die, because they’d seen so many of their own kind cease showing signs of life, and stinking up the place (even more than usual), so they understood what dying meant for their future prospects.
This made most people back then wonder whether all the day-to-day, moment-to-moment struggle and suffering they endured was worth the effort. They needed a reason to go on.
And here’s where God’s trick comes in.
One of these people, probably an elderly 27-year-old shawoman (for the sake of storytelling convenience and historical gender representation), was able to imagine a reality different from the one she experienced. Probably because of ingesting sacred psychoactive substances, as it were. In her imaginary reality, saber-toothed tiger attacks, starvation, disease or being brained by another person didn’t actually result in death. These events only appeared to kill the person they happened to.
“Actually,” this inveterate innovator told her cavemates (through furtive grunts, aggressive pantomime and probably some stick drawings in the sand), “Og has gone to ‘the other place’ to live forever and ever, where, as we speak, he’s drinking cool spring water, eating roast wild boar and fucking like there’s no tomorrow. Because for him, there’s always another tomorrow – no matter what. He always has an extra life!”
Now, it’s worth mentioning that Og was a great guy – brave and kind. Everyone loved Og. They cried and wailed at his Ritual Goodbye. Which is where the shawoman shared these consoling words. In contrast, no one cried when Ug died. He didn’t even get a Ritual. No one painted images of his exploits on a cave wall. Because that total fucking asshole:
– Paid a travelling witch doctor to say he had something called “bone spurs” in his feet to avoid defending the tribe against invaders,
– Somehow owned several large caves which he marked on the outside with shiny stones in the shape of his name, and
– Never seemed to do anything except talk about how great he was and brag about grabbing women by the saber-toothed tiger.
Everyone was, in fact, glad when Ug was gored and then trampled by a mastodon, and then torn apart by jackals. Some loudly wished he had suffered much more.
“OK,” said the first person with enough imagination to envision a life beyond the hard one they all lived. “So, Og has gone to ‘the other place’ – but Ug has gone to ‘the other other place. See, there’s two places. One for good people like Og, and one for turdsuckers like Ug. In ‘the other other place,’ Ug’s feet really do hurt – but like a thousand times as much as he said! Plus, there’s this crazy-scary guy who shoves a burning pointed stick up Ug’s butthole about ten times a day!”
This made everyone happy. But one of them asked, “Who’s this guy in the ‘other other place’? And why didn’t we ram a red-hot stick up Ug’s underhole while we had the chance?”
“Well,” the original imaginator improvised, “That guy is called Satan. And we didn’t think of viciously sodomizing Ug because we’re not smegma-licking dingleberries like he was. See, Great Leader Og never shoved a firestick up anyone’s butt – even if they totally deserved it. That’s good, because here, we help each other survive. And when we die, we’ll be in ‘the other place’ and live with brave, kind old Og forever.”
“Yeah,” the other, budding imaginator said, “OK, but if there’s a guy in ‘the other other place’ shafting shit-tunnels with stick-fire, then logically, there must be another guy in ‘the other place’ too…right?”
“Well, duh,” said the original imaginator. “Yeah, obviously. I just hadn’t gotten around to that part yet.”
Og’s assembled mourners murmured at that, causing the original imaginator to realize that she should have mentioned such an essential fact earlier. So, before they could (perhaps violently) object, she interjected “That awesome dude is God!”
“God” sounds sort of like “Og” in a semantically backwards sort of way (and dogs hadn’t been invented yet), so the mourners were all ears.
Especially the upstart imaginator, who asked, “And what does this quote-unquote ‘God’ do? Aside from not sticking red-hot pokers up dead people’s asses, of course?”
“Well,” God’s inventor opined, “He is very nice. He, uh, makes sure everyone in ‘the other place’ is comfortable and has everything they want. That they ever wanted. Ever.”
“Ever,” inquired the inquirer. “You mean whatever we’ve ever wanted up to now, or will ever want? Like, stuff we haven’t even imagined wanting yet?”
“Sure,” said the OI. “All that. Why not? I mean, we’re talking about God here. The guy who, like, created all of us and this whole world. Plus the ‘other’ and ‘other other places’ as well. So, yeah, anything you can imagine or imagine imagining.”
“Anything?” the interlocutor interlocuted. “Great! Then the first thing I’m going to do when I die is go down to the ‘other other place’ and stick a red-hot poker up Ug’s fucking asshole!” Many others vociferously agreed with this plan.
“Well, God won’t let you to do that,” the imaginator explained. “Because then you’d be just like Satan. And God specifically created Satan to torture cockholsters like Ug for Him, and all of us, so we don’t have to.”
“OK, hold on,” interrupted the interrupter. “So, you’re saying that this so-called ‘God’ created another person just so we don’t:
– One, do what the guy in the ‘other other place’ He created does to other people,
– Two, become like the guy that He created, and
– Three, therefore get banished to a Hell that He created?!”
“Uh…yeah,” the first imaginator said. “That’s the gist of it.”
Fortunately for God’s inventor, before the irritated young irritator could ask another pointed question about what evidence the old sha-lady had to back this specious story up, a saber-toothed tiger attacked the group. Several of them were mauled to death before the tribe drove the savage cat away with spears that sprouted red flowers on its striped orange fur.
One of those killed was the secondary questioner’s mate and bearer of his dirty, feral litter. He held his beloved in his bulging, hairy arms as the liquid life redly drained from her convulsing body into the dusty dirt until she was stonelike. Then he wailed and screamed at the sky while rending his saber-toothed tiger onesie to shreds.
He then sat slumped catatonically over her body for the rest of the day, and then, after the group dragged the corpses into their cave, for the entire night. When the sun rose on the following day, the survivors prepared the dead for their Ritual Goodbye. The stricken supplicant remained utterly silent and still as they hauled his earthly love’s corpse to the burial pit. Tear streams rivuleted down his dirt-caked cheeks like a drought basin.
Near dusk, the priestess officiated the Ritual ceremony, saying many nice things about all those who’d been lost. But she lingered over memories of her theological challenger’s soulmate. She exquisitely praised the teenager’s firestarting skills, midwifing expertise and strength of spirit when faced with mortal danger.
“Evelyn was taken from us well before her time,” the shawoman intoned. “She had so much more to give us. So much potential. Actually, she was too good for this world. So good that God took her from us to ‘the other place’ so she could fulfill her potential at being good.”
The snarky questioner was so desperate and despondent at this point that he’d given up all hope – except for one. That the priestess was right: his mate was still alive in a much better place. If not, what was the point of all his struggle and suffering?
“Praise God!” he yelled, and never asked another question ever again. And the other mourners followed suit.
And so on and so on, throughout the ages, forever and ever, up til now.
God, meanwhile, continued not existing. But His fictional ass did make a very real mess of things back on planet Earth. Forever til now. Heaven help us.
Duhn duhn DUHHNNN!