A week ago in this blog the publication of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good was announced, accompanied by the book description that appears on its cover. I am today posting the Preface to the book. It provides a fuller summary of the book, its spirit, and some thoughts on the experience of writing it. I should note that the text of the actual book Preface had to be removed from the formatting used in the book to present it here in the form you see it below.
The Preface will hopefully be helpful to potential readers in making a purchase decision. Since a two week giveaway program of ten (10) signed paperback copies of Abdication is due to open on the Goodreads website at midnight, the Preface may also prove useful to Goodreads readers in deciding whether to contest for one of these free books.
For purchasers, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats through most internet providers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Google. The eBook is available in all the usual reader sources, including Nook and iTunes and well as Kindle.
The most astonishing fact about religion, which warrants sober respect, is its continuance and endurance over millennia, in roughly consistent form, despite the massive harm it routinely does to humans by sanctioning war and other kinds of violence. From an evolutionary perspective, its adaptability points to either its residual and greater goodness for and to people or to its victories over enemies. Born as a tool for tribes engaged in mortal battle, religion might have been expected to obsolete itself by now as nations and international bodies replace tribes. Yet, despite the reduced tribalism of cultural regions and nations, religion endures to this day, advocating unprovable and impossible claims about the universe and humankind. Yet, ours is an age of transition. Mankind must soon take effective control over itself, redressing environmental and other vital problems of its own making or end up destroying itself, taking its religions along with it. The human spirit resides most securely in nature and thrives in the swirling orbits and oscillations of life. Curiosity and wonder, creativity and invention, perplexity and questions, all pursued through scientific experimentation, will have to guide humankind into whatever future it has coming for it as long as life on the planet endures.
The first sections of this book were written under the thrall of a peculiar idea. The idea is that truth comes in thin flat sheets, each such truth sheet buried with others in a rolled-up ball that hits us each morning straight on our collective head and leaves us dazed, with the result that truth in general is vague or even lost to us. I got this idea from a childhood experience. During World War II, my friends and I collected aluminum wrappers off discarded cigarette packages and rolled them into softball-sized globules that we periodically passed on to the authorities, along with a cube of crushed tin cans we had collected in previous weeks, all to aide the war effort.
If the metaphor is apt, one problem of truth telling is that the particular truth one seeks to reveal has to be separated from all the other truths that are wrapped up with it. These other truths, in addition to providing realistic context, might be as true or truer than the one you’re telling, thus diminishing its import. How can any truth be recognized as the truth anymore, so deep and extensive is the mass of compacted truth that surrounds us and dumps its electronic messages on us daily? Verbal alchemy would seem to be needed. The story would have to be told so blatantly that any reader could hear its ring. The writing would have to conform to a thought people already have in their heads and have painfully forgotten.
What would I say this truth is, after attempting to write it? Here is its essence. We are expecting the worst to happen in the foreseeable future, a nuclear bomb exchange in our own lifetime or in the lifetimes of our loved ones. The associated truth is that religion, we intuit, will be a major contributor to the conflagration and perhaps its major cause. Indeed, two common secret expectations of people around the world are, I think, the Apocalypse predicted in the book of Revelations, with its end of time, coupled with nuclear war as the agent. In short, we anticipate a nuclear Armageddon.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the religions I will be focusing on, different in so many interesting and important respects, are alike in their basic monotheistic deity, supernatural regions, and general story of the character and destiny of man. As much as their adherents would like to deny it, this deity also has a bloody history as a warrior and perpetrator of genocide. Moreover, the diagnostics and prognostications regarding man’s condition and fate have not been improved by the split into three religions or by the schisms within each.
Believing this, I found myself formulating a program to escape the trap humankind has set for itself and allowed myself to surmise that the centerpiece of such a campaign would necessarily be the pacification of God. Such pacification would hopefully come in answer to prayer or, failing that, by an advertising and marketing makeover by His pacifist adherents with the approval of adherents at large. Not quite believing this would work, I approached God directly, as bold and trusting as David with his slingshot—Man on Deity—and beseeched Him to voluntarily abdicate from anthropoid form or, if He thought it appropriate, allow earthlings to conduct a vote on the proposition. Thereafter, if the vote were to go against Him, God would still exist, of course, but exclusively as an It, no longer as He or She. Humans would at the very least have to work much harder to have a God to superintend their wars.
This is the exact point where doubt and humility intervened to shut down any pretense of truth telling. Thereafter, I thought of myself as a shockingly heterodox and possibly devilish fellow who nevertheless should finish what he had started, like any proud combatant would. If I was now over my head in deep water, I had better search the horizon for a decent lifeboat to get to the further shore. The psychological problem was that I never had been an atheist, or a motivated agnostic. Jefferson’s type of deism had been more my cup of tea, and the man had been so bold as to cut and paste the Bible to his liking. Besides, I could not deny a personal God to a soldier or anyone else in emergency need, and I valued a God of thanksgiving, love and peace. So what was this assisted deicide recommendation all about? I knew that God had asked his servants Abraham and Noah, and his son, Christ, to undertake shockingly deadly missions on His behalf, but still, who was I, a nonbeliever, to advise self-directed deicide?
The answer, of course, is obvious. This is a story of man, and only man; God has gotten trapped in a human shell game. I knew then what needed to happen. Man had to be reinvented. So I wrote about man the inventor, with the hope she would become the creator. If nuclear holocaust is to be avoided, and if God is to retain any importance, humankind would have to reinvent itself. Therefore, I dutifully sketched out a reinvention process, replete with specifics, focusing on a post-abdication world oriented around nature, science, sacredness of life, personal responsibility, and the appreciation of life itself.
While doing this, the tone of the writing changed; I could not muster much confidence in the possibility of reinvention. A large question preceded reinvention: Is human nature fixed or malleable? That is the question. It is the one that divides conservatives and liberals most sharply, of which I’m obviously one of the liberals. Conservatives agree on nothing more fervently than a fixed human nature—and a Biblical and Koranic one at that. I knew from past doubts that I was close to agreeing with them. I perhaps should have consulted a competent conservative like George Will on the question before writing the “invention” sections. Avoiding such consultation, wisely or stupidly, I persisted, plodded along, and wrote on. I depended for comfort on the idea that a storyteller need not imprison himself in a claim of certainty and conviction; I felt no need to believe all that I said. I could hold ideas tentatively and tenderly, pass them on to others, or pass them by entirely if I chose. I understood why Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet, required heteronyms to convey his authentic voice. Don’t we have the luxury of not knowing who we truly are and what we surely and finally think? I fancy myself a student and a fanatical learner but for only as long as personal harm and war are avoided. Then I’d have to be a fanatical pacifist until I acquired compelling evidence to vote for war again. I’m happy to let the genie float around in the machine as long as it produces interesting, useful, and productive thoughts.
All of this left me with a thousand questions and interests to pursue. When I’d finished reinventing man, I converted myself to a kind of explorer of gunkholes, completing little sketches on a variety of follow-on topics in the same subject matter area as the main body of the text. These studies constitute the final section of the book. They are intended to provoke, extend, and occasionally inspire.
What is the book’s takeaway message? Humanity can go no further with the God men created and evolved with in ancient times to compensate for their own pathetic weaknesses and to salvage an afterlife for a life that had turned out not to be worth living fully on earth. From now on human beings have to be responsible and courageous enough to fashion their finest humanity. That will require an appreciation of nature and science and a true love of life. Until such a viable, post-violent, environmentally friendly, life-affirming vision is actualized, the gods we create will not earn their keep. We must redress ourselves so as to be worth God’s time and grace. In this world, it’s humanity or God. It’s too late to choose any being other than us to manage and administrate the planet.
I hope you enjoy reading the book and find it provocative and instructive. Please don’t change your religion or deity on my account. Wait until you think you should!
Will Callender, Jr. ©
November 6, 2014