The above is an interesting conundrum put forth by Friedrich Nietzsche. The existence of God is a widely argued and broadly criticized question, raised again and again since time immemorial by different atheists and defended by theists. The funny thing is that despite these numerous arguments, no one has yet been able to find a logical and widely accepted answer. In this essay, I shall critically approach and ponder over both the opposite viewpoints, and try to reach an appropriate answer.
Does God really exist? A question each one of us have asked ourselves, either in moments of great emotional anguish or triumphant successes. I will use the following example to illustrate my point – a student returns home after having secured the top rank in his examinations. His mother immediately starts thanking God for His blessings over her son. The child wonders whether his success was an attribute of his own hard work or of God’s blessings. The next time, if he does not study as hard as before, but is doggedly regular in his prayers and offerings to the deity, would he achieve the same glory? Surely not! Then is hard work or divine blessings the reason behind the child’s triumph in his exams. Another instance can be of a poor, honest farmer who is cheated by an unscrupulous money-lender into usurping his land. The farmer seeks help from the police, but the officer dismisses the case, after having accepted a large enough bribe from the money-lender. Both the corrupt men enjoy a prosperous life while the honest peasant watches his family slowly starve to death. Should he not then question his belief in the existence of God?
History tells us that ever since man walked on the soil of Earth he has worshipped a supreme power. At the very beginning of civilization, due to lack of scientific awareness mankind was unable to account for the various natural phenomenons. Anything that he could not answer, Man attributed to a divine power. Our ancestors, the Aryans worshipped natural elements like the Sun, Wind, Fire and Rain. Deities were certain human-akin figures who were said to be in charge of certain Natural Element, like Indra is considered to be the god of rainfall in Hindu religion. They practised religion in order to appease the gods through offerings and gifts, in return of grants and favours. They depended on the Sun and the Rain for nourishment so they prayed for sufficient sunshine and rainfall for their crops. They needed Fire for warmth, cooking food, and various other tasks but at the same time they feared it too. So they prayed to the Fire-God in order to tame and appease the Fire. Natural disasters were credited to the wrath of the gods. Greece and Roman civilization too followed a similar pattern of worship. They worshipped the sky and the rain through the Sky-God Zeus or Jupiter (in Rome). The rise and fall of tides depended on the mood of Poseidon or Neptune. Apollo drove the Sun’s chariot from the mountains to the Sea and his sister Artemis was the goddess of the Moon. Egyptians worshipped the Sun by the name of Amun-Ra. Animals which were beneficial to humankind too were worshipped, like the cow in Hindu and Greek cultures and the cat in Egyptian civilization. Many tribes in the rural parts of India worship the soil, as their benefactress. Thus, the idea of God first evolved from the natural elements and their keepers.
Slowly and steadily, certain men started claiming themselves to be incarnations of God. These lead to the birth of priests and prophets. These prophets asserted that they could interpret the signs of God. In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs claimed themselves to be manifestation of the gods, born to rule over the ignorant masses. The priests served as the physical connection between the supreme power and mankind.
The question which arises now is why did the common masses flock to these priests? Why do people even today, in the era of scientific awakening, visit temples before an auspicious task, like setting up a new business or a new job? The answer, I presume, lies in the intricacies of the working of the human mind. Ever since childhood, we want someone to look out for us, to help us in our need. When a child achieves something he wants his parents to praise him and reward him. The same applies in our belief of a divine, omnipresent and coherent being. The belief of God acts as a check on man. The idea that someone is watching all our actions boosts our self-confidence. There is a popular belief, mostly in Christian and Hindu religion that we are either rewarded or punished for our actions during our life, after death. This belief convinces many to help others, be kind and never deviate from the path of righteousness, as someone is watching. Often we are tempted by evils and vices. For example, a man may be enticed to steal from a shop at the middle of the night when there is no visible presence. But the belief in an omnipresent power, may just act as a check to this temptation. Belief in God strengthens our resolves, and weakens our vices.
Society cannot be consolidated without a firm set of rules and doctrines. Religion was evolved with the objective of tying society, and encouraging morals. Moral behaviour was promoted through the idea of God and divine punishment. In the period of scientific ignorance, it acted as the best possible check on all immorality and depravity. However if the question arises as to whether man can be moral without God, the answer will definitely be in the affirmative, which brings into question the importance and relevance of a Divine Spirit in our lives. Certain functionalists like Malinowski, believe that Religion helps in promoting social solidarity, as religious rituals tend to deal with those situation in an individual’s life which cause stress, for example death which Malinowski saw as socially destructive, as it takes a member of society away from the group. In a funeral ceremony, the society unites to deal with their loss and also to comfort the bereaved. A belief in immortality and a good after-life is also soothing to the bereaved.
Religion, though at first was developed for moral progress of man, soon became corrupted by the very sins it was trying to eradicate, namely selfishness and greed. Priests, who were believed to be communicators between helpless and ignorant mankind and the pervasive, supernatural spirit, turned avaricious and greedy. They began to amass land and property in the name of God. They believed themselves to be at par with divinity, and thus the supreme rulers of the society. Rapacious desires to obtain power and rule over large areas of land, lead to certain religious leaders try to spread their own set of beliefs. This led to conflicts of religion and religious wars. The crusades in the middle ages between the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslim faith are a good example of this. Thousands of innocent men and women were massacred in the ruthless bloodbath in the name of God. The modern day communal riots between different religious groups and modern religious wars can also be cited as an example when Man used God as an excuse to perpetuate violence. Religion which had previously helped in strengthening the bonds between men now became the prime cause for their merciless slaughter.
In Vedic India, the rigid caste system declared the position of Brahmins, the highest caste to be supreme. The Brahmins believed themselves to be pure, and thus kept away from the unclean and impure masses. People belonging to the lower castes had to face much discrimination and oppression at the hands of the higher caste. They were refused entry into temples or schools. They were not allowed to sit next to the members of higher castes, and the higher caste could not even have food prepared by a lower caste member. There were untouchability taboos and marriage was strictly bound within the caste. The discrimination went as far as to prevent people of the lower castes to access drinking water from the wells of the Brahmins. There was little improvement in their pitiable condition until independence.
Another notable example of futile bloodshed in the name of religion is the Holocaust of the Nazis, during and before the Second World War. Hitler believed himself and all Germans to be a member of a supreme race ‘Harrenvolk’. He believed that they were ordered by God to rule all mankind. He thus followed an expansionist policy, which ultimately culminated in the Second World War. Hitler went on an anti-semitic propaganda, as he believed Jews to be traitors who had led to the downfall of Germany in the First World War. This justified his cause of eradicating the entire Semitic race. He ruthlessly ordered a mass genocide against all members of this race. Thousands of Jews were killed in gas chambers and the concentration camps set up for this cause. More than six million Jews were exterminated in this manner. This lead to the Second World War, which was fought for a span of six long years and in which atom bombs were used for the first time. Over 50 million people were killed in this war, and again all in the ‘name of religion and God’. This inevitably raises the question – Is God a blunder of Man’s imagination? The above occurrences in history certainly agree with this point. God is just a fancy of the imagination of man’s ignorance, with no real basis in fact and truth. In the light of recent scientific discoveries, more and more men are starting to doubt the long held beliefs of divinity and supreme power. But as yet there are certain questions which remain to be answered, certain occurrences normally called as miracles yet to be explained.
Now, I would like to address the former part of the question posed – Is Man a blunder of God? Well, I think you ought to ask this question to an environmentalist before you ask me. In the natural world, man certainly possesses lesser strength and lesser agility than many others. Yet man has managed to survive against all odds for centuries due to one blessing of his – his brains. Men have a higher IQ level than most other organisms and he also has creativity and imagination. The latter two have especially helped man adapt to his surroundings and rise to the top of the pyramid. But gradually, especially in the recent decades, man has misused and exploited his surroundings to such an extent that he has disturbed the ecological balance through his activities which mostly stem from greed and avarice. Man has through intensive hunting led to the extinction of some species and endangered many others. Unlike most other predators that kill only for their survival and nourishment, man has killed and kills for sport, for fur, leather and other luxuries.
We have encroached forest land for agriculture and building houses. Industrialization and urbanisation has led to widespread deforestation and destruction of many ecosystems. Man has exploited the resources granted to him through overuse and misuse. We have polluted the air through burning fuels and continue to do so, even now. Just look out of the window in a busy street. There are so many cars passing, each emitting toxic fumes which contaminate the air. The ozone layer which prevents harmful ultraviolet rays from entering the Earth’s atmosphere is getting perforated by the harmful gas carbon dioxide the prime component of the fumes.
Air, water and land – man has gained control over all and in turn polluted all. Seas are contaminated from oil spills. The enormous piles of waste generated by us harm the land, as does the toxic fertilizers we insert in the soil, which provide short term benefits and long term losses.
It is written in the Bible that God created day and night in the first day, in the second sky and water, in the third grass and plants, in the fourth sun and moon, in the fifth day He created all animals and in the sixth He created man. Man then promptly usurped all others, exploited them, misused them and gradually destroyed them. Then according to me, of course God committed a folly by creating man. For he, destroyed all his other living creatures, and his wonderful creation of this very planet Earth, for Man will be the downfall of his nurturer – Mother Earth.
I believe that the question posed by Friedrich Nietzsche can never be fully answered, as both premises are true to certain extents. All in all, the answer is subjective and will differ from person to person, depending on their individual beliefs and faith.