From time to time in this blog and the conversations it spawns, I compare gods to fictional characters. I have, at various times, explicitly compared gods to Voldemort, Emperor Palpatine, Frodo Baggins, Nurse Ratched, and probably any of a number of other characters from literary and cinematic fiction. Well, a little while back, one of my friends mentioned to me that this is the one aspect of my blog that they find utterly offensive. This person did go on to say that they understand why I do it, but that it sets their teeth on edge every time anyway.
That got me wondering whether the practice is similarly offensive to any of my other readers, and whether everyone understands why I do it. Because, I assure, you, it is not done for the sake of being offensive. So I figured I’d dedicate an article to explaining why I compare God to fictional characters, and why I will almost certainly continue to do so.
Of course, the first and most obvious reason is that, as far as I can tell, gods are fictional characters. From my perspective, speaking of them in the same vein as Simba the Lion King, Spock, or Maleficent is just a matter of addressing them in their appropriate context. Yahweh, Freddy Krueger, Odin, Cruella De Vil, Ra, Spiderman, Llugh, Pinocchio, Allah, Gandalf; they relate to each other in the same way that bananas, apples, grapes, and kiwis relate to each other. They’re just individual members of the same category. So in one sense, in my mind I’m not making a comparison at all.
But it goes further than that. I’m not merely categorizing things in this blog; I’m trying to communicate a perspective. I know that all of you reading this, religious and nonreligious alike, understand why, when Obi Wan Kenobi advises another character to “use the Force,” none of us in the real world should take that as serious life advice. You get that. I don’t even need to explain that. What I’m trying to get across is that when you tell me I should pray or practice some ritual or do anything else solely because your god has spoken out on the subject in your holy book, that means exactly as much to me as Kenobi’s observations on the nature of the Force.
When someone says we need to have “In God We Trust,” on our courthouses, that carries as much weight for me as saying we need to inscribe “Harry Potter Rules,” on our courthouses (which would be a colossal waste of time and money in addition to alienating non-fans. Get it?). Claiming America is a Christian nation is like saying America is a Star Wars Fandom nation. If you tell me I’m going to hell, that’s just as frightening as telling me Jareth the Goblin King is going to kidnap me in my sleep. Saying that the purpose of our lives is to serve and worship God because Jesus said so in the Bible is exactly as meaningful to me as if you said that the answer to life, the universe, and everything really is forty-two because Deep Thought said so in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Or, to paraphrase Russell Glasser’s Star Trek Rule: “Think about what you’re saying to me. If it wouldn’t sound just as compelling coming from Captain Kirk as it does coming from your god, you probably need to take a different tack because it’s not going to convince me.”
I’m not saying this to be offensive, and I’m not saying it to be mocking. I get that people are heavily invested in their religious beliefs. I get that religious people don’t see it anywhere near the same way I do. But I’m not here to tell you how you feel about your religion, or even how you should feel. I’m here to give my perspective in a way that I hope you can understand. I make the comparison because I believe you understand why the mere fact that Voldemort gives an order in the Harry Potter books is no reason for you to follow it in the real world. I make the comparison to help you understand that these are the exact same reasons I feel no compulsion to do anything simply because Yahweh says to in the Bible. Or because Allah says to in the Koran. Or because Krishna says to in the Vedas.
I make the comparison to help you understand that when atheists say we do not believe gods are real, we’re really not kidding. And I do it to help you to understand what that really implies about how we view religious dictates. I do it, not to offend, but because I want us to understand each other.