Of Gods and Men: A Discussion over Coffee

If you’ve read the post before this, which is this one, then you know that I met a really pretty and engaging girl at the coffee house. Also, you’d have a pretty clear idea of how big an idiot I was for forgetting to ask her for her name and number. Believe me, I know.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned in that previous post, that girl and I talked for hours, and one of the things we talked about at length was the main premise of the books that we were reading at the time–Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for me, and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series for her.

If you haven’t read American Gods, it’s basically about a man called Shadow who’s been serving his six-year term in jail for three years (he beat up a couple of guys who tried to double-cross him). He was set to be released in a few days for good behavior, and he had a lot of plans on what he’s going to do once he got out. Unfortunately, all these plans were put on hold when he was told on the day he was to be released that his wife died in a car accident while going down on another man, who was driving. While on the plane to his hometown, he was approached by someone who called himself Mr. Wednesday, who turned out to be none other than the Norse god Odin, and was asked to help the old gods of different cultures (most prominently Anansi, Loki, Mad Sweeney, Mama-ji, Eostre, Thoth, Anubis, and Bast) in their fight against the new gods (the gods of the Internet, freeways, television, etc).

The Percy Jackson series, on the other hand, has a lighter tone compared to American Gods. It revolves around the eponymous Percy Jackson, a 12 year old kid (at least he was, at the start of the series) who thinks himself a screw-up with ADHD and dyslexia. This was the case until he was informed that he was a demigod–a child of a Greek god and a mortal–and that his ADHD represents his battle reflexes, and his dyslexia meant that his brain was hard-wired for Ancient Greek, not English. This leads to him accepting his destiny and saving the world from destruction by the Titans who wanted to overthrow the Greek gods.

As you may have noticed, both these stories are based on the assumption that gods from different cultures still exist. And both of them placed emphasis on the fact that they weren’t dealing with God–as in capital G, in the metaphysical sense. They were talking about the representatives of the forces of nature, beings so closely tied to civilizations that they would have a hard time fading to nothing.

Basically, both stories believed that gods were formed via ideas and they are kept alive via belief. As Rick Riordan put it, gods represent the things that people believe in. The sun might be a fiery ball of gas millions of miles away, but that doesn’t stop people from believing in the warmth it brings and all the positive effects it has on life–which has led to the existence of Apollo and his sun chariot, or of Ra and his sun boat.

However, what use is being immortal if no one believes in you? As Neil Gaiman put it, “Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.” 

The girl I was talking to about all this made the butterflies in my stomach reproduce at an alarming rate when she raised a fine point that referenced a Supernatural episode. Yes, she watches that show. She’s awesome right? Anyway, she was talking about this episode, Hell House, which was about a ghost in a famously-haunted house. The premise of the episode was that there wasn’t really a ghost in that house because nobody ever died there. But then someone posted on a website that there was a ghost there–a murderous ghost, no less–and everyone started believing the story. Their belief led to the existence of said ghost, which started killing folk, which led to Sam and Dean intervening. In this case, the Winchester brothers find out that one of the signs painted in the house was a Tibetan spirit sigil, which assisted in the concentration of thought and mental energy, which in turn led to the existence of a tulpa, or a manifestation of thought.

According to this awesome girl that I had the pleasure of talking to, if a show with relatively crappy premises such as Supernatural (don’t get me wrong, I love the show, but what I love is the banter, not the Monster-of-the-Week premises) believe that thought has that much power, then there must be something to it.

As Rick Riordan put it, would great civilizations like the Greek and the Egyptians believe in and worship something that doesn’t exist? Would they have wasted their time building monuments and temples, or sacrificing their loved ones, if they didn’t think that the deities they were worshiping actually existed? Think about it.

If you want to read more on this, you might want to check out this essay by Hannah Shapero. She deals with just about all the possibilities regarding the existence of gods in the contemporary world and the essay makes for a great read.

Of course, the awesome girl I was telling you about talked about a whole host of other things with me, but those are stories for other times. Right now, feel educated because I just unloaded a whole lot of information on you. What do you think then?

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