Imperfect God

Fri Jan 17 2003 09:16AM -0600

Another example of resonance. A section of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris somewhat echoes Phillip K Dick's "Exegesis" which is in any case based on an old myth.

Here is how Lem puts it: (from Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, translated from the french by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox. Harcourt: Nov 2002. p 197-8)

"....Do you believe in God?"

Snow darted an apprehensive glance in my direction:

"What? Who still believes nowadays..."

"It isn't that simple. I don't mean the traditional God of Earth religion. I'm no expert in the history of religions, and perhaps this is nothing new--do you happen to know if there was ever a belief in an...imperfect god?"

"What do you mean by imperfect?" Snow frowned. "In a way all the gods of the old religions were imperfect, considering that their attributes were amplified human ones. The God of the Old Testament, for instance, required humble submission and sacrifices, and was jealous of other gods. The Greek gods had fits of sulks and family quarrels, and they were just as imperfect as mortals..."

"No," I interrupted. "I'm not thinking of a god whose imperfection arises out of the candor of his human creators, but one whose imperfection represents his essential characteristic: a god limited in his omniscience and power, fallible, incapable of foreseeing the consequences of his acts, and creating things that lead to horror. He is a...sick god, whose ambitions exceed his powers and who does not realize it at first. A god who has created clocks, but not the time they measure. He has created systems or mechanisms that served specific ends but have now overstepped and betrayed them. And he has created eternity, which was to have measured his power, and which measures his unending defeat."

Snow hesitated, but his attitude no longer showed any of the wary reserve of recent weeks:

"There was Manicheanism..."

"Nothing at all to do with the principle of Good and Evil," I broke in immediately. "This god has no existence outside of matter. He would like to free himself from matter, but he cannot..."

Snow pondered for a while:

"I don't know of any religion that answers your description. That kind of religion has never been...necessary. If I understand you, and I'm afraid I do, what you have in mind is an evolving god, who develops in the course of time, grows, and keeps increasing in power while remaining aware of his powerlessness. For your god, the divine condition is a situation without a goal. And understanding that, he despairs. But isn't this despairing god of yours mankind, Kelving? It is man you are talking about, and that is a fallacy, not just philosophically but also mystically speaking."

I kept on:

"No, it's nothing to do with man. Man may correspond to my provisional definition from some points of view, but that is because the definition has a lot of gaps. Man does not create gods, in spite of appearances. The times, the age impose them on him. Man can serve his age or rebel against it, but the target of his cooperation or rebellion comes to him from outside. If there was only a single human being in existence, he would apparently be able to attempt the experiment of creating his own goals in complete freedomâ€â€apparently, because a man not brought up among other human beings cannot become a man. And the beingâ€â€the being I have in mindâ€â€cannot exist in the plural, you see?"

Later on: (p 199)

"What gave you this idea of an imperfect god?"

"I don't know. It seems quite feasible to me. That is the only god I could imagine believing in, a god whose passion is not a redemption, who saves nothing, fulfils no purposeâ€â€a god who simply is."

The last statement makes me think of the fact that YHWH is a form of the verb "to be," commonly translated as "I am," but, according to my high school Scripture teacher (who told me this a good 13 years ago), it is more akin to the present progressive form. In English, it would be approximated by "I am being," but my Scripture teacher felt that that didn't convey the immediateness and active quality of it, and suggested "I am-ing."

The other thing this whole idea touches upon is the myth regarding Samael, alternatively translated as "blind to god," and also, "the blind god." It is found in Gnosticism. To paraphrase the myth, Samael is the God of the Old Testament, who indeed created the world, but is in actuality not the True God. But in his blindness, some say madness, he claimed that he was the True One God, and this is the reason why the universe is disordered. (Hmmm. I've always wondered why the Nicene Creed reads "God from God. Light from Light. True God from True God.") And interestingly, it resonates with the story of Lucifer and his Fall.

This is Philip K. Dick's take on it, elaborated in his "Exegesis" (excerpts of which can be found at the end of his book Valis and also on this website) I may or may not write more about this later.

There is a summary of this viewpoint in general.

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