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THE PENULTIMATE GOD
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By David Arthur Walters

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8/5/2010

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Can God commit suicide?

If god is eternal, then his suicide would be the ultimate logical absurdity. If god can
not destroy himself, then he is not omnipotent or all-powerful. If god committed suicide,
he would not exist, hence he would not be eternal. Given the logical contradictions of
god's supposed attributes, a reasonable man has good cause to opine that it is impossible
for an eternal and omnipotent god to exist.
Yet many are those who would be at least hypothetically at one with an impossible
god - they might write the logical absurdity off as another "one of God's mysteries."
Consider this excerpt from a December 1876 article in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Diary of
a Writer:
"I cannot be happy except in the Harmony with the great all.... I consider the comedy
perpetrated by nature altogether stupid... Humiliating for me to deign to play it.... I
condemn that nature which... brought me into being in order to suffer - I condemn it to be
annihilated with me."
The disillusioned speaker obviously desires something besides the harmony, say, of a
fifth on the major scale, say between the notes C and G. He rather wants to be atoned
with or be at one with a universal One; he would be absorbed by an One of which the
world he hates is not a part; for, if it were a part, the tragic-comic world would persist.
Such an undifferentiated One would of course be a static infinite void, an eternal
nothingness similar to absolute space. The nebulous qualities of absolute space are
similar to the theological definitions of God: Absolute Space = God - a fact not lost on
the early metaphysicians of modern physics.
Of course the reasoning of our death-wishing author is absurd. There is no identity
lacking a relationship, whether or not it is a harmonious one. Further, the suicide leaves
the very thing he protests behind - the world persists. The same may be said of the virtual
suicide of the ascetic who protests against vanity, claiming that all things of this world
pass, therefore it is vain to place confidence in them: the world however persists long
after the protestant perishes, which leads us to ask whether or not his heaven, whatever
the imagined contents of its absolute space may be, is actually the Vanity of vanities.
Methinks the impossible god represents the will to power, the will to persist forever,
something which most of us would not mind doing provided that we did not suffer too
much. If no such god exists, men are left to their own relative devices and powers: they
are their own gods, petty gods or demigods, so to speak. Confronted with relative
existence, with the apparent fact that everything perishes and that every living being dies,
a few individuals will always manage to reason themselves to death. After thinking on
the matter for awhile, they conclude that they might as well face the terrifying truth now,
that life is absurd, and take advantage of the ultimate exercise of their relative power, the
power to destroy their selves.
Instead of avoiding reality and wasting time with one futile diversion after another,
instead of leading an absurd life in a godless universe with a world deaf to their need for
eternal life, some folks are disposed to dispense with themselves forthwith; not
necessarily because they despaired, but simply because they would if they would.
Forsaking all else except their love for efficiency, self-destruction seemed to be the
reasonable thing to do. Why waste valuable time? And, in his self-sacrifice of his self to

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his self, at least a man would courageously prove that he, judge and victim, has the power
of life and death over himself, and is in fact the god so many people are in need of.
There are a number of men in our midst for whom life on earth is insufficient yet not
insufferable providing they have sufficient leisure to gradually reason themselves to
death. Logic-chopping suicide is self-murder by gradual mental amputation. Many logical
suicidal fanatics never get around to actually killing themselves, preferring an extended
virtual suicide to the real thing. Some of them are too preoccupied with philosophy as a
preparation for death, or with writing novels about suicidal protagonists, to take their own
lives that seriously.
Fyodor Dostoevsky said that his life was tormented by the question of God's
existence. That question is obviously the thorn in the side of several of his characters,
who are as salt in their creator's wound. And those of us who appreciate the works of
Dostoevsky if not his personal suffering are glad of that. We are not afraid of his doubts.
Even those who consider the question personally irrelevant have been amused by the
characters for whom the subject is crucial.
Dostoevsky reasoned on the pressing issues of his day in The Diary of a Writer- the
Diary was initially a column in the ‘Citizen’ but later an independent periodical. Of
course the eternal and omnipotent god was dying in those days and the number of people
who believe in the immortality of the son of man - meaning the ideal man abstracted from
men - was on the wane.
"If faith in immortality is so necessary to the human being," speculated Dostoevsky
in the Diary, "that without it he comes to the point of killing himself, it must be the
normal state of humanity. Since this is the case, the immortality of the soul exists without
any doubt."
Of course that argument was hardly the end of Dostoevsky epic internal combat. The
speculation itself is specious. Evidence is ample that faith in immortality is not necessary
for the human being to persist. Many people believe that life ends with the death of the
body and that no soul survives et cetera; and many of them have even rejoiced at the
supposed finality of each life; yet they did not go hang themselves, and many lead happy
lives. We must also note here that suicide would be impossible if the soul really were
immortal; in that case, all suicide attempts would be futile - Hamlet was troubled by that
possibility.
My own opinion on the existence of god is irrelevant to orthodoxy since I am not a
licensed spiritual consultant; but that shall not stop me from giving it: I am moved to
opine that human beings have a sort of "blind faith" in their persistence, a faith inherent
in their will to live. The subsequent reasoning thereupon, the dogmas and doctrines, some
of them quite beautiful, may be useful in rounding up the herd in a secure place, for
misery loves company. After all, for the sake of social coherence it is convenient to
construe certain dogma as if it were true.
Nonetheless, religious dogmas and doctrines, such as the doctrine that faith not
works saves, appear to me to express more fear than faith. And those who persist in
forcing their faith on others have more to fear than most; for instance, the old Jewish
notion that it is just to hate missionaries as if they were murderers has merit inasmuch as
to convert a Jew is to kill a Jew. May missionaries beware.
I have heard it said that people must abide with a particular blind faith or the other.
Universal skepticism towards all faiths, or the godlessness of demons that refuse to

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participate in the conspiracies around the holy camp fires, is blamed for the ruination of
the world. But the current evidence suggests that this world is not being brought to ruin
by skeptics but rather by irrational fundamentalists who have fanatic faith in the Terrorist
Almighty: Islamists, Zionists, the Christian Right and Company. They appear as
regressives or "conservatives" who revert to the ancient, heroic way to immortality, in the
mass suicide of war; for instance, the Greek heroes who sought immortality in killing
enemies.
I have met a few truly faithful people; they had nothing whatsoever to prove to
anyone at all; their fearless example in bearing witness through their works alone was
proof enough to those who worked beside them.
Methinks morality whether it is distinctively religious or not is a sort of virtual
suicide. People like me used to drink religiously in ancient times, and then gave it up. In
my case, I developed an extra-dry sense of humor when I deserted the tavern-churches
and took up writing interminable screeds in cheaper and cheaper garrets. I became a
virtual ascetic, abandoning all but one or two of those activities some refer to as "sins."
After all these years of doing without, I might be Leaving Las Vegas with one last blast -
if I survive, at least I will have to make good money to keep up with my bad habits.
Pending that return to the sweet life, I must reiterate, morality as I know it is a sort of
suicide, hopefully for the sake of the species. It is said that a man who conquers his self -
a congeries of habits - is the most powerful man of all. An ascetic who conquers his self
might reason, Why wait? Why not end it all now? Why not exercise the ultimate power
and actually be a god?
One of my favorite virtual characters of the logical-suicide type is Dostoevsky
Kirilov, the protagonist in The Possessed who fancied that Christ did not find himself in
Paradise after his suicide-by-mankind, but had lived and died for a falsehood or illusion.
"It has always surprised me," said Kirilov, "that everybody goes on living.... If
there's no God, then I'm God.... If God exists, then the whole will is His and I can do
nothing. If he doesn't exist, then all will is mine and I must exercise my own will, my free
will.... "
That is, If God does not exist, everything depends on us. To be truly independent,
kill God and become God. If God is eternal, becoming God would realize eternal life -
the Power that men worship - on Earth, at least for the time being. Why then commit
suicide? Because, or so the perverse reasoning goes, the most glorious exercise of the
newly found fearless freedom is to sacrifice it. Again, Why? Out of love for humanity, of
course, the son of man.
The ideal man provides humankind with a lesson - his suicide is pedagogical. The
ideal man will be the very last god to die for all the rest, and shall thus immortalize
humankind on Earth. He is the grandest paranoid man, the most humiliated and exalted
man on Earth and, by virtue of his self-martyrdom, the hypocrisy or underlying crisis of
humankind will be resolved along with the embarrassing ambiguities, and everyone may
become an enlightened god on Earth, or a Christ-Tsar. Humankind is then divine, is free
at last! Thus the divine suicide sacrifices his self not to eliminate his own unhappiness,
but to free all his neighbors out of love for them, wherefore they do not have to take the
same fatal step providing that by virtual suicide they take the metaphysical leap to his
fearless faith.

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Kirilov is not suffering from an illusion: in the final analysis, he is deluded; no
matter how impeccable his logic might be - and it is not - he has broken with reality.
Intolerant of ambiguity, of the absurdity of particular contradictions to the universal, he
would in madness rid himself of the ambiguous by reasoning himself to death. Logic
operates for a particular objective purpose or practice, and not for the destruction of the
logician. In fine, Kirilov is unwholesome, or, if you will, insane.
"I can't imagine," Kirilov continues, "that there's not one person on our planet who,
having put an end to God and believing in his own free will, will dare to exercise that free
will in the most important point. It would be like a pauper inheriting a bag full of money
and not daring to put his hand into it, thinking himself too weak to own it.... I have an
obligation to shoot myself because the supreme gesture of free will is to kill oneself.... I
am the only one to do it without reason, just to establish my free will.... I must affirm my
unbelief, for there's nothing higher for me than the thought that there's no God. The
history of mankind is on my side. Man kept inventing God in order to live, so as not to
have to kill himself. To this day, the history of mankind consists of just that. I am the first
man in history to refuse to invent God. I want it to be known always.... Only one - the
first one to realize it, that he's God, must kill himself.... I'm terribly unhappy because I'm
terribly afraid. Fear is the curse of man. But I shall establish my free will. It is my duty to
make myself believe that I do not believe in God. I'll be the first and the last, and that will
open the door. And I'll save them.... For three years I've searched for the attribute of my
divinity and I've found it - my free will! This is all I have at my disposal to show my
independence and the terrifying new freedom I have gained. Because this freedom is
terrifying all right, I'm killing myself to demonstrate my independence and my new
terrifying freedom!"
The Brothers Karamazov was Dostoevsky’s titanic torment on the pressing question.
No doubt it was homeopathic medicine for the impoverished author's pain. It concluded
with the announcement of a future life.
Kolya (a boy), asks, "Karamazov, is it true what religion says, that we shall rise from
the dead, that we shall see one another again?"
"Certainly we shall see one another again, we shall joyfully tell one another what
happened."
The gospel of immortality and the dogma of an eternal god may be absurd but real;
existence may be at once illusory and eternal; and a person can be both incredulous and
convicted: "I doubt it, but I believe it despite myself.”
The character typified by Kirilov is defeated at the end of Dostoevsky gigantic
literary combat with God and Vanity. We shall meet again. Suicide and madness are
unnecessary, useless, for we shall enjoy immortality, be as the eternal god, gods
ourselves, after death on this sphere.

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