On Comparing the Gods to Humans

On Comparing the Gods to Humans May 29, 2017

In some of my posts, generally those that are about the nature of the Gods, I inevitably end up comparing the Gods to humans.  I will use examples of human behaviour and motives to explain how the Gods might behave, and why They behave in these ways.

But this sort of language is problematic to some people, as some have mentioned on my posts or elsewhere about my posts, but also I have seen similar comments in passing that have nothing to do with me.  For many Pagans, especially Polytheists, the Gods are not human and cannot be judged by human standards or perceptions.  Comparing Them to humans is simply wrong.

So, why do I use such language when discussing the nature and actions of the Gods?

There is comparing humans to the Gods, and then there is hubris.  It's not always the same thing.
Pierre Mignard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Humans are Limited

There is no getting around this, we humans are limited in what we can see, what we can perceive and what we can understand.  The best way for us to understand something is to put it into human terms – and even better, terms that match our levels of egocentricity.  Pagans and Polytheists are no exception to this flaw in our nature.  We see only so far, we understand only so much and the bulk of what we understand is only understood because we are able to translate it into human terms.

Consider the things we just cannot imagine.  Nothingness.  What comes to mind when you consider the concept of nothingness? I bet it has some kind of colour or shade to it, is it light or dark?  True nothingness should have no colour, no shade, no light and no dark – because there is nothing.  This is beyond our ability to comprehend.

That is not the only thing that we cannot comprehend fully, this is not the only thing that we must place certain human (or at least earthly) concepts onto in order to understand it in part.

Life is Human and Earthly, Nothing Else

Life itself is one of the things that we cannot imagine in a way that is different to our own experience of life.  I read a short story by Anne McCaffrey once (more than once actually) about humans travelling to a planet, finding it covered in life but no sentient creatures.  They used the planet to their own benefit, only feeling a little bad about using old and seemingly abandoned cities.  The velvet fields they used as fodder for cattle.

A decade later the humans finally discovered that these plants in the velvet fields were living beings, going through various stages of life before finally awakening, fully conscious and aware – tortured, mutilated and decapitated because of our inability to recognise the existence of life if it isn’t exactly like our earthly lives.  No heart, no lungs, no brain waves?  Then obviously it’s not a living being, and certainly has no consciousness and as such can be used as we will.

You might think, well Pagans are different! Many Pagans are animistic and believe (know!) that everything is alive, everything has a soul – even rocks!  But consider what you imagine when you think of the life these things have.  Sure, you know a rock has no heartbeat, lungs or brainwaves that we can perceive – but what human ideas are we placing upon these things?  When you imagine them as being able to think, are you able to conceive of thought as anything different from how we think?  Are you giving them human desires, emotions, ideals and even morals?

We must treat these things with respect, honour, care etc because they are living beings.  And as living beings they of course want to be honoured, respected and cared for….

Just a bit presumptive and human-centric isn’t it? Perhaps they care nothing for respect or honour or care.  Do they feel emotions, and if they do, are those emotions anything we could even come close to understanding?

You can say that you have experience with these entities, but having experience with them doesn’t necessarily mean that your human perceptions have not coloured your view of these entities.  What have you actually missed during these experiences because of your limited human understanding?  What has your human mind showed you of these beings that isn’t actually true?

The Gods are Not Human, But We Are

And They know it.  When we think of the Gods, when we envision Them and create images of Them we inevitably give Them some kind of human and/or earthly visage.  Biped most of the time, human or animal faces/heads, human or animal limbs, and so on.  Even the demonic looking being is still very human under the lumps and bumps and horns.

Why do we anthropomorphise the Gods like this?

It doesn’t even matter what your beliefs are in this discussion.  Either the Gods are literally beings that look extremely human-like.  Or They are not human-like at all and our perceptions colour what we see.  Now, how our perceptions do this is a matter of debate, but the two I think are most prevalent are as follows.  First, we are so incapable of accepting and understanding the true physical form of the Gods (if They have a physical form) that our minds create an image for us that blocks out the reality.  Or, the Gods know our limitations and They show us what They know we are able to handle.

Not all of us see or envision the Gods in human form of course.  The other way we often see Them is animistic.  This is where you see Hermes as He was seen by humans so long ago – as an actual stone, or Zeus as literal lightning and of course Gaia is the Earth itself.  But even this animistic view of the Gods is still very human – because we have an understanding of earthly objects and phenomena, this is what we can see.

But also, our physical bodies limit our view as well.  There are colours out there that we are incapable of seeing, sounds that are beyond our ability to hear.  This means, that even if the Gods are literal lightning, stone or things like that – still there is much we cannot see and as such there is much we cannot understand.

So the Human View is Necessary

When discussing the Gods, and indeed other beings that are very inhuman and rather unearthly, it is almost impossible to not place Them into little human-like boxes in order to understand Them.  But doing this for the sake of discussion, dissemination or even education isn’t necessarily the same as believing They are comparable to humans.

And even if you are one of the rare birds who can imagine Them in a way that is very inhuman, that doesn’t mean very much to everyone else.  Because just like I believe the Gods show Themselves to us in ways They know we can handle – so I also discuss things in ways I know most people will be able to understand.  Because what is the point of talking (writing) about all of this, if no one can understand what I am talking about?

Browse Our Archives