The end of God

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
466,
Page:
150
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/466150a
Published online

It's just common sense ...

Dear Heavenly Father: the plans I tried to carry through have failed. My mind has become my prison, betraying me to help them sever my connection with you. My family has been forced over to the other side, and I'm hurting, Lord. They hunt me by using my brain against me, and they do not stop. So all I ask for is hope, Lord.

Give me a plan.

The rustling outside the little shack makes my body tense up, and I rise to my feet, ready to run again.

My legs tense, my arms ache. And my heart, it has long depleted all longing. These things cease to become important when you are fighting for your identity against a monster that never sleeps.

Thirty years ago, when I was a child, and the World Trade Center hadn't been bombed, and the brain-signal satellites hadn't been set up, and the Common Sense Law hadn't been passed, prayers were beautiful. Prayers did not do things like activate the parietal lobe area of the brain and send messages to the satellites that an abstract idea was forming.

Prayers helped refocus my world.

Now, as I stumble to the back door, I see a world in which everything beautiful has blurred into a fog of grey.

God, you will help me through this, won't you? All is as you will it to be, and I know that you will protect me.

Taking a deep breath, I yank open the door, expecting to step back into a cradle of chilling darkness.

Immediately a piercing white light hits me, robbing me of every trace of hope.

I try to close the door, but a strong hand forces it open and someone steps towards me.

A young man in police uniform appears. Behind him others follow as the white light from outside slices across their expressions, uniformly cold and faithless.

But when the young officer speaks, his tone fails to match the hardness of his gaze. “Sir, please come with us,” he says, beckoning. “We will take you to a hospital and treat your ailment.”

I look from officer to officer. They are nothing more than hunters. “Who are you to tell me whether or not I am allowed to be a child of God?”

“You're sicker than most, at this point,” the young man says, and the others close in, moving to encircle me. “We could tell when we picked up signals of an abnormally excited IPL. We are here only to help cure you of your ... delusions.”

“By forcing me to conform?” I let a laugh escape despite the tears pooling in my eyes. If this is a test, God, let the heathens deliver to me all the humiliation and fear they wish. In your name, I can absorb any pain.

JACEY

“In accordance with the Common Sense Law, Sir, we must take you in and convert you. Please don't fight it.”

“Faith means believing in something when common sense tells you not to,” I reply, looking around. No one is moved. “And faith gives me a warmth that no amount of common sense ever will. Don't take this away from —”

Suddenly I feel a sharp sting in my neck as one policeman plunges a syringe into me.

“I'm sorry,” the young policeman says.

“Fill out the paperwork, will you?” a male voice says, before its owner clears his throat. “We'll have it delivered to his home in a few days, after his mind adjusts. Poor guy ... lost in a web of false beliefs for so long.”

These are the first words I hear as my eyes flutter open. Lying on a hospital bed with three doctors huddled over me, I attempt to move, but find that I've lost connection with even my fingers.

Stammering, I ask: “What have you done to me?”

But I know full well what has happened. The gnawing black hole in my chest can tell no lies.

“Don't worry,” says an elderly woman doctor, setting a hand on my arm. I cannot feel the pressure. “The anaesthesia has worn off. What you are experiencing is probably shock. Most religious folk, after having their parietal-lobe area disabled, will feel a little disoriented for a while.”

“At least you're all better now, no more illogical abstract ideas.” One of the other doctors smiles down at me in the way that one usually stares at an ill patient. “How do you feel?”

I try to channel God.

Dear Heavenly Father, receive my apology. I let them force me, I let them take me in against my will and take you from me.

My eyes close, as I search for the familiar sense of warmth that sweeps into my chest at His acknowledgement, a reassurance that faith is not something that science can remove. No hacking or cutting from the hands of a mere man can separate me from you, Lord.

I refuse to believe it — I will not, cannot.

And yet, there is nothing but the phantoms of silence.

Tears feel like they are falling from my eyes, stinging the sides of my cheeks. But my face remains dry.

So this is what it feels to be part of a whole. This is emptiness, loneliness, eating and ripping at the rim of your heart.

“Did you hear me?” the doctor's voice bleeds into my thoughts. “How do you feel?”

I blink and focus in on the reality before me and, realizing that even the surrounding colour in the world has dimmed, tell him: “My God has forsaken me. He has left me defenceless in a world populated by the lost and lonely.”

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Living in Omaha, Nebraska, Shelly went to church every Sunday until she was 12. To learn more about her and her fiction, visit http://www.shelly-li.com.

    • Shelly Li

Author details

Comments

  1. Report this comment #11564

    Edward Gordon said:

    Eventually there will be a way to remove religious notions from the minds of people. It's not like there's no examples of godless creatures in the world. The whole of the animal kingdom (insects, mice, frogs) lives without any revelation of God. Eventually, we'll be just like them. Isn't science wonderful!

  2. Report this comment #11567

    Ron Chan said:

    I thought Nature was dedicated to science. Since when did Nature lend a hand to cults that celebrate men as gods? I suppose we shall soon see articles of groups supporting the 2012 phenomena as well.

  3. Report this comment #11576

    Dustin Cote said:

    A very nice piece. I think the point is not a belief in God but rather a willingness to embrace abstract ideas that may not immediately manifest themselves as readings on scientific instruments. In that case, knowledge of the Bible or any other religious text is unimportant. After all, it took faith to put money in testing the theory of general relativity and others. Without that faith, we would still rely on the "common sense" of Newton.

  4. Report this comment #11577

    Michael Rohr said:

    According to the story only one system of thoughts and accompanying sensations were removed. Neat that a particular "faith story" can be identified. People have faith about other topics which they do not have sufficient evidence to support it being fact. Wonder what the difference is? Perform an experiment in which another "faith story" is identified by the brain satellites and remove it and see if the absense is the same feeling as a religious one. A little drastic that all that technology is incorporated just for religious faith. Religious faith must have had (have) an incredible negative impact on society.

  5. Report this comment #11609

    Jon Web said:

    Is the horror here the destruction of her ability to feel "faith"? Or is it the brutal actions of a police state seeking to break her physically or mentally? I mean, you could rewrite this story, set it in the Inquisition, and replace the cops and doctors with old age soldiers and priests. Then stick the poor girl in a dungeon or chop off her limbs. I can't see it as any less horrific.

    That the inquisitors attack a lobe of your brain rather than chopping off your hands or branding your face shouldn't really matter. The horror lies not in the nature of punishment, but in the willful disregard for human rights and human dignity that allow one man to abuse and mutilate another.

    It seems that in Shelly's rush to paint the godless as evil, the true evil in the story – the destruction of an individual's free will – gets lost amid the partisanship.

  6. Report this comment #11610

    Jon Web said:

    I think Shelly seriously misses the point of her own writing. She has an authoritarian government burst into a young girl's home, kidnap her, and mutilate her without her consent. You don't need religion or atheism to make that a horrible crime against humanity. Swaddling the story in "faith" and claiming the real crime is violating her love with God is exactly what is wrong with religious-minded mentality. If the kidnappers had taken an arm or a kidney, would the crime have been any less heinous? And yet, the focus is heavy on the girl's belief in God, rather than her basic human rights, it feels like the author isn't really considering the ramifications of the little world she's crafted for herself. The author imagines up a great deal of self-pity, without any real empathy or understanding for those who don't share her personal beliefs.

  7. Report this comment #11624

    shriram Bhosle said:

    God and religion teach us the way of life, if it is not there then there won't be difference between animal and human. Science and relegion are complementry to each other.

  8. Report this comment #11625

    Ron Chan said:

    I guess we should expect to see articles about Harry Potter and Percy Jackson soon.

  9. Report this comment #11632

    Ruth Brandt said:

    I have to say I am very surprised at some of the comments here. It seems that once a controversial subject is being dealt with, common sense (or is it Common Sense?) just flies out the window.

    As Shelly is the one who wrote this, I doubt that she seriously misses the point of her own writing, though as in all good literature people can understand the piece in ways the author did not plan. However, I don't see how one can assume – based solely on the story, rather than on assumptions as to her morals based only on the fact that she used to go to church until she was 12 – that she hasn't noticed that taking a man in his 30s or 40s from his home and operating on him against his will is a horrible crime. I see nothing in the story indicating that she considers it worse than taking his liver. But as this is the 'Futures' section, a story about black market organ harvesting would be a little out of place.

    She also doesn't 'rush' to paint anything. The police are not all a uniform evil ("his tone fails to match the hardness of his gaze"), and generally the godless here seem to think they are doing the protagonist a favour. I noticed no evil-mastermind laughter from anyone, though the readers are naturally not encouraged to sympathize with their actions.

    As a good work of short fiction (Oh yes, it is fiction, not an article. And as I don't think J K Rowling writes short stories, I doubt we'll see a Harry Potter story here any time soon), it raises more questions than it answers – how did this society get to where it is? Where is the line – which has clearly been crossed in the world painted here – between convincing and forcing? How far should people go in their fight against ideas they do not accept and which they deem dangerous?

    These questions are what I – as a religion-averse atheist, with strong beliefs in human rights – would have loved to see discussed here.

  10. Report this comment #11647

    Sidney Galloway said:

    Hi Shelly,

    I just finished reading your excellent short story, END OF GOD, and look forward to reading more of your work. I will take a look at your website later today.

    Noticing the brief bio on the Nature page that says, "Living in Omaha, Nebraska, Shelly went to church every Sunday until she was 12", led me to write you. My own bio would sound very much the same regarding my early years. As I watched my parents and others at church express their "faith", I too thought that "Faith means believing in something when common sense tells you not to", as your character in End of God stated. I also believed that faith and logikos reasoning were antithetical – diametric opposites. So, back then I became convinced that science and scripture must be contradictory not complementary. As a result, I left "church" and pursued philosophy, psychology, biology, etc for the answers to ultimate questions of origin, meaning, and destiny.

    Now after having met many world renowned scientists who are also "believers" because of the evidence, not in spite of evidence, I've come full circle and have a "faith" that is as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews describes as ". . . the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Just as the smell of smoke leads a person to "believe" that there is most probably a fire (though unseen), a massive mountain and an overwhelming ocean of evidence leads to the logical conclusion of God.

    These scientists who helped me to build rational belief in God instead of blind faith include the inventor of the MRI – Dr. Damadian, the inventor of TERRA at Los Alamos – geophysicist Dr. Baumgardner, the inventor of the Biolistic Gene Gun at Cornell University – Dr. John Sanford, one of the world's top chess masters (and PhD chemist) who can play up to 12 opponents simultaneously while he is blind folded – Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, one of the top philosophers of science – Dr. Stephen Meyer, among scores of others. Of course Nature, PBS, Sci Am, Nat Geo love to claim along with Dawkins that no reputable scientists exist who have rejected vertical evolution of an original prokaryote into new orders, classes, phyla, kingdoms through the mechanism of mutational errors plus selection. There are hundreds of world renowned scientists who are censored by the politically correct powers to be in academia, media, etc. Such censorship is not free thinking or critical scientific iron sharpening, but dogma in the guise of science.

    I encourage you Shelly to utilize the links on my website to investigate the scientific evidence that leads to the logical inference not only of an intelligent designer, but ultimately to the Creator who is a Good Shepherd. If you'd like to dialog with an OLD sheepdog of the Good Shepherd, it would be my privilege. As an old zookeeper / family counselor / wildlife rehabilitator and biology teacher / father of six / husband of the most wonderful woman in the world (love is blind – but not true faith), then I'd be eager. I know I could learn from your perspective and who knows, perhaps you might at least find the evidence for my worldview to be a motivation for further writing :-)
    Sid

  11. Report this comment #11690

    Phil Roberts said:

    What we have here is an example of fairly mediocre sci fi, executed competently.

    If the protagonist of the story wants a feeling of warmth and connectedness, I would be perfectly happy to write a character who will sell her some drugs. Such drugs would probably be in very high demand once the overreach of the government manifested itself in unforeseen ways, such as artists losing their muse or nations losing their volunteer armies. I know that, should such a program be implemented by an all-powerful anti-abstract-thought dictatorship (about as likely as the Second Coming of Christ, but this is sci fi after all!), the first thing I would research would be the import and sale of hallucinogenic chemicals.

    But, alas, failure to think through the full implications of one's initial idea can often result in vaguely interesting but ultimately unsatisfying science fiction. Although I'm sure this weak tea provides a little solace to some people feeling a little besieged by the "New Atheist" movement, so in that sense I might well be completely misinterpreting it, and we might be dealing with a work of particular postmodernist genius. Weak tea and temporary solace – what else gives us that, I wonder?

  12. Report this comment #11722

    Nicholas Bauer said:

    I agree with Phil Roberts' assessment for the most part.

    Obviously, she's riffing off the line of "militant" atheists that religion is entirely a delusion and we'd be better off getting rid of it. An extension of their worldview might be to forcibly remove those feelings, though I'm not sure they've been accurately characterized.

    The author somehow equates abstract thought with religious thought. Abstract thought is in general extremely important in science, let alone life. Religious thought may be an example of the abstract, but it is by no means the exclusive province of it. Though I would also dispute that it is entirely abstract, because people with faith often have very concrete ideas about what God is and how it relates to them. But it also seems to escape the protagonist's notice that if removing an area of her brain could really sever her tie to God, that would necessarily mean that her idea of God only existed in her brain. I would have liked to see the protagonist consider that a bit more deeply and react to that realization, rather than attributing the disconnection to an action of God. The fact that she didn't come to that realization of course reflects the view of some atheists that religious people are beyond reason, and don't change their minds no matter what the evidence may be.

    Further, the author unfortunately seems to view atheists as people who live in a cold, dim world because they have no connection with what she considers to be God. I can't speak for others, but for my own part I experience wonder at the beauty of the world, of a truly dark, starry night sky. One doesn't need God to experience such things, though. Some people may because that's what they were born into and its been integrated deeply into their personality.

Subscribe to comments

Additional data