Robert A. Heinlein said,
“The most preposterous notion that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if He does not receive this flattery. yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all history.”
This quote is from the collected aphorisms known as The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, Lazarus Long being Heinlein’s masterwork of a character who is primarily found in the book “Time Enough For Love.”
“…that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up…”
That’s what makes Heinlein right. Everything people have pulled out of their own heads and guts has the singular result of serving human ends. What we come up with that is supposedly in our best interests funds the least productive (and most destructive) industry in history. Religiosity and all its trappings, whether inclusive or exclusive, whether sadistic or masochistic, self-serving or other-loving gets us less than nowhere other than, usually, warfare and oppression.
The correct answer to Heinlein’s observation is not that he’s wrong, but that there is something he didn’t have in mind. That there really is an actual Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, one who was not dreamed up by H. sapiens, rather who revealed Himself to H. sapiens through His own machinations, really did create all the Universes with His very breath, and upholds them, with their best interests in mind, with His most unopposeable whim.
Anything we humans dream up cannot have all of creation (what creation, then?) as his footstool. If we come up with a fantastic god, how is that god worthy of our adoration, interested in our prayers or able to rule over anything? Conversely, this god of ours is most inevitably likely to become petulant if he does not receive the flattery of our adoration and prayers because (wait for it) he’s just like us! When have humans come up with anything that is any more than an expression and likeness of ourselves? And what more do we do when we find ourselves lacking in approval, value or other self-validation? Petulant indeed.
Somehow we cannot seem to fathom that we are lesser and a likeness of our Creator, the Real One, who came up with us. That’s why the only option, going back to the beginning, is that God dreamed us up. He conceived the idea and making of us. And he obviously chose to reveal himself to us, rather than leave it to us to come up with him. In the conundrum Heinlein offers, the necessities for Scripture and a God-who-is-not-a-copy are absolute. We don’t have the right or lofty position to design God, how He is worshiped or to define our relationship to Him or His created Universes, including our relationships with other humans. This God doesn’t get petulant, He is rightfully angered and saddened by the childish self-righteousness of His created beings.
I understand Heinlein’s apparent opposition to religion. I agree with him and certainly enjoy the opportunity to join him in complaining about it. For example: Yep, the Religious Right sucks. I don’t see anything particularly redemptive about christianised politics or anything else that gets “baptized in the name of Jesus” (I’m quoting my pastor with that catchy phrase). Even what appears generally banal and harmless in religious practice should not get a pass just because “Jesus.” Most of the time, sensible people don’t even need to think much on the more extravagant “spirit-led” ideas out there. Snake-oil and modern-day miracles are flimsy covers for power-trips and ultimately God-denying religion.
When we who believe criticize unorthodox religions or practices, we are (had better be) speaking out of Scripture in and through that which God has revealed of Himself and His policies. When we do so, we are actively opposing that dreamed-up deity of Heinlein’s observation and all the constructs that have flowed from him. We are opposing the man-made processes and fallacies that come from man’s belly. This extends from the concept of deity to the composition of deity, from comprehension of His communication to how we communicate back to Him. From worship to lifestyle.
We have to keep in mind, at the forefront of our minds, that what Heinlein is talking about is not a new, nor even a simply well-aged concept. This problem reaches all the way back to the time immediately after God dreamed US up! Our dreaming up of a “Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes” came around just when we hit the REM of sleep in sinning. Adam hooked us up with a great Make-Your-Own-God™ playset. We therefore must be willing to challenge our own seemingly harmless ideas of tradition and practice, with a surgical viciousness if necessary, every time we act in the realm of God’s revelation.
And we have to keep in mind that God really did reveal Himself to us. We didn’t dream Him up and we have no place dreaming Him up. Here’s one place where creativity is not appropriate. In fact, coming up with a new idea is practically guaranteed to be horrible. There’s historic evidence on that one. Start with 1st John, maybe, if you’re looking for some clear examples.
For those who remain convinced that the statement of Heinlein is the end-all of religion, all I can say is that seriously considering the possibility, ramifications and end-state of a creation whose God is self-revealing within that creation (general revelation) and specially revealed in His disclosure via His people (Scripture) is more than worth the effort. Such effort is worth your life itself.
Notes: Some resources that have influenced my lines of thought recently, including producing this article, are (in no intentional order of significance):
Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics
Horton, Covenant and Eschatology
Heinlein, Time Enough For Love
Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Mumford and Sons, lyrics in general
Conversations with Ben E. and Phil
Brian’s preaching and articles
I list these just as a sort of taster of some of the things that serve to converge into singularities in my head from time to time. Maybe someone can connect the dots between them all besides me. Sometimes I wonder, myself, how I get to a particular end from these sorts of components. Often all I can assert is that they do each play a part in the final product.
I’ve noticed, also, that many of my articles are continuations of thoughts I’ve had in the course of my personal life. They appear unfinished, unprecedented, or disconnected – without context on LAH. Comments may serve to drag out more meat. Possibly.