What is worship?
Let's begin by asking a very simple question: What does an omnipotent being need with worshipers?
This question is usually answered by the faithful by saying that: "It is not god that needs worship from us; rather it is we who need to worship him."
Why? Where would this "need" to worship come from? If mankind were not interested only in saving its own skin from death, there would be no "need" to worship. It is our survival instinct that wants to preserve us "intact" even after death. That is the reason for mankind’s "need" to worship.
Many cultures in the world have developed religions where the body is given back to us in another place, like heaven. The Egyptians even made an industry of preparing the body for life after death. It doesn't seem to be enough that we have an immortal soul, somehow mankind wants a physical body as well. It is clear that the main reason for worship is to petition a god in hopes of a reward at the end of life.
Humanity is looking for a body that does not suffer disease, does not feel cold or heat, will no longer suffer hunger or "need" and will not die. We have always known that we could not provide ourselves with this kind of body, but we have always assumed that a god who created us certainly could. Do we worship for god? Or do we worship for ourselves?
It is thought that we need a god to fulfill our desire for immortality, but do we? What happens in a hundred or five hundred years when science builds bodies for us that last five hundred years? How many will still worship? I'm not talking about android bodies, I'm talking about bodies that are of flesh and blood, but genetically altered to fit our idea of perfection.
That capability will come, and perhaps sooner than we think. Already we can grow skin, bone, cartilage, and muscle, in the lab. Science estimates that in the next few years we will be growing fully developed limbs in a matter of eight to ten weeks. We have already come a long way in giving sight to the blind with artificial eyes. That technology is expected to be making great strides in the next few years.
Hearing has been given to the deaf by implanting computerized microphones into their ears and attaching them to the cerebral cortex. The voice is being synthesized for those that cannot speak. (Stephen Hawking is a perfect example of this technology) These technologies work well already, but are still in their infancy.
Soon we will be growing internal organs. There are such technologies in practice as I write, and they look more than promising even so early in their history. Through genetic engineering it won't be long before our bodies are born with far more strength and ability than we had ever imagined possible. All our parts will be replaceable and that will make it possible for us live virtually forever. Immortality is not out of the question, even in a human body.
What can a mind accomplish given four or five hundred years? What could it do with a thousand? What will we worship then? Will we still worship just because we feel gratitude for our creation, or will even the faithful forget about it after a few hundred years of life?
But of course, it doesn't work quite that way. Science does not just look for ways to make us immortal; even though that is the way we are heading by default. In reality, science is making all of these strides foreword because we are looking for cures for diseases.
We will find that there are some things we will chose not to do even though we can. We may find that we "need" to make sure we do not cross any boundaries that will lead to our demise as a species. But Science knows this and believe it or not there are very few mad scientists out there, readying themselves to take over the world. If there were, there are far easier ways such a feat could be accomplished.
The truth is, society only pays for research in to specific areas. Governments and universities regulate what is done for them. People are vigilant and demand inquiries and justification for the science that is being done. We demand laws be put in to place, regulating the use of new products.
This is not "witch hunting" if done with the idea that every new technology must first prove itself valuable to mankind and not destructive to the environment, before it is allowed on an open market. It is not immoral to want to live. We are and must remain moral beings because we want to be, and because we see the need for morality in order to maintain peace and security within society; not because we fear for our "immortal" soul, but because we fear for those who come after us. We must protect them from "us".
Yet in all that I have said about this, there is a pattern here. Science is doing what religion only dreamed of. Immortality has been the goal of mankind from the beginning, and science is finding that it may be possible, right here on earth.
The approach is different, but the ultimate aim is essentially the same because we are all human, no matter what our world view is, so we are all concerned about the same things. If you eliminate disease, hunger, pain, and prolong life indefinitely, you are as good as immortal. But religion doesn't like this idea
There is, as always, the converse to all of this. If a god were to have created us, there must have been a reason for it. But what was the "need" that led god to creation? Some Christians have told me that he just felt like it, some say he needs companionship, others say he needs us for his own completion; "something to love." To me, these are all lame answers. No omnipotent god "needs" anything. Omnipotence negates need.
It turns out that if we look at this bible of ours closely, we have a lot of clues in front of us that show a god that requires worship, enforces that decree by punishment of eternal physical suffering, and gives rewards of eternal bliss for those who comply. There is no getting around this fact. It is the major theme that runs through the entire bible.
If creation is for no other reason than the worship of god, (and it is not adequately addressed in the bible at all, it says only that we are here to "dress the world and keep it") then it is plain that it is god who requires worship, and we must obey (do the worshipping) or pay the price.
It is as if worship is the food of the gods. It sustains them in their glory. Do they wither and die if they are not fed? The Incas, Maya, and Aztecs thought so. They bathed their temples in the blood of sacrificial offerings to the sun so it might live. At the same time, its continued existence allowed them to live. They believed that blood was life, and so, they gave it to their god in order to keep it alive. It was a symbiotic relationship where god needed us as much as we needed it.
The Greeks believed firmly that worship was the food of the gods and if they were not worshiped they lost power.
But it was not only the sun worshipers that offered blood to the gods. Many, and I dare say most cultures offered human life at one time or another. The Jews evolved to sacrificing only the best livestock. I guess they felt that it was counterproductive to be killing each other when what they really wanted to accomplish was survival.
On the whole, though, god is reportedly pleased as long as the offering is of the very best quality and at the same time, the priests are taken care of, fed, and freed from the duties of day to day survival. In this way, they can get on with the worship and work of God.
The Catholics took this one step farther and instead of offering food to their god, they denied it to themselves. Giving up something for "lent" replaced blood sacrifice, and put in its place a ritual starvation, or: a sacrifice of the self.
Now god and man could (metaphorically) have their cake and eat it too. There is no greater offering to a god then yourself, but now you don't need to die in order to do it. So all were happy, god was pleased. The soul of the faster was redeemed and their pureness of heart shown without too much hardship. Besides, money in the collection plates now fed the priests and freed them to worship god and do his work. Ten percent is still the going rate for salvation, isn’t it? Small price to pay.
But what is god's work? The answer I get from most Christians is that god's work means the spreading of his word, and no more. Some go door to door, others have ministries on TV that feed the priests very well, indeed, and spread their word to all that will watch. The TV evangelist is very good at gathering sacrifices of money. I heard one of them say that the only reason people were poor was because they had poor religion.
This while his hands were covered in gold and diamond rings worth enough to feed half of Ethiopia. (I couldn't help noticing that as he held them out to beg for still more.) To me, these people are as phony as a three dollar bill. Their only religion is money. Can anyone tell me why it is required that they all sound as if they are half in a trance? They are not, after all, conducting a séance. "Snake oil" salesmen, one and all.
The fundamentalist says that the Catholics sinned when they took "god's work" to also mean the undertaking of "good works". They say that above all things, it is the worship of god and the spreading of his word (or law) that counts. Man is secondary, and the message of Jesus tells that the love of other human beings is secondary to the love of god. They feel that "good works" are a petition to god for forgiveness; a kind of bribery.
So what form of religion isn't bribery? Do they not pray?
The Catholics defend this practice by saying that it was Jesus himself that told us to emulate him, and "good works" were part of what he did.
Be that as it may, the crux of the matter is that all of this is a form of sacrifice in aid of the glorification of their god. Sacrifice is a feeding of the gods. In most cases it is a feeding of their egos as much as anything else. But "good works" represent "self sacrifice" or "selflessness." I have no problem with that idea. Real "good works" are good for everyone.
In some religions, it is felt that god created us in order to maintain himself. We are said to be his servants. But what do we do? How do we serve? In the Sumerian myths we were made to serve as dredgers of the rivers. They had a lot of silt problems.
But the modern answer is clear, our service is worship. It can be nothing else. Yet what does an omnipotent being need with worship? It feeds only his ego, so what is an omnipotent being doing with an ego? The only way a God could need us, is if he is incomplete. If he needs us, he is not omnipotent.
How did we come to think a god wanted worship? We always knew we must feed ourselves to survive. The first religions petitioned their gods for food, not for everlasting life. They sacrificed food to their gods so they might get food in return through a better crop. To me, a similarity can be drawn between this behavior and that of a child. Children will sometimes offer a parent a favorite toy in an act of bribery or contrition. Since the toy is of value to the child, it assumes it is of value to the parent.
Children do not realize (or acknowledge to themselves) that if the parent wanted this toy they could have taken it, or bought one of their own. Children count on their parents being unaware of their real motives, but most parents see through the bribe. They are eager to gloss over the bribery as humorous or heartwarming. Most often, the loving parent looks at this act and says, "It's the thought that counts." But no one is fooled. Humans like to be bribed in this way, it makes them feel superior. So naturally they thought it would make their god feel good too. That's why we think god wants worship, because we wanted to be worshiped.
The first religions were counting on this very same reaction from their gods. However, as humanity evolved, the complexity of this system of sacrifice and reward increased to the point that we no longer feed our god bribes of food for protection from harm or for good crops. Now, we feed god with worship and money, and he rewards with everlasting life. We have finally raised the stakes to match our subconscious or underlying desire for immortality.
Survival is selfish by its very nature. There is no getting around that. There is no such thing as a selfless act. The religious can try to deny this and say that doing for others is selfless, but there is a certain satisfaction that one gets when one has pleased another or helped them out of a bad situation. That "feeling" is a reward of sorts and therefore, the act is selfish.
Whenever a person gives of themselves, they automatically get back more than they give. Or at least, they can derive that sense or "feeling" from the act. If they do not get a "good feeling" from helping someone else, they simply won't be moved to do anything.
If a parent saves a child from an oncoming car, they did not do it only for the sake of the child. They did not do it selflessly even if they lose their life in the process, because to allow the child to be hit would be an act they could not live with.
In religion, the selfless act is rewarded by god. You get brownie points for good deeds, but the deeds must be done without the intention of receiving reward or they don't count. This is why there is such a controversy in the bible over whether good works should be done anonymously or in full view of the community. But the controversy is meaningless, it misses the point entirely.
In reality, what they are talking about is "Empathy", not "Selflessness." Selflessness is not attainable by any stretch of logic, but an act of empathy is a symbiotic and harmonious event. Both parties benefit from the act.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. When we do this we extend our "self" to another. When we act on those thoughts, we act as if that other person is us. For that brief moment, we become the other person and therefore help them, or protect them, with the same zeal we would use to help ourselves. Without empathy, we walk away unless there is something else "in it" for us.
This is the essence of charity and service. If we act out of empathy, then we are automatically acting "from the heart" or "without expectation of reward." because we are being rewarded throughout the duration of the act itself. I'm sure you have heard people say that the act of charity is a reward in and of itself. This is true.
The reason we can have empathy for others is because all life shares the same common trials and tribulations. It is easy to understand someone’s hunger when we have been hungry ourselves. It is easy to understand someone else's pain when we have experienced pain ourselves.
But empathy must be cultivated, and religion does that. Empathy is not, however reliant on a god, nor need it be an act done out of service to a god. We can and should cultivate this ability in our children by teaching the precepts of morality. But we needn't also teach it through the myths and superstitions of religion. We must teach that empathy is the best means of survival. It optimizes our potential.
If we are not afraid to admit that all acts are selfish, then we find that the act of loving others is actually an extension of "self" love. This is the reason that acts of "selflessness," in Christian terms, are said to shower the doer with god's love. In fact, the doer is extending the love they feel for themselves to others and is thereby rewarded with feelings of self worth. They are not rewarded by a god, but by themselves and those they extend their love to through a feeling of unity.
Surely a god does not need worship. It could take what it wants and has no need of anything. Certainly it does not need our praise or glorification unless it is an egomaniac of the highest order. And most gods are, just like the tyrant kings and men they were fashioned from and by.