How to Play God

The Spindoll formula.

Posted Oct 20, 2020

Four qualities emerge at the origin of life: Selves, Function, Adaptiveness, and Effort. 

Only with life do you get selves making functional, adapted, effort. You never hear physical scientists talking about inanimate objects as selves making functional, adapted effort, but you can’t help talk about organisms without implying those four qualities. 

They go by different names. A self is also called an agent, a soul, spirit or individual. Function is also called useful for, good for, effective for, etc. Adaptiveness is called fitted, suited, or “about” as in “that behavior is about surviving in such and such an environment. Effort is also called, motivation, appetite, agency, trying, striving, or struggling. 

What then is the difference between non-living objects and living selves? Objects last as long as they do. Selves struggle to keep existing. It’s ongoing work – stressful, uncertain, striving. It can be quite exhausting. 

It would be nice if we could stop having to struggle for our existence. We can picture that ideal, for example, the billionaire or superstar who has “made it.” We can imagine ultimate perfection on all four of those qualities in a God or higher power. We think of God or a higher power as making functional, adapted effort but never as struggling, never at risk of dying as we are.

We imagine God as the absolute, perfect self, a unified, unconflicted individual, eternally and infinitely present – in a word, omnipresent.

We imagine God’s behavior as infinitely functional, meaning all good, all useful – in a word, omnificent. 

We imagine God as infinitely adapted, meaning perfectly accurate about all circumstances – in a word, omniscient. 

And we imagine God’s effort as infinite, all-powerful – in a word omnipotent. 

God is thus the ideal eternal relief from life’s struggle for existence. 

People play god by means of a simple logic, I’ll call the Spindoll Formula. They designate someone or something to have those four qualities. It could be God, a cult leader, tribe, race, ideology, nation, flag, even science. I’ll call this a Spindoll. It’s the spindle around which we can spin a story of our own godlike authority.

The Spindoll Formula goes like this:

My spindoll is omnipresent, omnificent, omniscient and omnipotent. 
I humbly surrender myself to my spindoll.
By affiliation, I am omnipresent, omnificent, omniscient, and omnipotent.

Anyone who challenges me, challenges my spindoll and is, therefore, by definition, the opposite of my spindoll. My rivals and challenges are all:

Anti-omnipresent: Small, perishable. 
Anti-omnificent - evil.
Anti-omniscient - wrong, and
Anti-omnipotent - weak.

If I'm winning, it proves I am eternally omniscient, omniscient, and omnipotent – righteous, right, and mighty. If I'm losing, it's a temporary setback at the hands of the weak, small, wrong, and evil.

Playing God distracts us from our struggle for existence. If anything will result in our extinction, it's playing God which needn’t having anything to do with a supernatural God. For Stalin, Mao, and the North Korean dictatorship, the spindoll was Communist ideology; for Hitler, it was the Nazi ideology which had little to do with a supernatural deity. 

Indeed, Darwin's theory has been used as a spindoll. Hitler, Marx, plutocrats, and even some new agers all declared themselves perfect by association with natural selection treated as a Godlike determiner of everything right, righteous, mighty and eternal. They decreed themselves and their effort perfectly functionally adapted. That's playing God without a God.

Human sustainability depends on how to handle our natural, yet dangerous appetite for absolute God-like authority.

I see two possibilities. One is to exercise and drain that appetite through inert, innocuous spindolls, for example, escapism into spectator sports in which the spindoll becomes your team, or spectator fiction, in which spindoll becomes a superhero or even spectator figurehead monarchy in which spin becomes the king. Many religious believers succeed in exercising their appetite for playing God as therapeutic escapism while keeping their eyes on the ball of real-world survival. Some do not. I encourage everyone to read journalist Katherine Stewart’s book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. If you’re mystified by the shamelessness of some of the world’s leaders today, it goes far in solving that mystery. 

The other is to try to get over such language-fed fictions, recognizing that we humans can't escape our struggle to self-regenerate, our ongoing iffy effort to remain adapted. 

Adapting requires that we face our reality. Whether we do it with a therapeutic side-dish of escapism or not, we will not survive unless we remain successful in our struggle for real-world existence. If we act as though we have transcended it, we die.


Stewart, Katherine (2020) The Power Worshipers: Inside the dangerous rise of religious nationalism. NYC, NY: Bloomsbury.