July 26, 2016 by NowhereButPop
To make the work day go faster, I ask my co-workers a litany of hypothetical questions that all begin either with: “If you could…”, “What would you do if…”, or “Would you rather…”. Part of my motive comes purely for my own entertainment, but I also think that you can glisten a lot from a person depending on their response to seemingly inane and nonsensical hypotheticals. But one day, about two months ago, someone turned the tables on me and left me searching for weeks for an appropriate answer to this hypothetical question.
The question was as follows: “If you had the powers of God (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc…), and could only do one thing with those powers after which you would revert to exactly how you were right before you were deified, what would you do?”. To say that this question blew my mind would be a huge understatement. Imagine having the power of God in your hands, but with the strict restriction that you could only do one thing with those powers. How would you react? What would you do? More importantly, what would be the right thing to do?
With the powers of God, there’s a silent understanding that whatever action someone would take in this hypothetical scenario, they would have to do something that affects all of humanity, and not squander their power on a localized area. Out of all the people who answered the question, no one said they would use their powers for personal gain. One person said they would wipe out all pollution, another person said that they’d institute world peace, while another person said that they would destroy all pathogens. And yet, here I was, the guy who comes up with all the ridiculous hypotheticals like “Would you rather give up all cheeses or all breads for the rest of your life?”, or “Would you rather be unable to open any doors for the rest of your life, or be unable to use a flight of stairs?”, unable to answer this relatively straightforward question that so many others were able to answer within 30 seconds of first being asked. But for me, it took about 3 weeks to come up with my answer.
The biggest problem that I wrestled with was that with the powers of God, it would be my responsibility to act ethically insofar as a manner appropriate for a divine being to act. With great power comes great responsibility, and with omnipotence comes the colossal responsibility of being the caretaker for all of existence. In the major religions on the planet, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism a god has been responsible for the creation of both the universe and mankind. As such the appropriate answer to the question posed would be to do something that has an effect on the entirety of creation.
One of the paramount clauses about creation, in any religion, is the doctrine of free will. Mankind is free to act as it pleases even if certain actions are perceived to distance themselves from their creator. The Judeo-Christian God granted humanity free will even though it would lead certain people to sin. In Hinduism, the belief in karma is an extension of free will as how you act will thus be acted upon you in the next life. Even though there is punishment for certain actions, across the major religions, there is the belief that humans are free to do as they please without a divine presence forcing them to think or act in a certain manner.
It’s for this reason that the world peace answer is incorrect. It’s a noble pursuit, and if this question was posed as a multiple choice, world peace would definitely be the trap pick. In order to foster world peace, you would need to either need to externally force it on people by actually preventing them from crossing each other, or you would need to subvert it into humanity by taking away everyone’s feelings of malice and animosity. Either option would take away someone’s free will and instead impose God’s (your) will onto them thus violating one of the established religious truths.
Cleaning up pollution would only serve to make people more reckless in the future polluting since they now had a clean slate due to the lack of imperativeness over the destruction of the environment. Because we’d have more slack, people wouldn’t care about their carbon footprint anymore which would lead to the same amount of environmental damage, but we’d leave it for future generations to clean up.
Removing all pathogens was an answer that I entertained for a while, but it didn’t go far enough. All that would do is destroy any bacteria, viruses or fungi harmful to people. It wouldn’t get rid of cancer, autosomal disorders, prion related sicknesses, Alzheimer’s, birth defects, or heart disease. But this answer got me thinking about the responsibilities of God. Even though every theocratic religion believes in a benevolent god, very rarely does the deity concern himself with the day-to-day of human affairs. Across the board, it really isn’t any god’s responsibility to make sure we eat right, or buckle our seatbelts, or use a condom, or refrain from drinking brown water. In fact, across the major religions, God really only has two responsibilities: 1) Create all of existence and 2) Judge all of humanity at the end of times. With that in mind, and with all of existence having been already created, the only ethical, appropriate, and objectively right thing to do with the powers of God would be to mete out judgment upon humanity.
The three Abrahamic religions all refer to a judgment day where all the world will be punished or saved by God based upon their actions in life. Even though the details vary across Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (and even within different sects) the gist is the same—Every single person will one day be judged by God. In Hinduism, samsara, the belief in reincarnation is essentially a form of judgment with the main goal of the religion being nirvana, unity with Brahma to escape the cycle of samsara. In Hinduism, you’re judged until you are pure and enlightened enough to join the creator. Within the Abrahamic religions, depending on how you are judged by God the creator dictates your eternal fate. So, given the powers of an omnipotent creator, the only reasonable thing to do would be to carry on their duty.
Maybe it’s because I was bullied as a kid, or maybe it’s because I live by a “Do onto others as they’ve done onto you” creed, but the opportunity to objectively, absolutely, and correctly punish or reward people based on their actions and how they treat others is, to me, an incredibly seductive idea. If you had the powers of God, you would have to act like Him because of the truth that title dictates behavior. If you’re a parent, teacher, doctor, lawyer, spouse, etc., you’re supposed to act in a certain way that befits that role. The same would seem to apply to deities.
Now, as I right this, I realize a serious flaw in my answer—I only temporarily have these powers. Once I judge humanity, I’m rendered a mortal man once more while God goes back to being God. In the Abrahamic religions, the Last Judgment has to be preceded by a very specific set of events, you can’t skip right to the judgment part, and I’m certainly not trying to bring about the apocalypse. I’m just keeping the seat warm. My actions would thus be more akin to housesitting, throwing a party at the house that I was supposed to be taking care of, and then not cleaning up the house by the time the owners got home. The responsibilities of God would be solely reserved for God. Whoever cooks dinner for you at home doesn’t have the same responsibilities as a waiter at a restaurant even though they are doing the same thing. Just because I’d have the powers of God wouldn’t make me God, and I think that’s something that I forgot when I initially answered the question.
To take over the role of a deity would probably be the definition of arrogance, and even though I’d be like a god, I would not be a god, which would therefore make me ethically incapable of passing judgment on mankind. I could do so, but it would represent an abuse of absolute power. Unless I experienced an apotheosis that is apparently reserved only for Beyonce and Bernie Sanders, I think the only appropriate response to the question of “If you had the powers of God, and could only do one thing with those powers after which you would revert to exactly how you were right before you were deified, what would you do?” would be to return those powers as quickly as possible. After three weeks I thought I found the only true answer to this moral and philosophically crippling question. Now, after two months I’ve experienced an epiphany while writing this essay, and found a better answer which would be to divest myself of these powers. I thought I had the right answer of three longs weeks of playing moral chess with myself. Now after two months, I’ve finally settled on my answer to what’s probably the most intriguing, insightful, and self-revealing hypothetical question that’s ever been posed to me.
We’ll see how I feel in another two months from now.
 Clearly I like to ask life’s hard questions.
 This judgment day involves neither Skynet nor machines. It’s much scarier than War Games or T2 could ever be.
 Probably brought about because I was bullied for about four years as a kid.