All Gods Are Imaginary

By James A. Haught | 13 September 2022
Freethought Now

(Photo: Mario Leonardo Iñiguez / Wikipedia / CC BY 2.0)

My grandson named his dog Anubis after the ancient Egyptian canine deity that is either a jackal or a dog.

Those long-ago Egyptians worshiped about 2,000 different gods of every variety, some part animal and part human. The holies were served by an army of priests in lavish temples. The Egyptian priesthood held enormous wealth.

Does anyone today think those gods were real?

Similarly, the Aztecs sacrificed an estimated 20,000 people yearly to an array of strange deities, including an invisible feathered serpent. Did those gods actually exist?

Most people know that ancient Greeks had a pantheon of colorful gods atop Mount Olympus. Greeks sacrificed great numbers of animals to them. And they visited oracles who supposedly transmitted messages from the gods. Wealth accumulated by the Oracle of Delphi caused “sacred wars” that allowed the Macedonian Alexander to seize Greece and end the era of city-states. The Roman Empire had a similar pantheon.

Were the Greek and Roman gods anything but imaginary?

Ancient Scandinavians worshiped a zoo of Norse gods — now considered imaginary.

Ancient Hindu Veda scriptures say there are 33 gods, but according to some sources there may be millions of Hindu gods. Is any of this real?

The Encyclopedia of Gods lists 2,500 known deities — all the way to Nyakaya, the Shilluk crocodile goddess. Who knows what a crocodile goddess is or doubts that she’s imaginary?
Montaigne said: “Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, but he will make gods by the dozen.”

Since thousands of former deities now are seen as fantasies, why should anyone think that today’s supernatural gods are real?

Reprinted with permission from the author.

James A. HaughtJames A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s The Charleston Gazette-Mail and a senior editor of the Free Inquiry magazine. He is also the author of numerous books and articles; his most recent book is Religion is Dying: Soaring Secularism in America and the West (Gustav Broukal Press, 2010). Haught has won 21 national newswriting awards and thirty of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He is in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors, and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century. His website is

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  1. I would add a rider to Stephen Fry's comments, which are obviously eminently reasonable. The problem with belief in God is that we have to explain why we are far more compassionate and loving (as Fry himself reveals us to be) than the God that most people believe in. Cruelty is obviously the nature of God, or the gods, if there be one or many of them, and those who believe in many are right to suppose that, if there are gods, they are as capricious as we are. The problem is that if there is a singular being who created the life world in which we have come to be, the question — How could God be so thoughtlessly cruel as to create a world with so much suffering in it? — in inescapable. This simply doesn't compute with the idea that God is love. Christians speak about "love divine all loves excelling," (as the famous hymn says) but that is us. We talk about love. It is not something that is revealed by any god that we imagine. What reality reveals about any god is that we have been given no reason to think that whatever God or gods exist are loving.

    Fry is absolutely right to insist that, were there a God, and after death we find ourselves standing before the judgment seat of that being, we should ourselves stand in judgment of the being that we have imagined. The thought, "judge not that ye be not judged" applies with equal force to the gods we imagine. The problem is that religion, while speaking about love, threatens us with the judgment of God who will punish in unquenchable fire those who have failed in showing appropriate fealty to the one who is also said to be loving. The contradiction at the heart of religious belief is simply inexpungable.

  2. We also have literature poetry theatre and music that are from imagination. Is he proposing to get rid of them?


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