Can you kill an idea? [closed]

In a world where a "god" constitutes nothing more nor less than a critical mass of belief in a particular concept or ideal with a name plastered onto it. The gods are magical in nature being created by the magic energy derived from those who believe but the belief is the corner stone. Gods, when they exist at all, are physically invulnerable.

Given this origin and definition how would someone, human, living in this world go about killing such a being?

When answering assume a world with medieval levels of technology and universal but not uniform religion, magic is not a thing that happens in every day life but miracles are relatively common AKA magical displays are the exclusive province of gods, not men.

Please note this is about an in-world solution not an author's solution to the problem at the havewaivium level.

closed as off-topic by Aify, sphennings, L.Dutch♦, MichaelK, March HoOct 2 '17 at 11:44

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• "Ideas are bulletproof." – Aify Oct 1 '17 at 18:51
• Are gods fully sentient, sapient, and free willed? To what extent are they beholden to their followers beliefs? i.e. If the people worship a sun goddess, and then one day a group sees a volcano erupt and attributes the fire to their sun goddess, at what point does she also become a volcano goddess? If half the people believed she was a volcano goddess, and half did not, would she split in two (assuming both groups were above this critical mass)? Do the gods get along (always, sometimes, never)? Would other gods support this deicide? – Xavon_Wrentaile Oct 1 '17 at 19:09
• I am seriously going to invite you to read Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. It is literally the story of how to kill Santa Clause if Santa actually existed, and does due to the belief of children. the answer Pratchett came up with will surprise you, as will his reasoning. It will give you tremendous insight into how to create your own solution. – JBH Oct 1 '17 at 23:07
• As said, Hogfather by Terry Pratchett does a pretty good job of one possibility. And the "belief causes existence" for gods is pretty much pure Discworld. NTTAWWT. And more in the Discworld series is Small Gods and quite a few other mentions through the series.... And then you get into Discworld fanfic including a nice piece where Vimes becomes the god of policemen. – ivanivan Oct 1 '17 at 23:45
• "Can you kill an idea? [on hold]" - The irony is strong in this one :D – Dewi Morgan Oct 2 '17 at 14:44

I would say the way to do it is to make a more compelling, relevant story that supplants the target meme. Throw in some military and politics, and you can consider it eradicated, for practical purposes.

If the idea needs a critical mass to support its corresponding god, then you don't have to kill or convert everyone-- just the majority.

In Europe and the Middle East, people were polytheistic until a couple of monotheistic religions won the day through military conquest, politics (give up your gods and worship mine, and you can become part of the ruling class), and plain old persuasion.

There are some people in Europe who worship old pagan European gods, but a direct chain of connection to the original worshippers doesn't exist. For all of them, from the Egyptian, to the Greco-Roman, to the Norse and Germanic, at one point, all of their followers abandoned that practice, and adopted Christianity.

So, as long as you just need to keep below a certain threshold, a newer, more compelling idea might do the trick.

For a modern-day example of this, you can look at Santa Muerte:

Santa Muerte, or "Saint Death," is a Mexican folk religion that combines traditional aspects of Catholicism with ancient Aztec religiosity to form a new faith. As the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte is a kind of spiritual protector for a growing legion of Mexicans who feel unprotected by the state and cast aside by the Catholic Church.

In Mexico, it has become the religion of choice for transgender, gay and lesbian worshipers, prostitutes, felons and drug traffickers, as well as little old ladies, police officers, doctors, nurses and judges. Santa Muerte followers say that death plays no favorites. Rich or poor, powerful or peasant, death comes for everyone.

To outsiders it may seem as though Santa Muerte devotees are worshipping death. But by embracing death, Santa Muerte believers say they are free to live their lives without fear or anxiety.

The "old gods" of the state (okay, the state isn't technically a god) and the Catholic church (with God, Jesus, Maria, and a whole cadre of human saints) just aren't up to the task of taking care of people in certain areas of modern-day Mexico. A New God is arising. Arguably, she's gaining a sort of critical mass. For her followers, she is the force who truly has power over their lives.

• Glad to see you picked up on the concept of a critical mass. Once an idea or, in this case, belief in a god falls below critical mass no more idea, no more god. It's all there in the question, but it takes clear thinking to spot it. I had the same idea, but got here first. Well done! Plus one. – a4android Oct 2 '17 at 1:26
• @a4android And you got here before me, this is a nice answer and it addresses a vital point that seems to be missing in other answers. – Ash Oct 2 '17 at 10:28
• @Ash What can I say? I can only agree. I had thought of an answer along parallel lines. Now I don't need too. Pleased see something similar and it does tackle the key point. – a4android Oct 2 '17 at 12:49
• @a4android sometimes, sometimes-- I actually read the article on the internet : ) – user151841 Oct 2 '17 at 16:44

That's pretty simple - kill the believers. At some point the number of surviving believers will drop below critical mass and the god will be no more.

And that works just fine for medieval technology. See the Albigensian Crusade as an example of the suppression of a religion (or at least a religious sect).

• I knew someone would realise this, I was hoping to avoid genocide but I can live with it. – Ash Oct 1 '17 at 18:21
• @Ash Genocide is one choice, missionary work is another. Of course you can combine them into a crusade… – Bergi Oct 1 '17 at 21:55
• "Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead" -Benjamin Franklin – MrLore Oct 1 '17 at 21:57
• Why wouldn't the target god just rally the troops, do a little hand-waving, and kill the people killing the believers? This would be a long, drawn-out religious war, one factor against another, and the outcome is not guaranteed. I can think of no god in human history who's historical memory has been completely erased. But if the memory were completely erased, I wouldn't know it. But that's the point - if anyone can remember the god, it is not completely dead, incapable of resurrection. Even the MEMORY has to be eliminated to completely eliminate (kill) the god. – Justin Thyme Oct 2 '17 at 2:41
• Also important: kill the language constructs enabling formulating such ideas! (Yes, this is Newspeak.) – KlaymenDK Oct 2 '17 at 11:44

I propose that an idea that such a being is dead would kill the idea. If everyone believes such a being is dead the being would be dead.

Alternatively in Egypt great effort was spent to erase the name of former rulers from existence to wipe them from memory.

Alternatively again if an idea is changed is it still the same idea. If such a being is forced to change with the belief is it still the same being

Sorry to get an idea like this but you kind of led me there.

• In the OP's world the gods are actually manifest. It would be a little difficult to persuade people to stop believing when the god in question turns up to your "ur god is ded" rally. – Tim Oct 2 '17 at 1:38
• Fair points, @Tim, but this has been done. youtube.com/watch?v=LxiLUEgN6vQ – jonnybot Oct 2 '17 at 4:11
• @jonnybot I wondered if anyone would make that particular connection to this question, well done. – Ash Oct 2 '17 at 10:29

This is an active question in the real world, in the sense that political ideas have great power, and can't be physically harmed. Many people have at various times wished to kill ideas like communism, manifest destiny, Christianity, the comparison between sovereign debt and credit cards... it's notoriously difficult.

It's a bit like trying not to think of a purple elephant. If you run TV ads telling people not to believe in Thor, you're just going to raise Thor's profile. If you persecute Thor-worshippers, you'll make them martyrs and strengthen their solidarity. You can maybe make people dislike Thor, but that's just turning a god into a demon.

The one thing that seems to work is replacing an idea with something else that scratches the same itch, but better. People in the US stopped believing in railroads when they got cars. People in the USSR stopped believing in communism because capitalist economies were better at providing food and TVs. People stopped believing in bloodletting when (...etc.)

If you ran an ad campaign for a new thunder god, who also gave out free candy on the summer solstice, and rode a flying laser unicorn, then people might gradually stop thinking about Thor. The trick is, you don't fight against an idea, you distract from it.

• "People in the US stopped believing in railroads": so, railroads don't exist anymore? – rus9384 Oct 1 '17 at 23:34
• @rus9384 for all intent and purposes, yes, you can consider that – njzk2 Oct 2 '17 at 1:07
• @njzk, that way cars are also not universal. – rus9384 Oct 2 '17 at 1:09
• "flying laser unicorn"? You deserve a +1 just for that fun image, provided you aren't an agent of the unicorn conspiracy, but I already gave you one for an on clear answer before I got there so... – Ash Oct 2 '17 at 10:24

Ideas may be bullet proof but they're not above corruption

Ideas like gods are held by a group of people, accept them, welcome them in, consider their ideas and absorb them, but corrupt them. Take their god and make it an aspect of your own. Take their religion and make it a subsect of your own. Their god dies and is replaced by your god, their festivals become variants of your festivals.

It's very hard for a minority group to maintain an identity in the face of total and overwhelming acceptance of everything they stand for.

If you try to kill or oppress the idea you whittle believers down to a real hard core that hangs on and becomes tougher. If you welcome them with open arms they become soft and their true idea slowly fades into a memory of the old, the hippies, and the borderline bonkers.

• AKA The Roman Method. – Ash Oct 2 '17 at 10:19
• @Ash, the Roman method was particularly effective until it came across a religion it just wasn't compatible with. One could suggest that with Paul's assistance it was able to adapt. – Separatrix Oct 3 '17 at 7:50

One of the finest weapons of ideological combat is the word, "And". If you take any fundamentally legitimate belief and bond it to other, less defend-able ideas within the popular media, the strength and integrity of the original idea is lessened by the union. As the additions mount up, the idea begins to dissolve, transforming under the weight of all the extra baggage until it becomes a different idea entirely. When done over time, with consistency and authority, the bonds can become so lasting, that even after the original idea's collapse, its' name is forever bound to the failure of the union. This is better than killing an idea. This guarantees that the idea will stay dead.

For example, if we start with the idea that Capitalism is the best economic model on the planet, AND then state that the best government should at least be able to take care of its elderly citizens; suddenly we are talking about "Capitalism AND ElderCare".

If we then bring up that being the best, Capitalism should also take care of the sick and the poor; now we are talking about "Capitalism AND ElderCare AND Welfare AND Socialized-Medicine.

With little additional effort, we've further redefined "Capitalism", appending it to include ElderCare, Welfare, Socialized-Medicine, Free-Education, Guaranteed-Employment, Fair-Housing, ...and every other social program we can think of.

Each of these additions can appear to be made in pursuit of noble and humanitarian values. Each can appear to be attempts to "improve" upon the original idea. But if the appending is handled with care and diligence, the sum of these augmentations will slowly transform the original idea of capitalism, subtly changing it into the very different idea, socialism.

In the OP's terms, the "Capitalism Worshippers" might still think they are worshiping at the "Shrine of Capitalism", but it would be the "God of Socialism" which receives belief credits for their tributes.

Idea Assassination 101 : The word "AND"

• Given that this particular site is quite European biased and Europe is primarily socialist democracies that do manage elderly care, social welfare, free healthcare, social housing, free education etc without having the troubles you seem to think they should, perhaps it would be better to keep such opinions out of your answers. – Separatrix Oct 2 '17 at 10:03
• What @Separatrix said and this in no way constitutes an answer to the task in a traditional fantasy/medieval setting as stipulated in the question. – Ash Oct 2 '17 at 10:16
• This is a very astute answer. I see this kind of pattern everywhere in real life. – Green Oct 2 '17 at 12:17
• @Separatrix and Ash, I was attempting to demonstrate a concept and had no intention of making a political or ideological statement. I apologize if I offended you or any other site participants. I had originally planned to skip the taxation and economic aspects of this answer, in favor of just recognizing that by adding enough "ANDs", I had transformed one idea, "democracy" into another idea, "socialism". Given your responses, I now see that that would have been the wiser way to write this answer. I will make the appropriate adjustments later today. Thanks for the feedback. – Henry Taylor Oct 2 '17 at 12:45
• @Green, thanks for the support. The seed of the idea came from the writings of C.S. Lewis in a book called "The Screwtape Letters". The example which Lewis uses involved techniques for corrupting religious beliefs through the use of "ANDs" and "PLUSes". When I decided to write this answer, I carefully avoided one land-mine (religion), only to step on another (politics). My own thick skin on such issues sometimes makes me insensitive to others who don't share my disillusionment. At least here, I can edit my words and thus undo some of the harm. Thanks again! – Henry Taylor Oct 2 '17 at 12:55

Comments have referenced Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, where a deity is deliberately killed (or at least an attempt was made, which would have been successful without outside assistance). A deliberate attack on belief in that deity was made, so that the deity would die due to a lack of believers.

A more interesting alternative from Pratchett is Small Gods. In that book, a deity nearly dies by accident. Even though its religion appears to be powerful, no-one actually believes in the god itself. To quote a quote within the book: "Around the Godde there forms a Shelle of prayers and Ceremonies and Buildings and Priestes and Authority, until at Last the Godde Dies. Ande this maye notte be noticed."

With this in mind, it's interesting to look at how much of day-to-day life in Christian countries is based on the teachings of Paul. Paul of course was fundamental to the establishment of Christianity - but his more militant, proscriptive concept of religion appears very different to Jesus's, and in many ways he directly contradicts Jesus. So in your concept, it's entirely possible that Paul's corruption of original Christianity could have "killed" Jesus as a deity, because people who consider themselves Christian are actually following the teachings of someone else rather than Jesus.

• As I read it, once and severally, Hogfather concerns a magical attack not a mundane attack which this necessarily must be, since this is a world without normal magic. The note from Small Gods is not without merit, and the commentary on Christianity is even more useful, cheers. – Ash Oct 2 '17 at 17:40
• @Ash Hogfather concerns a deliberate attack on belief, as a deliberate attempt to kill a deity. A certain amount of magic is involved, but only in the sense that the whole deity environment is magical. I wanted to distinguish between a deliberate near-assassination and an accidental near-death. I'll clarify that in my answer. – Graham Oct 3 '17 at 8:33

I'd say fracture the religion. Many answers other than the genocide ones don't really kill those gods, but slowly merge or alter the god in some way. Sure, that same god doesn't exist anymore, but if one actually wants to kill a god instead of just getting rid of it that doesn't fit the bill.

Say you have a religion that has 3 times the amount of belief needed to sustain a god. You could entirely remove that god by splitting the religion in at least 4 separate religions where none has enough belief to maintain a god. The question of course becomes at what point are two ideas different enough to be considered separate.

This could be achieved either by inciting some mayor splits, or inciting minor splits. Inciting the mayor ones would probably involve some political manipulation. Inciting the minor ones however could be achieved by:

1. The hands off method: Things like a translating the holy book and spreading it so villages can create their own interpretation. Creating all sorts of mini-religions in the process. (Think printing press -> Protestantism)
2. The hands on method: Actively spread different religious information in different areas.

You could also try to shift a Monotheistic religion towards something like Hinduism where the belief is spread over many minor gods.

In the world of Quantum Physics, yes. An idea is information

Is quantum mechanics messing with your memory? For all we know we may live in a world in which windows un-break and cold cups of coffee spontaneously heat up, we just don't remember. The explanation is quantum entanglement

A hand wave, and send this entity to permanently and irreversibly travel back in time, second by second, instead of forward (living its entire existence in reverse, like playing a movie of its life in reverse) for all eternity, even past its own existence to the pre-existence of its birth.

From that point forward in time there would be no record of its existence.

• Ah I see the issue, let the editing ensue. – Ash Oct 1 '17 at 17:55
• Sorry, it seems I edited it while you were looking at it. I forgot to add the last line about 'forgetting'. – Justin Thyme Oct 1 '17 at 17:57
• Yup I'm looking for a protagonist level solution, could a person or people kill a god as defined. – Ash Oct 1 '17 at 18:19

The idea exists and persists because of collective belief and constant reaffirmation.

Attack—alter, distort, corrupt—the history, artifacts, stories, phenomena that are attributed to the deity and its creations, or certain groups' perceptions of them. Your protagonist engineers (or completes the final step of) the disintegration of a spiritually homogeneous society into warring factions, or at least until the "idea" is sufficiently diffused and rendered powerless.

The entire process could span generations/centuries/millennia.

Take a look at Meme Theory (evolutionary theory applied to ideas.. originally by Dawkins). Memes can become extinct. I think the other answers here have probably arrived at the same type of answers you'd expect but the theory is much more broadly applicable and can be mined for the logical consequences of such a world, e.g. see the Red Queen Hypothesis.. which applied to this example would state something like "the most important thing for a god is the rate at which you convert".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

There's also the idea of a Meme System.. which is a group of ideas that are all interrelated.. e.g. religions. The Meme System can also have its own evolutionary fitness (e.g. the Shakers were celibate.. arguably an unfit meme, and therefore an unfit meme system).

I remember reading a sci-fi fantasy story decades ago about something similar. I forget the title, author, and details, but it involved prayer rods. Each god had a specific type of prayer rod that the believers used to pray to it. The strength of the god came from the number of prayer rods and the people using them. The evil human protagonist set about to destroy the prayer rods, thus the followers could not pray to the god, thus the god and associated magic power weakened. I don't think the god died, because the hero mustered all of the followers to use whatever prayer rods were still in existence to strengthen the god, like the "I believe, I believe' chant that saved Tinkerbell.

In the real world ideas are generally impossible to "kill", we have people who are convinced the world is flat, even today, and you could point to literally millions of discredited ideas that are still in circulation. However, the actual number of people who believe in these ideas are small, and generally not very influential.

Even in terms of religion, you can probably count the true worshippers of Thor or Athena on the fingers of your hand. The ideas are there (most readers probably have enough familiarity with these mythological concepts to be able to describe roughly who these gods were and their attributes), but no longer have any practical influence in the real world. OTOH the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have very real effect in the world, and worshippers of the Hindu pantheon are probably more than a billion strong. Even the Buddha exerts great influence in the modern world.

So the issue here is discovering the "critical mass" of believers needed to sustain a god, and to then convert them to worship or believe in a different god, or failing that eliminate them so they are not available to provide the critical mass of worshippers.

Way number two is distressingly common in history (crusades, Jihad, genocide etc.), but way number one is probably more effective. Since the gods are essentially personifications of ideas (look up the gods of the PIE (Proto Indo European) people's, many of them are personifications of things like the Sky).

If you can clearly articulate an idea and describe it in a more compelling or clearer manner than the current deitiy explains the idea, then people will become attracted to the new and more compelling idea, and gradually abandon the older idea. In terms of your in story universe, the old god will fade while the new god will gain strength. Old gods may remain as pale shadows of themselves (much like Neil Gaiman's "American Gods") The process is explained in the TV version like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grTH-hf_0rA

Hijack the religion.

Religions are actually surprisingly flexible, providing that you can gather sufficient authority and support to lead them in the direction that you want. Gods do not seem to have much power over this, and there are plenty of examples of religions being manipulated and transformed into pretty much whatever is needed to justify any course of action - especially extreme actions like war and genocide.

History has shown that the best way of controlling the people is to control their religion. Belief in a religion is not the same as the belief in a god. Steer the religion in a new direction and the people will follow, and the god will change or die (in godhood terms, they are probably much the same).

Of course, wars generally are not much about religion at all rather than political ambition but religion can always be used to trump reason and responsibility and corrupt the most pious.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_war

... actually, that does not seem too dissimilar to some of the other answers.

The point is that ideas are not immutable, they develop and change over time - sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically, but even when the change is dramatic, people do not necessarily realise that it has happened - a jealous and vengeful god can turn into a god of love and compassion, and no one thinks 'well, it must be a different god!'. Of course, since in monotheistic religions there can be only one god, the god of retribution must also be the forgiving god - despite the rather obvious fact that one has been replaced (killed) by the other.

Ideas are overtaken by raised voice sometimes, ideas get muffled due to ignorance and lack of confidence. Ideas demand the open sky of belief, ideas needs the watering of hard work and patience. Ideas do not really instead they remain alive forever, and sometimes they do come back in the form of regret. Ideas are keys to success, but more importantly Ideas do provide experiences if followed and which are worth more than any money in the world.

So no an idea cannot get killed!! :)

This question is likely assumed that 'God' is just an idea inside human mind. The earliest concept of "God" must had been forged/taught into our mind by our ancestors(in certain belief, they were called prophets/messengers). One of the concept(coming from certain religion) that It's a believe toward a supreme entity which created everything without being created. The origin concept of God define as an "entity", not as a "being", because it was not created. God is something in the very beginning of everything, and will be the end of everything.

IF God was created, then it violates its concept as God. God is also the source of any beliefs, because any beliefs based on its God/gods. This source of beliefs, constructed and forged into the heart as belief and into the mind as concept which supervise our self and create certain culture and way of life based of that source. The thought that God must exist came from the impossible of things in the universe to be what it is now without any trigger/creator. Beside, the inability of human to create another human, create anything alike in this universe. There's must be somekind of power that handle all of energies and matters in this universe, and that power some people would refer as entity called God.

Back to your question. If we assume it's as an idea. You cannot really kill it. Because once an idea pass into human mind, that idea will be reside there, and eventually spread to any capable brain holding such idea(human brain). Hence, the only way based on your question is to kill ALL human ever existed in this world(including your self).

• Hi, welcome to Worldbuilding! You're using the assumption that the question has ascribed the same meaning to the word "god" as you have with the word "God". They may be the same word (aside from capital letters), but in this case, when they say "god", it has a different meaning than the one you've ascribed it, such as "IF God was created, then it violates its concept as God" not necessarily being the case for this question. The existence, or lack thereof of such a 'god' depends on "critical mass of belief", not on whether or not it's an 'idea', so you may be able to destroy the belief – Mithrandir24601 Oct 2 '17 at 9:58
• you can't really kill the idea by just killing the belief/believers. Because it pass to your own mind(the killers). Even though you/they(the killers) don't believe in God nor believe such idea, once an idea reside in your mind, it will be always there. – mfathirirhas Oct 2 '17 at 10:04
• That's the point though, you don't need to kill the idea (OK, bad wording of the question title!) - if the person doing the killing kills everyone who believes in it, without believing himself, then there is no more belief. In any case, this could be extended to the idea of having everyone who knows about the idea somehow all dying at the same time = no more idea – Mithrandir24601 Oct 2 '17 at 10:23
• the person who do the killing must kill himself too if he really want to eliminate the idea, because the idea has passed into his mind. An idea is not about believing or not, but it's about the concept residing in our mind. The killers who kill all people must know the idea, except your second scenario happen where everyone eventually dying. – mfathirirhas Oct 2 '17 at 10:27
• One does not need to kill everyone with knowledge of the idea, one only needs to eliminate those who accept the idea. We are aware of creationists and flat earthers, but do not accept their concepts, just as many are aware of the concept of God but do not accept it to contain any truth. – Separatrix Oct 2 '17 at 10:31