If You Were God

The Problem

by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, of blessed memory

Editor's note: please consider the question the writer poses. How do you civilize the species called homo sapiens?

YOU ARE GIVEN an island where several tribes live.

By nature and culture, these tribes are exploitative and belligerent. This results in much suffering on the island, caused by war, poverty and prejudice.

They have been living this way for centuries without any sign of improvement.


To try to improve this society.

To teach its members to live together in harmony and reduce suffering to a minimum or eliminate it entirely.

To create a healthy society.


You have all the resources that a highly advanced technology can offer.

You have the entire island under surveillance and can see what is happening in any place at any time.

You have such devices as cloud seeding equipment and can plant underground explosives. Within reason, you can control weather, flooding, volcanos and earthquakes, and produce any "natural" phenomenon on cue.

You also have devices that can be used to implant ideas through subliminal suggestion. You can implant ideas to entire populations or to certain select leaders.

However, you must take into account the severe limitations of subliminal suggestion. If you try to implant any ideas that go against the basic nature of the populace, they will be totally rejected and your efforts will be in vain.

One alternative would be to implant ideas that somehow would make use of the acknowledged bad nature of these people.


Under no circumstances are the natives of this island to be aware of your presence.

This supersedes all other considerations.

The cultural shock caused by your revealing yourself would disrupt the entire fabric of the island culture. It would cause much suffering and more than offset any good that you could possibly accomplish.

The natives would be reduced to a state of almost vegetable-like dependence from which they would be unlikely to recover. If they did recover, they might rebel so violently as to eliminate any positive values that they might have originally had.

Therefore, the restriction that you not reveal yourself must be followed without exception under any circumstances.

But aside from this restriction, you have a free hand to proceed as humanely or as ruthlessly as you see fit.

In short, you have the opportunity to play God.

What would you do?


Copyright © 1983 by Aryeh Kaplan

We thank the copyright holders for the opportunity to reprint it

Mankind cannot rise to the essential principles on which society must rest unless it meets with Israel. And Israel cannot fathom the depths of its own Tradition unless it meets with mankind
(Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh, Italy. 1823-1901)




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