There has recently been a debate on our Facebook group about the use of the word “god” in relation to our four key concepts (Atheos, Pantheos, Entheos, Syntheos). As you may notice, these four terms all have the word theos, the Greek word for god, embedded in them. The question that sparked the debate was whether using this sort of language might generate unnecessary confusion, considering that:
1) For a lot of people, the word “god” already has a more or less firmly established meaning.
2) Our “gods” are not gods in any traditional sense of the word.
When we speak of, for instance, Syntheos, we are not referring to a supreme being of any kind. What Atheos, Pantheos, Entheos and Syntheos all denote are simply different aspects of reality that we consciously choose to regard as holy.
Now one can certainly formulate arguments against the use of the word “god” in the construction of our philosophy. I, however, will leave that task to someone else, and shall instead share some thoughts in favor of appropriating the word “god” for Syntheist purposes.
First of all, I want to point out that “God” represents so much more than an obsolete metaphysical concept. Consider for a moment the role that God played in premodern Christian societies. In the premodern context, God was both the ground of everything, and the final goal of everything; the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. Every aspect of society revolved around God, and all art, music, architecture, poetry, etc. was invariably dedicated to God. For those of us who have grown up in a society where even the few self-proclaimed theists that remain seem to live etsi Deus non daretur—as if God does not exist—such a society is almost unimaginable. But that’s the way it was back then.
While the death of God certainly liberated us from various notions of the divine that were and are no longer credible (the transcendent God; the Absolute Monarch, Divine Judge and Cosmic Killjoy), the price that we had to pay for the Lord’s abdication was a high price indeed, namely, that as a society, we no longer have a common purpose. We live in a society that completely lacks direction and vision. We carry on with our lives and nobody knows why. The president of the United States still speaks of God and the Nation, but nobody believes in those ideas anymore.
Nobody believes in anything anymore. Nothing is holy. This is our predicament.
Now this is where Simon Critchley enters the picture and asks the exact right question: is it possible for us to construct a supreme fiction, that is, a fiction which we know to be a fiction, but in which we can nonetheless still believe? If so, what would that supreme fiction be based around? Since the transcendent God is no longer an option, the answer must be: whichever aspects of the immanent world, i.e. the universe, we can and want to regard as holy. Now, as Slavoj Žižek points out: if God the Father is dead, and the Son died on the cross, then the only person of the Trinity that remains is… the Holy Spirit! And what is the Holy Spirit? It is the community of believers united by love—or in Syntheist terminology: Syntheos, the god made manifest through our coming together, the god we create through our interactions.
Now the use of the word “god” does at least two things here:
1) It shows that we treat, in the case of Syntheos, our relationships with the same kind of gravitas that premodern Christian societies treated God. We are not just saying that we enjoy our relationships, or that we think they’re important. We are doing something much more radical than that: we are declaring our relationships to be divine, as sacred as anything gets! I for one can’t think of any other terms than religious terms like “god”, “divine” etc. that are able to sufficiently capture the full weight of we’re doing here.
2) It shows that we acknowledge that, contrary to what the New Atheists think, we need God—not necessarily the Abrahamic God, but something that serves the same purpose in our lives. Again, Critchley is spot-on in viewing modernity not in terms of a process of secularization, but as a series of metamorphoses of sacralization. We can’t help but to deify something. A hundred years ago, that something may have been the nation. Today, people worship their egos. The truth is that we will continue to sacralize one thing or another regardless of whether or not we use the term “god”, and whether or not we are conscious of the fact that we are always creating gods in this sense.