God Matters, and the Question of God’s Existence is Irrelevant

The question of whether or not God exists has traditionally been the central focus of debates between theists and atheists, along with related epistemological questions such as under what conditions we are justified in believing in or rejecting belief in God. In the context of these debates, “belief in God” is generally understood in terms of belief in the existence of a more or less (though usually less) well-defined entity or being with a number of properties (e.g. “personal”, “conscious”, “supernatural”, “transcendent”, “omnipotent”, “omniscient”, “omnibenevolent”, “creator of the universe”, and so on). For both theists and atheists working with such a conception of God, the religious/anti-religious struggle becomes a matter of providing arguments and evidence either in favor of or against the existence of such an entity.

Considering the popularity of this approach to religion and God, the title of this text may at first glance seem somewhat paradoxical, or in any case a bit counterintuitive to a lot of people. After all, most theists and atheists seem to hold the question of whether or not God exists to be of utmost importance. In the end, isn’t the existence of God what religion is all about? The Syntheist response to this question is a resounding “No”. However, this does not mean that Syntheists need to dismiss the concept of God as unimportant.

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As I’ve pointed out before, the four key concepts of Syntheism—Atheos, Pantheos, Entheos and Syntheos—all have the word theos (i.e. god) embedded in them. This doesn’t mean that when we are talking about for example Pantheos, we are postulating the existence of a particular being with certain properties. Rather, the use of a term like Pantheos, which can be translated as “the Universe as God”, is meant to express a certain attitude—in the case of Pantheos, toward the Universe or Existence as such, which we choose to regard as divine. In a similar way, our use of the term Syntheos is meant to express a certain attitude toward our relationships and our longing to belong with the Other, which we too regard as divine.

Given that our use of the terms Pantheos/Syntheos etc. primarily expresses our commitment to regarding the Universe/our relationships etc. as divine, it makes no sense to ask whether or not Pantheos/Syntheos “exist”—to do so is to miss the point of our talk about God or the divine entirely. The appropriate question to ask is rather what role these concepts play in our lives; how our decision to regard the Universe and our relationships as divine and holy affects us.

Thus, from a Syntheist point of view, the question of whether or not God exists is irrelevant, because we do not conceive of God in terms of a particular being with certain properties; nor are we interested in fervently denying the existence of such a being. While Syntheism is sometimes described as the “religion of spiritual atheism”, this description is a bit misleading, for Syntheism aims to move beyond both theism and atheism. Rather than wasting our time arguing for or against the existence of God, we choose instead to appropriate the concept of God to suit our spiritual needs and desires. God thereby becomes a name for those aspects of reality that we choose to regard as divine and holy, and in this sense, God still matters as much as ever.

4 thoughts on “God Matters, and the Question of God’s Existence is Irrelevant

  1. Kev H.

    Hi Jens.

    An interesting article, but, if you will let me, I would like to discuss one of your opening statements:

    ‘…most theists and atheists seem to hold the question of whether or not God exists to be of utmost importance.’

    For most atheists, the question of whether or not God exists is NOT of ‘utmost’ importance’. You might as well say we hold the existence of Thor, Zeus or ‘Steve the Giant Imaginary Fish God’ with the same significance. We don’t. It’s a non-concept. There seems to be a theist belief that atheists wrestle with the concept of god. No, we have no such struggle. This is the particular arena of the theist, not ours.

    This doesn’t mean that we don’t find ourselves in arguments with creationist ‘scientists’, homophobes and self-righteous bigotry – of course we do. As intellectuals, we are irritated by such blinkered thinking. Indeed, I am weary of the debate with people who have been brainwashed from youth into a kind of hard-wired ‘religiosity’. But it is this same kind of hard-wiring that manifests itself in the belief that atheists are as god-obsessive as theists. We may be accused of saying ‘the burden of proof of God’s existence is on the theist’, but this is only because we are drawn into the theist’s realm of thinking/argument where ‘god rules all’. The intellectual leap needed to believe atheists don’t really care about god, is one that some theists (most of them) simply cannot make.

    And that is what I feel this article suffers from. Syntheism, by its very name is tainted by the ‘divine’. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it assumes a sort of divinity is in everything – but that we just don’t call it ‘god’. Which is the same hard-wired thinking under a different name. There is no divine. No holy. No Thor. No Steve The Giant Fish God. Just a perplexing existence in a universe controlled by physical laws that we have not yet fully understood. Humans are the ultimate problem solvers. The Deux ex Machina of the divine is a far too easy solution. Removing organised/text-based religion and instead, finding god by what we personally consider to be ‘holy’ or ‘divine’, is just a fudge, isn’t it?

    It’s a kind of ‘belief readjustment’. People who have been brought up by a particular religion e.g. strict Muslim or Catholicism can find themselves in adult life named ‘evil’ (by their own religion) because they live lifestyles outside of the constrains of those religions, or because they find it intellectually difficult to reconcile archaic doctrine with their own burgeoning reason. This can be a mind fuck for people hard-wired this way. They do not feel inherently ‘evil’ on the inside. And of course they are not. But this need for a belief structure can manifest itself by the adoption of other religions and belief structures. It is very understandable that they would want to make this spiritual change. Syntheism seems to me, like a replacement religion suited for those with hard-wired religious sensibilities who have rejected their original theology.

    No atheist could possibly become a syntheist. Sure, we can see and experience the same beauty in the same way as theists, but we do not need to frame it with the divine or the holy. These are hard-wired religious concepts, a filter of neurons through which theists are forced to view the world. The challenge to theists is not to find the divine and holy but to see ‘creation’ without that filter.

    God only matters to theists.

    Reply
    1. Jens Janson

      Dear Kev,

      Thank you for your comment. I will try to respond to some of your points below, but first I will try to clarify what I meant by my statement that “…most theists and atheists seem to hold the question of whether or not God exists to be of utmost importance.”

      While I acknowledge that there definitely are some atheists for whom the question of God’s existence is irrelevant (I myself am living proof of this, for believe it or not, I am an atheist with regard to traditional realist conceptions of the divine. I’ll elaborate on this a bit below.), my impression is that most atheists, insofar as they have any interest in religion, do think that this question is important, in the sense that they hold it to be the primary question of interest when it comes to religion. Perhaps I should have been more clear about this and said something along the lines of: “For atheists who are interested in (thinking about and discussing) religion, the question of God’s existence seems to be of utmost importance.” Of course, there are people who simply are, as Weber put it, “religiously unmusical”; who, in other words, find nothing of interest in any matters religious/spiritual (or in anything even remotely related to religion/spirituality, as the case may be). Alas, such people are not really my target audience, as I don’t believe they would be interested in anything I have to say. But I nonetheless thank you for pointing this out – I’ll try to choose my words more carefully in the future. Having majored in philosophy of religion, I spend most of my time talking to people who are interested in religion, which sometimes makes it easy to forget that far from everyone shares this interest.

      “Syntheism, by its very name is tainted by the ‘divine’. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it assumes a sort of divinity is in everything – but that we just don’t call it ‘god’. Which is the same hard-wired thinking under a different name.”

      Syntheism is, strictly speaking, not about BELIEF in anything divine. We do not assume a divinity in anything, but rather we choose to REGARD certain aspects of existence as divine. Big difference. If it’s the word “divine” that turns you off, you’re free to replace it with something else. The reason I choose to speak of God and the divine is because I simply haven’t been able to think of any good replacements that do justice to the sort of experience I’m trying to convey. Please see one of my previous articles where I discuss this topic: http://syntheism.org/index.php/2013/03/regarding-the-word-god/

      “Syntheism seems to me, like a replacement religion suited for those with hard-wired religious sensibilities who have rejected their original theology.”

      While I do think Syntheism would be a good alternative for such people, I can’t count myself among them. Having had a very secular upbringing – like most people in my culture – I never had an original theology. Syntheism could however be described as an attempt to create a religion for those unable to believe in any traditional theology, but who nonetheless have certain religious sensibilities, as you put it. However, we do not put down but affirm these sensibilities. Again, Syntheism is not for the religiously unmusical. If you lack, or are free of (as I imagine you might prefer to say) this dimension in your life, then Syntheism most likely isn’t for you, and that’s perfectly fine.

      “No atheist could possibly become a syntheist. Sure, we can see and experience the same beauty in the same way as theists, but we do not need to frame it with the divine or the holy. These are hard-wired religious concepts, a filter of neurons through which theists are forced to view the world. The challenge to theists is not to find the divine and holy but to see ‘creation’ without that filter.”

      I’m an atheist in the sense that I do not believe in an objectively existing God with certain properties, and yet I have no problem admitting that I also consider myself religious, hence the term Syntheist. You still seem to assume that religion equates theism, whereas Syntheism begins precisely by rejecting this assumption.

      I hope you find this reply satisfactory (by which I do not mean that I hope you’ll agree with it). If you’re interested in learning more about and discussing Syntheism, feel free to join our Facebook group. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/109834425805191/)

      Reply
  2. Martin Gustavsson - Vetenskapliga partiet

    A God is something you worship and try to follow.

    If Syntheism is creating “God” by choosing to regard things as divine and holy then I ask what is holy for a Syntheist?

    (For the Scientific party of Sweden it is “the best for future generations”. We use scientific reports and meditation in order to figure out what is the best. )

    Reply
  3. Ben

    All anyone can do is talk and theorize about this stuff. We can believe in one universe, 4 dimensions, that humans are special, or that we know much of anything at all. Earth is crap right now when it could be a lot better. maybe people should start thinking a little smaller. They won’t though. greed will ruin us and religion is all about control and money. how divine

    Reply

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