Author Archives: Alexander Bard

Deep atheism: Syntheism as a post-atheist religion

Atheism is sometimes (wrongly) referred to as a religion. As a matter of fact, atheism has nothing to do with religion. Some religions are theistic and some religions are atheistic, but atheism in itself is no more a religion than its opposite theism is.

Theism believes there is at least one god (whatever kind of god that may be), a-theism is just the belief that a specific defined god does not exist – there can be no general atheism, but merely specific versions directed against different theisms, like Christian atheism, Islamic atheism, Judaist atheism, Hindu atheism etc – since atheism always needs at least one god that it can claim not to believe in. Atheism is always, you see, nothing beyond a pure negation.

Individual

Actually, it is a miracle that anybody cares about atheism in the first place since it delivers no worldview of its own. It is nothing but a constantly repeated I am still not sure what I believe in, but at least I do not believe in that! Atheism can in itself not define anything it actually does believe in. It is an empty hole, an intellectual dead end.

Historically, atheists have therefore always been forced to define at least something in addition to atheism, which they can claim they do believe in. The most common reponse is that atheists stick to humanism, they believe that there are people and these people are individuals and this is apparently of great metaphysical importance to them. So atheists end up believing in individualism where they can at least claim to believe in themselves.

The problem is that individuals exist no more than the so far defined gods. Just like nobody ever seems to have met God and can prove his or existence, nobody has ever met and can prove the existence of an individual. Sure, there are over seven billion people on this planet, and these people have bodies, but that these bodies also harbor individuals is no more proven than the existence of any external divinity. There is only the body, there is no individual inside the body. Rather people seem to be far more dividual than individual, split, chaotic and living with grand delusions of all kinds, rather than being unified, structured, and all-knowing.

Syntheism starts right here: Individualism is a dead end, science has proved that the feeling of being an individual is an illusion, literally a mindgame. So we can no longer be complacent with historical atheism. We have to move beyond atheism, into what we refer to as deep atheism or post-atheism. Please feel most welcome to join us. When both God and The Individual are dead, what can we do with whatever is left of metaphysics, if not create our own new gods which we really can believe in? Far more than we could ever believe in our limited and illusionary selves.

The differences between Atheism, Pantheism, and Syntheism

The Syntheist vocabulary constantly returns to the the three terms Atheism, Pantheism, and Syntheism. Atheism is the belief that there has been no god presented to us so far which we can credibly believe in. Atheism is the opposite of theism, the belief that at least one god exists independently of human existence (often divided between monotheism claiming there is one god only as opposed to polytheism believing there are many gods).

Pantheism is the belief that all dualistic theisms are based on mistaken assumptions, that there is no point in discussing God as something external to our obvious existence. According to Pantheism, The Universe and God amount to one and the same thing. God is internal and not external to The Universe and everything that exists is divine. An atheist can therefore also be a pantheist and vice versa. The world’s possibly most ardent atheistic campaigner Rickard Dawkins has even admitted exactly this with his famous quote Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. [1]

Richard Dawkins

What Syntheism adds to this spectrum is the concept that rather than discussing whether gods exist independently of us or not (as if this for some strange reason would be a necessary condition for divinity), we have to admit that all gods have been created by humanity and nobody else, and we are consequently free to keep creating gods (even physically) as long as we admit that this is precisely what we do when we conduct religion.

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So while Atheism and Pantheism are perfectly acceptable passive intellectual positions that amount to pretty much the same thing, two sides of the same coin, it is when we take these concepts seriously and put them in contact with our human emotional needs that we become active Syntheists. Syntheism can best described as Atheism+ or Pantheism+. And no god is more Syntheistic, no god can more lay claim to the term Syntheos, than the sacredness which appears to us when we are bound together (re-ligare) as a holy community.

In other words, Syntheism is religion for the sake of religion alone, without us waiting for any external force to communicate to and dominate us. Instead we become Syntheists through divine communication in between us. The Syntheist symbol shows this interplay: The white ellipse represents The Universe (Pantheos), the black circle represents The Void (Atheos) and the symbol in its entirety represents Syntheos, the sacred unity which we as humans project onto Existence.

Syntheology is even based on four rather than three basic concepts, but the forth one, the sophisticated and mysterious concept of Entheos, “The God inside you”, does not seem to require its own -ism, which is why we happily study this concept deeper in a different article.

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, page 40. “Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist’s metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism”.

So it took a brave smart American woman to finally bring quantum physics into philosophy

Ploughing our way through massive amounts of fascinating new philosophy this European winter – including inspiring variations on the Syntheist theme from writers as different as Simon Critchley, Quentin Meillassoux, and Martin Hägglund – perhaps the most fascinating read of all has been Meeting The Universe Halfway, from new American philosophy superstar Karen Barad. Now here is a Syntheist manifesto if ever there was one!

Karen Barad

Barad is radically unique. A woman, a feminist, a critical theorist, and a quantum physicist, all in one person, she provides fresh air like no other author into the often conservative world of academic philosophy. Closely related in attitude to another obviously Syntheist thinker from North America, Mexican philosopher Manuel De Landa (the author of much recommended classics like A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History and War In The Age of Intelligent Machines ), Barad represents a new generation of philosophers best described as the American Ultradeleuzians.

Building on the groundbreaking work in the 1960s by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Barad and De Landa represent a radically monist mode of thinking in radical opposition to the Kantian paradigm which has dominated the world of philosophy for the past 300 years. Of all the old gurus, it seems the radically original Baruch Spinoza is the only classic thinker left reasonably respected among these new radical monists steeped in and inspired by 21 century physics and biology.

Taking her starting point from Niels Bohr’s heartbreaking correspondence attempting to convince Albert Einstein in the 1930s that quantum physics presents us with a relationist worldview far more radical than Einstien’s own limited relativism, Barad turns Bohr’s highly original thinking on the dissolution of subject and object in physics and turns into philosophy proper. The consequence is that Barad has to regard all philosophy written so far, in its historical entirety, as being way too anthropocentric.

What we need is instead is a second Copernican revolution. We need to get rid of concepts like individualism and atomism once and for all. In Barad’s beautiful new world there are frankly no things, no separate objects, no isolated beings left. There are just entanglements and nothing but entanglements. And this very physically proven fact – quantum physics proves there is for example never such a thing as an observer independent from his or her observation – means we can finally get rid of Immanuel Kant’s sad division between phenomena and noumena.

Barad’s phenomena of entanglements are in no need of any separate noumenal world. Mathematicaly solid and empirically verified (quantum physics being the most well proved scientific theory ever, by far) Barad instead preaches the gospel of an agential realism we as Syntheists can happily adher to. To be honest, has any philosopher since Friedrich Nietzsche provided us with this much hope, belief in amazing possibilties, and inspiration to act? What is this if not radically affirmative philosophy par excellence?

It is while reading Meeting The Universe Halfway, digging into Barad’s beautifully universocentric paradigm, where The Universe appears for itself through itself, including us all as agents and phenomena of ontological entanglements, where we are confronted with a world of enormous complexity and senseless intensities all around. But without any sadly isolated individuals of any kind. Like Karen Barad says herself, what we experience when finally looking at the Universe through the well proven glasses of quantum physics is nothing less than an immense sense of awe.

This is a book full of excellent texts for your local Syntheist mass. Use it!