Sunday, December 14, 2008

Non-realism of God - Philosophy Bites review

Here is a short review of one of the last interviews on Philosophy Bites. I'll write down what thoughts were provoked on my end and let this be an encouragement for you to find out what it does to you. Even if the subject, God, doesn't speak to you that much. Believe me, he doesn't speak too much to me either. Pun intended.

The podcast featured theologian Don Cupitt touching upon his approach to God, in which God doesn't need to exist, or more accurately, I suppose, is non-real. God doesn't have to be real, like the real world. His point is that with a non-real God, there is still point for god in our ideas; in theology and even in religion. If I understood him correctly there is no point in arguing as vehemently as some people do that God exists in reality, that sort of diverts the attention to what is truly important in religion. His ideas, he argues, are not atheism, certainly not in the modern sense, as this is an ideological stream against religion in general and to god existing in ideas as well.

What I liked particularly, even if I may have taken it completely wrong, is the idea that for all the tradition of religion it is not essential that God exists. It is a point I have been putting forward in my own fumbling way for several decades, drawing on literature and arguing that a figure such as Meursault in Albert Camus's L'etranger, is a meaningful person and of importance in our tradition even if he is not real. The same goes for God, where all the stories about the deities are just as formative and meaningful and culturally true, even if the deity doesn't have a real existence. Trying to maintain the real existence and entering debate about that issue is a kind of naturalistic fallacy, like arguing that the word dog and the actual dog are one and the same phenomenon. I am afraid, I have taken this very crudely and ignorantly in my own fashion, yet it goes to show how thought-provoking and inspiring Cupitt's argument is.

More Philosophy Bites

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


postxian said...

Thanks for the post. I got here from your comment on the philosophy bites site.

I have long admired Cupitt's views (as well as those of his compatriot Alan Watts). I take his views on God as non-real to mean that God is strictly an abstraction. Perhaps some juxtapositions are useful:

God is not real. God is reality.

God is not an experiment. God is an experience.

God is not existent. God is existential.

God is not literal. God is literary.

God is not creator or creation. God is creativity.

The word "God" itself is a portmanteau, in the sense of Humpty Dumpty. We use the word to mean a lot of different things, which then become confused.

For instance God can be viewed as a projection onto reality of a human personality. There is a natural human tendency to attribute motive and disposition to sufficiently complex entities--pets, cars, computers, other people, even ourselves. (The most important idea ever, even more important than God, is the self, IMHO.)

Another use of the word God applies to the extrapolation of our own highest aspirations and our own perceived best attributes--the ideal human self. (You can tell a lot about a person from the God that they profess.)

Yet again, God is viewed as the creator, the first cause, prime mover, etc. This concept of God might be regarded as the exact opposite of Cupitt's. It views the physical universe as artificial, i.e. something made, and the true reality is the thing that made it.

Then there are collective consciousness, the undiscovered self, etc., as well as the literary God, gods and goddesses. All of these and more come under the general title "God".

This unreality certainly doesn't make God any less interesting--or even useful--to me, even though my belief in the non-factuality of God's existence would categorize me as atheist.

Another of Cupitt's compatriots, Richard Dawkins would also take a similar view and regard God as a meme, a word of his own coining. I respect Dr. Dawkins for that, but I think his chip-on-the-shoulder stance toward religious believers does a disservice to his own interests.

Alan Watts would say that Cupitt has taken the Biblical disuse of idols to its logical extreme. Fixed notions of God are actual creations of our own that substitute for God. For God to remain God: alive, sovereign, and greater than ourselves, etc. it must remain non-real.

I enjoyed reading your post. I'll check out some more of your podcasts and posts. Please come and visit me at

Unknown said...

Thanks for your lengthy comment. I'll certainly take a look at your blog.
Welcome at mine.