“If you cannot accept me as God, that should not worry you. Accept me as a true friend. “ – Avatar Meher Baba
Does God exist? Important question, right? Or is it…? I love philosophy. Philosophy, to me, is the question of which question(s) to ask first. I often forget I can do this, but it’s satisfying to use the power of philosophy to put the interminable God question to the back of the line, behind the questions of existentialism and ethics. I follow a guru, Meher Baba, who does claim to be God. But Baba is careful to de-emphasize the matter of theism with respect to spirituality, and likewise I would de-emphasize the question of theism with respect to philosophy. True spirituality does not revolve around theism, he says. True philosophy does not revolve around theism, I say.
And “spirituality” here means what? Orientation to God (probably) but essentially orientation to meaning. Likewise, existentialism is concerned with our orientation to meaning. We’re nowhere near consensus on the God question here in the West. Meanwhile life goes on. Concentration camps, North Korea, the military-industrial complex, etc. Take the Nietzschean perspective on it: what might an interest in the question ‘does god exist?’ be a symptom of? Is it perhaps a shrinking back from something horrible?
Picture a bowl of cereal splattered on the floor. Answering the question of theism promises to put each cornflake and each drop of milk neatly back into the bowl where it belongs. If God exists, then everything has meaning for everyone and nothing is a mess. And likewise embracing atheism means variations on the idea that “this is our mess, we made it 100%, and if we could all see that, then cleaning it up would be a cinch.” As philosophers we can wonder not only if God exists but also whether to bother with that question at all.
As it turns out, the messy breakfast image expresses perfectly Heidegger’s existential concept of “thrownness.” That is, in life, the cereal bowl has already been tipped when we arrive. WWII is already underway. The thing is, it’s much more pleasant to gaze at the mess and dream of a perfect solution (theism vs atheism) than it is to set to work collecting tiny stray Cheerios and sopping milk with a dirty sponge (existentialism/spirituality). The existentialist fights for every shred of meaning she can. The truly spiritual person does not let the God question (or either of its pat answers) eclipse the daily striving for spiritual significance.
So, will God be coming down to clean up this Shredded Wheat? Perhaps that isn’t the point.