top of page

God is a Red Herring

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” ~Voltaire

What is a red herring? It’s a diversion intended to distract attention from the real issue. It’s an abstract issue having only surface relevance to the original issue. It’s used to mislead.

Governing this precept, it stands to reason that the concept of God is itself a red herring. Indeed. God is perhaps the greatest red herring of all time. The ultimate distraction.

So, if God is the red herring distracting us from the real issue, then what is the real issue? The real issue is that not a single one of us has any clue what it’s all about.

The real issue is our vast ignorance regarding the “why?” of reality; coupled with a very real death anxiety. Both create an existential vacuum that must be filled, lest we slip into a state of soul-crippling meaninglessness and seemingly unmanageable fear. It creates a dissonance so powerful that we must invent an even greater assonance to relieve our existential angst.

This creation is God: the ultimate red herring.

God is an abstraction of an abstraction. God is beside the point. God is moot. But, as with all red herrings, God is terribly useful. After all, it gets us off the hook for really trying to face the scary truth. It distracts us from our death anxiety and provides a comfortable afterlife where big daddy God keeps us safe from the terror of infinite nothingness.

But what happens when we are able to sidestep this red herring and instead embrace the existential angst and accept our utter ignorance in nearly all things? What happens when we toss the fat red herring of God back into the primordial sea? What if we were able to pull it off the hook of our fear, take it into deep consideration, and then simply let it slide off into the infinite nothingness? What if, instead of relying on magical thinking as our bedrock, we simply tossed out the magical part and focused on thinking. What then?

Painful reason over comfortable delusion:

“I cast my net into the sea and hoped to catch a fine fish; but I always drew out an old god’s head.” ~Nietzsche

Accepting our own ignorance is a very difficult thing to do. There is so much we don’t know that what we think we know is but a flash in the pan, and the pan is the size of the unknowable universe.

This can be quite daunting. So rather than think through the dwarfing magnitude of it all, we simply default to a comfortable belief. Rather than go through the difficulty of thought, we tend to make it easier on ourselves by simply believing in something that can fill in the void left behind by the daunting, dwarfing, overwhelming magnitude of what we don’t know. That something is God.

No matter what flavor of God our cultures decide to cook up, the recipe is almost always the same: ignorant humans cowering before the awesome scale of an unknowable universe desperately create a diversion, a distraction from the real issue, a red herring.

Out pops God. The most comforting diversion ever conceived by humankind. The perfect excuse to not have to think about how overwhelmingly soul-shattering the weight of reality really is. It’s the ultimate copout.

But what if we didn’t copout? What if we took responsibility for our discomfort? What if, rather than avoidance, escape, and evasion, we instead used acceptance, reason, and courage to embrace the overwhelm? What happens when we get real?

The short answer is freedom. The freedom to question, to imagine and to reason. The freedom to adapt and overcome an ever-changing universe. The freedom to re-create God, again and again. As many times as we need to keep adapting and stay ahead of the curve.

The long answer is infinite. Or, rather, Infinity itself (the true God) is unleashed.

Navigating Death Anxiety:

“I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” ~Aldous Huxley

Mathematician George Cantor’s greatest discovery was the discovery of greater and lesser infinities. Counterintuitively, some infinities are more infinite than other infinities. It was, and still is, a mindboggling discovery. It gave birth to the infinite mathematics of set theory.

As it turns out, the same thing applies to the concept of God. Once we are able to dodge the distraction, to outmaneuver and outthink the diversion, and to finally toss the red herring of God back into the primordial sea, we discover a greater God—Infinity itself.