“Friedrich Nietzsche’s most well-known quote is “God is dead.” Although Nietzsche died in 1900, the originator of nihilistic philosophy and the existentialist point of view still makes headlines, usually around Christmas or Easter. In 1966 an infamous Time magazine cover asked, “Is God Dead?” The cover became iconic as did the graffiti dialogue seen in bathrooms around the world: God is dead, signed Nietzsche; Nietzsche is dead, signed God. In the ‘60s a group of theologians claimed that the God of theism no longer made sense. They were referred to as “Death of God theologians,” a provocative oxymoron if ever there was one!”
Traces of Hope, Upcoming 2015
Europe in the Middle Ages placed its hope in the Truth of religion, be it Jewish, Christian, or Moslem. The sacred scriptures of each religion were viewed as the unalterable, inerrant, words of the One, True God. The nature of Truth was, as Plato had suggested so long before, an Absolute that was beyond human comprehension and would become accessible once our immortal minds moved beyond the realm of shadows and the senses into the realm of the Archetypes, or for monotheists – heaven.
And then came modern science (16th-18th centuries) and the return to an Aristotelian approach to Truth as accessible only through the senses. According to this approach the work of reason was to interpret the information gained through the senses, through measurement and analysis – the scientific method. In the arena of philosophy, Empiricism mirrored this approach – Truth is grounded in empirical knowledge, knowledge gained through experience of reality through our senses. In contrast there developed the philosophy of Rationalism that contended that the criterion of truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. Doubt everything, Descartes said, even what you see. Rationalism was opposed to religions that claim divine Truth has been revealed through persons or writings, the contents of which do not fit with natural, rational knowledge. So Rationalism became associated with Atheism.
Bible versus Science; Faith versus Reason. If Darwin was right in his measurements and theories, how could the Genesis account of special creation also be true? Some religious scholars moved into a more intellectual approach to the scriptures and used the tools of literary and historical analysis to understand them. This helped by separating what were obviously mythological themes and symbols from a more historical writing style, or from poetry and allegory. It also revealed the human process behind the writing of these books. But such an approach meant the rejection of the belief that one man (Moses) wrote the Torah, that the Gospel of Matthew was written by the Apostle of that name, or that Jesus actually said much of what is quoted.
Has all this thinking affected popular belief? I’m not so sure. Most Catholics I know seem unaware of the literary theories concerning the Gospels; many American Jews I have met seem happy to regard the Torah as a work of cultural reminiscences and moral teachings and not a record of historical events.
What has affected our churches and synagogues, and given the impression that God is Dead, is corruption, cultural irrelevance, and laziness. Why would thinking Catholics trust their hierarchy, or give donations to Bishops funds when their bishops live in multi-million dollar palaces and protect pedophiles? Why would struggling Protestants tithe to a minister who drives a Cadillac and lives in a mansion? Why would anybody with a gay son or daughter want to commit to a religion that hates and rejects their children? And heh, if we can get what we want without worshipping a God, then yay, let’s just sleep in on Saturday and Sunday.
So is God dead? No more than God has ever been? Is God alive? …. Same answer! We can’t kill what was never there – the Santa Claus God who gives us whatever we pray for; we can’t kill that which is the Source of all Life. What is dead, or at least dying, is the relevance and power of religion to change us, motivate us, and inspire us. That is, until we find ourselves in a hospital being told we have cancer. Then we have to face the real Truth: we all die. And then the next Truth: what meaning my life has is up to me.