In response to last week’s column, a reader asked for additional information. This discussion will provide a view of changing religious landscapes and insight into the problems facing some religions today. To be clear, I do not believe that God is dead, but an understanding of the underlying thoughts are worth reviewing.
History has recorded the beliefs of some theologians and philosophers who thought that traditional Christianity needed to be changed. A few built a path of thoughts leading to the death of God beliefs. Reviewing several people and a few ideas that moved many to believe that God was dead will be worthwhile.
Although Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, 1844-1900, was influenced by thinkers from the 18th and 19th centuries, he is the one who made the public aware of the idea that traditional Christianity was repressive and did not encourage the growth of the human spirit.
He believed that the human mind created a God who provided comfort from suffering in exchange for obedience. Nietzsche surmised that without a God each individual would create a super self-identity. His many interests and beliefs were often difficult to understand.
The following Nietzsche quote found in several of his writing gives a brief view of his thoughts.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_is_dead)
This quote can be viewed in several ways. He seems to be looking for atonement until he slips into one of his ideas about creating a powerful self in place of God.
In the1960s, the God is Dead movement became popular by the writings of many philosophers and theologians. The movement emphasized that the Christian God no longer existed. The Death of God theology pointed to increased secularization and a devaluing of traditional beliefs.
In 1961, Gabriel Vahanian, a theologian, wrote “The Death of God: The Culture of Our Post-Christian Era” in which he was critical of church teachings. His ideas were popularized by a 1966 Time Magazine article about the death of God. This article presented a question: “Would the center hold if people stopped believing? How might religious values survive in a post-faith world?” (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/education/gabriel-vahanian-85-death-of-god-theologian-dies.html) Two other theologians and professors were involved in the movement, Thomas J.J. Altizer, from Emory University, and Harvey Cox, from Harvard Divinity School. With one simple proclamation, Altizer caused an uproar about religion and made Emory a center of liberal theology.
His radical ideas about the death of God were sensationalized, and he received fame and death threats. Cox’s “The Secular City,” published in 1965, was successful as a critique of the constraints of organized religion.
“He urged the faithful to find holiness in the world outside the church.” He said, “Technological development would bring about a kind of maturation in human development that usher in a bold new secular and multicultural era. Christianity would serve a crucial purpose in the face of this radical transformation of collective human life by providing moral and spiritual support in these fast-paced, modernizing times.” (https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/a-moral-bulwark/)
Some people supported what they believed to be the shaking of the tree of traditional religion to make room for needed changes for a diverse, modernized society. Other people worked against the movement, and it soon drifted from public discourse.
Traditional religions continue to face problems. Church attendance is decreasing. Many churches tend to be places of worship, not centers for social justice, equity and equality. More people are expressing the need to be spiritual outside of a church, not religiously affiliated with a church.
Maybe it is a matter of following the advice of several early theologians who thought less about doctrine and believed that Jesus working among us in the lives of the faithful was a better way to address the needs of society. Jesus is the solution, and God is not the problem!
Earl Crow’s column is published Saturdays in the Winston-Salem Journal. Email him at email@example.com.