Like I mentioned here, Nietzsche famously declared in The Gay Science that God is dead. Here is that passage that is quoted so often that its become almost cliche’:
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with their eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him-you and I. All of us are his murderers…
In a sense, much of the existentialism that I’ve been reading this semester has just been people wrestling with the fact that they no longer have a God with whom to wrestle. But, much of that wrestling happened in the middle of last century. Today, it seems like God is alive and well, and to use John Caputo’s phrase, we are living in the age of “the death of the death of God.”
To be sure there are exceptions to this. There are many who are still dealing with the existential void that opened up when God died, but for the most part, it seems like God is being resurrected (again) in our culture and that, as a result, existential angst is only encountered when one studies it in the classroom.
This seeming, however, is deceptive I think. I emphasize “I think” in the previous sentence because I’m not really qualified to speak in generalities. I’m not a sociologist. I have not surveyed the religious attitudes of people across the nation, across my state, or really even across my city. The following speculation is based merely on the limited experiences that I have as someone who finds himself rooted in several religious communities. In any case, I think these observations apply at least to myself, and that’s all I’m trying to look at with this blog anyway. With that caveat, consider the following.
In his introduction to existentialism in Irrational Man, William Barrett makes an observation that I think is true even if God is “making a come back.” He says that the church is no longer the “uncontested center and ruler of man’s life.” With the death of God, there came the death of the church. And with the death of the church, there came a transformation of the institutions of society. The Ivy League schools, for example, used to be very religious institutions. In fact, originally, they were seminaries. Now, clearly, that is no longer the case.
By the way, there’s no value judgments being made about the secularization of society here. This is not me lamenting the secularization of society. This isn’t me saying, “Look at how decadent and removed from God we are now!” Secularism, perhaps paradoxically, has brought some wonderfully Divine things to the world. Think, for example, at how much further we are from killing anyone because of their heresy (something for which I am particularly thankful) because of the secular-enlightenment ideals of our philosophical forefathers.
But I do think that the secularization of our institutions is leading to something of a religious schizophrenia in the life of Lovers of the Divine. The death of the death of God has happened, which is really just a way of saying that lots of us still pray or think that Jesus likes us or something. But our institutions are still running like God is dead. Our employers qua employers care little for the concerns of the spirit. Even if they are Christians, they mights say, “Look Bill, I know you want to celebrate your kid’s baptism this weekend, but we really need those reports on Monday.” And even as I write those words, I think to myself, “Who the heck actually celebrates, I mean really celebrates, a baptism these days? (aside from our uber-conservative spiritual siblings that I sometimes sinfully think are kind of nuts)”
These above thoughts are evidence of the thing that I’m trying to talk about: God is only half-back-from-the-dead. I say that I Love the Divine, but I’m torn away from this Love by the God-less places in which I find myself. This is the part where Paul might slap me in the face (if he was still around).
Paul: Stop whining you pansy! You think you live a god-less place? Try getting whipped and beaten by your society!
Me: Oh, yeah. Good point. I guess in the grand scheme I don’t have it that bad, but there really is something interesting going on with being a Christian in 2011.
Paul: Oh? What is that, whittle-brother?
Me: Well, in our day, we live in a place where most of kind of like Jesus and kind of like talking to God sometimes if nothing good is on television.
Paul: Go on.
Me: Well, that’s pretty different than how things worked in the past. Rewind to the middle-ages and we find that the religious life was just that: a full life that permeated all parts of our existence. The religious life was about all aspects of our being. Rewind a little further and you’ve got you guys running around getting knocked off your asses and getting your asses kicked for Jesus. Sure, it was, in a sense, more difficult than what we’ve got now, but it provided unity to your life and to your self.
Paul: Unity of the self? That sounds like some existential garbage, we didn’t have that vocabulary in our day.
Me: Yeah…sorry. Listen, its not actually that weird of an expression. Think about what would happen if we asked random people in 2011 this question: Who are you? They might answer with things like “I’m someone who likes soccer.” or “I am a student.” or “I am a mother.” They might, if they’re religious, even answer with something pretty sounding like “I am a child of God.” But I’m not really sure that they’d mean that in the sense that it was true for you.
Me: Yeah. I think many times when we say, “I am a child of God” it means the same thing as “I am a student” in that both answers are not answers about our self or who we are a whole. Rather, they are hats that we put on or roles that we play on certain days of the week. To say “I am a child of God” many times doesn’t mean, like it did for you, that “I organize my entire life around my identity as a Lover of Love.” It doesn’t mean, “I wake up thinking about how to usher in the kingdom today.” It doesn’t mean, “I am wearing my student hat today because this is the hat God wants me to wear.” It doesn’t mean that I actually pay attention and enjoy my classes because, as a child of God, I see classes as an opportunity to to discover God in between the pages of my text book.
Paul: Oh, I see. Yeah, that is weird. The 2011 Christian might have some unique struggles. Well, good luck with that…oh wait, I think I said somewhere that you can do everything through Christ who gives you strength, so don’t worry, dear brother. Lift your eyes to the heavens (Paul’s parenthetical: I know that “lifting your eyes to the heavens” is corny because you know that God doesn’t actually hang out up there. You guys have like some satellites or something up there, but whatever dude. Its the language I’m used to using.) and seek the aid of the Divine. Look to God to aid you in affirming your self as a Lover of God despite your God-half-dead-society. Together, you two can turn God’s half-resurrection into a full one.
Me: Yeah! That sounds awesome! I wonder exactly what that looks like.
Paul: I can’t spoil that for you. But keep wondering and praying and wondering about it.