The Death of "God?"

David Cowles

Sep 27, 2022

“I had not known that God’s alleged demise had been elevated to the status of a fact.”

As far as I know, Friedrich Nietzsche was the first responder to arrive on the scene. In any event, he was the first to pronounce: “God is Dead. TOD (time of death): 1882.” (The Gay Science)


Nietzsche’s meme has echoed through Western philosophy, theology, and culture ever since 20th century positivists, logical or otherwise, and some existentialists (e.g., Sartre, Camus) joined his choir to sing his now famous Requiem for God in C major.


In the 1960s, liberal theologians added their own postmortem notes (Death of God Theologies). A little later, John Lennon composed his own music for the divine requiem: he marginalized God (“God is a concept by which we measure our pain”) and then celebrated God’s absence with his generational anthem, Imagine.


Then about a year ago, a work colleague of 20-plus years turned my world upside down. She offhandedly referred to ‘the past’ as “back when we used to believe in God…” Before that, I had not known that God’s alleged demise had been elevated to the status of a fact.


Unfortunately, ‘God’ has become a four-letter word in academic circles and at my local bar. Nothing can tank a career faster than ‘God talk.’ Short of hungry lions, we might as well be back in Christianity’s first centuries. Secularism has become the new McCarthyism.


I will continue to pray to ‘God’ in my private devotions, of course, but is it time to retire that moniker from the public forum? “No way,” you say? Ok, but what if we could do so without sacrificing a single one of our beliefs?


“If your eye offends you, pluck it out!” Is it time for us to excise a part of our exoskeleton to facilitate our mission to evangelize? One thing is certain, as long as we cling to the form (‘God’) instead of proclaiming the substance (Faith, Hope and Love), we will continue to lose ground in the culture war. There is a long tradition supporting this point of view. As far back as the Exodus, Jews were forbidden to articulate the divine name (YHWH).


St. Paul’s success is ‘selling’ Christianity to the Greek-speaking world was in large part due to his remarkable ability to put old wine in new skins. Paul never protected form (e.g., physical circumcision) to the detriment of substance (spiritual circumcision). Paul spoke to the Greeks in their own language. At Antioch, he proclaimed Christ to be their unknown god. Thus, he made dialog and, eventually, conversion possible.


Most recently, 1960s radicals fondly chanted the names of their heroes in the streets: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh”…until the Beatles (1968) warned us: “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.”


The Jews had good reason to keep the divine name under wraps. YHWH is an abbreviation for “I am who am.” The name itself embodies our most fundamental belief. Compare that with our word, God, a Germanic word (Gott) that entered Old English through the Dutch (God). Its Sanskrit root, ghue, means to invoke.


This is not Yahweh, Elohim, el Shaddai, Adonai, or Emmanuel. ‘God’ is derived from a Sanskrit root that was originally applied to the deity, Indra. Are we willing to sacrifice the future of Christianity for a Hindu deity?


The concept of God is, well, everything; but the Aryan name, ‘God,’ has no real significance. Words like this naturally come and go in the evolution of language. What if we could articulate a cosmology, completely consistent with orthodox Christology, that avoids such ‘flash point’ language?


In Old Testament times, different theologies co-existed. These early TOEs (Theories of Everything) underwent a process of natural selection: the fittest survived…and thrived. How does one apply the concept of ‘fitness’ to a cosmology? A cosmology is ‘fit’ to the extent that it accounts for the relevant experiences and satisfies the existential needs of its adherents.


Today, many people worship Yahweh, Emmanuel, Allah; few worship Moloch…or even the great Jupiter. The Semitic deity has demonstrated remarkable fitness over continents, millennia, and a broad spectrum of human cultures.


In the 21st century, we need to build on this success by demonstrating that Apostolic Christology is congruent with contemporary cosmology. We cannot be held back from this important task by a word with pagan roots and deeply disturbing modern connotations.


God evokes the Crusades, the Inquisition, the religious wars, Sister Mary Martha’s rattan, and the recent church child abuse scandals; the word has, to a large extent, lost its positive connotations.

We have the words of everlasting life (Psalm 19 et al.); who wouldn’t want to hear them? We don’t need to create barriers by focusing our energy on the defense of a single word, even if that word is God.


 

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