A humanist future: Now that God is dead

Richard Holloway on Nietzsche and God. I will quote the whole thing(except the poem):

The madman in Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours and ran to the market to proclaim the death of God to the scoffing bystanders, realized he had come too early: “My time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way. … It has not yet reached the ears of man.” It has reached them now. Its time has come. God is dead.

That may sound like a quixotic claim in a time transfixed by religious controversy, with the devotees of rival gods at each other’s throats, but it is true: God is dead, and we are alone in the world. What Nietzsche and his madman failed to mention is that God has died before. Human history is littered with the tombstones of God. It is said that at the death of Jesus, when the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, a cry swept across the ocean, “Great Pan is dead.” Pan, god of grove and pasture, was killed by a god from the desert who commanded his disciples to have no other gods but him. In spite of the latter-day pagans who dance round Stonehenge at the turning of the year, we know that Pan is dead.

But so is the god who destroyed him. He died the death of a thousand cuts inflicted by some of his own followers. Decent people, they could not resist the attractive freedoms of secular society, so they tried to teach their ancient god new tricks. They wanted him to go easy on women, for instance, and to stop beating up gays: a courageous thing to attempt when the old monster had already set down his opinion on those subjects in the Bible. The attempt to liberalize Christianity was honorable, but when you subject a religion to meticulous historical and scientific analysis you expose all its violent absurdities and doom it in the eyes of the very people to whom you are trying to commend it. This is why the most humane and tolerant species of religion on earth today, Liberal Protestantism, is also the most endangered.

The Pope, a fervent champion of the old god, understands this, which is why he resists any attempt to adapt Roman Catholicism to the emancipatory values of secular democracy. The popes of Evangelical Protestantism understand this, which is why they crow with delight at the death of Liberal Christianity and gloat over their capture of the citadel of American democracy.

What neither group realizes is that they are themselves dancing on the grave of God. The fact that humans are at war over religion is evidence that there no longer is a single, absolute and universally compelling meaning to life. There no longer is a unifying authority to which humanity can submit or against which it can rebel. In other words: God is dead.

Even the confident religions know this. When their god was overwhelmingly alive he did not permit them to mingle with the followers of other gods: Now they come together to increase the volume of their protests against the noisy indifference of the scoffers in the market place. But the god of the marketplace is also dead. Secular confidence in the ability of atheistic rationality to deliver the good society has been undermined by an invasion of the angry ghosts of dead religion and by the ugly excesses of materialist consumerism.

So what are we to do, those of us who know that God is dead? The first thing we should do is celebrate the fact that we have been delivered from idols, and are now on our own. And we must resist the temptation to cure our anxiety by manufacturing new idols to serve. We should learn from our history that idols created to console us always turn out to be jealous gods who take us to war against their rivals. In spite of our ancient and dangerous longing for them, we should accept that there are no absolutes.

The only thing we can be certain of is that there is no certainty – including that one. Committed to being uncommitted, we should relish the irony of our position. Knowing what we know, we should stand closer to outsiders than insiders, remembering how the gods love to divide: So we should make alliances with poets and protesters, rarely with priests and politicians. We should not expect to win many battles against the world’s tyrannous addiction to idols, but nor should we ever allow ourselves to be defeated by it.

2 thoughts on “A humanist future: Now that God is dead”

  1. I wonder what would will fill the vacuum left by a great collapse in western economies. Without shopping to distract them, many people would feel very lost. There is also lot less sceptism around these days. I find that mentioning “god” is taboo amongst the secular people I hang round with – neither acknowledging or denying his existence. Yet
    feng shu, reiki or acupuncture dare not be questioned.

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