Somebody I consider very wise once told me that his favourite question to ask people is this: “What do you believe god is like? If you don’t believe in one, what is the god like that you don’t believe in?” It’s a beauty isn’t it. Immediately it gets down to the nuts and bolts of our humanity and finds out what people define themselves in relation to. Answers, as you would expect, are as varied as the people who give them, which highlights an unexpected issue for me. Are we talking about the same God? It’s unexpected because most of the time people assume that we are. That’s the basis of debates about God’s existence, tensions between science and religion and even issues in politics where a “moral” minority always feels persecuted because their God is left out.
When Nietzsche prophesied the death of God, was he talking about the same God which Christians still worship as the living Jesus? While I’m convinced that we can never really get inside the minds of others, as a Christian and an existentialist, I feels that this dillemma needs to be answered, otherwise my religion is nothing more than a Sisyphean boulder to push until I die.
To me, there appear to be at least two Gods that died in 1885. Firstly there is the God of the age – of German Idealism most devoutly worshipped by Kant and Hegel and which Nietzsche thinks of as an excuse for those too cowardly to accept their loneliness in the world. But there is also the God of tradition and morality which he regards as a crutch for the weak masses who are both unable and unwilling to think for themselves. This second aspect of God had really been dying slowly since the enlightenment and the killer blow had been struck by Darwin who proved that we didn’t need that kind of a God to survive.
I would like to venture the opinion that God’s death needn’t be the end of the story. After all, that isn’t really the nature of the God of Christianity. I think that Nietzsche’s philosohy provides the most comphrehensive account of the Christian doctrine of the crucifixion that has ever been written, but stops short of accounting for the resurrection. Instead, I turn to Kierkegaard whose account of faith as belief in the impossible on the basis of the absurd continues seamlessly from the death of God to make it possible to worship a living saviour. The biblical version of faith relies on God dying in order to be fully glorified as the crowned king of the World. Only in dying can he reconcile man’s despair to himself. We must first recognize that we, and by extension our Gods, must die before there can be any kind of a hope of knowing God by faith.
If it is true that for humans to see their place in the world properly we must first dispose of our crude metaphysical deities and divine excuses, then by ourselves, we can only ever reach the point of total despair. But that extends further than despair of God’s existence, into despairing even of our own unbelief. We are left as absurdists endlessly dancing a meaningless jig to the music of our own futility. But if we continue in faith, not rationally excusing our belief, nor asthetically calling it beautiful when it is clearly an abomination, then God makes manifest the evidence that was missing all along. The apostle Paul called faith “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” and I think that this really captures the idea of a God found through the process of atheism.
So I can now answer my friend’s wonderful question. As for the God I don’t believe in, well that God has been dead and buried since 1885, but The God I do believe in is the resurrected Christ whose power is weakness, whose death is life and whose kingdom is not of this world.
Here is the question for you again:
“What do you believe god is like? If you don’t believe in one, what is the god like that you don’t believe in?”