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by Adrian Sobers
“Atheists are just modern versions of religious fundamentalists: both take religion too literally.”
– (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
Friedrich Nietzsche is most famous for his madman passage that appears in The Gay Science (or, The Joyful Wisdom). It is worth citing in full, but for the sake of space, we begin with the end: “Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God?’ he cried: ‘I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers.’ […] Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
This passage is the source of the popular phrase: “God is dead.” A phrase that doubles as the default motto of the Sophisticated Secularists who would love to see the slightest trace of the divine, especially Christianity, removed from the public square.
We all know this movie well: The Enlightenment has rendered God both implausible and unnecessary. We are adults now and no longer need these silly children’s stories replete with angels and demons.
Paul’s words in Athens, recorded in Acts 17:30, seem fitting here, “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Similarly, the modern atheist, rather than overlooking the ignorance displayed by the Enlightenment philosophers, should repent and have the intellectual honesty to take this thought to its logical conclusion. You know, like naturalist philosopher
In The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, Rosenberg argues that there is no enduring self. The existence of the self, like objective moral values, is an illusion. In his book he affirms, “I do not exist.” (No word yet on who wrote said book, an accidental collocation of atoms perhaps?) But, as Taleb correctly observed, the religious fundamentalist and the atheist are different sides of the same coin. Both are woefully out of touch with reality.
Before we continue let me be clear, by religious fundamentalists I do not mean people who take Jesus at his word. (We need more of that, not less.) And I am certainly not referring to Evangelicals broadly, or Pentecostals specifically. More importantly, I am writing in my capacity as the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) recognising that, as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 3:5 “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God.”
To dispense with God is not like dispensing with Santa Claus. It is to dispense with the entire moral and metaphysical foundations on which society is built. Some have suggested that during the Enlightenment our predecessors did not have the intellectual acumen or rigour to draw this moral and metaphysical link. Perhaps.
But one wonders why this Sophomoric thinking persists in this supposedly sophisticated age. If “God is dead”, then anything can and should go (except that it doesn’t). Nietzsche’s full passage suggests that he got a whiff of this implication but he did not take it to its proper conclusion.
And, if the cheerful, chipper atheism of Richard Dawkins and company is anything to go by, then neither have we. “God is not dead” is not the triumphant clarion call of Reason over “blind faith”, but is best understood as the reaction of a child after realising that they have thoroughly messed up.
It is more, “Oh crap, what have we done?” as opposed to, “Look what we have done!”
If God were truly dead, one of the more familiar phrases in Bajan parlance would be pointless: “Man dem tings can’t be right!” (The rhetorical follow up is optional: “You think dem things could be right?”)
The appeal to “right” implies a “wrong” and a standard on which all are agreed and by which we can make said distinction. More importantly, the standard sits outside of us and we expect others not only to know about but to comply with this standard.
To “kill God”, is to take on the responsibility of being god for ourselves. We become the author of our own ethical codes (Judges 21:25). This is evidenced by the now common silly Sophomoric, self-defeating slogans like: “You can’t force your morality!” This statement is itself a moral position that is being “forced” on others, if by “force” we mean, expect them to adhere to this standard for the common good.
For all of the talk about hypocrisy in “de church”, no one is more hypocritical than the atheist who parrots “God is dead”. They do not actually believe it (and they certainly do not live like it).
If they did, they would not appeal to or assume an objective moral standard by which we should order our lives. Every appeal to an objective moral code can only be justified on a prior metaphysical basis that transcends nature and everything in it, especially us.
The only other alternative is to declare by fiat what is acceptable and what is not. The latter is how the world, broadly speaking, operates. We are following suit and are well on our way to a dictatorship. (Now might be a good time to read Liberty Versus the Tyranny of Socialism by Walter E. Williams.) Aspiring dictators should take note and tread carefully: God is very much alive, and still speaks through his Son. It is not the only means by which he speaks: The canon is closed, but the Spirit is not quenched.
Those with ears and all that.
Adrian Sobers is a prolific letter writer and commentator on social issues. This column was offered as a Letter to the Editor.