A few months back I completed a graduate course examining 19th-Century thinkers and writers. As part of the course work I wrote a research paper and presented a brief presentation on corresponding to the topic of that research project. In other words, this was a wonderful opportunity to continue my ever-present exploration into the work of Nietzsche. Here, I focused primarily upon his concept of the Death of God, attempting to ground the idea contextually and attempting to explore the idea’s implications by offering a kind of close reading of Nietzsche’s parable of the madmen. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to leave a comment. Please ‘like’ the video on YouTube if you’d like to see more of these.
In two words….Absolutely Nothing!
All are fictious offices/positions of illusory and ineffectual power, each perpetuated to create a false sense of cosmic/social stability and order.
In the event that something goes right, we have someone to thank, praise, and worship.
In times of crisis, cautastrophe, distress, trauma, and turmoil, we have someone to blame and villainize or vilify.
In each case we are blindly reinquishing the responsibility of our collective ‘destinies’ to a symbolic marionette being puppeted by far more nefariously malevolent forces…
[W]e see an enigmatic power operative in our everyday lives, giving us our life and all good gifts yet also limiting us in nearly every conceivable way, and finally taking our lives away. This is real life! This is reality as it really is, whether or not we like it. There can be no argument whether or not this reality exists. If you don’t want to call it a power, call it a force, an up-against-ness, or simply the universe as it really is. As Bultmann points out in his essay, we are not talking about some metaphysical idea here. We are talking about an unavoidable actuality. Words may fail us, but we all know this reality intimately, personally.
Here, Dowd says that “For me to look into the awe-filling fullness of life and pronounce the name “God” means a commitment of my life to reality-based living…Reality is my God, evidence is my scripture, and integrity (living in right relationship with reality and helping others do the same) is my religion.” Yet, Dowd, when quoting Rudolf Bultmann. poses what I think is an important question to consider: “Why call this mysterious power ‘God’? Why give the enigma, the mystery that drives us this way and that and hedges us in, any other name but ‘the enigma’, or ‘fate’?” These are questions I have constantly asked myself when it comes to ‘God’. Perhaps, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no be no, in other words, perhaps, we should simply let ‘Love’ be love, let love stand on its own two feet, unmasked and unfettered. Why can’t we simply let the enigma be the enigma and let mystery be mystery? Are these not strong enough ideas and words on their own? Or am I being hypocritical here? Elsewhere I have written about how much I admire the philosophical use of language, that is, the way in which philosophy dramatical alters the meaning, significance, and content of common place everyday language in ways that are then anything but ordinary.
Everything is sacred. Every blade of grass, every cockroach, every speck of dust, every flower, every pool of mud outside a graffiti-splattered warehouse is God. Everything is a worthy object of worship…Truth announces itself when you kick away a discarded bottle of Colt 45 Malt Liquor. Truth rains on you from the sky above, and God forms in puddles at your feet. You eat God and excrete truth four hours later. Take a whiff—what a lovely fragrance the truth has! Truth is reality itself. God is reality itself. Enlightenment, by the way, is reality itself. And here it is.
Do we replace the word ‘God’? Do we invent whole new trajectories of ‘God’ language? Do we maintain its usage, its structure, and completely overhaul, renovate, and remodel its interior content? Or do we simply walk away, tip our hats, count our losses, and make for the exits, discarding the verbiage by the wayside as mile marker monument to where we have been and how far we have come as a species and culture? I don’t know…
Kierkegaard, himself, stresses the centricity of religion, specifically Christianity, within his project. Kierkegaard (1998) writes, “[W]hat I have wanted and want to achieve through my work, what I also regard as the most important, is first of all to make clear what is involved in being a Christian” (p. 129). Kierkegaard (1998) goes on to stress this goal, saying that his aim is “to present the picture of a Christian in all its ideal, that is, true form, worked out to every true limit” (p. 129). Here, one can see the immense importance of Christianity and all that it entails to the work of Kierkegaard but, this still does not answer the question of precisely what Christianity is to him.
To be sure, Kierkegaard is no orthodox Christian nor, does he have any interest in preserving or maintaining the organizational systemizations of the traditional Christian structures and institutions. This, Kierkegaard adamantly abhors. This is not Christianity to Kierkegaard. Here, Kierkegaard makes a clear distinction between what he refers to as Christendom, that is, the systemic institution of the Christian religion, and what he believes genuine Christianity to be.
Kierkegaard contrasts his view of Christianity sharply with that of Christendom. Christendom is marked by its overwhelming concern for objectivity, an objectivity that worries itself with seeking answers to questions such as “is this True?” and “is this Real?” This kind of objective Christianity seeks to make the doctrines and tenets of religion rational. Christendom searches for methods of validating the ultimacy of its truth claims. In effect, the objectivity orientating Christendom makes great efforts and attempts to reconcile irrationality, to explicate faith, and to make religion reasonable.
To Kierkegaard all of these efforts attempting validity, ultimacy, rationality, and objectivity are vain and misguided. Paul Strathern (1997) writes that Kierkegaard “didn’t write about the world, he wrote about life – how we live, and how we choose to live” (p. 7). Strathern asserts that “Kierkegaard philosophizes about what it means to be alive” (p. 7). Kierkegaard focuses in on the orientation of one’s life and the necessitation of subjectivity, inwardness, and passion in all endeavors and especially in religious engagement.
As such, Kierkegaard is wholly concerned with the individual and the individual’s relationality, the way in which the individual subjectively engages with and relates to religion. Kierkegaard (1996) writes that “The problem we are considering is not the truth of Christianity but the individual’s relation to Christianity (p. 32). Christianity is not about “the scholar’s systematic zeal to arrange the truths of Christianity in nice tidy categorizations but about the individual’s personal relationship to this doctrine” (p. 32). The doctrines of Christianity, in and of themselves, are of little import. What is of the greatest consequence is the individual’s subjective relationality to those doctrines. Kierkegaard (1996) emphasizes this point further summarizing that “The objective problem is: Is Christianity true?” whereas, “The subjective problem is: What is the individual’s relationship to Christianity?” (p. 33). For Kierkegaard, subjectivity is the truth.
In this way, as Frederick Sontag (1979) explains, “Christianity ought not to be understood (p. 105). According to Sontag (1979), Kierkegaard proposes that “Christianity entered the world not to be understood but to exist in it and provoke a response (p. 105). Thus, any attempt to “rationalize it away” will “rob it of its power to challenge us” (Sontag, 1979, p. 105). Reason has no place within the individual’s relationship to Christianity. Christianity’s purpose is to confound the intellect of the individual, eliciting existential action, provoking a performative posture of impassioned response, and challenging the individual to more fully confront, embrace, and inhabit their subjectivity.
Here, Kierkegaard is a thoroughgoing fideist, seeing reason and religion as ends that cannot and must not ever meet. Faith, like existence itself, is simply an irreconcilable risk. Kierkegaard (1996) writes that
Without risk there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of inwardness and objective uncertainty. If I can grasp God objectively, I do not believe, but because I cannot know God objectively, I must have faith, and if I will preserve myself in faith, I must constantly be determined to hold fast to the objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the ocean’s deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, and still believe (p. 40).
Faith and doubt, belief and uncertainty, these are not polar opposites. They are not mutually exclusive. They are not antithetical. Faith and doubt are synonymous. Belief and uncertainty are one and the same. They are all dance partners, swaying endlessly. Never fully knowing which one leads, they pirouette in a perichoretic synthesis, hoping against hope, believing in spite of belief.
Here, Frederick Sontag (1979) explains that, for Kierkegaard, “to be a Christian is to maintain faith in spite of the impossibility of being certain” (p. 33). Faith defies certainty. Yet, according to Kierkegaard, what is it that belief believes in and what is that faith has faith in? For Kierkegaard, belief is nothing short of belief in the “absurd”. Faith is faith in the “absurd”. What, then, is the absurd?
The absurd is that the eternal truth has entered time, that God has entered existence, has been born, has grown, etc., has become precisely like any other human being, quite indistinguishable from other humans. The absurd is precisely by its objective repulsion the measure of the inwardness of faith (Kierkegaard, 1996, p. 42).
The absurd is the un-reconciled merger of the finite and the infinite. It is the dissonant harmony of incarnational being. It is the discordant amalgamation of God become man. The absurd is the oppositional union of timelessness and time, the noumenal and the phenomenal, the temporal and the eternal. Yet, this inconsistent and incongruent conglomeration is not only representative of a conception of divinity but, of the very existence of humanity itself. This comingling is the center of the subject and axis of the individual.
What is religion for Kierkegaard, or more appropriately, what is Christianity for Kierkegaard? Religion is the ultimate contradiction, necessarily nonsensical, and utterly irrational. Christianity is the absoluteness of the absurd, the completeness of uncertainty, and the totalizing of antithesis. Religion is madness. Christianity is the perfect paradox and the paradox is the truth.
Kierkegaard, S. (1996). From Concluding unscientific postscript.” In L. N. Oaklander (Ed.), Existentialist thought: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp.32-46). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kierkegaard, S. (1998). The point of view (H. V. Hong & E. H. Hong, Eds. and Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sontag, F. (1979). A Kierkegaard handbook. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
Strathern, P. (1997). Kierkegaard in 90 minutes. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, Inc.
Well, H. G. (2003). When the sleeper wakes. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group.
“Only Christianity among the world religions enacts the fullness and the finality of a truly actual death, a death that is an ultimate death, and a death that is inseparable from what Christianity knows as an absolute fall.”
But, this loss, this negation, the ultimate death of God still does not go far enough for all this is found present within Good Friday. Holy Saturday is not only the dialectical destruction of the divine, it is at once a much stronger, more foreboding, and a more menacingly traumatic event. It marks the actualized descent into hell. This is incarnational theology at its fullest. This is the incarnate followed through to its absolute end. For a fully realized incarnation cannot simply stop at the descent to earth, the descent to humanity, or even the descent into death but, must ultimately and fully descend into hell. Here God is not only dead but damned.
Altizer writes that “if Jesus is the name of Incarnation, and of a once and for all and absolutely unique incarnation, that incarnation finally realizes itself as absolute death, and only that death makes possible or actualizes a uniquely Christian resurrection.” The centrality of this move within Holy Saturday is key to a proper understanding of resurrection Sunday. This must be the lenses through which resurrection is seen otherwise it not only improperly framed but mistaken, misconstrued, misinterpreted, misread, and incomplete. “[T]he deepest negation embodies the deepest affirmation, or the deepest death is ultimately the deepest life, or the deepest darkness finally the most ecstatic light (Altizer, 56).
Altizer concludes clearly:
“Christianity knows an absolute death as the one and only source of redemption, proclaiming that Christ’s death inaugurated the new creation, and all humanity is now called to participate in this death as the way of salvation. Death, it is true, is a universal way of ultimate transformation, but only in Christianity is redemptive death an actual and historical death, and only in those worlds that have come under the impact of Christianity can we discover records of a full and concrete experience of the factuality and finality of death”
“Only the most ultimate and absolute negation can realize that apocalyptic totality, but this negation is a self-negation or a self-emptying, and only thereby can it make possible an absolutely new totality. Only this totality is a truly resurrected body, so here the resurrected body is a resurrected totality, and a resurrected body only possible as a consequence of an absolute self-emptying”(Altizer, 60).
This is resurrection. This is the importance of Easter Sunday. A wholly new totality emerging, resurrecting from the absolute death of the Godhead plunged into the very depths of Hell. Sunday morning is only seen clearly from vantage and scope of Saturday night.
I’ve been reading Kester Brewin‘s latest book entitled After Magic: Moves Beyond Super-Nature, From Batman to Shakespeare. Brewin summarizes the trajectory of the book well, saying that “I am convinced that in our love of power and influence we have ignored the subtle move that many stories take in renouncing magic at their conclusions.” From this vantage Brewin traces this move ‘Beyond Magic’ within some of our most renowned works of literature and film. As the subtitle suggests this is a journey which begins in Shakespearian plays and continues all the way to films such as The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, and pushes further still. The impetus of the journey, as Brewin makes clear, is to “explore what they have unearthed in our humanity” in order to “uncover a faithful re-reading of Christianity that follows their moves ‘beyond super-nature’ to something far, far greater.” “The hope,” then, as Brewin goes on to say, “is that by immersing ourselves in these stories, and accepting this radical re-reading of the Christian narrative as a model of life ‘after magic,’ our humanity will be restored and our addiction to power and violence broken.”
In the person of the priest we have someone dressed in robes who is, for the purposes of the illusion, suppressing their identity. Under the surface of both the ‘transported man’ and the ‘transubstantiated God’ tricks are extremely violent murders from which the audience remain protected.
Here, “part of the priest or shaman’s role is thus to convince their audience that they need to keep coming back: it is in their interest to bring to the fore the infinite demand that a god’s existence makes.” “The Priest,” Brewin goes on to say, “preaches a message of commitment and regular worship because they need to sustain the demand.” As a result, “Great institutions [like the church/religion] can do brilliant work, but the inescapable problem with our projection onto them of super-natural ability is the large, dehumanising demands that they create.”