“God is Dead”: Nietzsche, the Death of all ‘Gods’, and the Birth of the Postmodern

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.

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What’s in a Name?: Is ‘God’ in Need of Upgrade or Obsoletion?

I must admit I’m certainly not one of the most original thinkers; a thinker? yes, original? probably not so much. I try to counter-act my apparent lack of originality by at least being well-read. I’m usually reading between 5-7 books simultaneously and I scour the Internet and social media for articles of interest with the hopes of happening upon an unseen connection that may spark a bit of inspiration.

In one of many meanderings into social media and forays into the world-wide-web of information I came across an article on Michael Dowd‘s website entitled, “God is Reality Personified, Not a Person.” A great title for sure and an intriguing read.
In the article Dowd’s primary thesis is simply this: “God is not a person; God is a mythic personification of reality…not an invisible friend or otherworldly entity.” Agreed! He goes on to specify that “ALL images and concepts of God are more or less meaningful interpretations and personifications.” Anthropologically speaking, this point simply can’t be overemphasized.
In this regard, Dowd highlights the fact that “we humans have always been in an inescapable relationship with a Reality that we could neither fully predict nor control.” Similarly, I do think the concept of ‘God’ was an important stepping stone in the evolution of humanity. At one time it was an idea that held an immense functionality (Prof. Lloyd Geering gives a wonderful talk on precisely this point, you can find it here). It served as what Ken Wilber might call a “Theory of Everything”. However, as Wilber explains a good theory of everything is “not fixed or final” but, rather is one “that has served its purpose if it helps you get to a better one” (xiii). In other words, ‘God’ functioned as a kind of a prehistoric/ancient innovative technology, and like most technologies, over time may have become outdated, outmoded, and obsolete. In this regard, I wonder if perhaps theologians, in their total reliance upon what they believe to be the necessary preservation of the ‘God’ hypothesis, are, in effect, trying to force dial-up to function optimally within a Broadband world.
It seems that many theologians and religious thinkers, whether liberal or conservative, radical, orthodox, or heterodox, weave such an elaborate, complex, and, an often contradictory tapestry in an effort to make the idea of ‘God” work, one cannot help but think to ask, “if it takes such an immense amount of effort and strain to justify a particular idea, perhaps the idea itself is fundamentally flawed?” Even though I have garnered much from various theological thinkers and many religious academic or intellectuals, I still wonder if ‘theology’ carries far too much baggage to be genuinely helpful and if ‘God’ is far too value-laden to be of use. Paul Van Buren goes so far as to suggest suggests that terms such as ‘theology’ and ‘God’ are “either meaningless or misleading.” Thus, the more I have ventured into the studies of history, human origins, language, ethology, ethnology, neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, and ecology, the more I think that Geering has a point, perhaps as he suggests ALL ‘talk’ regardless of what it is about cannot be anything other than ‘human talk’, and ‘theology’ is nothing other than anthropology (Geering, 3). (This is not to say, however, that I think that there are not paths to think beyond the ‘human’; see The Ecological ThoughtEcology Without NatureLarvel Subjects.)
It seems then, (although I may be mistakenly oversimplifying) that we have one of three options. Though I can’t say at this time which if any of the three are better or more helpful:
1) neologism  –  in this case that is re-naming ‘God’, inventing new words, phrases, concepts, or ideas to be used in place of ‘God’.  This seems to only offer more confusion rather than more clarity, as it would only be an elite or select few that would maintain any sense of familiarity. Here, I think of Caputo’s “Event”. This is a beautiful concept but, as a friend of mine astutely observed, “what everyday person hears the word ‘God’ and thinks of the event?”
2) re-appropriation – in other words, preserving the verbiage, rhetoric, and ‘name’ of ‘God’ while reformulating its contents and meaning. For example, another friend of mine takes the Paulinian idea, “God IS Love” quite literally, suggesting that whenever and wherever there is love, there is God. In his usage Love is God. Here, he simply uses “God” as a kind of symbolic place holder/synonym for love. While I can sympathize with this move to an extent and while I’m sure this re-appropriation works for him individually. I think it similarly succumbs to the same pitfalls of neologism. There seems to be a break down of practicality, praxis, and performance. We simply do not engage with “god” and “love” in interchangeable ways when observing the realm of everyday religious practice. Love is a verb, not a noun, personal or proper. Love is not and should not be an ‘object’ of devotion, worship, prayer, veneration, or observance. Love is an action, it is enacted, it is performative. (But, in this idea’s defense, perhaps, ‘God’ needs to go through a re-verbing process.)
Dowd, too, alludes to a kind re-appropriation in his article:
[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.

Finally…
3) rejection/abandonment – letting go of ‘God’, disengaging from its usage, dismissing its utilization, and declining its employment. Many credible thinkers that are steeped in theology suggest just such a route (Geering, Cupitt, etc.). This needn’t be an antagonistic maneuver. It can be reverent as it can recognize that these ‘theorizations’ have been useful in the past but, they have served their purpose.
 As a committed non-theist/atheist I must confess that I greatly lean towards rejection and abandonment, as I have no use spiritual or transcendent aspects of ‘God’ but, as an equally committed academic student of religion I still recognize that there is a kind of ‘power’ and magnanimity in the word and concept of ‘God’, especially in its ability to encapsulate and evoke that which is of ultimate concern.  I cannot say with any absolute certainty that complete rejection is actually the best way forward. I am simply unsure. Consider the immense immanence, materiality, and earthenness found in the following passage by Zen Buddhist priest Brad Warner from his book Hardcore Zen:
 
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…

What’s in a name? But, more importantly, where do we go from here?

Smokestack

I just recently finished reading a book my therapist ‘prescribed’ to me; Healing Your Emotional SelfI won’t go into too much regarding its content here. I’m planning on writing a post regarding a few thoughts, considerations, and critiques of what I found in the text. Overall, however, I though the book was helpful and informative. As I was looking through my highlights and notes, I came across this short poem that I wrote in response to a mirror therapy exercise, an activity the book’s author is a prominent advocate of. In this particular exercise I was instructed to simply look and the mirror and describe what my face and body revealed. This is what I saw. I thought it might be good to share it. Let me know what you think.

 

I am tired,
worn,
exhausted,
weathered,
aged beyond my years,
weighed down,
hopeless.
I am a shell without occupancy,
empty,
hollow,
a fireplace without flame,
dark and foreboding,
full of nothing but soot and disuse…

A Centerless Mandala…

There is no quiet at my center.

There is no calm at my core. There is no peace in my being.
 I am inundated by anguish and turmoil.
Chaos permeates to the very marrow of my bones and it cannot be silenced…
In the tumult of where I am found there is no space,
no escape,
no safety,
no reprieve
There is no area that is not tainted by desperation, urgency, despair, and anxiety.
…come visit…

The Pathology of Boundaries…

I recently completed a course in Environmental Ethics. It was incredibly helpful and insightful as I have become increasingly concerned with ecology in both my thought and practice, especially since transitioning to Veganism almost nine months ago. The move to become vegan, itself, was motivated and brought on by a deep and thoughtful engagement with Aldo Leopold‘s Land Ethic from his work A Sand County Almanac, as well as Peter Singer‘s Animal LiberationBoth texts were required reading for a class I was taking at the time, Contemporary Issues in Philosophy. I also happened to be reading Daniel Quinn‘s novel Ishmael during this period. It, too, was quite influential in guiding my decision to become more environmentally focused and thus, to take up the vegan lifestyle. As such, the impetus of my current research and work is centered upon exploring the wider implications and intersections of ecology, philosophy, the humanities, and culture/society. This transition, itself, is something I hope to write about further in future posts.

Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for the Environmental Ethics course previously mentioned. In this assignment I was asked to briefly reflect upon and respond to Leopold’s Land Ethic from the aspect of Reason, Emotion, or Physical Activity. I hope you enjoy it! Please feel free to comment and respond! I would would excitedly welcome your feedback!

In his editorial introduction to Hegel’s 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Peter C. Hodgson writes that the impetus or the “main theme” of “Western consciousness” is “the individuality of all things” and that this is especially and most accurately true of “human beings” (45). Individuation, separation, categorization, dissection, and fragmentation, these are but a few of the main ideals that form the basis for Western philosophy and Western psychology. From Social Contract Theory to Self-help and beyond everything is hinged upon the idea of the isolated, independent, and absolutely autonomous ‘subject’. Western consciousness has created a pathological sense or conception of ‘self’, i.e. the subjective I, the Cartesian cogito. Here, even the ‘self’ fails to be a unity but is divided into dichotomous dualisms and false binaries, mind/body, body/soul, or, as illustrated within the forum prompt itself, the clear-cut distinctions between Reason/Emotion/Physical Action.

This also leads to a pathological sense of species/nature which forms the backdrop for not only the way in which humans relate to themselves and to each other, but also to the world and the planet as a whole, i.e. humanity as separate and distinct from each other and humanity as above, opposed to, and/or ultimately separate from the biosphere. This is precisely what Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethics seeks to cure and correct. Leopold writes that “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it” (171). As such, the land ethic, first and foremost, is developmentally psychological in orientation and methodology. It is at once, as Charles Starkey demonstrates, “a psychological theory of moral development and ecological rationality that advocates a shift in the way that environmental problems are conceptualized and approached” (149) and “a developmental change in cultural psychology… that expands the domain of the moral beyond that of human beings, so that nonhumans are afforded moral consideration” (159). Leopold reinvigorates the the fact that “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts” (171). With this comes the realization that “all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity” (Berry, 16). As such, the ‘self’ too must be envisioned as an integral whole both internally and externally, an undivided self unmistakably part of the land, responding with Reason, Emotion, and especially, with Physical action. Of what avail are Reason and Emotion if they do not spur one to action? As Marx famously concludes “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (574).
Sallie McFague makes clear “We do not have bodies…We are bodies” (16). We are not containers compartmentalized into separate isolated areas of Reason, Emotion, and Physical activity, each one caged off and uncontaminated by the other. We are none other than our material reality, that is, mind, reason, emotion, as a culmination “evolved from” and “continuous with our bodies” (McFague, 16). So, too, should we approach the biotic community, recognizing that we are “evolved from” and “continuous with” the Land.
Hodgson, Peter C. Editorial Introduction. Lectures of the Philosophy of Religion, One-Volume Edition: The Lectures of 1827. By G. W. F. Hegel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 1-71. Print.
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.
Marx, Karl. The German Ideology, Including Theses on Feuerbach. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1998. Print.
McFague, Sallie. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993. Print.
Starkey, Charles. “The Land Ethic, Moral Development, and Ecological Rationality.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 45.1 (2007): 149-175. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Nov. 2013

Experiential Alterity…

 

In the forward to his book, As a Man Thinketh, James Allen writes that the objective of the text is to “stimulate men and women to the discovery and perception of the truth that – ‘They themselves are the makers of themselves’ by virtue of the thoughts which they choose and encourage” (5). Allen goes on to say that ” A man literally is what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts” (5).  These passages are quoted not to promote the traditional dichotomy of Cartesian mind/body dualism in which the material reality of one’s outer-world is pitted against one’s psychic inner-world. Instead, they are intended to indicate the “intra-active process” of “a material-semiotic matrix” (Tuana, 57). There is a reflexivity at work in which mind/body, thought/reality, attitude/life, are “performed-and-embodied” (Tuana, 60). In this regard, ‘life’ is “always already” ‘attitude’ and attitude/thought is “always already” reality/material. Nancy Tuana makes clear that “Reality is not composed of things-in-themselves or things-behind-phenomena, but things-in-phenomena” (61). Here, “Entities are not fixed, but emergent” (Tuana, 61).
Life is, as James explains, “present and alive…On freight-trains, on the decks of vessels, in cattleyards and mines, on lumber-rafts, among the firemen and the policemen…There, every day of the year somewhere, is human nature in extremis” (James). James demonstrates that “Divinity lies all about us,…the deepest human life is everywhere,” integrally intertwined with every shift of ‘perspective’, every change of ‘attitude’, and every alteration of thought and thinking (James). Here, every single ‘experience’, no matter how profound or mundane is ‘life-altering’. Every experience is a material-semiotic matrix, in which every ‘material’ experience is a psychological experience and vice versa, there-by altering ‘life’. Whether a breeze, a book, a sunrise, falling in love, or the birth of a child, each contains within it the unimaginable capacity and potentiality for the alteration of one’s attitudes, and correspondingly one’s life. After the death of my grandfather my life was marked by a melancholy, a loneliness, and a sadness which has never left me. The first time I saw a Pollock painting I knew I would never be the same, ‘altering’ what creativity means. With the experience of each reading of Hegel I am awakened, invigorated, and forever altered and changed. Everyday with my wife brings with it the joyous rupture of love’s sting, the vulnerability of what it means to ‘need’ someone, altering what it means to be alive. Every moment with my son is the greatest moment of my life and every experience of my daughter’s affections is rapturous. Every experience of the mundane is at once the experience of the utmost profundity. Every experience of the finite is an experience of the infinite. The absolute fullness of immanence is the excess of transcendence.
Allen, James. As a Man Thinketh and Other Writings. Stilwell: Digireads.com, 2005. Print.
James, William. “What Makes a Life Significant?” Introduction to Ethical Studies: An Open Source Reader. Ed. Lee Archie and John G. Archie. Philosophy.Lander.Edu, 2003. Web. 14 Oct. 2013
Tuana, Nancy. “Fleshing Gender, Sexing the Body: Refiguring the Sex/Gender Distinction.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XXXV (1996): 53-71. PDF file.

A Prayer of Perhaps ( To the God I Don’t Believe In)

I pray to you…but, who is the “you” to whom I pray?

Who are “you”?
Perhaps I pray to no one
that isn’t so hard to believe.
Infinite pages could be filled by the desperate cries and the wounded words shouted to an empty sky.
Perhaps I pray to myself,
as I’m sure Feuerbach would agree.
Perhaps I pray to the best of me, alienated and disenfranchised from myself,
fallaciously separated from my own flesh and set up beneath a transcendent crown upon an immaterial thrown of the heavenly lie I’d like to believe.
Perhaps…I pray to God?…
If you are God…I don’t believe in you.
You do not exist.
You are dead.
You have died.
I witnessed your last breathe escaping, never to return.
Your blood is still dripping from my hands,
my fingers still tight and clinging to the hilt of the blade.
But…
If “you” are God…
although I cannot set aside the atheist for which I rightly pass for
I will speak and, perhaps, even listen to “you” if you will listen and, perhaps, even speak to me