“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.

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?

Blessed are the Angry…

This is a new poem. It’s still a work in progress. I’m still tweeking it but, I thought I’d post it anyway. I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, or critiques. Enjoy!

 

Blessed are the angry, for now that God is dead vengeance shall be ours.
We shall rise up and revolt in resistance to the priests, kings, and every oppressively exploitative structure that they have erected, which has grown rich and bloated on the backs of our efforts and the sweat of our brow.
We shall take back seven fold what has been unjustly stolen from us; our labor, our dignity, our hope, what we have built, what we have created.

Blessed are those filled with righteous indignation. In bitterness and rage we shall strike back on behalf of our soiled waters, our scorched earth, our cracked sky, and our beaten and broken species brethren. These are our neighbors. These are the ‘least of these’.

Blessed are those overwhelmed with hatred and disdain.

Blessed are those who retaliate

Blessed are those consumed by rage and wrath for they shall have the calmness of a bomb, ticking with an anxious fervency, laying in wait for the moment of detonation, wreaking havoc and desolation upon the houses of the gluttonous who are fattened by impotent power.

Blessed are the peace-breakers, the disturbers of the peace for they are unwilling to compromise or make amends with those who have ravaged land, sea, and air, orphan, widow, and stranger. We come to bring a sword instead.

Blessed are the jaded and scarred for the memories of pain and suffering are never far from them.

Never forgive.
Never forget.

Love and the Will to Power: Between Nietzsche and Jung

Carl Jung writes, though I have been unable to locate precisely where, that “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking.” It is immensely difficult for any interpreter to attempt to accurately convey the hermeneutical or exegetical meaning of an isolated passage that has been ripped from its full context. Endeavors to do so are far more likely to be examples of eisegesis, positing one’s own meaning into or upon the text, rather than an actual example of exegesis, that is, a “critical interpretation” of the text (Merriam-Webster, my emphasis added). This is not to say that each and every act of ‘interpretation’ is utterly objective, unbiased, and free of agenda and personal view. Indeed, every exegetical escapade contains within it the seed or kernel of eisegesis. This is to say that when one seeks to interpret the thought permeating behind a single passage outside of its context, one’s interpretive and hermeneutical resources are limited almost only to one’s subjectively biased view of its meaning. So it is that this paper proceeds with caution, hesitancy, and trepidation at the analysis of Jung’s statement. This paper must advance in a manner that is phenomenlogically provisional. It will progress as-if it’s current understanding of Jung’s quote is correct. In this regard, the thesis of this paper surmises to show that what Nietzsche and Jung each respectively mean by ‘power’ is diametrically opposed.

Jung seems to be suggesting that love and power are absolutely antithetical forces, polar opposites, and ends that can never meet. The acceptance of one is immediately and necessarily the rejection, the negation, and the subversion of the other. To love is to forego power and to attain power is to vanquish love. Here, Jung seems to equate ‘power’ with domination, specifically the domination of another. This is the active subordination of another into the position of subservience, i.e. a master and a slave. Jung implies that this is the “will to power”. Yet, is this what Nietzsche has in mind when he speaks of power? Is this the kind of power that is being sought at the heart of Nietzsche’s Will to Power? Is love nothing more than powerlessness? Is power only representative of dominion? This essay aims to show that Jung’s interpretation of the ‘will to power’ could not be more of a misinterpretation.

Nietzsche’s work is unavoidably shrouded in mystery, ambivalence, and ambiguity. Travis Elborough states plainly that Nietzsche’s writing “resists literal readings” (7). As such, his thought is marked by an elusive impenetrability. His meaning and aims will not be found at the surface. One must probe deeply, beyond the appearance or the peripheral understanding of the words themselves. A cursory reading will simply not do.

Many have interpreted Nietzsche’s Will to Power as being congruent with what Jung alludes to as the will to dominate. This seems especially so in that Nietzsche seems to propose that what gives apt expression to the Will to Power is found within his categorizations of Master and Slave Morality. Although this would appear to give testimony to Nietzsche’s supposed adherence to a suppressive supremacy and although it is a common conception to view Nietzsche’s Will to Power as a kind of tyrannical oppression, it is above all a common mis-conception. So what is it that Nietzsche means by Will to Power? What does he mean by Master and Slave morality? How do these conceptions diverge from what Jung implies? To understand this more lucidly one must turn to what is in entailed within Nietzsche’s propositions of Master and Slave morality.

It seems obvious that Master morality is indicative of “the powerful and strong willed” (Oaklander, 85). It also seems to go without saying that Slave morality is representative of “those people who are weak willed, uncertain of themselves, oppressed, and abused” (85). While such an understanding is easily discernible what seems less obvious is what exactly the ‘master’ has mastered and what the enslaved is enslaved to. While the natural conclusion or assumption would be that the master is master over a slave and that a slave is enslaved to a master, and although this would seem to be the relationship Jung is describing, this would not be entirely conducive to what Nietzsche is aiming towards.

In Nietzsche’s mind a master is not necessarily the master of a slave and a slave is not necessarily one who is enslaved or subservient to a master. Nietzsche’s classifications are not representing a socioeconomic framework but rather the orientation of a psychological internality. In this regard, one need not be a master of a slave to exhibit master morality and one need not be a slave to someone to demonstrate slave morality. A captive can be the epitome of master morality and a lord can all too easily exemplify slave morality. In fact, Nietzsche would specify that one whose status as a master defined only by one’s dominance over another is not actually a master, as this would actually be an indication of weakness rather than power. In this scenario the master is truly a slave to the slave. Here, the master’s ‘power’ is absolutely externalized and completely contingent upon the presence of the slave. The slave is the necessary predicate of not only the master’s power but, also the master’s standing as a master. This kind of power is nothing more than a disguised impotency lusting after power through the use of control, manipulation, and resentment. Nietzsche himself writes that “the state in which we hurt others…is a sign that we are still lacking power” (108). This would then be slave morality.

L. Nathan Oaklander explains that “The strong willed are those who have the strength to chart their own course, create their own values, and live in accordance with them” (85). A master is a creative force, one who is ultimately “value-creating” and one who has the ‘powerful’ determination to direct their lives in a manner consistent with the values they have created (Nietzsche, 115). Master morality is the full acceptance of one’s responsibility for their existence as an individual. A true master is marked by their ability to ‘conquer’ themselves, to transcend themselves, to determine themselves, to master themselves (Hayman, 35). This is the master’s Will to Power, “a will to perfection, a striving for distinction” (Oaklander, 82).

In this regard, the slave is the antithesis of the master. The slave is one who lacks self-mastery and the strength of will to be creative and self-determinative. The slave is enslaved to normativity, convention, society, tradition, conformity, and mediocrity. The slave lives in complete compliance to external dictates, resenting those who have striven for excellence and attained freedom. The slave exercises their will to power through implicit domination and forced coercion, vilifying those who have achieved power and individuality and branding them as ‘evil’ (Oaklander, 86). This, then, is an “inversion” of the Will to Power, which “directs one’s view outward instead of back to oneself” (Nietzsche, 117). This is not an expression of true power but, only the desirous drive for the feeling of power which arises from an impotent lack of power. In this sense, it is true that “where [this kind of] power predominates, love is lacking”.

But, what does all this have to do with love? What does it say about the compatibility of love and the Will to Power? Love is a dangerous endeavor. Love, as an event, entails a “radical break with the existing state of affairs” (Van Onzen). Love is marked by risk. Alain Badiou explains that “love involves a separation or disjuncture based on the simple difference between the two people and their infinite subjectivities” (27). Love, too, itself, is a ‘value-creating’ force. Love requires a “commitment to create something unique that does not rely on…social conventions” and persevering determination to live in accordance with what has been created (Van Onzen). Love is not for the faint of heart but, the strong-willed, those who have the strength to be self-transcendent. Perhaps, then, not only can love exist alongside the Will to Power; perhaps love is the Will to Power.

There may be many who will see the proposals of this paper as obtuse and incoherent. Some may suggest that the thesis here within grossly and inaccurately misinterprets not only Nietzsche and Jung but, also Love and the Will to Power. This is certainly plausible as the writer of this essay is neither a Nietzschean scholar nor a Jungian scholar. This written work may be little more than the personal view of the author’s subjective bias. This writing took place without the proper context of Jung’s citation and remains primarily unlearned of the entirety of Nietzsche’s corpus. However, what this paper has demonstrated is that the reading of Nietzsche’s Will to Power as presented here is readily available within Nietzsche’s work and within the work of Nietzsche’s most adherent interpreters.

As far as Jung is concerned, this writer cannot counter the objection that the quote presented is taken out of context. It is true that it is. However, in this point some may still persist that there is nothing but incongruence between love and power. The simple rebuttal that this author can offer is the brute fact that love is, in fact, a ‘powerful’ force. This is undeniably seen throughout the pages of history. Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr., self-empowered, strong-willed self-determined people, marked by self-mastery who through great acts of love had the power to impact the world. They are individuals who have not only directed themselves but, who directed the course of history itself. These are people of supreme courage, able to transcend themselves, overcoming and withstanding the abusive violence of societal norms and conventions, carving out and creating whole new ways of understanding what it means to be human. These figures demonstrate that love is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. They reveal that it takes great power to bear the weighted risk of love and there is great power gained in taking the risk of loving.

Nietzsche’s master morality enables one to see that within the Will to Power there is the active creation of strength, excellence, determination, and value, as well as the commitment, responsibility, and courage to live in alignment with the constructions of one’s creation. In this regard, contrary to what Jung seems to suggest, the Will to Power does not close out the possibility of love but, rather widely throws open the doors to welcome love in. Love is power. Where love rules, there is the true Will to Power, and where this power predominates, love is never lacking.

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain. In Praise of Love. New York: Serpent’s Tail, 2012. Print.

Elborough, Travis. The Pocket Essential Nietzsche. North Promfret: Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2001. Print.

“exegesis.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Oaklander, L. Nathan. Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From Beyond Good and Evil. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 115-116. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. From On the Genealogy of Morals. In Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Ed. L. Nathan Oaklander. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 117-121. Print.

Van Onzen, Fabian. Review of In Praise of Love. Marx & Philosophy Review of Books. Marx & Philosophy Society, 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.

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

Domestication…

 

To call the taming of an animal its “improvement” sounds almost like a joke to our ears. Whoever knows what is going on in menageries doubts that the beasts are “improved” there. They are weakened, they are made less harmful, and through the depressive effect of fear; through pain, through wounds, and through hunger they become sickly beasts… Physiologically speaking; in the struggle with beasts, to make them sick may be the only means of making them weak. This is the Church understood: it ruined man, it weakened him – but it claimed to have “improved” him.

Nietzsche, From The Twilight of the Idols.

Is Saturday Forgotten on Sunday?

 

Holy Saturday is too often passed over far too quickly on the way to resurrection Sunday. It is a day that fully inhabits the death of God, a day that is utterly saturated with complete and total absence of the divine. If the cry from the cross marks the kenotic self-emptying moment in which God himself becomes an atheist and then dies, then Holy Saturday marks the fullness and completeness of radical theology as it wholly embraces the loss of God and the negation of totality. It is the radical theological tradition that is most devotedly and adamantly true to originality and unaltered ending of the Markan gospel. Mark’s gospel in its original form does not contain an account of resurrection but, rather ends abruptly at verse 8 of chapter 16 with the discovery of an empty tomb and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome fleeing in fright.  Sightings and appearances of the resurrected Christ, the Comissioning of the disciples, and the ascension are all later editions and have no true home in the gospel of Mark. This is a gosepl most wholly adhered to by radical theology; a gospel that does not find its culmination in Resurrection, nor is it fulfilled amidst the rapturous ecstatic light of Ascension. Radicality of Mark’s text is instead its fulfillment in a fracturus and fragmented ending that witnesses only terror, fear, emptiness and absence.
Thomas J. J. Altizer writes that:

“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.”

Here, we must recognize, as Altizer states, that “the proclamation of the death of God is a Christian confession of faith, and a uniquely Christian faith in the ultimacy of the Crucifixion.”

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”

The truest possible form of a total resurrection, that is, a resurrection of any deep actual meaning or abiding operative significance, can only come about as a consequence of this absolutely dialectical 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.

Altizer, Thomas J.J., New Gospel of Christian Atheism. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers, 2002. Print