God is dead - Nietzsche
Nietzsche is dead - God
I thought this to be somewhat humorous, since the irony of the quote-and-reponse works on multiple levels. As a devout Christian, I was mostly amused by the idea that Nietzsche, a man who declared God to be dead, was literally dead. The thought of placing this couplet on all my outgoing messages seemed, to me, exceedingly clever.
|Sometimes thinking you're smarter than everyone else is charming. But usually not.|
In the end, I didn't go through with this plan. Many more years have taught me that such an arrogant and confrontational comment would not have served me well.
The true irony is that much later in life it would be the words of Nietzsche that would have a profound effect on my personal philosophy, almost as if the man himself had come back from the dead to speak to my questioning mind. Oddly enough, it was not with the quote above; although I know now that I could not at the time appreciate what Nietzsche was trying to say, there is another passage from his writings that packs a much bigger emotional punch for me.
|Oh, no - here we go again...|
On a bit of a tangent; the subject of the quote "God is dead" reminds me that I would like to take care of some unfinished business. I know I have already written too much about that ridiculous movie, God's Not Dead, but I feel that I have one more thing to set straight. After I wrote my comments on the movie based solely on other's reviews, there were some who urged me to watch the movie; so I did. It turned out to be just as much a waste of time as I imagined it would be. I honestly wish someone had just pointed me towards this clip instead. But you asked for it, so here it is (feel free to skip this if you are as sick of it as I am):
For a Christian movie, the production values (photography, sound, lighting, etc.) were exceptional - the best I've seen. Aside from that it was unbearable - the acting was wooden (especially the lead character, Josh), the dialogue was inane, and the "villain", was totally unbelievable. This is despite the herculean efforts of Kevin Sorbo. There is nothing he could do to salvage his performance because the source material was so lousy. Raddison is supposed to be an atheist philosophy professor, but doesn't seem to know anything about atheism, philosophy, or even teaching. And he's just a jerk: if this was a real person someone would have tried to run him over with a car before the movie even started. There is no reasonable motivation for his attitude: God let his mother die? Give me a break! I can accept a movie with a bad guy who is a caricature, but it would have to be an action movie - and there's no action here. The other story threads offer nothing more than an opportunity to shoehorn in cameos from Willie Robertson and the Newsboys, which serves to confirm my accusation of religious cheerleading given priority to artistic endeavor. Formal review? Zero stars. And a number of you have officially lost your privileges to recommend movies to me. As well, a serious thumbs down needs to be given to the quickly scrolling credits containing a list of court cases a the end of the film. These are, for the most part, cases in which Christians are upset that others expect them to not discriminate against or disparage LGBTQ people, as if this is evidence of some kind of persecution of their beliefs. It seems to me there used to be something in the Bible about bearing false witness being a problem. They must have taken that out without telling me.
With that out of the way, the biggest reason why I even paid attention to that movie is the title's abuse of the Nietzsche quote - the exact same misuse that I had made myself as a young philosopher. Before we can straighten that out, we need to put things in context. Interestingly enough, this context involves a madman.
|Madness. I saw this. In Boston. Blew. My. Mind.|
There are two important things to notice in this parable that objectors overlook. First, it is the madman who utters the words. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers." This is not a smirking Nietzsche, gleefully pronouncing God to be dead, he has put these words in the mouth of a raving, distraught madman, mourning the murder of God. The second thing to note is the madman's audience is not a group of believers that he is trying to dissuade from their belief in God, but a group of self-assured atheists, mocking the madman for his claim.
It must be understood that Nietzsche, although he did not believe in God, was very caught up in the horror of His absense. By abandoning the idea that God is in control, living in Nietzsche's world became an absurdity. To Nietzsche, God did not die peacefully, He was brutally murdered. Thus, Nietzsche's statement, "God is dead" is not a pronouncement: it is a warning.
|Nietzsche's just puttin' up some tape for you. He didn't dig the hole.|
This, of course, does not prevent smug believers who can't be bothered to even read Nietzsche's parable from taking offense to the statement. As I have admitted, I did the same. But I needed to make peace with Nietzsche, and once I did I allowed him to speak to me.
As I said above, it is not the "God is dead" quote that really moved me, but instead a passage from Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
It is true we love life; not because we are wont to live, but because we are wont to love.
There is always some madness in love. But there is always, also, some method in madness.
And to me also, who appreciate life, the butterflies, and soap-bubbles, and whatever is like them amongst us, seem most to enjoy happiness.
To see these light, foolish, pretty, lively little sprites flit about—that moveth Zarathustra to tears and songs.
I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance.
|I'm pretty sure that's God on the left.|
For me, this quote inspired a much more earnest quest for God than what I had participated in before. I had, for many years, thought I knew a lot about God. I had certainly been told all kinds of things about Him. I was obligated to accept a lot of this description of God because it is all that was available to me. But the truth is, I didn't really like this god that I was being told about. I was a believer, but I was uneasy about it.
Is God jealous? The Bible told me that he was. But why should He be? If He is all-powerful, then why does He need my worship? Why would He need my attention? Is there some reason that could He not amuse Himself?
Yet "the Faith" would have you believe that He would drown the earth because we ticked him off. It would have you think that if you do not (in all your ways!) acknowledge Him, or if you do not obey His arcane commandments; that if you cannot accept some intangible and incomprehensible offer of salvation, you will be cast away from Him forever.
If God is more than a cartoon character, I cannot make sense out of how evangelical Christianity presents Him. God should not need me to recite prayers to Him. God would not be required to have me sing His praises to others. God does not even need me to acknowledge that He exists. This codependent god that has been created by the biblical authors and church tradition just does not line up with what any god worthy of worship would look like.
I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. If God is dancing, then the universe will display his performance for us. If God is a dancer, then He must dance for His own pleasure, not for an unwilling or ignorant audience.
Understanding this idea can allow us to free our minds from chains of religiosity. If we are no longer expecting God to be watching our every move, tentatively hanging on our actions or our thoughts, it becomes easier to be honest about how we should act. We can more clearly observer the world and any god we may find in it. For me, this meant I needed to reject many ideas that previously held value for me. The philosophy that I learned from the Bible needs much correction when I approach the world from this perspective. It is much easier to recognize bad spiritual advice for what it is, no matter what the source.
So can your god dance? I pray that he can, because my god would. And Nietzsche's voice (as cold as his corpse may be) is what revealed this essential truth to me. This is not the only passage from Nietzsche that I absolutely love, but it is the one that has had the single most profound effect on my theology, and I believe I have come out better on the other side because of it.