‘God is dead’

I know I know… you don’t need to shout it I am not so superannuated that I am deaf to your cries. Months I can hear you say, without so much as a drunken ramble or intellectual fart on this blog and then in my first two words I have blasphemed, thereby offending the bulk of the worlds population and sending that little man at the end of my road into an apoplectic spin as he lurches between picketing my drive with signs predicting hell fire will rain down on Sydney and taking matters into his own hands and immolating me on the spot, in an attempt to save mankind. The atheists among you, or those would be atheists who are too timid to actually commit to this belief for fear of social ostracism, are probably chortling into your cups.

Of course, what most of you have done is what we all do when faced with language. You have taken a word, in this case God, wrapped it in meaning, in this case a term denoting an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being, and formed two basic factions: those for God and those against. You have also felt a surge of passion course through your veins. Perhaps anger at taking the Lords name in vain. Perhaps curious interest in what on the face of it is another attack on an imaginarily being. Perhaps boredom at yet another pseudo-scholarly twazzok desperately trying to demonstrate his intellectual superiority by discussing a topic in which he can use words like immolate and omniscient. The first two passions I shall come to in a moment, as for the third… what can one say other than a writer who never sends readers to the dictionary is like a painter who only uses primary colours. The result, a work which lacks light and shade.

But I seem to be nesting into sub arguments, so where was I… ahh that’s right, ‘God is dead’. The more observant of you, and persistent for getting this far without clicking on an add for some new diet pill or an Oedipus syndrome compensator, will have seen ‘God is dead’ as a reference to Nietzsche; whose great pronouncement struck a raw nerve when The Gay Science was published in 1882. Given that God is being put full frame almost everywhere you look, even atheists seem to talk, write and think of little else, it would seem Nietzsche missed his mark.

All in all modern times present a striking FU stance to anyone who claims we are living in a secular age. Oh yes, people will wave the latest statistics in my face showing a decline in church attendance, but that only shows a disenchantment, even resentment, toward organized religion not with the concept of God.  So much so that science, once the bastion of heretical, godless and generally profane thinkers, has taken to name the particle which binds all life: the God Particle.

To be fair, most serious scientists are not calling it the God Particle. They term it the ‘Englert-Brout-Higgs-Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble mechanism’ or Higgs boson for short. This is a hypothetical massive scalar elementary particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics. The existence of the particle is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in current theoretical physics, and attempts are being made to confirm the existence of the particle by experimentation, using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab: or so the science journals tell me.

It is through the study of such physics that Stephen Hawking, taking an alternate tack it should be remembered from his 1988 analysis A Breif History of Time, can argue in his latest book The Grand Design: ‘because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing… spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist… It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.’ Hawking went on to write ‘philosophy is dead’. This suggests an inexorable march away from prophets and God at one end of the spectrum, through to the philosophers and Nietzsche asserting that ‘God is dead’, to the scientists and Hawking affirming that ‘philosophy is dead’. Though I sense that just as Nietzsche missed the mark with God, Hawking has missed the mark with philosophy.

What does all this mean for you and me, those of the laity who do not worship at the altar of science or religion? It means, in short, that the farther the great thinkers travel the more it comes down to our personal choice. The prophets who halted after the first step, accepting a divine cause for everything are in no better position today to prove the existence of a divine creator than the skeptics, who have theoretically travelled to the outer limits of the universe, can prove there is no God. Perhaps this is as well, for it illuminates the way to the meaning of life: the meaning is our meaning. Things matter because they matter to us. Our life has purpose because we believe it does.  It is not so much something which can be proved, it is simply accepted. For no amount of success can make us feel content, nor any level of failure can cause us to give up hope if we choose to feel otherwise.

2 thoughts on “‘God is dead’”

  1. I liked your essay, which got me thinking. Marx rejected philosophy (as represented in Hegel) because its underlying rationality just reinforced the existing social structure. Philosophy also presumed the entire universe was rational, because everything was underwritten by God. So Marx could not call himself a philosopher, even if he was doing analysis and critique which by ancient Greek standards is probably the definition of philosophy.

    Today is different. Since the 18th century, God has competed with science, and for the relevant, specific questions under dispute, science ends up as the winner. But science is not directly concerned with questions of justice, aesthetics and what constitutes a good life. Yet according modern Marxists such as Adorno and the Frankfurt School, our conditioning as a result of the scientific method, still indirectly corrupts these non-science questions. So it is now the case that we judge what is rational, solely by its instrumental value. Perhaps then, the psychological usefulness of religious experience becomes a sufficient explanation for the rationality of God. Or we think we are having a good life if we are aligned with the rational aims of economic growth and consumerism.

    Your conclusion about the meaning of life seems like something the post-Nietzschean existentialists would agree to. And so do I, but I also think the question ought to be further asked in the collective sense. So it’s not just about asking what is the meaning of life, but also asking what is the meaning of history and what is the meaning of progress. Adorno did this when he was referring to the modern ‘totally administered society’ in his critical theory. We are all so rational and reasonable, but we’ve somehow just missed the point. Later, Habermas developed his own critical theory and explained the importance of philosophy as a mode of communication, especially within the public sphere. I really liked Habermas’ work when I studied him last semester because he was not an over the top pessimist and seems more connected with today’s reality (although Adorno could be forgiven for his pessimism just after WW2). As usual, the more you know the less you know, but Habermas is worth the effort if you are interested in this kind of stuff.

  2. Amazing, Hawking’s work leads me to believe that ‘deformities’ are really an evolutionary stage; our brains developed because we were once physically impaired apes, mainly in our jaws which allowed more room for our brains to grow and in turn allowed us to think about more than just about the necessities such as food, water, shelter and sex.
    Hawking’s’, deformed as he is thinks beyond the chains society has placed upon us. The majority of people will look at a person with a larger head, 12 fingers, 2 mouths or 3 eyes as a freak instead of seeing the benefits of such a ‘deformity’. These deformities lead people like Hawking’s to quote in his book ‘The Grand Design’:
    “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.”
    A quote in which I cannot say I agree nor deny, as it places a shady area upon physics which is a subject I always believed to black or white.
    Yes ‘the more you know the less you know’; Hawking’s, in his supposed infinite wisdom says that ‘One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist…’ but when we inverse his statement we see that one can prove that God exists and science makes his existence necessary, many inferior minds who claim on their lives that they have seen or spoken to God will attempt to use science to prove his existence and unintentionally push themselves further away from society but bind the rest of us closer together as we endeavour to find the true meaning of life which we conclude cannot be taught to us but learnt through our own experiences in life which have brought us to this exact point in time and when we get a moment of peace and clarity we look back on those experiences that have led us here and use God to justify the good and bad to determine whether or not exists, dead or alive.

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