Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 21. September 10, 1968
The Death Of God
The Death Of God
And so yet another anti-God letter has appeared in Salient. Blas phemous witty and somewhat smug, it is yet interesting from the point of view of those aspects of personal character which it reveals, For the writer far from being commended for his courage in openly contributing to the demolition of a crumbling orthodoxy, is rather to be pitied for his slightly naive assessment of his own position, and for the fact that he has obviously failed to have thought all of his basic presuppositions through to their logical conclusions—a habit which should be the mark of the true thinker and scholar.
Of course I need hardly mention that many modern cynics among the student population, who appear to derive so much satisfaction from crying [unclear: barb] to religious belief, sometimes give the impression that they like to consider themselves the radical innovators of the intellectual set, the brave new fearless thinkers of their alert generation. Yet how pathetic is this self-delusion! For while the cymc, in purporting to rubbish the theistic tradition, appears to be breaking free from" the Bourgeois Establishment, and dares to stand aloof (his "voice crying in the wilderness"), he himself is in fact only one of the latest products of a tradition which is almost as well established—a tradition which, moreover, may lay even less claim to rationality.
The idea of the Death of God, like so many other ideas which have made theological headlines in recent years, was canvassed before our grandfathers' time, and even before theirs. As far back as 1784 Kant had proclaimed the complete autonomy of [unclear: n] while his contemporary, the [unclear: German] Jean Paul, who sounded the death knell for God in his Discourse of the dead Christ frorn atop the cosmos there is no God considered the consequent loneliness and meaningless of the universe. The [unclear: un] movement as a whole was an expression [unclear: i] this sort of mentality−not that the [unclear: Re] admitted in so many blunt words that God was dead: they only acted as if he was, on the basis of a new world view in which traditional values were upturned, and in which the individual was left to create his own, as [unclear: atod] his now [unclear: auto] creative soul towards its [unclear: self-] Man the artist now stood alone in what was now a basically irrational universe.
Later thinkers continued the tradition. Feuerbach insisted that there is nothing but nature, and Marx was buoyed up with the idea of social and economic progress, not to say revolution. Few at this stage seemed perturbed at the implications of this new autonomy of man in his reason, his creative faculty and his will. Nietzsche was perhaps the most perceptive of the nineteenth century thinkers, however, in that he saw where the new philosophy might lead. For the time being, man feels a sense of release. He is on his own, free to do as he likes, and obliged to create his own values. At first this is fun; finally, however, it becomes a crushing burden. Nietzche's complementary doctines of the will to power, the revaluation of all values and the superman have long since been discredited. Admittedly, Nietzsche did- not foresee the Nazi doctrines of racial superiority which his writings were invoked to support. The superman was he who realised the human predicament, who created his own values and fashioned his life accordingly. He had no qualms about trampling over the weak; after all, what did they matter when there is no God? When there are no objective values, then the only thing that matters is the self.
This line of thought duly passed into secular existentialism, although not all who call themselves existentialists are willing to face up to the implications. Sartre is almost a notable exception in this respect. In his Existentialism and Humanism, he recalls Dostoevsky's remark that "if God did not exist everything would be permitted," and this he makes the starting point of existentialism.
The true [unclear: exten] ever, (like some nineteenth centuary secular thinkers pretend that God is dead and [unclear: f] in Christian [unclear: mo] through the back [unclear: an] All pretence over objective standards must be dropped; man must make up his morals as he goes along, and life has no meaning apart from that which he chooses to give it. In [unclear: e] last analysis the universe is completely irrational.
But even Sartre stopped short of utter consistency, as indeed do all death-of-God adherents. For in distinguishing between "authentic" and "inauthentic" existence, Sartre implies an objective standard of judgement. But why should one way [unclear: fe] more [unclear: a] than another, on his own premises? Why not push other people around? Why not live [unclear: o] [unclear: Th] problem of the [unclear: De] traditon, with its [unclear: co] autonomy of man, boils down to this: No-one can consistently live as though God were not there. In other words, no man can [unclear: ert] the non-existence of God and yet live a life [unclear: th] wholly consistent with this presupposition. For the hard fact is, whether we admit it or not, that we live in a real and objective world, which, being rationally ordered, can be scientifically examined and understood on the basis of reason. Part of man's present perplexity, then, is derived from the fact that though placed in a rational universe, he nevertheless tries to live on the mistaken premise that it is irrational. Yet it must be admitted that on the presupposition that God does not exist, there indeed can be no rationality. Man's inconsistency comes in when he tries to live authentically according to a presupposition which in fact contradicts the nature of the world as it really is. For objective standards of morality only make sense if this is a moral and rational universe, created by a moral and rational God—and this is the very position which the existentialist is unable to hold.
The person who acknowledges openly or secretly the Death or God yet pushes for the retention of moral standards anyhow, [unclear: whet] for reasons of taste or social expediency may achieve the respect of the bourgeois, but he is in fact downright illogical, [unclear: and] himself open to be called a fool by serious [unclear: th ers] Yet I criticise equally strongly the man who acts on the premise that this is a Godless and therefore amoral universe−not, [unclear: t] it be clear, because I object to his [unclear: be] "immorally", (indeed, it is only in being completely immoral that he can be consistent to his position), but simply because his actions reveal his failure to have 'thought deeply and clearly enough, a fault which is more reproachable in the so-called intellectual student than in the non-thinking masses. He is characterised not by a rare surfeit of [unclear: ration] will-developed insight, but rather by a lack of it, for if he carried his premises through to their logical conclusions, he would realise that they cannot be consistently lived by.
Man is Moral
Theoretically yes you can believe that there is no God (and that therefore objective "moral standard" don't exist either). In practice, however, you just cannot live as though you believed it. Ask an existentialist if he would, for example, steal, or commit adultery. On his presuppositions he is bound to admit that no moral considerations would prevent [unclear: h] if this were expedient to him, and, for that matter, why shouldn't he sleep with every girl he fancied? Why not indeed? Yet ask him if he would embezzle cash from his own brother, ask him if he would rape the sister of his best friend, and he would probably be horrified at the thought, although he could not give you any logical reason for his altitude, however hard you pressed him for it. Which only bears out the sad fact that the atheist does not and cannot be entirely true to the basis of his own world view. For man, whether he admits or not, is intrinsically and inescapably a moral creature. Further [unclear: a] the [unclear: th] which is inherent [unclear: d] world, is dependent not on the [unclear: o] of man himself, as the [unclear: ave] beleive, but is determnined by the character of God.
It is a fact that the further away a man is from acknowledging the existence of a real and rational universe, the less he is able to live consistently. On the other hand, given [unclear: a] objective [unclear: tional] a man can live authentically on [unclear: lly] that is he can communicate, he can [unclear: a] and he can make decisions. For when reasons become autonomons to man, and he tries to make sense of the world that he sees about him—on the assumption that God is not—then he can only conclude that everything is utter irrationality and meaninglessness, and beat his breast in his existential despair, But when reasons acts on the understanding of a God who is there, and who created and sustains a rational and moral universe (however much man chooses to mess up his own affairs in it) only then can a person live at the deepest level in freedom and logical consistency.
(Julie Belding is a third-year arts student majoring in German, and was formerly Women's Vice-President of the Evangelical Union.)