Monday, June 29, 2015

What Kills Gods?

Nietzsche declared God dead, and I think it is safe to say that for the most part his declaration was premature but maybe not altogether wrong. Without reference to specific statistics (although you can look to the Pew Forum for confirmation if you're so inclined), it seems safe to say that if God is not dead, he's at least downsizing considerably.

There is an impulse that I often see that attributes the death of God to enlightenment. The story goes that man needed God because man was ignorant and needed explanations for his world, so he wrote God in all of the gaps. The gaps got smaller. There was less room to be occupied by God. So we killed him. Knowledge killed superstition.

This is not altogether wrong, but it misunderstands the complexity of human beings. It supposes that humanity were just sitting around trying to understand things, but in fact humanity has a whole life to live with concerns that have nothing to do with explanations.

In fact I imagine that if we were so inclined we could sit down and map out rough estimates of a number of different impulses that make God-talk appealing. And as each of those impulses is satisfied by some innovation other than God we will be able to watch the ranks of religious drop further and further. Because what kills gods is people ceasing to need them and then redirecting their energies and resources elsewhere.

However, we will also come to a group of impulses that is only satisfied by religious talk, and in these areas no amount of innovation over time will ever replace the need for religion.

Impulses like the need to relate to essential mystery. The need to transcend spacetime. And the need for a sense of cosmic justice. These are needs that will never be satisfied by any increase in knowledge, technology, or prosperity.

So knowing what it is that kills gods also shows that God will never quite die.

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