Tuesday, June 07, 2005

God Is Dead

From Front Page Magazine:

Europe, and especially western Europe, is in the midst of a crisis of civilizational morale. Europe's below-replacement-level birthrates have created situations that would have been unimaginable when the 1940s and early 1950s. By the middle of this century, if present fertility patterns continue, 60 percent of the Italian people will have no personal experience of a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, or a cousin;[1] Germany will lose the equivalent of the population of the former East Germany; and Spain's population will decline by almost one-quarter. Europe is depopulating itself at a rate unseen since the Black Death of the fourteenth century.[2] And one result of that is a Europe that is increasingly "senescent" (as British historian Niall Ferguson has put it).[3]

When an entire continent, healthier, wealthier, and more secure than ever before, fails to create the human future in the most elemental sense-by creating the next generation-something very serious is afoot. I can think of no better description for that "something" than to call it a crisis of civilizational morale. Understanding its origins is important in itself, and important for Americans because some of the acids that have eaten away at European culture over the past two centuries are at work in the United States, and indeed throughout the democratic world.


Getting at the roots of Europe's crisis of civilizational morale requires us to think about "history" in a different way. Europeans and Americans usually think of "history" as the product of politics (the struggle for power) or economics (the production of wealth). The first way of thinking is a by-product of the French Revolution; the second is one of the exhaust fumes of Marxism. Both "history as politics" and "history as economics" take a partial truth and try, unsuccessfully, to turn it into a comprehensive truth. Understanding Europe's current situation, and what it means for America, requires us to look at history in a different way, through cultural lenses.

Europe began the twentieth century with bright expectations of new and unprecedented scientific, cultural, and political achievements. Yet within fifty years, Europe, the undisputed center of world civilization in 1900, produced two world wars, three totalitarian systems, a Cold War that threatened global holocaust, oceans of blood, mountains of corpses, the Gulag, and Auschwitz.
What happened? And, perhaps more to the point, why had what happened happened? Political and economic analyses do not offer satisfactory answers to those urgent questions. Cultural-which is to say spiritual, even theological-answers might help.

Take, for example, the proposal made by a French Jesuit, Henri de Lubac, during World War II. De Lubac argued that Europe's torments in the 1940s were the "real world" results of defective ideas, which he summarized under the rubric "atheistic humanism"-the deliberate rejection of the God of the Bible in the name of authentic human liberation. This, de Lubac suggested, was something entirely new.
Biblical man had perceived his relationship to the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as a liberation: liberation from the terrors of gods who demanded extortionate sacrifice, liberation from the whims of gods who played games with human lives (remember the Iliad and the Odyssey), liberation from the vagaries of Fate.
The God of the Bible was different. And because biblical man believed that he could have access to the one true God through prayer and worship, he believed that he could bend history in a human direction. Indeed, biblical man believed that he was obliged to work toward the humanization of the world.
One of European civilization's deepest and most distinctive cultural characteristics is the conviction that life is not just one damn thing after another; Europe learned that from its faith in the God of the Bible.

The proponents of nineteenth-century European atheistic humanism turned this inside out and upside down. Human freedom, they argued, could not coexist with the God of Jews and Christians. Human greatness required rejecting the biblical God, according to such avatars of atheistic humanism as Auguste Comte, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
And here, Father de Lubac argued, were ideas with consequences-lethal consequences, as it turned out. For when you marry modern technology to the ideas of atheistic humanism, what you get are the great mid-twentieth century tyrannies-communism, fascism, Nazism. Let loose in history, Father de Lubac concluded, those tyrannies had taught a bitter lesson:
"It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man."

Read the rest.

Friedrich Nietzche saw humanity as being in a perpetual state of struggle; the product of our Will to Power. This struggle he said, requires great warriors. And warriors require warrior laws. In other words, rules to organize their struggle.

Nietzche is most famous for his "pronouncement" that God is dead. What people don't remember is that this "pronouncement" was not made by Nietzche himself, but by a character Nietzche developed in his book, Thus Spake Zarathustra. The character was a "madman" who by virtue of his sickness could recognize the madness of the world.

This "madman" perceived that the world, (and Nietzche was speaking of Europe specifically) had untethered itself from the laws of morality which they had lived by for centuries. Another thing people don't remember about the "madmans" pronouncement is that he didn't just say God is dead, he told us how God died:

Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out unceasingly: "I seek God! I seek God!" As there were many people standing about who did not believe in God, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why? is he lost? said one. Has he strayed away like a child? said another.

The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. "Where is God gone?" he called out. "I mean to tell you! We have killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers!

But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker?

God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!

How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife - who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it?

Here the madman was silent and looked again at his hearers; they also were silent and looked at him in surprise. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished. "I come too early," he then said. "I am not yet at the right time. This prodigious event is still on its way, and is traveling - it has not yet reached men's ears. ... the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, even after they are done, to be seen and heard.

And, what did Nietzsche say would happen as the result of this murder?:

"The story I have to tell, is the history of the next two centuries... For a long time now our whole civilization has been driving, with a tortured intensity growing from decade to decade, as if towards a catastrophe. Where we live, soon nobody will be able to exist.There will be wars such as have never been waged on earth. Chaos everywhere. Nothing left which is of any value; nothing which commands: Thou shalt!"