The following is an excerpt from From Nature to Creation, by Norman Wirzba.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous declaration of the “death of God” has never simply been about the murder and burial of a divine being. It has also been about the “death of a world” and, alongside that, the death of a whole field of meaning and human responsibility.
If God the Creator is dead, then so too is the world, understood as God’s creation. When the world ceases to signify as God’s creation, humanity’s place within it, indeed the very idea of the human being as creature, undergoes profound transformation.
As Nietzsche described it in his aphorism “The Madman,” the definitive sign of the death of God is God’s absence from the world. The murderers of God, the ones Nietzsche identifies as normal people simply going about their day-to-day business, did not don some special armor and then scale some heavenly height to attack God. They didn’t have to. For God to die and be consigned to a tomb—or the graveyard next to the church—all they needed to do was live as if God were irrelevant, or as if God did not matter for the way they built communities, ran economies, practiced politics, and fueled their ambitions.
In other words, for God to die, all that is necessary is for people to imagine and implement a world in which God is an unwelcome, unnecessary, or unimaginable hypothesis. They only need to install themselves as godlike beings who bring whatever order and significance the world might be claimed to have. Consider it death by apathy, or arrogance, or boredom.
The murder of God is no simple thing. When God disappears, the whole world and human involvement with it changes. If at one time Christians may have thought life and material things had their meaning and significance in God (because the Triune God was believed to be their creator, sustainer, and ultimate fulfillment), to live in a modern or postmodern world means that things are . . . well, we are not exactly sure.
Are we and the things of this world genuinely valuable or meaningful if merely moments within a cosmic accident or perhaps pawns in a random game? Does anything have abiding significance? Does it even matter what we do?
Weighed down by the misery and cruelty of so much “life,” we may well side with Shakespeare’s Macbeth and judge that “life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage / and then is heard no more: it is a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing” (5.5).
….The continued visible presence of church buildings does not guarantee the presence of God. Nor does it assure us that the people inside them will live in a God-glorifying manner.
The forces of modern culture and economy can be so dominant in the daily spheres of life—in the ways we shop, eat, run businesses, vote at elections, teach our young, and seek employment—that people can attend worship on holy days and be practical atheists for the rest. People can profess a verbal piety and claim they seek a taste of God, all the while consuming a steady diet of self-glorifying cakes.
Put another way, just as proclaimed atheists may find it hard to ditch the bad faith and hypocrisy at work in the modern substitutes for God that provide consolation, so too proclaimed believers may not appreciate the hypocrisy of a misplaced faith that has not learned to seriously scrutinize the idols of modernity that have taken God’s place.
©2015 by Norman Wirzba. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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