Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Did Paul Tillich Think God was Dead? Theology of God's Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

  photo c74c2d63919e04f636c5a3941774331414f6744_zps8909e143.jpg
 Thomas J.J. Altizer as he
appeared in the 60s.

I am dealing with this top which has come at me out of the blue, becasue a poster made several comments in the comment section of the last post that were on this topic (as opposed too the fine tuning argument the post was about). I will deal with that posters concerns: what was the death of God movement and who were it's leaders? Was Tillich part of it? Do Mister Eckhart and Pseudo-Dionysius count as death of God and thus atheists?

The Death of God movement (technically called Theothanatology: Greek theos for God and thanatos for death) was a movement which rose up like a meteor and was gone just as quickly. That was the description of a pastor I knew who had been at Berkeley Union (a top seminary) when the movement broke out. It's major leaders inlcuded: ents of this radical theology included the Christian theologians Gabriel Vahanian, Paul Van Buren, William Hamilton, John A.T. Robinson, Thomas J. J. Altizer, John D. Caputo, and the rabbi Richard L. Rubenstein.

They were not saying there never was a God. They were not saying it's a good thing that God is dead because he was no good. In fact they were all saying very different things. The major gist of the matter was they all agreed that God emptieid himself or "poured himself" out  for creation. Some said in atonement. The term for that is "Kenosis." It was a theory of God's unselfish nature not an atheist attack on religion. That God drained himself of being int order to vest creation with the vital nature that he had so that we can live and have good lives and so on. In retrospect it really seems like a way of disposing of the past, of "old morality" of sacralizing the new morality. It seems like a way of saying "yes the old theological stuff had good stuff in it but it's not really meant for the times."

I read Van Buren's book when I first got saved which was odd because his book was not material for a born again type who has just gotten saved. I read it decades after it was forgotten. I don't remember how I got hold of it. He was saying "no of the resurrection of Christ didn't happen but that doesn't matter because the idea of resurrection happened in the hearts of the early community that's all that matters." They got all reved up with goodness becuase they believe in the idea of Jesus. Altizzer (born September 28, 1927, was at Emory University) had the notion of a Hegelian based "out pouring" of God giving himself to his creation. He was the most ideological and idealist of the bunch. John A.T. Robinson (lecturer at Cambrige, 1919-1983 died of cancer) he was given the Nick name "honest John" becuase he wrote a book called "Honest to God" in which he said that if we are honest we will realize that humans are the conscoiusness of God. God is conscious through us and through our consciousness. Robinson along with Havey Cox was a major shaper of secular theology.

None of these guys were triumphing in any notion of God being put away as imaginary or untrue or that they were atheists in the sense of ridiculing religion. Even the secular theologians were not saying religion is bad. Cox's take on secularization is that it was a invention of Christians. It was the public space that helped to end the religious wars by giving all sides a neutral space. This was not like the new atheism they weren't trying to destroy religious thinking or belief in God. They were trying to put religious thinking in in a new vain.

Alitzer (I called him Frederick but it was Thomas--lot of theology under the bridge). He used Nietzsche but his views were more Hegelian.[1] Not to say he didn't use Hegel too:

Altizer has repeatedly claimed that scorn, outcry, and even death threats he received were misplaced. On a pure level, Altizer's religious proclamation viewed God's death (really a self-extinction) as a process that began at the world's creation and came to an end through Jesus Christ—whose crucifixion in reality poured out God's full spirit into this world. In developing his position Altizer drew upon the dialectical thought of Hegel, the visionary writings of William Blake, the anthroposophical thought of Owen Barfield, and adapted aspects of Mircea Eliade's view of the sacred and the profane.[2]

Altizer was saying that since God is wholly other and our talk of God is about our understanding not a direct factual view of some entity we are free to consider in different ways. Given the historical turn away form the Christianity perspective we are free to characterize it as a "death." In this sense he's just talking the Zeitgeist. He's talking about Hegel's notion of God entering concretescence through development of historical idea in a sublated dialectic.[3]

This speaks not of God of course, but of the idea of God. Its most eloquent expression is probably found in the voice of Nietzsche's Madman, who proclaimed God's death and judged Humanity his murderer. If one is to speak of the death of God in this way, that is to see God as a product of the mind of humanity but which is now no longer needed, we must be mindful of two things. Firstly, that history is without purpose and, secondly, that humanity lives without transcendent meaning. With the death of God also comes the collapse of the very foundation upon which meaning and morality in Western civilisation are based. Thus the death of God brings a new and challenging demand with it, for man himself is now required to construct his own meaning and moral base.[4]
Of cousre all of that was premature. New morality types of the early 60s, especially in sociology, had been predicting the demise of religion. The death of God theologians, while not gleeful about the death of religion, had begun to think of God as a metaphor for human aspirations, which they saw turning form the old morality and God belief. In reality they were only looking at the Ivory tower dwellers and sociologists. The real grass roots of the culture where no where near giving up bleief in God. Belief in a God who more than metaphor came roaring back in the early 70s Jesus movement, the death of God theologians became victims of the Zeitgeist and their books began to populate garage sales.

Modern atheism ("New" atheism) has tried to coopt Tillich, without understanding what he meant by the controversial things he said. They see him say "God does not exist" they think "O he's an athist." they don't even bother to find out what he meant by "exist." Readers of this blog know he did not mean to say "there is no God." He was saying there are two level of being, "existence" is what contingent things do, and "be" is what God does. God is the ground of being. being itself. God is not contingent thus he doesn't have  mere existence, he is being.

The atheists who are too cleaver to read stupid old theology have tried to connect Tillich to the death of God movement (which of cousre they see as theology turning on itself and so forth). They also take his statement about being anti-super naturalist to assume that Tillich didn't really believe in God. That's becuase they have the atheist straw man notion of supernatural and they don't rally understand the term. Time and space do not permit a discussion now. See my essay "Was Paul Tillich Anti-Supernatural?" There's a page on Patheos[5] the atheist portal where they laud Tillich for his licentious behavior. He did have a problem in his private life, we don't know the extent of it because it was exaggerated by an angry wife who was trying to destroy his reputation. I have never urged anyone to emulate Tillich's life, just his thought. If you can't bring yourself to do that because of his behavior, then read the exemplary mystic Has Urs Von Balthasar who also said God is being itself. See my post on Balthasar.

Tillich had a profound influence on all students of theology  in the 60s, no less on Altizer. Altizer was close to Tillich at the end of his life, He reported a much more radical and shocking Tillich who was the basis of his death of God ideology, but then he also panned Tillich Systematic Theology Vol 3 as the public face of Tillich prepared by the publisher.[6] Apparently he was very radical that doesn't make him an atheist.

  photo 72063769_295_zps4d62076d.jpg
thourgh the magic of time lapse photography 
(40 years have elapsed) Altizer has he looks today.

On Friday I'll talk about Eckhart and Bauer.



[2] Thomas J.J. Altizer, Wickepeidia  accessed 11/12/13.

[3] Greenfield, "Thomas Altizer..." Op. Cit.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The End of Paul Tillich's Life, The Scriptorium. Patheos,  accessed 11/12/13

[6] Christopher Demuth Rodkey, The Horizon of the Infinite: Paul Tillich and The Dialectic of the Sacred. An Arbor, MI: Pro Quest, 2009, 174.


JBsptfn said...

Good post. Way to clear up misunderstandings about Tillich.

BTW, on the CADRE Blog, a person asked about that quote from Wikipedia dealing with Bruno Bauer that someone posted on your last entry.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Thanks. To tell you the truth I don't know that much about Bauer I'm going to do some research and deal with it on Friday.

Anonymous said...

This is relevant to a prior post. will you or another member of the Cadre read "proving history" by Richard C Carrier. It would be fantastic if someone did. and since I enjoy the posts on this blog and the cadre blog and am very thankful for the enriching content I would like one of you guys to do it.

Unknown said...

William Blake also said some very disparaging things about religion. The kind of stuff that New Atheists would say. He also said that there is no natural theology... It would be great if you could do a blog post about him as well. I hope I am not burdening you with a stupid request, but you seem very knowledgeable and I love reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia calls Meister Eckhart a "death of god" theologian. It also says that jj alitzer was, in fact, an athiest theologian.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Hate to break it to you but Wiki is not the most reliable source. Anyone can alter those I've seen them change on a daily basis. Once the CADRE had a editing war with some atheists over a pae about Jesus. Every other day it said he was a historical guy and in between it said he wasn't.

Altizer was the most radical so he did wind calling himself an atheist. But if you notice in the picture I put up he is wearing a crucifix.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Blake was clearly very religious. He has his private world. It's hard to know what the thought about anything. He was clearly a convinced mystic. His most famous taunt to skeptics "mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau, mock on mock on in vain; you through the sand agaisnt the wind and the wind blows it back again."

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

I'll propose to the CADRE that we take that on as soon as possible.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

BTW I have done a post on his use of Bayes theorem for history.