Death of a Theologian
Published on: April 4, 2012
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  • WigWag

    “Dear Mr. Nietzsche. You are dead. Yours very truly, God.” (Bumper Sticker seen in Harvard Square)

    “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water, suffices to kill him. But if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.” (Blaise Pascal from Pensées)

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    As for the “self liquidating” nature of atheism, one need only to look at birth rates.

    Sociologist Wade Clark Roof in his book American Mainline Religion produced the following data on the average number of births per woman by religious family:

    Family Total Avg. 45 yrs.+ Under Age 45
    Liberal Protestant 1.97 2.27 1.60
    Moderate Prot. 2.27 2.67 1.80
    Black Protestant 2.62 3.08 2.24
    Conservative Prot. 2.54 3.12 2.01
    Catholics 2.20 2.75 1.82
    Jewish 1.69 1.96 1.37
    No religious
    (“Nones”) 1.39 2.30 1.18
    National 2.25 2.75 1.73

    (Wade Clark Roof, American Mainline Religion, page 161).

    The population replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman. As can be clearly seen, the less religious, the more self liquidating the religious “family.”

    Whether or not there is life after death is a matter of faith. But in this life there is perpetual life of offspring. Even a theologian such as Ludwig Feuerbach might agree.

  • IA

    I’m not sure what resonance a believer would find in a bumper sticker that uses God as a ventriloquist’s dummy for a bad joke. I hope that Nietzsche will go on being read long after the Judeo-Christian God has turned to dust.

  • Gary L

    IA is like I hope that Nietzsche will go on being read long after the Judeo-Christian God has turned to dust.

    So why would any one bother to read Nietzsche after the Judeo-Christian God turns to dust? Even the most incisive and stylistically brilliant critics of the Babylonian, Hittite and Etruscans Gods ceased being read at virtually the same moment that the aforementioned faiths became extinct.

    But if that bumper-sticker God declares that Niezsche is dead, perhaps He would still grant him a requiem mass.

  • R.C.

    You say: “As to the latter group, they are a particularly troubled bunch: I once opined that it is as difficult for a New Testament scholar to be a Christian as for a gynecologist to have sexual intercourse.”

    Yes: You did once opine that.

    Not that it’s actually true, in either case.

    Gynecologists looking at ladyparts deconstructively as the sum of their parts are ignoring two or three of Aristotle’s four causes and are thus intentionally preventing themselves from understanding the whole item in order to focus on their job. But this has not, as a historical matter, prevented male gynecologists from having happy marriages and children. They need only, when they get home, take off their deconstructionist blinders and see their wives as beloved persons, their lovemaking as a great gift, and their passion for one another and their children as the natural outcome and intended end of all the above. What could be more natural? A gynecologist who has problems with this has “issues,” as they say, and they are not so much related to seeing too many vaginas, as to not accurately perceiving and understanding a particular one.

    And so too with New Testament scholars. In the last 100 to 150 years or so many seminaries have become overrun with the faithless and the heterodox and the unsaintly; that is not newsworthy. And it is not surprising that the faithless and the heterodox and the unsaintly have trouble being Christian while studying the New Testament; the best explanation is that they would be equally faithless and heterodox and unsaintly were they studying geography or history. It takes a saint — or at least someone with his heart intent on becoming one — to make a good theologian. But saints, on the rare occasion that they apply for a position teaching theology in academia, as a rule are rejected by their would-be colleagues: Saintliness is considered backward and rejection of trendy heterodoxy is considered un-collegial. In this fashion, such populations are self-selecting.

    But it is not the study of the New Testament that makes a man faithless, heterodox, and unsaintly. That happens easily enough on its own! But faithlessness, heterodoxy, and unsaintliness are merely signs that the man has “issues.” It is not that he has seen too much of the New Testament or the Old. It is that he has seen their Subject and their Author too little.

  • RR

    With all authors and adherents of secular theology “God is dead” movements, it comes down to a final choice: “Am I willing to take a chance with my eternal soul that I am right to the extent that I want to convince others?” If I am right which I truly believe that I am and bet my eternal future upon, I have helped a few understand they are aimlessly wrong needing a new outlook on life – that is my reward. However, if I am wrong, I will be reading this book I wrote or believed in to the Creator of my soul realizing that I have been deceived and intentionally deceived others keeping them from their true destiny in Christ. This will be rewarded with the accompanying eternal penalty even though I did not believe it to be possible. Intentions were honorable but the execution of obedience was sadly misled and lacking. It is that clear – all or nothing – that is the choice each one of us needs to make?

  • B. Stanfield


    Great post. Having just finished a long theological discussion with an acquaintance your comments really ministered to me this morning. Sometimes using the technicalia of theological discourse can cause us to lose sight of the thing we are discussing as we apply our “deconstructionist blinders”.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  • JAS

    Well said R.C.!
    You clarified the cynical statements of this otherwise good article.

  • Alan K

    Bonhoeffer did not like Barth? Reread the biography of Bonhoeffer by Bethge–Barth is the only theologian Bonhoeffer truly respected.

  • Chuck

    Theologians are an amazing breed, like philosophers, they make a living talking about things that they admit they have no idea what they are talking about.

  • Seth

    Touché. God can’t be dead though. Any understanding of an ultimate being as creator or heck, simply a constant in the complicated equation of life alone would negate existence. Perhaps we are created, or perhaps we are characters in one of Gods dreams. Doesnt matter, a dead God could only yield the end of existence, as we know that is….

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  • Jbird

    “Liberalism on the one hand and the religion of the historic church on the other are not two varieties of the same religion, but two distinct religions proceeding from altogether separate roots”

    – J. Gresham Machen

    I sometimes wish that those who do not actually believe the Bible but want to adhere to some vapid, ungrounded universal-ish understanding of morality without judgment for some self-affirming reason would stop calling themselves Christians and be honest with themselves. If you do not believe that Jesus was God and man, the whole thing falls apart.

  • R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.

    I am continually amazed at the ignorance of the supposed learned, but make an exception for Nietzsche, one of the most misunderstood philosophers in history. This was his fault. He coined new meanings for words in his many books, but never footnoted the unique meanings is subsequent writings. Hence if you read him out of sequence, or omit one book, you miss his meaning. Moreover, he went mad in the last decade of his life and his caregivers fudged his writings to make them marketable. One scholar has painstakingly unraveled this skein, and revealed his true thoughts (P. Dixon, PhD, Nietzsche and Jung Sailing a Deeper Night).
    In summary, Nietzsche, a devoutly religious man, predicted that if irreligious bourgeois Europe did not sincerely convert, then their god (small “g”) would die and they would descend into hell. A short time later, WWI broke out, and annihilated Germany.

    Of course, aside from Nietzsche, God did die. However He, unique in history, took up His life again, after three days. Happy Easter.

  • Jbird

    IA: well, going on at least 1,950 years (arbitrarily starting with the writing of the New Testament) there are more people worshiping the Judeo-Christian God now than at any point in history across a myriad of continents and cultures. From Chinese home churches to Korean Presbyterians to Nigerian Anglicans to Brazilian Catholics there isn’t a corner of the globe with out a significant Christian population. Even about 10% of Palestinians are Christian. It has survived and flourished under Roman persecution, barbarian invasions, Great Schisms, Medieval church corruption, the rise of Islam, Mongol invasions, religious wars, the Enlightenment, Colonialism, Nihilism, Modernism, and Post-Modernism. No matter how illogical it may seem, Lombards & Slavs adopted it as did African American slaves and Cherokee Indians. I have great confidence in it’s continued popularity. What do you suppose the ratio of people who have read the Bible to people who have actually read Nietzsche is, exactly? 500 to 1? 1,000 to 1?

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  • suibne

    Mr. Berger: Not fifteen minutes after the Time Mag ran the God is Dead issue was there a handwritten note on walls all over the country…..neechheeee is dead. God! It was Not a bumber sticker, but you are very very very late in your defence of the aforesaid divinity. It points out the greater difficulty in the American market place of ideas. You are not only late, but so far off the original argument that it is embarrassing. Don’t worry. Nobody will remember. Nobody will notice, other than those very few dead old white men who knew how to read. Yours, from the grave . Freddy Neeeeeecheeeeee

  • suibne

    oh idea that somehow useless jobs are chased out of the market place is fallacious. You have one. Gas station attendends in Jersey have more than a few. And Obama…..well….his is special isn’t it?

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    As to Dr. Berger’s observation that it is as difficult for a New Testament scholar to be a Christian as a gynecologist to enjoy sex I offer the following evidence.

    Read Barrie Wilson’s “How Jesus Became a Christian”
    Wilson’s book is right out of one of Dr. Berger’s books – The Social Construction of Reality or the Sacred Canopy. It is written from a Jewish perspective of the New Testament.

    Wilson advances a conspiracy theory that Christianity is the result of the ascendency of the Christ Movement over the Jesus Movement.

    He convincingly indicates that the New Testament Book of Acts is a “fraud” meant to bridge the Gospels with Paul’s Letters.

    The book will not leave any taken for granted Christianity or your Sunday School religion the same after reading it. But the book isn’t meant to destroy Christianity a la Nietzsche.

    For an antidote to Nietzsche one might read Rudolph Otto’s book on the experience of the Holy. Actually, some of Luther’s sermons might also be an antidote as well.

  • Sam

    “In summary, Nietzsche, a devoutly religious man, predicted that if irreligious bourgeois Europe did not sincerely convert, then their god (small “g”) would die and they would descend into hell. A short time later, WWI broke out, and annihilated Germany.”

    Nice job of proving your point that a lot of people that talk about Nietzsche have no idea what they are talking about! It is true that Nietzsche was the son of a minister and was initially devout. But he grew away from this, and saw that many, if not most christians of his era actually didn’t really believe in god. He jeered at these people for clinging to christian morality because they simply didn’t grasp the implications of their atheism (i.e., “all is permissible”). These people are now called humanists or liberal christians, and are ironically the subject of a lot of ire from people like the author of this article. So Nietzsche had this in common with the author, though for different reasons!

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  • Please let me know if Quakerism’s anti-institutional/creedal approach to God has found its modern relevance.

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