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Which God is Dead?

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) made the scandalous proclamation that “God is dead” in one of his well-known works, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1882).

The church’s initial reaction was to condemn him and his brand of philosophy. But what Nietzsche actually said was: “Whither is God? … I will tell you. We have killed him–you and I. All of us are his murderers…. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

For Nietzche what was important was not that God is dead, but that we have killed God so that we can enjoy the fruits of modernity.

I find myself agreeing with his assertion that we have killed god.  And in all honesty, the death of god is necessary for the disenfranchised, who must ask: “Which god is dead?”

The modernity project of replacing God with science (reason) has succeeded in constructing a god in its own image. Such a god has been used to justify what Nietzche called the “master morality.” This “master morality” is practiced by the rich and privileged, who encourage power, freedom and strength.

From this god flowed an ethical discourse that may challenge humanity to be compassionate (i.e.; Bush’s compassionate conservatism), yet seldom challenges the structures which caused inhuman conditions. That is because such a challenge would threatened the dominant culture’s privileged space.

We may speak about leaving no child behind or supporting our troops, but in reality we re-appropriated the necessary funds needed to make these moral proclamations a reality by passing massive “tax cuts” to the wealthiest segments of society.

Yes, we have killed God because of God’s defense of “slave morality.”

This “slave morality” advocates that the powerful and privileged must learn forgiveness, love and humility. It is the ethics of turning the other cheek, putting the needs of others before oneself and laying down one’s life for another.

Killing the God of slaves allows the dominant culture to worship their own gods, all the while defining themselves as Christian moral agents.

But do we really want the god of the dominant culture to exist? The god who is pleased when Iraqis are bombed, the god who remains silent about atrocities at Abu Ghraib, the god who sanctions one fifth of the world’s population to use 80 percent of the world’s resources to the detriment of Third World nations, the god who equates blessings with riches?

While such a religious experience is important for many of the dominant culture, it remains insufficient for those existing on the underside of that culture.

The question being asked by the disenfranchised is not so much if God exists, but does God care?

The continuation of oppressive structures forces those who suffer due to their race, class, gender or sexual orientation to wonder about the very character of a God who appears silent in the face of injustice. That silence was deafening during the crucifixion of Jesus. It is still so for all who continue to be crucified today so that others may have their power and privilege saved.

If those on the margins are able to determine who is this God that appears to turn God’s gaze from the suffering of God’s people, then they, as well as those from the dominant culture choosing to stand in solidarity with them, can determine what actions are required so that this silent God can finally be heard.

The Christians of the first century were thrown to the lions on the charge of atheism, because they rejected the god of the dominant culture of their time.

What Christianity needs today is more of this kind of “atheists”–those willing to lose their life or livelihood for refusing to believe the god of today’s powers and principalities.

Hence the real question for us “atheists” to ask is not if God exists, but who is this God whose existence we affirm or deny.

It is my contention that some gods are better off dead than alive.

The gods which justify the present structures of oppression are better off dead, whether they be the god of capitalism, the god of socialism, the god of militarism, the god of Republicans and Democrats or the god of nationalism.

All gods who bestow privilege to their chosen people based on race, class, gender or sexual orientation should die.

Christianity from the margins of society actively seeks the death of the dominant culture’s gods so that the God of the oppressed, the God incarnated in the lives and suffering of today’s crucified people–the God that demands justice–can reign.

Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.

Order Miguel De La Torre’s book Reading the Bible from the Margins now from Amazon.com