“Is God Dead?”

Today such a question will yet raise few hackles, but most people, even those listeners offended by the expression, will merely assume the speaker’s right to their own opinion and disregard the potentially contentious scenario.

But half a century ago the very thought of expressing such a question publicly would incite a controversial storm. The concept was based upon a theme authored by the theologian/ philosopher Friedrich Nietzche who in ‘The Joyful Science’ wrote, not the question but stated the observation, “God is dead!” (Actually he was quoting a line from Victor Hugo’s famous novel Les Miserables.)

But on today’s date, April 8, in 1963, Otto Fuebringer, editor of Time magazine, dared to print the question in bold print as the issue’s cover (the first time that words and not a portrait of some newsworthy personality adorned the cover). The result was a tornado of negative responses with ensuing accusations of communist leanings, atheism and general lack of patriotism.

As in so many real life situations, most people simply react with a knee jerk mentality instead of bothering to read beyond the question on the cover. A mere page turning investigation would reveal that in the article entitled “Toward a Hidden God” author John T. Elson wrote, “Nietzsche’s thesis was that striving, self-centered men have killed God…”

He then went on to cite the same anxiety from such outstanding Christian thinkers as the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and the pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died in a Nazi concentration camp for his faith: they were concerned about the role of God in an increasingly secular world.”

Many a fundamentalist, Bible-believing preacher, the Rev. Billy Graham and other outstanding evangelists have emphasized the same concern from their very conservative pulpits, and rightly have been supported by the “Amen!” responses from the pews.

Regrettably, to this day far too many people continue always to be ready to make impulsive fast judgments instead of taking the time to delve a little deeper into important matters. All of us are guilty of being complacent in our little cozy worlds and do not want to chance interventions that differ from their comfort zones.

What Nietzsche was actually saying was that we have allowed religion in general to become the tool of the wealthy and powerful. To quote him, “God is dead and we have killed him… we are the murderers of all murderers.” Specifically he was pointing out that the Church has lost its zeal for serving the unfortunate or down-and-out of the world and have replaced that understanding of Christian service with narcissistic ambitions.

A relatively young couple I met in 1965 personified this trend all too well. As the husband increasingly became financially and socially successful, he ceased attending any kind of worship services, but wife wanted to be a part of a congregation and participate. Eventually their disagreement became a full-blown argument on the subject in which the man finally ended the spat with, “We don’t need God any more - we’ve got money!” and stormed out of the room.

Back to the question. Is God Dead? The answer to Fuebringer’s question depends upon what or who your god is. To determine that all one must do is calculate the focus of their life: where you spend your money, time and energy.

If your god is the attainment of riches and material possessions, fame and celebrity status, avoidance of responsibility, mood altering illegal drugs, etc., etc., then the answer is yes, your god is dead - in fact actually Dead On Arrival.

Johnny A. Phillips is a retired minister residing in Morganton and may be contacted at phillips.sue@gmail.com.

Thadd White is Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance and can be reached via email at twhite@ncweeklies.com.