“God is dead”
It began in the despair of 19th century Europe. Its inventor would die in 1900 on the cusp of a new century. His views would combine with Darwin to shape the most violent period of planet earth. Hitler gave his writings as gifts. He also was a German. He died insane, his sister charging admission to see him chained. His name was Friedrich Nietzsche. The philosophy he articulated was called Existentialism. Man determines his own existence. Man is God.
Existentialism did for meaning what Immanuel Kant did for scientific truth. Kant said that man imposed the mind’s order on physical data. Truth came from man. Nietzsche said the same for meaning. There was no meaning in the 20th century world said Nietzsche. As a matter of fact he invented the iconic term “God is dead”….meaning that the myth of God has been cast aside.
Man was to will or impose his own meaning. His own truth. To be his own god. His own Creator. “Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil” found its fulfillment in Friedrich Nietzsche and “exist-entialism”. Man’s imposition of existence onto the nothingness of nature. The main idea was this: Man’s existence came before his meaning. His meaning came later as man evolved into a “being” and determined he was “man.” Point being – man is the one animal evolved to the place of being able to choose his own meaning. But he also felt man must get out from the “ceiling” that society and conformity and religion had put on him. Or the “bad faith” of “inauthentic existence”. “Man,” Nietzsche said, “must be overcome”. Philosophy had made an “upper story leap”, an “escape from reason.”
Later, two Frenchmen popularized Nietzsche…made him fit for public consumption. Jean Paul Sartre, a French author, atheist and playwright, had found meaning in the French resistance movement. He and another author, Albert Camus, took Nietzsche out of philosophy and into the arts and mainstream and developed his thought. It began to show up in the Parisian coffee shops…in literature, plays, and art and morphed through Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg into the Beatniks of California and Greenwich Village. It showed up in the anti-hero of the 50’s, the motorcycle gangs, and the counter culture that settled in San Francisco.
“Find yourself…do your own thing….Rebel”
“If it feels good, do it” – “Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.”
Man was now his own black cat and a cool cat at that.
It was, one said, “the most seductive philosophy of all time.” Man was discovered to be God! Eureka!
Existentialism meandered through the 60’s but cooled when objective evil forced its way into the 60’s world. Objective true evil was existentialism’s Achilles heel. As the Flower Children of Haight-Ashbury were set upon by drug dealers, sex traffickers, pedophiles and cult leaders like Manson…..Nietzsche’s “superman” needed a standard. As Viet Nam warred on, a standard was needed by which to protest. An absolute standard as the oasis of “peace and love”.
Civil rights cried for justice. Roe vs. Wade cried for rights, and Feminism for equity. Existentialism practically didn’t work. It was the last gasp of the Greek quest.
“Go East Young Mind”
It appeared as though all that was Western and Judeo-Christian had failed. The death of the Christian world view and the birth of the post-modern brought a rejection of anything Western. In the 60’s onward there was a distinct cultural move to the East. The popularity of Zen, TM and later the New Age Movement brought a drift toward pantheism or monism where all is one and all is God. It was an attempt at harmony and the unity of upper and lower stories by saying there was no division – “all is one.” The West deferred to the East! Pantheism however would not fit into the American striving of making everything better and best. To succeed and not fail and be rich not poor. Eastern thought proved to be nothing but a sedative and relaxation technique amidst capitalistic pursuits, tie-dyed t-shirts and rock bands, so the 70’s gave way to personal peace and affluence and a brief return to a 50’s mentality. No one cared any more. It was the death of the West.
Through all of this philosophic slide, where was the Christian truth? How did it weather the storm? Let me try to recount.
The Copernican shift of modern science caused Christianity to take a blow amid ship not because its truth was wrong but because it had embraced Aristotle’s earth centered cosmology. For science to disprove Aristotle to the medieval mind was the same as disproving the Bible. It should not have been. The church had canonized what the Bible never taught. The earth is the central purpose of God but not the central astronomical point. The church must be wary of the scientific theories to which it weds itself. And secondly, some false leaders had greatly discredited the faith. The abuse of power by Catholicism had caused Christianity to be discounted as “priestcraft”. The 30 Years War had caused the Bible to be seen as the cause of Europe’s greatest evil and rational philosophy replaced the Bible giving man a sense of intellectual superiority over the faith. The world had magnified a false system of science and philosophy that would ultimately fail.
Thirdly, as Darwin and modern science advanced, the Bible came to be erroneously perceived as out of step with progress and yet evolution proved to be the most blind-faith, fideistic, impractical, non-sequitur, unreasonable and destructive system ever. Science also brought immediate physical benefits which the church could not do nor claim to do. Also, the political revolutions of the late 1600’s until 1917 made it appear that man through his own strugglings and progress would subdue man’s great evil. A new age was dawning – that of an alienation between church and state…secular man was Modern Man. And as the fracturing of denominations grew, Christianity appeared foolish with numbers of sects holding one book all claiming to be right. The church began to be the butt of many jokes.
But most of all the church had altered its beliefs to accommodate the rapidly changing world. It sounded retreat. First, Arminianism of the 17th century had removed the troubling ideas of Calvin’s theology of sovereign grace and adopted the more reasonable ideas of man’s freedom. Deism went a step further and lopped off the troublesome “unreasonable” of the supernatural. The Trinity, virgin birth, substitutionary death were exchanged for harmless, offense-less points of agreement. By the 1600’s Trinity-denying Unitarianism was a received denomination in Boston. Then German Liberalism with its evolutionary view of the Bible and its evolving view of God had permeated seminaries and denominations as it looked to be in step with the times. Protestants tried to repackage the faith for modern man and save Christianity from extinction.
By the 20th century the 1st century’s unique raging river of God’s appearance upon the earth in Christ and His intervention at Calvary had become a narrow brook coursing through a great marsh of competing Christian variations.
The competing world view of secular humanism was monolithic and everywhere the standard of true intelligence. From politics to Walt Disney, Biblical Christianity had become a pleasant archive of the past to be brought out at Christmas and Easter and the 7th inning of baseball games. (God Bless America). Fundamental biblical Christianity had split from denominational compromise so often that it presented a scenario of “would the real Christianity please stand up.”
Because of this corruption, by the 20th century the Biblical Christian had retreated into an ecclesiastic commune. The evangelical by mid-20th century appeared shell-shocked. Having taken so many direct hits he had withdrawn to let the world go its way as he retreated behind stained glass beneath steeples and waited for the return.
www.dentonbible.org. Used by permission.