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Big News: Arguing Whether God is Still Dead

Theologian still argues whether God is still dead
but still won’t confirm either way

By Dave Crampton

You can always tell when it is Easter in Wellington. Easter eggs, bunnies and buns fill the shops and local theologian James Veitch pisses off evangelical Christians with an article in The Evening Post questioning fundamental elements of the Christian faith.

This year is no different – except Veitch’s article is in this weeks Listener, headed Is God still dead? He can now piss off a national audience.

Scholars have always challenged orthodox beliefs during Holy Week and I guess people like Veitch saves them worrying about a religious element for their ‘holy weeklies’. Former a staunch evangelical, Veitch’s beliefs are not exactly orthodox now: “Maybe God is dead and this is the trouble,” Veitch commences. By trouble he means chaos: wars, violence and increasing third world debt. In any case if God is still dead (as opposed to never existed) he must have died in the first place, meaning he was originally alive and therefore existed.

But wars and famines do not prove the death of God any more than miracles prove the existence of God. Perhaps that is why Veitch never admits God is dead, even though he later told me he wants to admit God is dead post Nicene Creed era - around 325. But it is difficult to prove, so he has to use the user-friendly word “maybe”. Veitch later suggests we could be coming to grips with the reality of a dead God in the twilight of the demise of Christianity and a Church which is increasingly irrelevant.

Now he’s getting warmer. The Church is increasingly irrelevant with congregations getting older and young people not feeling welcome in the institutionalised churches. The more young people know about the way the churches operate the less they want to be involved. I don’t blame them. Religion and Christianity are becoming as separate as Church and state.

Yes, there is a difference between Christianity and religion – the latter is man reaching up to God, whereas the former is God reaching down to man. Christianity requires faith, which begins with belief. Religion just requires attendance, and doesn’t really have to include God. After all you can religiously attend all your favourite Super 12 games and leave God on the sideline –or outside the gate. Rugby can even be your “god”.

Veitch also maintains that Sundays are no longer sacred, with an accelerating trickledown effect starting with the undermining of the intellectual basis of Christianity, leading to a lessening of an emotional attachment to the Church. The result: smaller congregations, the demise of the Church, and the death of God.

But perhaps the emotional attachment to church is dwindling quicker and earlier than any claims of faith-ditching. Church attendance has more to do with religion, whereas Christianity is more about a belief in God. Church membership may be smaller and increasingly grey-haired in the institutionalised churches, but Christianity is still thriving, especially outside these churches.

The term “God is Dead” was originally coined by Friedrich Nietzche in the late 19th century, but most of his contemporaries wrote him off as being a bit loony. In the 1960s the term was debated by religious scholars, with the phrase becoming synonymous with the death of a particular way of thinking about God.

These days among some theologians, this practise of “trying to out-think God” has been replaced by a form of religious humanism, which attempts to “think-out” God from existence, while at the same time questioning that existence.

Veitch maintains that if one is to rediscover the Jesus of Galilee, they need to get rid of all cultural and ecclesiastical baggage to know whether God is absolutely dead or not.

Absolutely dead? God is either dead or he isn’t. Maybe he is absolutely alive, in which case that doesn`t change irrespective of what one believes about God. Mind you, if he is absolutely dead Easter is as pointless as a belief in God.

Scientist and professor John Morton provides an alternative view to Veitch in the Listener but shows his hand a little better. After all, as the article says, the theologian argues whether God is still dead, whereas the more decisive scientist says no, which is a pretty weird situation, as it is normally the reverse.

Buy a Listener this week, sit down with a few Easter eggs and read the article for yourself. Better still, go to a Catholic Church this weekend and see for yourself how full they are – it only happens twice a year when dozens of unfamiliar Catholic faces pack their familiar bums on unfamiliar pews in their attempts to revive their eternal life. I guess it beats futile attempts to revive a dead God.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist, in addition to writing for Scoop he is the Australasian correspondent for newsroom-online.com. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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