A Panopoly of Wonder
September 7, 2010

This post from All Things Shining ends on a fascinating note:

The book is predicated in part on the idea that the death of God is the death of this sense of the unity of all wonders.  Not that certain individuals can’t feel it, but that it is no longer a background assumption of the culture.  As Heidegger says in “The Question Concerning Technology,” this is the most extreme danger.  For it initiates the possibility that we will no longer experience ourselves as receptive beings at all.  (Long story about why.)  But if we get in the right relation to this danger, experience it as a danger, then it becomes a saving possibility as well.  For it reveals a genuine plurality of wonders that is even better than the plurality Homer’s Greeks experienced; a “new beginning” that is not the same as their “first beginning”.  For the Greeks the plurality of wonders came with a felt temptation to unity, a temptation they were eventually unable to resist.  But that temptation is now closed off with the death of God, so our saving possibility, if we take it up, will put us in a genuinely different place than the Greeks.  Anyhow, that’s the idea.  But the worry is that it’s based on a distinction that is too clever by half.  That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far…

I haven’t read “The Question Concerning Technology,” but I believe Dylan Matthews has. He can probably evaluated what’s going on in this passage better than I can.

In the meantime, I’m intrigued by Professor Kelly’s use of the “death of God” concept here. The contours of my argument were different, but I have previously argued that modern society has a very real “God is dead” problem.

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God Is Dead
June 20, 2010

Friedrich Nietzsche
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve read very little Nietzsche, but this famous passage in The Gay Science left a very strong impression on me when I first read it. It’s the context for the philosopher’s infamous assertion that “God is dead,” and after getting that context I finally understood what he meant.

Many of you already know this, so I’m going to gloss it very quickly: Nietzsche is obviously not arguing that man literally murdered God. What he is instead suggesting is that man has surpassed and demolished an old, antiquated morality associated with our conception of God. And when the madman who brings this news realizes that he has “come too early,” this is because even the atheists who he tells this to do not grasp the implications.

This parable is, I believe, even more salient now than it was in Nietzsche’s time. And it carries special significance for this generation of Americans. Our parents, the boomers, are the ones who, in Nietzsche’s words, “killed God”—they are the generation of the hippies, the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, and the other various political and cultural upheavals that weakened the white, Christian, heteronormative patriarchy that until the past few decades has unquestionably dominated this country.

This isn’t to suggest that racism, sexism and other traditional forms of American elitism are dead—only that the cultural norms that tied them into some kind of comprehensive national narrative are. Even the political movement most concerned with ostensibly returning us to the old system—the Tea Party movement—is essentially a nihilistic movement, motivated more by self-interest, directionless rage and various racial and classist resentments than a cohesive vision of how America should be. They seek to essentially undo the undoable.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried. Just because the revolution already happened doesn’t mean it can’t still fail, and my biggest fear is that it will, for the reason that most revolutions fail: demolishing a cathedral is a lot easier than building a new one in the rubble. Tea Party nihilism is a monstrous ethical philosophy, and I’m no more satisfied by Nietzsche’s “master morality.” If this country is going to survive and flourish, we need to build a new, better morality. It is my conviction that the burden of doing so lies with my generation, and what scares me is that I don’t think we have either recognized or reacted to this burden.

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