For some weird reason there was a song stuck in my head as I began to read this book. The song was one that, as a young child, I remembered from Sunday Bible School: “God is not dead, he is still alive—I feel God in my feet (stomp, stomp), I feel God in my hands (clap, clap), I feel God in my heart (Amen!)… I feel God all over me (turning around).” Well, there you have it, I got it out of my head now!
So I wonder…what would Nietzsche say about a song like this? Nietzsche is famously known for having declared that “God is dead” a term that he has written about in many of his works. Some believe that he is talking about a literal death or the end of God. However, “God is dead,” is really about the western world shifting away from their belief on religion and their dependence on it as a moral compass and foundation for meaning.
In Culture and the Death of God, Terry Eagleton looks at a number of movements and prominent thinkers throughout the centuries that have attempted to show and write about ways in which they can replace or do away with traditional religion—specifically God.
Throughout his book, Eagleton makes an effort to let us know that although these movements tried to replace God or religion with other thoughts and behaviors, somehow they were turned back to God despite themselves. Carl Becker, an Enlightenment thinker “points out that they put off the fear of God, but maintained a respectful attitude to the Deity. Some of them ridiculed the biblical doctrine of Creation, yet believed that the universe revealed a beautiful design which testified to the presence of a Supreme Being. Some Enlightenment thinkers turned from God to Nature, only to discover there the signs of an intelligence that turned them back to God again.”  Enlightenment philosophers made a god of reason.
In addition to the Enlightenment there were other movements that were also trying to break out of their traditional religion. For the Romantics, it was nature and the imagination that they idolized. The Nationalists worshiped the nation, considering it sacred, autonomous, indivisible without end or origin, the ground of being, the source of identity, the principle of humanity unity, a champion of the dispossessed and a cause worth dying for. The Modernists worshipped art and the humanist idolized humanity. However, in their attempt to declare “God dead” they end up falling short. According to Eagleton, not believing in God is a far more arduous affair than is generally imagined. God is not exactly dead, but he has turned his hinderparts to humanity, who can now sense his unbearable presence only in his ominous absence.
Recently, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey where it asks Americans whether they would be disappointed if a close family member married someone of a different race, country, political party or someone who doesn’t believe in God. The survey showed that less than 20% of Americans would be unhappy if a close family member married someone from the opposite political party and only 11% said they would be upset if that person was of a different race. Interestingly, 49% of Americans said they would be disappointed if their family member married an atheist. I wonder if the 49% believe in God, or have they disposed of God but find it morally and politically convenient, even imperative, to behave as though they have not. Is this another way of saying, privately, I don’t happen to believe myself, but it’s prudent that my family member (the masses) marries someone that does?