Is God dead?
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - July 10, 2018 - 12:00am

On Good Friday, in April 1966, 52 years ago, Time magazine published its famous cover story, “Is God Dead?” The cover had bold red lettering against an all-black background. 

I was a young reporter when that cover story came out. Grappling with my personal troubles and aching to reach for God’s truth, I was shocked by that query. How dare that question: could indeed God be dead?

Time’s religion editor, John T. Elton, who wrote the article, attempted “to capture (America’s) shifting theological mood from John Lennon’s suggestion that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus among contemporary youth or with Timothy Leary’s imperative to ‘tune in, turn on, and drop out.’”

Time reports that Elton framed his story as a clarion of “the new atheism” of the 1960s, “a testimony to a cultural crisis of faith in which the very premise of a personal God was coming undone.” In the arts, for example, Saul Beckett’s “anti-heroes of modern art” made it plain that “waiting for God” was futile “since life is without meaning.” Elton wrote that the belief in the “eclipse of God” had penetrated Jewish philosophy after the lengthening shadow of the Holocaust, and the “politically indifferent’ atheism of Claude Levi-Strauss made the God issue seem “like little more than an irrelevance.”

Even at the grassroots level of American churchgoing, Elton wrote, there was cause for concern. Historian Martin Mary said that “all too many pews are  filled on Sunday with practical atheists – disguised non-believers during the rest of the week as if God did not exist.”

Most portentous of all, though was a “small band of radical theologians, self-described Christian atheists, who were quite sure ‘that God is indeed absolutely dead.’”

Elton’s article dwelled on one of three purveyors of death-of-God theology, Thomas J. J. Altizer, a celebrated spokesman for Christian atheism, a “prophetic sloganeer who very much capitalized on the existential urgency, anguish, and exhilaration of the moment.” He proclaimed that “God has died in our time in our history, in our existence,” and the collapse of traditional faith communities was “the inevitable correlate of that death.”

The death-of God provocateurs generated plenty of outrage, particularly from Bible-believing Protestants. Many of Altizer’s correspondents simply wanted to witness to him, to tell him about their own experiences of a living God, and to let him know salvation could yet be his as well.

I felt flabbergasted, pained and inconsolable that my God was dead. But all was not to be my teary experience. Frank Newport, Gallup editor-in-chief, reported that in more than a million Gallup interviews, respondents say that not only do a majority of Americans believe in God and say that religion is important – but that religion is intertwined in most aspects of their daily lives. “It’s entirely possible,” Newport argued, “that religion will be even more important in the years ahead.”

My looking back at the God Is Dead brouhaha was prompted by President Duterte’s remark that he would resign the presidency if someone showed him a selfie with God. 

For sure nobody could ever show in candid or deliberately posed pictures showing him/her beside God. We all have seen pictures and paintings of Jesus drawn by artists as white, Anglo-Saxon, bearded, with a halo above his head, wearing a white gown. We’ve seen Jesus asking men to put down their fishing nets and ploughs and follow him, of Him walking above the water, of Him lovingly cuddling children, seething mad over the conversion of the temple to a public tiangge, entering Jerusalem atop a donkey and people waving palm branches and singing, “Hosanna,” Jesus weeping at the sad moral state of Jerusalem, of His being crucified, of His appearance before Mary Magdalene on the third day of His burial, and His having the Last Supper with his disciples. But they are all pictures drawn by human artists who had not seen Jesus in the flesh. But the pictures we’ve carried in our hearts and minds like Gospel truth since we were at our mothers’ knees.

Non-believers do not admit the existence of God. Nor do they believe in the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures as they had been written by men, supposedly inspired by the Holy spirit. But archeological discoveries point to proofs of Jesus’ having lived as described in narratives in the Bible written very many years ago, and continue to be simplified for easy reading by biblical scholars, and held up by Roman Catholics and Protestants as the source of inspiration and contact with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. 

Many young adults are seized by a desire to see God. I recall that early morning in the 1950s when a plaintive cry was heard from the Silliman University ballfield. A bright and usually quiet pre-med student was seen kneeling in the grass, hands outreached, crying, “I want to see God.” His parents came the next day, took him home and to an institution for treatment. Years later, he was not only normal, but had become a well-respected church pastor who minister to sensitive young adults in their search for a meaningful relationship with God.

I myself caught that I -want-to-see-God fever, at age 18, entering the dark church at night, beginning to see God. The next day, I went to a theology professor and told her I wanted to be a deaconess – a Protestant woman minister. She said for me to wait for the summer session to finish and see if I still wanted to be enrolled in the university’s divinity school. Sixth sense, for true enough, by that time, my dream had its funeral, and I shifted from  home economics to English as my major. That’s how I eventually ended up a writer at the Manila Daily Bulletin, and now, The Philippine STAR. But I believe in God, the God my parents talked to me about, and who is my God up to the present time. It is this God that I love and fear, that I ask forgiveness for my failings, for hurting others, and who takes me back with open arms. It is this God of ages past that continues to exist, who is not dead. But who is alive. 

Proof of God’s dwelling in the human heart is the carrier’s living a life dedicated to goodness, compassion, respect, and love of others. I am hoping to live that kind of life.

Why is it that many of us believe in God, although we have not seen Him?

What is this thing we call faith that moves millions to step forward to accept Jesus as their savior, based on the preaching of evangelists and their reading of the Holy Scriptures?

Faith, we know by heart, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

*      *      *

Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com.

CHRISTIANITY TIME MAGAZINE
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