Chesterton on the Atheism of God on Good Friday [QUOTE]


When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.

–from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, as quoted by philosopher  Slavoj Zisek, in this article on “German Idealism & Christianity, from Hegel to Chesterton”.

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14 thoughts on “Chesterton on the Atheism of God on Good Friday [QUOTE]

  1. Right. Because Chesterton clearly studied all the other gods out there before he came to Christianity. With 3700+ conceptions to choose from, of course the Christian one is unique. How could it not be..

    *clicks away to read the Muslim friend on my wall who appears to be arguing precisely the same thing*

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    • Again, I always find it frustrating how you often take something of such mystery, depth, and complexity and force it into such reductionistic categories. He’s not giving an anthropology lecture. And I doubt, even if he had studied all of those other deities and Jesus really was unique, that you’d take this quote with any more seriousness than you did.

      Yeah, call it naive, but Jesus is utterly unique. Yes, there are aspects and shadows of parts of who he was and what he did that are represented in other various global deities (incarnation, virgin birth, resurrection, etc.), but only in Him do you find that culmination of that totality to which other stories only partially hint and suggest. Secondly, I don’t have to reject the totality of theological truths presented by other faiths. Being a Christian simply means I think the fullest, clearest, and most effectual revelation of God was in Jesus.

      “I’m a Christian not because of the resurrection (I wrestle with this), and not because I think Christianity contains more truth than other religions (I think God reveals himself, or herself, in many forms, some not religious), and not simply because it was the religion in which I was raised (this has been a high barrier). I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness, cries out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (I know, I know: he was quoting the Psalms, and who quotes a poem when being tortured? The words aren’t the point. The point is that God is with us, not beyond us, in suffering.)”
      –Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer; 

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      • Of course Jesus is unique. He’s unique in the same sense that Buddha is unique, that Zoroaster is unique, that Sathya Sai Baba and Appollonious of Tyana are unique, that George R.R. Martin’s and Terry Goodkind’s canonical characters are unique. All religions, fantasies and mythologies have differences. That’s the point. That’s why Christianity is not called Judaism and why Tibetan Buddhism is not called Shingon. But there’s a sharp distinction to be made between finding wisdom, inspiration and solace from fantasy and not forgetting that it’s fantasy.

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        • Let me try something different: I’ll give you three attempts to articulate how that profoundly misses the point and vastly over simplifies history, Philosophy, and theology. If you can’t, then answer this: How do you think I’d respond to that?

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            • No, my complaint is you want to take the dominating worldview over most peoples in most classes of society within the greatest diversity of ethnicities in the entire modern era and haphazardly write it off by saying it deserves no more attention, respect, or viability as a fantasy novel or fairy tale.

              I think Christianity has (historically, at least) earned the right to have you speak to IT specifically rather than simply writing off or flattening away its differences with other worldviews/faiths/philosophies.

              But I think your comments (again) flatten, over-simply, and hyper-reduce everything. It’s easy to mock something you’ve conflated with any number of other things that don’t do respect to the complexity of reality and thought. Modern Science = bloodiest human century? Atheism = Nazism and Communism? Ever heard those? (I know you have.) Those are wrong over-simplifications and conflations that people have used to write off Science and Atheism far too easily and naively. I think your “Christianity is just one more fairy tale among many” does the same thing.

              Here are some things I’d LOVE for you to comment on regarding this quote:

              Do you want to comment on the theological view that even the human capacity for Atheism is experienced by the divine? Do you think that the specific idea altogether is BS? If so, how do you see the rise of the idea of divine dereliction (historical theological development? Does it have antecedents in other first century religious categories?)

              Did you grow up thinking of it in that way? Does it make you feel ANY sort of closer kinship to Christians? Does it represent for you a POSSIBILITY for greater grace and camaraderie between the two camps and yet you lament that Christians are often too stubborn and closed-minded to see it? If it WERE true, would you find this idea beautiful and hopeful, or unnecessary, confusing, and offensive? I’d love your thoughts on those things.

              Or, God forbid, you could perhaps have some QUESTIONS about this idea or doctrine.

              And no, having an opinion and preference as to the type of comment engagement that respects the worldviews involved; gets people genuinely talking, sharing and connecting; and moves the conversation forward is not censorship. Say what you want. I won’t delete your comments.

              But just know that when do you do stuff like that I tend to write these WAY too long responses!!!!! And I don’t appreciate it! 🙂

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            • And yet, I didn’t say any of those things. I’m not “writing anything off”. I don’t write off the Christian faith (you clearly know precious litle about me to even hint at that). Nor do I conflate Christian mythology with all other mythology and fantasy into one big fictive pie. It seems you missed the part where I said the differences are *important*. I respect all of it, in different ways and on different levels. I find some aspects of the broad marketplace of Christian worldviews compelling and beautiful; I find some of them obscene and despicable; and I acknowledge the tapestry of eccentricities in between.

              As you know from our earlier discussions, including my and your posts on this very site, I see a good dose of continuity in the mythological lenses of the worlds of the Greco-Roman and ANE with the 1st century gospel writings (both canonical and noncanonical). I, along with hundreds of other scholars, find the continuity is too strong to write off. once again, continuity doesn’t mean equivalence, and that doesn’t mean the Jesus figure and stories are unimportant. They are VASTLY important, which is, um, why I spend so much time studying and talking about these topics.

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            • My turn: I doubt you’ve waded too deeply into the waters of other religions. Suppose one day you were to come across a religion whose conception of God you found more compelling than the one you presently profess? Would you deconvert from Christianity and adopt the new faith?

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  2. Crap. I’ve reached the limit that I can “reply” to your comment. Don’t know if you’ll get a notice about this.

    Again, still, you’re not speaking to the content of the quote, but whatevs. Also, number one rule of communicating your thoughts in public: the audience determines your meaning more than your own good intentions. Yes, a plain reading of your first comment is that Chesterton’s soaring statement of Jesus’ uniqueness is absurd because *everybody* thinks their own God is unique, and how could he even know that unless he’d studied them all. Kinda like the old bumper sticker: “you are unique. Just like EVERYONE else.” (Implying: “is it really all that unique?”). Your second comment, quite literally, was that one’s own assertion of uniqueness isn’t important anyway because not only does EVERYONE think their god is unique, but they’re all (equally) fantasy anyway!

    So yeah, a plan reading of what you said leads one to conclude that you (at least rhetorically, if not literally) simply lump the God of Christianity in with everything from the Buddha to Appolonyus to a deity in fantasy novels.

    And you’re really not going to engage in ANY of the themes I laid out for you? Why must all our exchanges devolve into you accusing me of just “misrepresenting you”, all while never actually connecting or engaging? Maybe we just speak and think differently about things. That’s okay. I try not to make a big deal if I think you’re not “getting” me. I just move on and attempt to restate it more clearly another time.

    As for your last comment. I have read much of the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, and even the sayings of Confucius, as well as taking your generic world religion course in college. But yeah, that doesn’t even scratch the surface of religious belief in history and the world. I get that. But I don’t see being a Christian simply as having neutrally looked at a bunch of otherwise-equal options and saying “I think I like this one.” It’s not about what I’m “wired for” or “think matches my values” or what is simply “compelling”. I’ve used that phrase a lot with you, so I get why you use it. But still, it’s much bigger than that.

    The first thing is, I think the Resurrection actually happened in history and I think the evidence is there for it. Secondly, as the quote above attests, I think Christianity is big enough and flexible enough to contain the fullness of human preference and experience. It appeals to all ethnicities, classes, education levels, and personalities. And so, I can’t conceive of a personal or ideological change I could make that couldn’t find SOME expression within Christian faith–even an experience of the absolute absence and loss of God.

    The last piece is that I don’t trust my own intuition enough to be able to figure out this “God thing” alone. It wouldn’t simply be about what I as an individual find “compelling”. That can change all the time in different parts of my life. I would always be doubting myself. And so, in a social darwinist sense, I’d only join a religion that had “survived” through a long history within varied cultures and social settings and has still flourished in spite of the attacks it has faced. So if you can find me a similarly all-encompassing religion that is rooted in historical events with clear cosmic implications that has been able to make the jump form its tribal, primitive beginnings into every type of person and society–and still largely maintained its original form, then yes, I’d give it a serious look for you.

    And when you coming to Philly!?

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    • Maybe sometime toward the close of July 🙂

      To your comment: I distinctly remember pressing you on the primary criteria on why you identify as Christian and you used the word ‘compelling’ ad nauseum. Go back and read our exchanges last year; you said very little about evidence and a whole lot about “the feels” 😉 Which brings us to this:

      “The first thing is, I think the Resurrection actually happened in history and I think the evidence is there for it.”

      If you think there is sufficient historical evidence for the resurrection (i.e., not just because you *wish* it to be true), then this puts you in a rather hairy predicament, as I’ve put to you countless times previously.

      If you accept the resurrection, you should also accept the divinity of Sathya Sai Baba. (I’ve already unpacked this one so won’t repeat here.) If you accept the resurrection, you should also accept the otherworldy nature of Genghis Khan. If you accept the resurrection, you should also accept the divinity of a laundry list of mystical gurus who were mythologized *in their own lifetimes*.

      If you accept the resurrection, you should also be a Roswell truther. In just 30 years, an entire narrative was created around a flying saucer, a crash and recovered debris, all of which was quickly adopted by pop culture. All in the 20th century West no less. Blah blah blah.

      If you accept the resurrection, you should also accept the paranormal claims involved in the Salem Witch Trials. Investigators held trial, evidence was gathered, eyewitnesses were carefully cross-examined, the proceedings were painstakingly documented with THOUSANDS of sworn affidavits, court documents, interviews. Several women confessed to the crimes of magic they were being accused of; 19 women were sentenced and executed. So unlike the resurrection account, we actually have eyewitness data contemporary with the events under scrutiny. If you reject the paranormal happenings at Salem, then you *should* disbelieve the resurrection.

      More here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VL5phbQpVEg

      No time for mincing words: Based on modern standards of historical inquiry, we have better evidence for the alleged supernatural phenomena of the Salem Witch Trials than we have for the resurrection. If you don’t accept that there were witches in Salem, you shouldn’t accept the resurrection.

      All of this is to say, feel free to pick and choose, but don’t pretend the resurrection is based on solid evidence that any dispassionate observer should accept. Admit that you take this belief on faith and be done with it. It is a faith-based belief, not an evidence-based one.

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  3. Dang it, I was hoping that be it, but I think this is an easy, short one.

    I have no objection to the supernatural stuff happening at Salem, nor any other supernatural happenings within other faiths and with gurus, etc. I do believe in a spiritual realm. I know the other hypotheses about Salem, including something having to do with their wheat and such, and if more evidence comes that plausibly makes that case, then I’ll accept it. I’m not married to it either way.

    Now, my own theological views on the specifics of that spiritual realm probably differ greatly from the majority Christian view, but nonetheless, I don’t think the stuff Jesus did is the only time the supernatural has been experienced in this world. And the Bible is clear that supernatural things (even good things like healings, prophecy, and exorcism) are to be expected from people outside of God’s people. Further, often times, when those people do those things, the Bible says on several occasions that it is still the Holy Spirit doing it through them! Even when they’re not from the People of God!

    So yeah, crazy stuff goes down in this world all the time, and not just for Christians. That doesn’t make those gurus into the fullness of the revelation of God to humanity. Nor does it make those gurus themselves divine. Nor has it ever meant that these people are to have entire global populations building their entire existences around them.

    And I also fully accept the historical reality of those individuals having claimed divine status and others believing it. But (1) they did not conquer the largest looming force in the world–death (and even if there are tales of them doing so at certain points, they still eventually died anyway). (2) Their claims of divinity did not come together to form an entire worldview that spoke to the diversity of human experience and life. It was simply “give me more prestige”. And (3) any cult that formed around them at the time, died long ago when it was apparent that after their death they could nothing more for their followers.

    Roswell? Really? What blog did you get that comparison off of? Becoming a Pop Culture Meme is hardly a principle of evaluating transcendant universal truths. And once more, this did not form an entire worldview, it was simply one odd event people tried to explain. My point is not that you claimed this for Roswell, but that that’s the difference. If Jesus wasn’t raised and some wish-fulfilling “narrative” got embedded in “pop culture” of the 1st century, it would have died out long ago, just as the Roswell story has already mostly died out (there was a phenomenal book on Area 51 that came out a year or two ago that, in my mind, settled the questions for me). My point is that is entire sociological movements lasting thousands of years and based on otherwise-verifiable eye-witness historical events, and that people build their entire lives and existences around, simply don’t come up from the equivalent of an “ancient Roswell story”. You can do better than that.

    And lastly, yeah, I do love that word “compelling. But I guess I appeal to that more when directly comparing worldviews (like yours and mine). It’s not necessarily the main reason I am a Christian. Well, actually, it’s an interplay between the reality of the Resurrection historically and how it compellingly manifests itself in the world and my life even now. Eh? How do you like THAT answer! 🙂

    Okay, off to a Good Friday service, good sir.

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    • !!! Did you just say you accept the paranormalities at Salem?! Boy you are an unusual type of Christian, aren’t you. The more Christians I talk to the more disagreement I find among them; every Christian believes something different. I’ve heard some fantastical things over the years from Christians (much of it bordering on broken sanity), but this is a first. Hey, at least you’re consistent. Though I would propose starting your own denomination.

      OK so there was a lot of meandering in your last comment but I’ll see if I can gather together some specific responses.

      “So yeah, crazy stuff goes down in this world all the time, and not just for Christians.”

      Oh? Miracles, you say? I’m sure every scientist, historian and, hell, every living academic would be interested in such events. Which is why we study things that puzzle us. So we can better understand the phenomena in question. Assuming that such phenomena point a straight line to your god of the week is of course preposterous.

      As to your points 1-3, is lasting power your favorite criterion? Oh, certainly that couldn’t have anything to do with Christianization, imperialism, settler colonialism. Such accidents of history are as certain as the tides. Fast forward a century from today: perhaps Christianity is but a distant memory and Islam, Jainism or one of the other 4200+ religions is ascendant. Time to switch allegiances, eh?

      “Roswell? Really? What blog did you get that comparison off of? Becoming a Pop Culture Meme is hardly a principle of evaluating transcendant universal truths.”

      Right. Because what you have to say comes from scholarship and what everyone else has to say must come from “blogs”. As before, the point zipped right over head. The cultural distance separating Iron Age Greco-Romana and the Western 20th century has allowed for acute social and intellectual movement. Even among scientifically minded, skeptically disposed Western societies you will find not a shortage of superstitious and wide-eyed gullibility, but a surplus. Roswell is just one example. Given this gap, how much more likely were superstitious beliefs to not only emerge but take root in a prescientific, illiterate backwater of the Middle East? Especially, ESPECIALLY, ESPECIALLY when the notion of a ‘divine human’ was as prevalent as it was in the era of the historical Jesus (please do note the emphasis).

      The apotheosis of a person was already embedded within Greco-Roman culture. The emperors were accorded divine status and were assumed to dwell with the gods on death. Cults were organized around worship of the emperor and his predecessors. The ground was well prepared within the culture for the traceable mythology found in the gospels (canonical and non; it was rampant in that era).

      Most historians that I’ve spoken with and read find belief in the resurrection preposterous when approached from the perspective of historical inquiry. Again, this is a faith-based belief, which is fine, so long as you don’t pretend you are vindicated by historical evidence.

      [P.S. This is a good articulation of the dilemma facing most skeptic, esp. those who are former Christians:

      http://confessionsofadoubtingthomas.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-historical-jesus-spectrum.html%5D

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