It was reading part of Michael Harrington’s book “The Politics at God’s Funeral: The Crisis of Western Civilization” (1983) that got me thinking about the provocative words used as the title of this article. (I am still reading, and increasingly impressed with, Harrington’s book.)
Come to find out, “God’s funeral” has been used several times in the past 100+ years. Between 1908 and 1910 the English poet Thomas Hardy wrote a 17-stanza poem with that title.
Hardy’s poem is introduced, and printed in full, in A. N. Wilson’s 1999 book titled “God’s Funeral: A Biography of Faith and Doubt in Western Civilization.”
In contrast to Hardy and Wilson, who were agnostics/atheists, David Tyler, a Baptist pastor and “biblical counselor,” has more recently written “God’s Funeral” (2009), a book which deals with psychology and “trading the sacred for the secular.”
Although I don’t know that he said anything about a funeral, perhaps the best known statement about God’s demise was made by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who declared “God is dead” in his 1882 book “The Gay Science” (with “gay” being the translation of the German fröhliche=cheerful, happy).
Actually, though, according to Harrington, “God’s death has been announced in every generation for about three hundred years” (p. 11).
Many of us remember that in 1966 Christian theologian Thomas Altizer penned a book titled “The Gospel of Christian Atheism.” And in April of that year Time magazine published a provocative issue with the cover having only the words “Is God Dead?” in bold red letters on a black background.
In my previous article I referred to a book by Harry Emerson Fosdick. Most of you know the story of Fosdick’s talk with a young man who came to confess that he could no longer believe in God.
The young man was a student at prestigious Columbia University, a short walk from Riverside Church, where Fosdick was the legendary pastor from 1925 to 1946.
Fosdick said, “Tell me about this God you don’t believe in.” After hearing the young man’s explanation, Fosdick remarked, “Well, son, I don’t believe in that God either!”
So perhaps God needs to be buried—at least some understandings of God, such as the God of imperial Christendom, the God of “manifest destiny,” the God of exploitative capitalism, and the God who supposedly sanctions male supremacy and who condemns all homoerotic activity (even between consenting adults).
But there are other, truer, concepts of God. And there are many who remain thoroughly convinced that there is a God who is certainly alive and well today.
For example, think about the current Pope, who reportedly has some fairly close ties to God. He seems to be in tune with a living God who is quite different from the dead God that Harrington wrote about.
Pope Francis appears to have considerable concern for God’s “preferential option for the poor,” a phrase that Harrington did not use, to my knowledge, but one he would have fully affirmed.
And now Pope Francis is also calling on the world to take action against global warming. And that pro-active position is based, of course, on his unwavering belief in the Creator God.
Even though it came out before this week’s Pew report on the serious decline of religion in America, an earlier article this week advised, “Don’t plan any funerals for religion just yet.” (The Baylor conference covered in that article referred to the worldwide situation, not just the 5% of the world’s population in the U.S.)
And it is also still far too early, and far too presumptuous, to be talking about God’s funeral.