On some day in 1883 God died. How? Why? Nobody knows. It’s now largely considered a mystery for pre-teen detective stories. What we do know is that God’s death is our fault, or so proclaims Nietzsche like a street urchin newspaper boy.
But there are naysayers. People who claim to have seen the obituary years ago while clipping for coupons, so that the tombstone is nothing than a symbolic gesture for the masses stuffed in a stadium. What follows next is a logical backflip across the Grand Canyon: the powerful have always wielded religion like a scepter, never believing.
Is this true? Did King Alfred swat away God like a fruit fly, leaving the window open when he needed him to rally against the Danes? Did Constantine forget his cross as he dipped his sword in blood like Fun Dip or did greatness do it for Christ? Is both too much to ask?
We’re stuck with another binary decision and we have to pick one: wear it like a thrift store hat if only for the mirror and decide whether or not we can tolerate the notion that its previous owner may have scratched with lice. Either those who swayed the paths of nations believed or they didn’t.
21st Century enlightenment (a word more abused than dogs abandoned to Mississippi woods) makes it difficult to imagine a politician praising God and meaning anything more than an applause. Harder even to imagine a bishop placing his heart of hearts in transubstantiation, that it is the sticky blood of Jesus that clings to the corner of his mouth where lip cheese greets him each morning.
How can we imagine them believing? We’re indoctrinated into the skeptic-influencer market. Dawkins’ harangues sound like the bells from science’s steeple, calling all people to kneel in recognition that God was never alive in the first place.
Following the film roll the projector is turned back at the audience. And the past is washed with the deluge of the present: of course, simple folk were morons; you have to be dependent on the stink of the earth for your eyes to search the stars.
Lying beneath this notion like fish waiting for spring is first that intelligence inherits power. And I’ll take that as a fair-enough assumption. Sure, there are a few cases of the inept, the infertile, the delusional, whose names stain history like coffee rings. But I see no issue in accepting this first premise as a general rule.
Now we arrive at the second: that intelligence inadvertently sees through the God illusion. From A to B, from B to C. A syllogism brought down from an ivory Sinai. Brains built to manipulate don’t fall so easily for the omnipresent ghost that haunts the sheep from the shadows; aristocrats are just too goddamn smart. Powerful people must be in the know.
It’s as if…
A sage with a flowing beard white with wisdom descended the treacherous mountain pass. Arriving at a village square he proclaimed, “God is dead!”
Anxious, a priest and bishop approached and whispered, “Excuse me, can you shut up?”
“Don’t you hear me! God is dead!”
“Yes, we know. We killed him long ago.”
“That’s what I’m saying!”
“No, no. You misunderstood. We killed him.”
“You? You killed him!”
“We’ve got a good thing going here so can you please be quiet. We’ll be forced to burn you at the stake for heresy if you don’t stop acting like a lunatic. Or you can come inside. We have a poker game tonight. Actually, we have one every Thursday and you’re invited. The fire’s warm.”
So the sage played poker with his newfound brothers and lost what little silver he had saved, for he knew not how to deceive.
It all seems so conspiratorial.
Admittedly, there are absurdities that seem to self-evidently dismiss themselves like negative numbers multiplying. Catholicism is one that’s always presented culprits pale even before they’re hung: saints resembling hero cults; ritual performances artificial as courting; a mind-melting insistence on mathematical equations that require more faith than his humanly possible—three-in-one is one-in-three is two and two make five; requiring a giving-up as much as a giving-in. ‘Ah, these exist for power dynamics. To catalyze the faith of the people and keep them from all inquiry.’
What a grand conspiracy these doctrines point too! A masterful stroke of bewilderment that will ensure livestock never wonders what’s beyond the pen. “Come on, they were so obviously in the know! Who would trust such nonsense!”
And herein lies the second inherent premise, the scum that returns in summer. That intelligent people in power cannot live with contradiction, that they will summit the mountain and tear it down with nails and teeth until it no longer covers the sun’s truth. Because being comfortable with contradiction is the signal flare of lesser souls. It’s a notion that suggests the oldest philosophical fallacy of them: bullis shittis.
Is it so difficult for even the best among us to accept the absurd? To believe the fantastic like Newton huddled over his alchemy or a basement dweller massaging their messiah complex. No human escapes foolishness, as inevitable as old balls gracing toilet water like glaciers drifting towards the sea. My mother said poverty knows no race; and I say “stupidity” knows no class—or education. It’s wrapped around the code with the rest of the garbage.
Except for the rare pessimists sculpted from the same vein as Al-Maʿarri, I imagine the vast majority of the influential were true believers. Yes, there are countless cases of immorality, of crimes against profession. But people pull excuses from their hats like nomad magicians and trust that absolution will be enough to bribe their way into the pearly gates: it’s natural that most sinners think of themselves as innocents.
Did God die before Nietzsche? I doubt it.