Is God Dead? First Thoughts (2 of 2)

The Renaissance:

“The Renaissance, which flowered first in Italy and spread to much of Western Europe east of the Pyrenees, saw a continuation of interest in the classical philosophy, mathematics, and natural sciences that late medieval scholars had begun to revive in the 12thcentury. The Renaissance added to this an interest in the aesthetics of the classical world, including architecture and letters. The revival of interest in all things classical, beginning in the 12th-century focus on philosophy and natural philosophy, owed much to the transmission of Greek and Roman culture through Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire) and through Islamic culture, and to the preservation of especially Greek philosophy (to include natural philosophy) in the Middle East and especially Central Asia. The reconquest of Sicily from Arab control in the early 11th century, and contact (both peaceful and bellicose) with the Umayyad caliphate in Spain, which had been captured by Islam in the 8th century and was eventually reconquered in 1492, were crucial to this.

“The Renaissance is associated with great figures like the father of the Latin revival Petrarch, the humanist philosopher Pico della Mirandola, the great artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, the poet Dante Alighieri, the artist Michelangelo, the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli and many other names doubtless familiar to most educated Europeans.” (From Slate, “What’s the Difference Between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment?”)

“During the 14th century, a cultural movement called humanism began to gain momentum in Italy. Among its many principles, humanism promoted the idea that man was the center of his own universe, and people should embrace human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science.

“In 1450, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press allowed for improved communication throughout Europe and for ideas to spread more quickly.” (From History, “Renaissance”.)

Christian apologist Francis A. Schaeffer often wrote about how evil the Renaissance was, in this fact only, the rise of Humanism denying the need of a God. It’s here the idea of the death of God found it’s oomph. Years ago I remember that the City of London went on a cleaning jag and began washing down all the buildings. Surprise of surprises they found so much color underneath centuries of dirt and ash that the city became beautiful again. The Renaissance was kind of like that. Centuries of stilted thinking gave way to a rebirth to the vibrant colors of thought.

The Enlightenment

If the Renaissance can be thought of as a rebirth of art, in the 17th Century, the 1600s came another rebirth, a philosophical rebirth and now began what we label the Enlightenment, or as some call it, the Age of Reason. From the internet site, History, we read this:

“The Enlightenment’s important 17th-century precursors included the Englishmen Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, the Frenchman Renee Descartes and the key natural philosophers of the Scientific Revolution, including Galileo, Kepler and Leibniz. Its roots are usually traced to 1680s England, where in the span of three years Isaac Newton published his “Principia Mathematica” (1686) and John Locke his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1689)—two works that provided the scientific, mathematical and philosophical toolkit for the Enlightenment’s major advances.

“Centered on the dialogues and publications of the French “philosophes” (Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Buffon and Diderot), the High Enlightenment might best be summed up by one historian’s summary of Voltaire’s “Philosophical Dictionary”: “a chaos of clear ideas.” Foremost among these was the notion that everything in the universe could be rationally demystified and cataloged. The signature publication of the period was Diderot’s “Encyclopédie” (1751-77), which brought together leading authors to produce an ambitious compilation of human knowledge.”

It’s now we get Friedrich Nietzsche and in 1883 his publication, Thus Spake Zaratustra and the Übermensch, the Overman, the Beyond-Man. What’s he beyond? He is the one who is willing to risk all for the sake of enhancement of humanity. In a book he began but died before finishing it, and published after his death by his sister, The Will To Power, we find this:

“That all the supreme values of mankind lack this will—that values which are symptomatic of decline, nihilistic values, are lording it under the holiest names.” Thus, traditional philosophy, religion, and morality have been so many masks a deficient will to power wears. The sustaining values of Western civilization have been sublimated products of decadence in that the ascetic ideal endorses existence as pain and suffering. (From Britannia.com.)

Woe is me, Nietzsche felt, everyone, everything is against me, especially Christianity, especially St. Paul who wants to dictate my life, take away my personal will to power. So we must kill the idea of God who prevents us from being this Übermensch.

Now, let’s don’t think that either the Renaissance or the Enlightenment was all about destroying religion, especially Christianity; leaders in both movements were Christian. But there certainly was a healthy chapter in both that now felt that they had secular answers to life’s questions without the need for a God, and certainly Charles Darwin was icing on the cake.

A lot of good things came out of both the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and Steven Pinker’s latest book, Enlightenment Now: The Case For Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, gives us ample cause for hope in what we’re trying to make into a hopeless life. But even Pinker wants to believe we did this without the need for a God. Good try, Pinker, but it didn’t really work. But he’s right, just not all the time for the right reasons.

Is God dead? Or is it that he (it) never existed?

Maybe in the future I’ll come back to this.