God is Dead, Again

On Sunday, January 9th, 1966, three days after the Feast of Epiphany, a story appeared in the New York Times, in the Religion section of the newspaper, in Section H, on page 146, under the title: “‘God is Dead’ Debate Widens.” The Times did not, as the Elton John song “Levon” suggests, declare the death of God:

“He was born a pauper
To a pawn on a Christmas day
When the New York Times
Said ‘God is dead’ and the war’s begun”

Elton John and Bernie Taupin, 1971, from the album “Madman Across the Water.” The B side of the “Levon” single was titled “Goodbye.”

What the Times did say, in the story’s opening paragraph, was:

“The clearest thing about the small but much-publicized ‘God is Dead’ movement in Protestant theology is its catchy, provocative title. After that, all is subtlety, the specialized technical language of the academy, professional abstruseness and lay bafflement.”

The same might be said of Global Warming, which this week the Times did declare is no longer maybe coming: it’s here. Again, the Times reporting. The story derives from the recent United Nations report published via its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The gist of the report is this:

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred….Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.”

It was the German philosopher Nietzsche (1844-1900) who most famously suggested “God is Dead.” From his “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”:

“When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that GOD IS DEAD!”…Woe unto all loving ones who have not an elevation which is above their pity!…Thus spake the devil unto me, once on a time: “Even God hath his hell: it is his love for man.”…And lately, did I hear him say these words: “God is dead: of his pity for man hath God died.”—…So be ye warned against pity: FROM THENCE there yet cometh unto men a heavy cloud! Verily, I understand weather-signs!

Nietzsche, like the Times, was merely reporting, and the following, from his “The Joyful Wisdom,” he attributed to a “madman”:

“The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him,—you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the 168sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction?—for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife,—who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves?”

Yet Nietzsche remained hopeful in “The Joyful Wisdom”:

“We philosophers and ‘free spirits’ feel ourselves irradiated as by a new dawn by the report that the “old God is dead”; our hearts overflow with gratitude, astonishment, presentiment and expectation. At last the horizon seems open once more, granting even that it is not bright; our ships can at last put out to sea in face of every danger; every hazard is again permitted to the discerner; the sea, our sea, again lies open before us; perhaps never before did such an ‘open sea’ exist.”

The UN report also ends with a hopeful note, that future climate change could be limited, that if we cut CO2 emissions, we will see:

“discernible differences in trends of global surface temperature would begin to emerge from natural variability within around 20 years, and over longer time periods for many other climatic impact-drivers (high confidence).

Perseverance

“Houston, we have a problem.” The now cliche hyperbolic understatement comes from the Apollo 13 mission to land on Earth’s moon in 1970. Part of the flight journal, dialog between astronauts Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell and Mission Control Houston can be read on Wiki:

055:55:19 Swigert: Okay, Houston…
055:55:19 Lovell: …Houston…
055:55:20 Swigert: …we’ve had a problem here.
055:55:28 Lousma: This is Houston. Say again, please.
055:55:35 Lovell: Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a Main B Bus Undervolt.

But they persevered, came up with a plan, called an audible, held on tight, and made it home to a grateful country. Last week, a seemingly ungrateful US senator from Texas, unaware, apparently, of other cliches of crisis, such as, “The Captain goes down with the ship,” and “Women and children first,” lit out for a Cancun resort hotel while his constituents back home faced freezing weather, loss of heat for their homes from frozen gas lines, and loss of electrical power for their homes from damaged equipment left exposed to extreme weather conditions, all while remaining lined up according to protocols made necessary by a limited supply of pandemic vaccine. The New York Times editorial board provided the lessons, though we might doubt if any lessons learned will be put to the test. What seems to persevere the most is political rhetoric aimed at scuttling the facts, the issues, what actually broke and why, in short, the truth. But while Texas was suffering from a statewide major “undervolt,” the third Mars rover, “Perseverance,” landed safely on Mars, close to 300 million miles away.

The irony of another space exploration achievement while the country’s infrastructure, education, medical, work, and political systems continue to spiral out of control, reminds us of the response from the classic news journalist Eric Sevareid, who, for one, was unimpressed with the promise of the first photographs promised of the dark side of the moon, many moons ago. From his short article, “The Dark Side of the Moon”:

“There is, after all, another side — a dark side — to the human spirit, too. Men have hardly begun to explore these regions; and it is going to be a very great pity if we advance upon the bright side of the moon with the dark side of ourselves, if the cargo in the first rockets to reach there consists of fear and chauvinism and suspicion. Surely we ought to have our credentials in order, our hands very clean and perhaps a prayer for forgiveness on our lips as we prepare to open the ancient vault of the shining moon.”

And we continue to advance, to persevere, to and fro, back and forth, a few steps forward, another few backward.