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God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?

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What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after usfor the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard.


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This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars and yet they have done it themselves. It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?

New York: Vintage, , pp. Thomas Altizer, another death-of-God theologian featured in the story, believes the same story today would have a far more muted reaction. The question had been brewing for a few years among Hamilton and Altizer and their colleagues, notably Paul van Buren and Gabriel Vahanian.

If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything

Hamilton and Vahanian both died in ; van Buren in The article was far more nuanced than the cover might suggest, but Hamilton and Altizer were not hedging in their views. The idea was not the same as disbelief: God was real and had existed, they said, but had become dead. To Hamilton, the Death of God was largely an ethical problem. Jesus Christ was a better model than God for the work that needed to be done by man, of which there was a lot—particularly, for him, within the civil rights movement.

Altizer took that idea a step further: Jesus Christ had to die in order for the resurrection to happen all those Easters ago, and likewise God had to die in order for the apocalypse to take place. The civil rights movement was just one of many real-world events that made the question seem apt. After years spent battling evil abroad, American Christians watched as Godless communism drew its sinister curtain across the world.

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And at home, with its million daily inhumanities, their own nation oppressed citizens due to the color of their skin. And yet, even as Americans belief in God declines, religion retains a powerful hold. Its presence is felt throughout politics, education and pop culture. And the two sides of this story are not unconnected.

Religion can no longer be assumed, goes one theory, and thus it doth protest. The death-of-God theologians do not argue merely that Christianity's traditional "image" of the Creator is obsolete. They say that it is no longer possible to think about or believe in a transcendent God who acts in human history, and that Christianity will have to survive, if at all, without him.

Essentials

Altizer notes that this new kind of Godless Christianity is a uniquely American phenomenon, although it acknowledges an intellectual debt to certain European thinkers, religious as well as secular. And they follow closely in the footsteps of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Nazi German martyr of World War II whose prison-cell writings speak of the need for the church to develop a "nonreligious interpretation of Biblical concepts," and of a secular world "come of age" that no longer finds God necessary as a hypothesis to explain the sun and stars or as an answer to man's anxiety.

The proclamation of God's death is only the negative starting point of this new radical theology. In various ways, these theologians are trying to redefine other tenets of a Christianity without a Creator.