John Caputo says, “Every time someone announces the death of God, something funny happens on the way to the funeral.” In other words, as soon as one God dies, another is resurrected to take his place. For many of us, we’ve experienced the death of the fundamentalist God of our upbringing, this murderous, oppressive, pedantic deity who is obsessed with rules and brutally punishes people for running afoul of him. That God is dead for many of us and another God has risen to take his place. And for many of us we’re trying to figure out who this deity is and we probably always will be.
For me, this is the quintessential Christian experience, the experience of the death and resurrection of God. My last post talked about how the crucifixion signified the death of the classic God of religion. The tearing of the temple curtain at Jesus’ death represented the tearing down of this sacred space and the thereby the tearing down of a particular religious way of thinking about God. Therefore, the resurrection is about the resurrection of a new God or a new understanding of God who isn’t found in a temple somewhere or locked away in a particular set of religious rituals/traditions/beliefs, but he’s out here among us, a God who is found in the midst of life itself, a God who is found in the simple act of love itself, a God who is found among the suffering and those abandoned by God.
So for me, Christianity is about this radical idea that some Gods need to die so that others may be resurrected or birthed into the world. And this is an idea that we find at the heart of the human condition. A perfect example of this can be seen in our culture today and how so many people say, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” For these people, the classic God of organized religion is dead but another God has taken his place. A lot of these people would say, “I hate organized religion and I don’t believe in the God I was raised on but I still think of myself as a spiritual person. I still believe in a higher power and I still find transcendence in things like yoga and meditation, surfing, hiking, volunteering, or whatever.”
For a lot of people in our culture, one God has died and another has been resurrected to take his place and this is because we humans are intrinsically spiritual and religious creatures. And by that I don’t mean that we intrinsically love churches or religious rituals per say, but I mean that we all look for things that provide with a sense of depth, transcendence, and like we’re a part of something much bigger than ourselves. When we find something that provides that, we create rituals and traditions around it.
I know someone who is a pretty hardcore atheist. He posts stuff on Facebook every week about how much he hates religion and how stupid he thinks the notion of God is. I don’t know the details of what happened to him. All I know is that he grew up Jewish and he was really hurt by people in his community. He has become the kind of militant atheist that can only be compared to a religious fundamentalist, ironically the very thing he hates. He is exactly like the most fundamentalist Christian who needs to tell everybody why his ideas about God are right and everyone else is wrong. And if you disagree with him, he’ll tell you that you’re not just wrong but you’re probably a bad person. He derives the exact same sense of certainty, satisfaction, mastery, and superiority from his beliefs/ convictions as any religious fundamentalist. It’s obvious that being an atheist is major part of his life and identity. Here we see how atheism itself can be a kind of religion. He’s a great example of how when one God dies another is resurrected in his place even if it’s the “God” of atheism.
He’s also really invested in taking care of animals, mostly dogs. In fact, every Sunday morning he spends hours at a dog shelter taking care of them. I think he even jokes that it’s kind of his church. He derives so much joy and meaning from it that he posts multiple pics on Facebook every Sunday of him with the dogs. He and his wife are actually building a house out in the middle of the Utah desert next to an animal sanctuary so they can spend even more time and energy taking care of dogs. An absolutely wonderful idea, but make no mistake about it, it’s a kind of religion for him. Tillich says that God is essentially a symbol for what is of “Ultimate Concern” for us, that which we affirm as valuable and meaningful without reservation. This should make us all sit back and wonder what Gods we really believe in.
Many times people ask me at church, “Is all this deconstruction and critique of religion just leading us to atheism and/or secular humanism?” And I think for some people it very well might, but if it does, make no mistake about it, they’re not leaving religion behind, they’re simply exchanging one religion for another. My hope is that what we do in the church and the kind of religion we practice, is deeply affirming of God – deeply affirming of a kind of God that brings us into touch with each other and a sense of awe and wonder for life.
The fact is, we’re going to be religious whether we go to church or not. My hope is that the church works for people because I think Christianity is uniquely healing, redemptive, and capable of plumbing the depths of the human condition. My hope is that doing spiritual community, the act of gathering with family and friends to share in ancient practices and traditions, is a source of life and depth for us. My hope is that our practices and traditions are a language of the soul for us. My hope is that they move us to positive political and social action.
My church (Central Avenue Church) is a great example of death and resurrection. Central began as a Southern Baptist church that was planted in 1959. It essentially died in 2010 and was resurrected into what it is today – a non denominational church of misfits and heretics that still identify as Christians but who have redefined that as a certain way of living in the world rather than a particular way of believing. If this isn’t resurrection, I don’t know what is. Central is proof that when one God (and his church) dies, another is resurrected.