No, God is not dead

This post is in particular response to Patrick Mongeau’s recent post, “Is God Dead?”

by Ingrid Rodrick Beiler (b. 1981)

The title of Patrick’s post of course alludes to Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote, “God is dead,” which first appeared in print in 1882, one hundred and two years before Patrick was born. I will leave it to those better educated in philosophy than me to elaborate on the meaning of the quote. My point in citing its date of origination is simply to highlight that the idea of religion’s imminent disappearance is not new.

While I agree with Patrick that a large segment of our generation in the United States and the Western world has concluded that all faiths or religions are in essence the same, I think the prediction that these views will soon hold sway among everyone overlooks the diversity of our generation.

First, to my own experience with faith: While some Christian denominations are losing many of their young members, evangelical congregations and ministries tend to be very young. At my own church, I estimate that half or two-thirds of the members are in their thirties or younger. My previous church experiences have been similar—and these have been in Norway and Massachusetts, that is, solidly outside the Bible Belt. Moreover, evangelical denominations in general are experiencing growth in the United States and elsewhere. I state this not as an endorsement of everything evangelicalism represents, simply as evidence of a trend.

Second, to my experience with friends and acquaintances: Through a friend who is a French Muslim studying in DC, I have had the opportunity to attend some Muslim student events locally. Representing immigrants and native-born Americans, these students may interpret their religion in varying ways but continue to identify as distinctly Muslim. At least the ones I know personally also hold onto Islam as uniquely true rather than equal to all other faiths. In addition, as an ESL teacher who lives in a primarily Latino neighborhood, I meet many Catholics, young and old, who help to sustain their local congregations. Latinos are of course a growing demographic, who play a significant role in shaping American Catholicism.

So, in conclusion, I don’t think we have seen the last of religion defined by distinctive beliefs. While religious beliefs and institutions will continue to evolve in the 21st century, I don’t expect Nietzsche’s declaration to reach fulfillment in this century any more than it did in the last.

Ingrid Rodrick Beiler is an adult ESL teacher and M.A. TESOL student, who lives in Washington, DC. She is from Oslo, Norway, and Chelmsford, MA.

1 comment:

  1. Ingrid and Patrick -

    I really enjoyed reading both of these pieces. Strangely enough, I found aspects of both ringing true for me. I think there is something about our generation that embraces complexity more than ever, perhaps because the world we were born into is so different from the world we came of age in, in terms of technology, scientific knowledge, and connection to other cultures. We know that we don't know everything about the "known" world; why would we feel differently about the intangible, the mystical, the world of faith? Perhaps because of this, we are more willing than past generations to look for commonality among cultures and faiths and to recognize truth in all of them.

    But at the same time, Ingrid, I think you're right that we're not about to give up our unique communities and traditions and experiences despite learning more about, and seeing ourselves reflected in, others - especially when we think in terms of the experiences of immigrants and other non-white communities. It's a reminder that "our generation," and even "our generation in America" isn't able to be defined easily because, while we may have commonality by way of our millennial upbringing, we're also influenced by the many cultures and faith traditions we have been a part of.

    Patrick, I think your vision of peace raining down from on high as differences dissolve is a really beautiful one, but I think it would be even more beautiful for peace to be constructed at the hands of our generation while difference is honored and celebrated. Perhaps our generation's embrace of complexity puts us in a unique position to work toward this vision?

    Thanks for the thought-provoking writing...