Have You Seen This Dead God?

Lately it seems I cannot turn around without coming across the dead God.  I have been reading Zizek again and instead of simply being playfully amused by his counter-intuitive insights I have begun to see more clearly his hegelian reading of the Trinity.  God empties himself into Jesus and is split, de-centered from himself.  And dies.  The God of ‘beyond’ which can and does ground every ideology is emptied and the space of struggle, the Holy Spirit, is opened in this death.  Traditional theology will tend to keep God the Father above and beyond pulling the strings and maintaining order.  It is precisely that God that must be emptied into Jesus die for the purpose of salvation.

Man is eccentric with regard to God, but God himself is eccentric with regard to his own ground, the abyss of Godhead. . . . Christ’s death on the Cross thus means that we should immediately ditch the notion of God as a transcendent caretaker who guarantees the happy outcome of our acts, the guarantee of historical teleology – Christ’s death on the Cross is the death of this God, it repeats Job’s stance, it refuses any ‘deeper meaning’ that obfuscates the brutal reality of historical catastrophes. – The Monstrosity of Christ

I also recently finished reading Ronald Osborn’s Anarchy and Apocalypse.  This is a relatively conservative appeal to the biblical resources of non-violence set within particular contemporary settings.  However, here the dead God surfaces in the form of post-holocaust Jewish thought, namely that of Elie Wiesel.  Wiesel sees God as the young child hung from his neck, dying and almost dead.  This becomes the straightforward,

ethical as well as a religious imperative: if we are to remain human we must refuse passivity, ease, complacency, and fight for the justice which God, in His captivity, in the time of His banishment, cannot bestow. – Anarchy and Apocalypse

And all the reminded me of an old post I wrote reflecting on Kierkegaard’s test for true love which is to love someone dead.  The dead is the absolute relationship.  If the relationship of love changes it must be because of you, the variable element (no blaming the dead for not understanding you).  To love one dead is love a non-being.

In order properly to test whether or not love is faithful, one eliminates everything whereby the object could in some way aid him in being faithful.  But all this is absent in the relationship to one who is dead, one who is not an actual object.  If love still abides, it is most faithful. – Works of Love

What is going on here?  Will a decade, more or less, pass after which we will look back at these silly caricatures of theology?  Or are these accounts already reflections and indictments of an already over-caricatured and debased theology and ecclesiology?  I would like to call this theme humanist in its apparent rejection of God but that does quite do it justice.  Death is something other than human or perhaps fully human; something that modern humanism (as I have encountered it) does quite seem to grasp.  Also these accounts remain in many ways thoroughly theological.  They are dealing with the dead God not with God as an illusion.  It is this possible realism in theology that I find intriguing and potentially attractive.

And for your listening pleasure he is Gash’s 1986 God is Dead


6 comments on “Have You Seen This Dead God?

  1. Tony Hunt says:

    I’ve not read enough on the “death of God”, christological or otherwise, to have a full view from which to critique it, but I’ve always been taught that by virtue of the Resurrection, God in Christ defeats death, not succumbs to it for salvation’s sake.

  2. Thanks Tony. It has been interesting to find myself surrounded with a variety of these articulations. It is possible to subsume this all under ‘Holy Saturday’ and keep everything on the Orthodox. This is essentially what I see Osborn doing. But that sort of thinking comes in direct opposition to what Zizek appears to be doing. While I find his project helpful on the level of critique I also run up against a sort of fatalism here. The trajectory is such that humanity is now equipped for the work of liberation (salvation) but I still believe in the non-human encounter that individuals might have with the living God. I do not believe humans are the only medium for God. Nonetheless at this point I still feel bound to better understand this thinking as many of its critiques are in fact valid.
    Much of my commitment to exploring this comes actually from a high view of the Bible. I am constantly amazed at the manner in which internal biblical witnesses overturn dominant conceptions and expressions of God. Though the question and life and death still remains.

  3. Jeremy says:


    I think the resurrection of God is not something that death of God theologians neglect, but rather they read it differently. I know Altizer reads resurrection as the negation of the negation, which ultimately leads to the Word being immanent in the community. In Hegelian terms the resurrection is the bond of the community formed it response to the event, i.e. Holy Spirit.

    I’ve done a thorough summary of Altizer’s work Genesis and Apocalypse. You can read more about Altizer’s thoughts on resurrection here: http://jridenour.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/genesis-and-apocalypse-%E2%80%93-chapter-5/


    I would suggest reading two articles from the latest IJZS. One article is by Lynch which puts Zizek in conversation with liberation theology. The other article I’d suggest is Karlsen’s work on the suffering God and Zizek’s reading of Chesterton. He makes some comments regarding Moltmann and Bonhoeffer.

    However, there is a difference between what Moltmann or someone like Caputo is doing with his post-metaphysical theology. They both talk about a death of God, but this critique is generally directed toward a certain metaphysical God (e.g. the impassible God for Moltmann). However, someone like Zizek and Altizer are more lofty and metaphysical in targeting the death of God which is thoroughly Christocentric and incarnational.

  4. Thanks Jeremy,

    As it has been playing out in recent blog debates the sense in which God/Holy Spirit is imminent within the community continues to be a contentious one. It appears to be worth the work to gain a better understanding of where and how I position myself within this conversation. The ongoing paradox (or dialectic) I keep running into in my mind is the extent to which Zizek (et al?) appear to be elevating humanity but also leveling it (which I guess is also the kierkegaardian dialectic of incarnation). More work to be done I suppose . . .

  5. Jeremy says:

    I think the tension between elevating and leveling humanity is crucial.

    I think Zizek is offering something different from liberal theologians who tend to very utopian and humanistic when it comes to discussing the construction of the Kingdom of God on earth. Zizek is here much less idealistic. He discusses Lacan’s practical anti-humanism here: http://www.lacan.com/zizrobes.htm

    Simultaneously Zizek is very intent that humanity grows up and takes responsibility for itself no longer relying on any sort of Big Other for support.

  6. Tony Hunt says:

    Thanks for the link Jeremy. I had gathered that this was pretty much Zizek’s take as well. I’ve heard him explicitly connect death/spirit/community.

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