What’s God Got to Do With It?
by ANDREW LEVINE
Not long ago, it was widely assumed that faith in God is no longer an authentic motivator in modern politics, and that sectarian strife, despite its religious veneer, has more to do with class struggle or anti-imperialist resistance — or “subversion,” as Cold Warriors used to say — than religious conviction.
Of course, everyone understood that there were benighted quarters where news of the death of God, as Nietzsche called it, had yet to penetrate. And it was plain that some people still deceived themselves into thinking that the Almighty took an interest in their affairs. For them, religion sometimes operated as an inauthentic motivator.
But the idea that the Creator of all there is would care about the political affairs of particular Homo sapiens, that He (always a He!) would favor some members of our paltry species over others, seemed too preposterous to take seriously.
Maybe it was different when our world was still the center of the universe, or when our sun was. Then the likelihood that a perfect Being would take sides in our political struggles might only have seemed wildly implausible to anyone not blinded by faith.
But now that everyone this side of home school knows that we, along with countless other species, evolved out of primal muck, and that our planet is an insignificant speck in a universe too vast for human comprehension, a universe that may itself be only one of many, perhaps infinitely many, others, “wildly implausible” seems far too generous.
Far be it for me to defend traditional religion, but I fear that the atheist attack on (theistic) religion is as big a failure as the religion it attacks. The flaw was visible in the rants of Nietzsche, whose treatment of Xtianity became mere stridency, and whose scholarship (especially on the Jews) was flawed. But there are more recent problems visible in the attempts to erase religion. It is misunderstood by its proponents who have had a measure of success because their ‘atheism’ is a de facto exposure of ‘theistic idolatry’, a circumstance ironically resembling the attack of the ‘monotheists’ on pagan idolatry. But the attack on the ‘idolatry’ of ‘god’ is not realized ultimately by atheism, of the current brand, which is incoherent, due to its attack on things it can’t define, and its gross side effects in the multiple fallacies of expanding the argument to religion in general. Given the shallowness of humanism, the weaknesses of religion seem almost irrelevant.
In any case, we can deride the false that finds god in one’s garden, politics, or culture, the fact remains that we can confirm, to our own thought, the reality of a ‘higher power’ in human history. To use the term ‘god’ here was something the first prophets, who sensed this higher power, were wary of calling ‘god’, as they warned against the use of god language. The issues come full circle in the ‘atheist’ critique of the ‘idolatry’ of god talk.