Thomas Altizer died a week ago on Wednesday; he was 91. He was a theologian and philosopher well known for popularizing along with some other intellectuals Frederick Nietzsche’s view that “God is dead.”
In the wake of World War II after witnessing the brutality and cruelty of war many began to question the existence of a benevolent and loving God giving the idea popularized by Nietzsche some traction within intellectual circles. Altizer was a prolific proponent of the “God is dead” movement here in America. He called himself a “Christian atheist,” whatever that is.
It never ceases to amaze me that men want to blame God for what they do. We wage war on one another but God gets blamed for whatever happens. We blame God for things when we do not know whom to blame, or do not want to accept responsibility for what we have done.
Altizer was hated for his views.
Because Altizer was very outspoken about his views he was met with hostility wherever he appeared in America and usually this hostility originated from those who believed God is alive. Of course, Altizer was unapologetic saying, “I have offended many, and never regretted the offense that I gave.” He got a lot of death threats.
I do not understand the hostility that is expressed by believers towards others who believe as Altizer did, that God is dead. Our culture may give lipservice to God’s existence but it lives as if He is dead, so in a sense Nietzsche and Altizer are right, I suppose truth hurts.
Jesus did not answer hostility with more hostility.
Jesus never responded in kind when met with hostility. The Roman government was hostile to His teachings, and the religious leaders of His own people were jealous of Him and sought to destroy Him but he never responded to their attacks in anger. He responded honestly and directly; He called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, and told Pilate His kingdom was not of this world, but He spoke the truth in love.
The best response for those of us who believe God is alive, to those who believe He is dead or act like He is, is to speak “the truth in love,” Ephesians 4:15. That truth may not be welcome, but the best way to show God is alive to those who think He is dead is to show He still lives in us.
The debate over God’s existence will be with us til the end of this age.
I suppose the debate between believers and doubters of God’s existence will continue until Jesus returns, but I have said and still believe the greatest apologetic is a life well lived for Christ. We need to treat those who act as if God is dead with the same patience and understanding we would extend to a blind man that stepped on our foot.
Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44, and this is what led Paul to write “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:21.
Some may debate whether God is dead, but Thomas Altizer’s death is not debatable.