Orthodoxy in the death of God

As has been explained in generations of Phil 101 classes, Nietzsche’s “God is Dead” is not an ontological statement but an existential one, meaning that God no longer gives meaning to human life on a broad cultural scale. In other words, God is dead like disco is dead.

But if the death of God in this sense does not require atheism, then it has a possible theist or even religious expression, and so for something to be “dead” in the Nietzschean sense allows for it to get a new sort of relevance. Latin is a dead language and has been for centuries, but this is  precisely what allows it to be a sacred language. Gregorian chant is dead as an art form, but this is part of what makes it appropriate to the liturgy. Things become appropriate to the sacred realm by dying.

Something similar is true about the death of days of public fasting, episcopal and sacerdotal esteem, extravagant public mortifications, processions, etc. In response to their death, the bishops after Vatican II made all such practices purely voluntary and hoped this would lead to a bloom of experimentation with new forms of mortification and penance. While the devout are quick to notice that this was overly optimistic, those same devout haven’t done a great job keeping up their end of the deal. Part of this has been a remarkably low amount of episcopal energy in the last fifty years, which shows signs of reversing in the younger generation of priests that will form next generation’s episcopate. At any rate, this bloom in voluntary penance – whether done on one’s own or in penitential clubs like Exodus 90 – is what orthodoxy would look like after the death of God.


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