They say God is dead. For the majority of Western Europeans and the most highly educated around the world, this is true. It is much truer than when Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that "God is dead", and even truer than when Hegel wrote the same thing decades earlier. Even evangelical Christians in America have become just another interest group among many to be polled, probed and placated by political candidates, however influential a group they remain.
The death of God has been greeted with delight by generations since World War II, who see in it a liberation of man from other-wordly concerns so that he is free to focus on the improvement of the here and now. The promotion of the secular over the sacred has certainly been one reason for the remarkable success of western civilization and the achievements of natural science. Yet the victory of science over God has been accompanied by an arrogant and self-satisfied smugness which seems entirely inappropriate to what has transpired.
I am entirely a product of the historical circumstances that dealt the deathblow to God, and I can be no other; I cannot maintain a belief in a Supreme Being even if I try. I am not here to convert you. I am here to tell you that in gaining one world, we have lost another, and our thoughts on the situation perhaps ought to extend slightly beyond self-satisfaction. This becomes apparent when you realize that science and religion are not even by definition mutual antagonists or exclusive of one another. It is a misunderstanding to think that we have disproven the idea of God, when in fact all we have done is convince ourselves of His irrelevance.
God was "discovered" by man through the faculty of thought and destroyed by the same method; the question of evidence and proof is wholly irrelevant here, just as it is to our notion of beauty or love. A scientist can no more destroy the validity of God as an idea than he can demonstrate God's existence as a tangible thing in the laboratory. God is an idea, not a thing, whereas science deals in things. As our mastery of things has progressed, we have shed our belief in intangible ideas such as our belief in God because we think we no longer need them. The spiritual realm of the human mind still exists and is still there to be tapped; it still gives comfort to millions.
The question hence arises as to whether we were right to dispose of the idea of God. As is natural in societies that are now animated to the highest degree by science, the answers we hear most commonly are those of the scientist; no, they say, all that matters is what can be proven and the useful technology that this gives us. Has not religion held back science and technology in the past? Did it not lead to millions of lives sacrificed on altars of ignorance and stupidity, in countless wars and oppressions? Does it not encourage us to cease to think and explore the world in positive ways and devote ourselves to mindless worship?
The answer to all of these questions is that yes, the idea of God, systemized into religion, can do these things. But it is a fallacy to think that the idea of God or of gods has been merely a tool of oppression and nothing else, and that it has always and everywhere held back progress and crushed the dignity of man and left only death in its wake. Clearly, it has offered comfort to the most needy, inspiration to the most brilliant artists, and the will to continue to the most oppressed. It has even done this for entire peoples. And it has done it in a way that an understanding of the mechanics of a chemical reaction or a better toaster can clearly never hope to do; by this comparison we see the very absurdity of science's claim to have entirely destroyed the realm of spirituality.
It does not seem irrelevant to point out that the idea of God has arisen in almost every human society that there has ever been and that it is clearly in some way innate in man, even if only as a protection against his ignorance. It is a commonplace of the modern man to say that he has no need of God because he has dispelled his ignorance by science. But this ignores the vast questions on which science is not competent to answer, among which lie the most important facing us - how to construct a just society; how to live sustainably with nature; and what our societies should value and reward.
Previous civilizations found answers to these questions as part of a belief system that contained the idea of God. That our scientific civilization has become the first that has managed to actually create the possibility of wiping out all human life from Earth via a nuclear holocaust or global warming should perhaps give the smug atheist pause for thought about whether his answers are truly more valid than those of the believers.
The typical prescription of the scientist for these problems - more science - entirely misses the point, which is that science itself cannot address the questions of how society is organized. It is a means, not an end; and after the value-system provided by a belief in God was removed, we have been left with a moral black hole. Science and technological development know only how to take the raw material of the world and turn it to man's advantage; they require man to tell them what this advantage is.
If we see the world as merely something to be utilized for our own comfort - for producing objects for our use - and strip it of a higher dignity that might encourage us to pursue other goals rather than just consumption, we will eventually run out of material to consume and room in which to do it; the experience of peak oil and global warming testify to this. The Ancient Greeks did not know about these specific threats but they knew of the theoretical dangers of untrammelled utilitarianism and opposed it as a form of hubris; they and their gods knew this, but we and our science have forgotten it.
The point is that even if it is true that the belief in the existence of God caused hardship, ignorance and pain, belief in His death is not by definition an unqualified good. We have based societies on principles that are entirely novel in human history and very young, and the fact that we have already brought the world so close to extinction should be a warning. Despite science's promise of unlimited progress, no-one can claim that we have eliminated social, economic or moral problems in the western world; we are not perfect and science alone can never make us so.
The spiritual emptiness of modern life is universally remarked upon, and those who claim to have transcended it have usually immersed themselves in an irrational belief in science and "progress" as a value-system, and will be baulking at this write-up as a result. But the modern belief in "progress" inevitably raises the question of "progress towards what?" and reveals itself to have a shaky foundation. Its caricature is the Kardashev scale, which defines how "advanced" a civilization is by how much energy it consumes, as if consumption itself were the measure of our development rather than how humane or just we are.
We know that the tools of science can be turned to evil in wars and dictatorships. Almost like God opened the gates of Hell just before drawing His last breath, almost every regime that has specifically defined itself in opposition to the idea of God - Communism and Nazism being the foremost examples, along with their imitators - have not only proved to be the most brutal and bloody forms of government in all of human history, but have always found it necessary to cloak themselves in a quasi-religious aura to usurp and replace the idea of God. And our liberal societies which merely tolerate God rather than seeking to obliterate Him are left without moral compass.
The environmentalists who are now trying to desperately convince us to seek values other than easy consumption and progress are finding it impossible because without God or a similar concept, they have no means by which to compel us; hence, they are forced to wrap their proposals in "green development", which pretend to merely be a continuation of economic growth as usual by other means, and thereby entirely ignore the root of the problem. Opposition to the idea of God and the value-system that only a God can inspire are so ingrained that we no longer have any concept of higher principles than our own comfort. Technology delivered its promise to provide comfort to the multitude, but in the process it took away our ability to think about or accept as relevant any other goal.
The point is not that God is Great. It is not that we should leap back into our old superstitions or beliefs, and dismiss the enormous progress we have made in many areas in the last century. It is that life is about great choices such as these, monumental questions that underpin our civilization and ultimately determine its fate. The conditions of life might include error, might include things that are not scientific truths that can be demonstrated in a laboratory; in fact, Nietzsche was wrong to even include the word "might" in that sentence. The concept of God was one such possible way of providing an answer to these questions, but we have killed Him. He is not coming back. What bodes worst for our civilization is that after killing Him, we have forgotten how to even think about these questions, or the reason why it is important to think about them at all.