Sunday, March 11, 2012

Is William Hamilton dead?

I was a sophomore at university in 1966 when Time magazine asked on a celebrated cover, "Is God Dead?" We talked a little about it at the time, adding as I recall "or merely absent?" I'm not sure how many students talk about such things these days. The University of Iowa always had been a god-less place, of the sort Nazarene preachers warn against, and perhaps it still is.

Many of my little friends lost their religion in that place, but I arrived without any --- bearing a cup quarter-filled with longing rather than overflowing as it should have been, some told me, with the blood of Jesus --- unwashed. So I found such God as I could find in well-played pipe organs, ancient liturgy and long walks (and still do). Still unwashed, merely sprinkled.

William Hamilton, who thanks to that Time cover became the face of "God Is Dead" expired himself at age 87 during late February in Portland, Oregon, where he had concluded his teaching career and lived thereafter. Is he dead? It all depends ....

The difficulty with God when I was growing up was that He seemed if viewed from some angles more devil than diety. The Holocaust was fresher then in the minds of some than it is now and there have been other indications since that if God really were involved in directing humanity's little pageant we'd be better off without him.

The basic misunderstanding about Hamilton and his theologizing peers, however, was the misconception that they believed God had taken a bullet to the head. Their point was merely that human concepts of God were flawed and if not dead, then deserving.

Hamilton considered himself until death a follower of Christ, believing that the nature of God, if there were such, was unknowable and irrelevant. The important thing for those who called themselves Christian, he argued, was to follow --- then learn to live with mysteries wrapped in enigmas.

Much of that way of thinking has been absorbed in contemporary liberal Christian thought, although old ways die hard and there are those who argue the Christianist spectacle being played out this political season and at other times represents, in a way, Christianity's death throes. I hope that isn't the case.

The God concept has changed among Christians during the last 45 years. She has been feminized ("God is dead, long live the Goddess" some have said) and queered, but remains unknowable. Except, perhaps, in Jesus. But who listens to Him? And how many follow?

Might I recommend a well-played pipe organ --- and a long walk?

Oh, almost forgot. You can go to church, too. No harm in that. Just take your sermons with a grain of salt.

No comments: