“The Old God is Dead”

What’s the use of Philosophy to anybody? A long time ago, a Greek Philosopher was walking along a road, staring at the sky and telling an old lady about the stars, when he fell into a ditch. The old lady looked down at him and said, “What’s the use of knowing about what’s up there, when you can’t even see what’s in front of your own feet?” Philosophy still gets a bad name. Some of it is next door to unreadable or, if readable, is un-understandable. And even when it’s understandable, it asks questions but doesn’t give answers, and not one philosopher agrees with another !

So why bother paddling in the shallows of philosophy? Maybe the key words above are, “it asks questions”. It teaches us to take nothing for granted, and not to go along with something just because so-and-so says it. It encourages us to look into the ‘for and against’ of things we believe. It wants us to be as open-minded and honest as possible, and not to be afraid of what we might find out. It’s saying that it’s always better to try to get to the truth of things, even if that’s not always comfortable! When I began to dabble in philosophy, I came on the above quote from Friedrich Nietzsche – “the old god is dead”. It seemed to make some kind of sense, and started me thinking.

We use words to talk to each other. To help us do this, we form ‘pictures’ in our minds to guide us. As a Scottish country dancer, I can explain to someone how to do “The Reel of the Royal Scots” because I can see it being danced in my mind’s eye. So when you and I talk about God, a ‘picture’ of him will take shape in our minds. I have the idea that, for many of us, even if unbelievers, this might still be some version of the traditional ‘picture’ – the Old-Man-up-there-in-the-Sky, who made us, watches over us, and promises heaven for believers, and the opposite for everyone else. If we were challenged about this, however, we might find it a bit difficult to defend.

Is is, after all, a very old picture, and so could well be of an “old god.” The Bible was written down many centuries ago. The universe was then comparatively tiny, although with our world being a very important part of it. The Earth seemed, from our everyday point of view, to be a big disc floating on water, with the dome of the sky above. Within the sky were the moon, planets and stars and, beyond them, the throne of God. It was easy, in those days, to think that God couldn’t have all that much to do. He’d have ‘all the time in the world’ to keep an eye on people and events ‘down here’, and even to pop down for the occasional chat, or otherwise get involved in everyday goings-on.

Over two thousand years later, however, we’ve discovered the Universe is far bigger than anything our far smaller minds can possibly grasp. Rather than being like a big plate with a dome over it, the Earth now seems more like a speck of dust, hidden from view in a corner of one of the endless rooms in a huge building. Or (if you’re into astronomy) out of sight somewhere in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy, itself just one of no one knows how many umpteen billions of others. So “the old god”, who enjoyed a stroll in the Garden of Eden, and told Noah how to build a huge boat, can no longer be taken at face value. That kind of God (a bigger version of ourselves) would now have all his work cut out as the manager of an unbelievably vast Universe. He couldn’t possibly have ‘all the time in the world’ for planet Earth. Far from ‘dropping in’ to visit, he’d hardly be aware of our existence. Think about you and I walking along a beach. What awareness would we have of one particular little grain of sand, even if we were standing on it? 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve got to give up any idea of a God altogether, but it suggests that if we want to hold on to one that’s at all credible, a more up-to-date ‘picture’ would be helpful. First of all, however, we need to give some attention to the for and against of there being any kind of God at all.

[ Image – answersingenesis.org ]

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