"Is God Dead?"

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Ken Cedeno / Corbis

A 43-ft cross stands at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego.

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Perhaps the most enthusiastic propagandists for a new image of God are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Anglican theology, Bishop Robinson of Woolwich, England, and Bishop James A. Pike of California. Both endorse the late Paul Tillich's concept of God as "the ground of being." Pike, who thinks that the church should have fewer but better dogmas, also suggests that the church should abandon the Trinity, on the ground that it really seems to be preaching three Gods instead of one. Christianity, in his view, should stop attributing specific actions to persons of the Trinity—creation to the Father, redemption to the Son, inspiration to the Holy Spirit—and just say that they were all the work of God.

Discernment Situations.
The contem porary world appears so biased against metaphysics that any attempt to find philosophical equivalents for God may well be doomed to failure. "God," says Jerry Handspicker of the World Council of Churches, "has suffered from too many attempts to define the indefinable." Leaving unanswered the question of what to say God is, some theologians are instead concentrating on an exploration of the ultimate and unconditional in modern life. Their basic point is that while modern men have rejected God as a solution to life, they cannot evade a questioning anxiety about its meaning. The apparent eclipse of God is merely a sign that the world is experiencing what Jesuit Theologian Karl Rahner calls "the anonymous presence" of God, whose word comes to man not on tablets of stone but in the inner murmurings of the heart.

Following Tillich, Langdon Gilkey argues that the area of life dealing with the ultimate and with mystery points the way toward God. "When we ask, 'Why am I?' 'What should I become and be?', 'What is the meaning of my life?'—then we are exploring or encountering that region of experience where language about the ultimate becomes useful and intelligible." That is not to say that God is necessarily found in the depths of anxiety. "Rather we are in the region of our experience where God may be known, and so where the meaningful usage of this word can be found." To Ian Ramsey of Oxford, this area of ultimate concern offers what he calls "discernment situations"—events that can be the occasion for insight, for awareness of something beyond man. It is during these insight situations, Ramsey says, that the universe "comes alive, declares some transcendence, and to which we respond by ourselves coming alive and finding another dimension."

A discernment situation could be fall ing in love, suffering cancer, reading a book. But it need not be a private experience. The Rev. Stephen Rose, editor of Chicago's Renewal magazine, argues that "whenever the prophetic word breaks in, either as judgment or as premise, that's when the historical God acts." One such situation, he suggests, was Watts—an outburst of violence that served to chide men for lack of brotherhood. Harvard's Harvey Cox sees God's hand in history, but in a different way. The one area where empirical man is open to transcendence, he argues, is the future: man can be defined as the creature who hopes, who has taken responsibility for the world. Cox proposes a new theology based on the premise that God is the source and ground of this hope—a God "ahead" of man in history rather than "out there"in space.

German Theologian Gerhard Ebeling of Tubingen University finds an arrow pointing the way to God in the problem in language. A word, he suggests, is not merely a means of conveying information; it is also a symbol of man's power over nature and of his basic impotence: one man cannot speak except to another, and language itself possesses a power that eludes his mastery of it. God, he proposes, is the source of the mystery hidden in language, or, as he obscurely puts it, "the basic situation of man as word-situation."

"The Kingdom Within You." For those with a faith that can move mountains, all this tentative groping for God in human experience may seem unnecessary. The man-centered approach to God runs against Earth's warning that a "God" found in human depths may be an imagined idol—or a neurosis that could be dissolved on the psychiatrist's couch. Rudolf Bultmann answers that these human situations of anxiety and discernment represent "transformations of God," and are the only way that secular man is likely to experience any sense of the eternal and unconditional.

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