Friday, 24 October 2008

HAVE I GOD NEWS FOR YOU

Writing in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885) Frederich Nietzsche included this allegorical exchange between the protagonist, Zarathustra, and an elderly Saint:

'And what is the saint doing in the forest?' asked Zarathustra. The saint answered: 'I make songs and sing them; and when I make songs, I laugh, cry, and hum: thus do I praise God. With singing, crying, laughing, and humming do I praise the god who is my god. But what do you bring us as a gift?'

When Zarathustra had heard these words he bade the saint farewell and said: 'What could I have to give you? But let me go quickly lest I take something from you!' And thus they separated, the old one and the man, laughing as two boys laugh.

But when Zarathustra was alone he spoke thus to his heart: 'Could it be possible? This old saint in the forest has not yet heard anything of this, that God is dead!'

Well, one of the top news stories this week has been the announcement that the British Humanist Association with the backing of Professor Richard (The God Delusion) Dawkins have raised £36,000 to pay for an advertising campaign on the sides of thirty London 'bendy buses' announcing...


THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD
NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE



Er... Sorry? What was that......

PROBABLY??

I mean, you'd expect the British Humanist Association to be a bit more certain really, wouldn't you? After all, you don't get many churches saying 'There probably IS a God'.

According to Professor Dawkins: "This campaign... will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion." But a recent article by the Prof in The Huffington Post was entitled Why There Almost Certainly Is No God (my italics).

There we go again... 'Almost Certainly'?

Sounds suspiciously like hedging your bets to me. You didn't catch Nietzsche saying "God is probably dead" or "God is almost certainly dead", he just said "Gott ist tot" --- "God is dead".

Still, since we're still waiting for London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to rid London's streets of the ghastly bendy buses, maybe - come January, when the campaign gets rolling - he'll get some divine help. Certainly, every time a bus breaks down, I'm going to be checking out what ads are displayed on its sides!

It could, almost-certainly-probably, happen...

And, if not, then maybe a few Non-Humanists ought to raise a fund for an ad featuring this piece of German graffiti (courtesy of W C Notes)...


Or we could all buy T-shirts and bumper stickers (available here) with the English translation...


To be fair to Nietzsche, his famous line has largely been taken out of context - his chief argument being that since belief in God was being reasoned into non-existence, by what philosophy and moral code would future mankind live.

It is interesting to read if you've got the time (if not it's been around for over 120 years and will keep!) another of his allegorical stories in The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft) of 1882:

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!"

As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

"Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?

"That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."


Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."

18 comments:

Eudora said...

36.000 pounds!!, My God!!!...

Suzanne said...

Strange that - my first reaction on seeing that bendy bus slogan on the News was "I am quite sure that there IS a God - which is why I can stop worrying and I can enjoy my life"!
As for the yellow sticker - the second part is a mis-translation... it actually says "Nietsche is God"!

Brian Sibley said...

EUDORA - Yes, I reckon God (if he does 'probably' exist) must have thought something similar -- especially in the midst of a global recession! ;-)

SUZANNE - I think the final line of the graffiti ('Nietsche is God') was added by another hand - it's never been part of the original joke.

I suppose a day will come, sooner or later, when someone will be able to create a new graffiti joke along similar lines:

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The Dawkins Delusion by God

Boll Weavil said...

Dawkins should take some advice from fellow atheist Douglas Adams who pointed out what happened after God had been reasoned out of existence by man.Man was so elated by his supreme use of logic that he went on to prove that black was white - and got killed on a zebra crossing.
I'm tempted to think that Dawkins may have to wait until he dies for final proof one way or other. The trouble is, he won't beable to come back and tell us.

Brian Sibley said...

That death on a zebra crossing - he wasn't, by any chance, hit by a bendy bus, was he?

LisaH said...

But I suppose that's the thing - can anyone say with 100% absolute certainty whether or not God exists as a single entity? And of course if he/she doesn't in any form whatsoever, then neither Dawkins or the rest of us will probably get to know because we'll just cease to be.

luinfalathiel said...

My dad is a very active member of the Greater Vancouver Humanist Association in Canada, and has written a book on the subject ... anyways, his explanation for the "probably" is that it is just as dogmatic to claim 100% that there is NO God as it is for anyone to claim 100% that there IS a God.

The point of the message is to make people think about how we shouldn't waste the good time we have in THIS life thinking about what might or might not happen to us after we die. This present life is 100% proven to exist. Therefore, we should enjoy it to the fullest! :)

Brian Sibley said...

LISAH - Probably...

LUINFALATHIEL - Thanks to your Dad for that proposition and certainly 'probably' is more of an agnostic than an atheistic statement.

One of the interesting questions posed by Nietsche's argument is how mankind will behave towards itself, others and the world once it has abandoned the moral guidance provided (in this case) by the Judeo-Christian 'God' through his various emissaries from the Prophets of the Talmud to the person of Jesus and beyond.

Actually, I'm sure that most Humanists would agree that life is not simply to be enjoyed and we also have a responsibility (personal and self-imposed if not inspired by the teachings of religion) about how we live that life and the way in which it impacts on those around us.

It is worth remembering, perhaps, that in Jesus' parable of 'The Good Samaritan', it is not the religious passersby who help the man who was attacked by robbers and left to die, but a Samaritan - man whose beliefs would have been anathema to the devout Jew.

boll weavil said...

It always seemed odd to me that a society should exist for people to get together and NOT believe in something.If God doesn't exist then why bother to talk about it ! Just get on wih life. I believe in God but even I don't worry about it ! As C S Lewis says "How well you defend yourselves against all that might do you good"

Brian Sibley said...

Nice point, BOLL, but maybe human beings just have an in-built propensity to proselytize, so that - even if you DON'T believe in something, you still need to try and convince others not to believe it as well!

And going back to the points made by LISAH and LUINFALATHIEL, C S Lewis also said (and it must surely be as true for the agnostic as for the believer): "Your faith is what you believe, not what you know."

LisaH said...

But the trouble is I don't know what to believe, other than that we should all endeavour to do the best we can by our fellow human beings and make the most in a positive as well as enjoyable way of our lives

Brian Sibley said...

LISAH - That sounds, to me, like a pretty good basis for living life.

I'd maybe just add:

...and don't necessarily believe advertisements posted on the sides of buses.

David Weeks said...

Goodness me, what a lot of reasonable comments. Just think that if the rest of society were like this, how much less religious strife there would be! :o)
For me, anyone who uses their religion as an excuse or justification for subjugating, oppressing, or killing others is someone whose religion I do not wish to share. So much suffering has been caused by actions taken in the name of a god that I seriously question whether belief in such things benefits civilisation, on the whole, the holding of such beliefs. Yes I know that philanthropists have also been moved to to good, beneficial works in the name of their god but on balance I would think that 'good' works can be done without such religious dogma, just as 'evil' deeds can equally be performed.
Just think that without Christianity what other paintings may have been achieved by those great artists who were limited in their commissions by patrons who wished to increase their kudos with 'God' !!

boll weavil said...

Religion has always been used as an excuse for war and indeed this has been a big reason for some atheists as to why it would be better if it were not around.Unfortunately though, I think history has shown that even if you don't use religion there's plenty of other things to go at from skin pigmentation to the size of the Austria-Hungarian empire. Humans are ever resourceful at digging up ever more stupid reasons to kill each other.

Anonymous said...

You wait centuries for the doctrine of the trinity then three come along at once...

(I'll get me coat...)

Roger O B.......

Brian Sibley said...

I don't think they don't have any choice - surely they have to travel together...

Andy in Greece said...

Bizarrely enough, the majority of non-belivers whether they consider themselves agnostic or atheist will say 'I do not believe in God'. Very few will actually claim his lack of existence as fact.
Conversely, many believers will say that they know god definitely exists and when questioned about how they are so certain will reply 'because I know'.
All very odd when you consider that faith is, well faith rather than knowledge. Surely once you know something for certain it ceases to be faith, it is then fact.
Seems that more agnostics have faith in their lack of belief than believers have in their faith.

Brian Sibley said...

Great last line, Andy! If I had the money, I'd sponsor a few bus ads with it on!! :-)