A Brief History of Skepticism, Backwards (Part I)

There’s the New Atheists and the Evangelicals and you and me. God dies on the cover of Time magazine in 1966. Liberation theologians and feminists. Existentialists, who seem to turn people into God; who give people the power to control their own fates through their decisions. Of course, I’m misunderstanding. Right?

Monkey pondersAnd the great Karl Barth. Enraged by the breathtaking spinelessness of his former theological idols in Germany, who supported World War I, Barth makes a riveting, very Protestant case that God is unfathomably, utterly Other than us; that the so-called reasonable, liberal theology that had us all in its monkey paw from Schleiermacher in 1805 until well into the 20th century – that it trivializes God into an intuition.

Just like the Book of Job: Barth says it’s not our, um, job to understand God or to get it – our, ahem, job is to submit with faith to the grace that God bestows. And this is not passivity; it’s reality.

And then Karl Marx calls religion a Machiavellian smokescreen obscuring the boot-heel-grinding tactics of the ultrarich, an “opiate” about as real as any drug-induced hallucination. And Freud, on the other flank, saying faith is an immature adaptation to conflict of no use whatever in the process of growth.

We come to the 19th century – and Zionism, and some unbelievably reactionary Popes, such as Pius IX, who not only declares himself infallible in some circumstances, but issues a proclamation stating that modernity, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, none of it happened.

Nietzsche announces “God is dead – and we have killed him.” Could not have been talking about Charles Darwin, whose The Origin of Species is not about how men descended from apes. Darwin’s just observing that individuals who are more suited to their environment are more likely to breed. What’s so deadly about that?

There’s the beginnings of the critical study of the Hebrew Bible, the identification of four or five different sources for the Pentateuch, which may not have been written by Moses after all.


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