Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 5

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The Resurrection of God

Resurrection is the fulfillment of crucifixion, but this is not a resurrection into Heaven which would be an absolute reversal of the self-emptying of the I AM. Gnostic resurrection is one into eternal life, but Altizer believes that is a true reversal of crucifixion because the crucifixion is an irreversible, historical event not merely a spiritual reality. Gnosticism is unique to Christianity, and even Buddhism is the antithesis of Gnosticism because it celebrates the dissolution of the self that results in a “soullessness”. Gnosticism focuses on a glorification that is the true reversal of the actuality of crucifixion. Paul’s attack against the Gnostics in Corinth centered on their desire to wholly transcend to bondage of the will that Paul and Augustine knew all too well. But this bondage of the will was “simultaneously a realization of the freedom of the will” (83). Gnostic dualism was the inevitable result of the Gnostic “I” striving after a spiritual “I” that would attempt to bypass the otherness of guilt embedded in self-consciousness. Altizer celebrates the crucifixion as resurrection and thinks this shatter this dualism precisely “Christian resurrection is the resurrection of death itself, and a resurrection of that ultimate final death which occurs in the crucifixion” (85). Apocalypse is the act of God that fully realizes itself in the resurrection, and this apocalypse is a historical one that leads to a new life that is the death of death itself. “That is the apocalypse which is the center of Christianity, a center which is the one event of crucifixion and resurrection, and if that event is the center of history, it is the center of an apocalyptic history. So it is that a Christian apocalypse is not a heavenly apocalypse, it is a historical apocalypse” (86).

History is a forward movement that is realized only in the negation of the past, which leads to actual events. History begins with the self-naming of the I AM that is the end of eternal recurrence. For Altizer, resurrection is the hearing of that otherness itself that Jesus first heard in the total advent of the Kingdom of God. “That is the apocalyptic triumph of a final self-emptying and self-negation, a kenosis which is the kenosis of the pleroma of the Godhead of God, and thus a kenosis which is the fullness in emptiness of the Kingdom of God” (87).

Altizer believes that the apocalyptic faith that undergirds different political revolutions is a historical manifestation of an original Christian apocalypticism. This apocalyptic thinking is truly universal leading to a cosmic history that Altizer believes we also witness in the advent of Mahayana Buddhism and Islam. Islam was motivated by an apocalyptic faith that led to a universal, egalitarian community. A new consciousness also emerged in Mahayana Buddhism that was utterly dissolved in an original self-emptying that no longer knew the otherness within consciousness itself (that is so central to Western consciousness). History moves by a kenotic pleroma that can only be actualized in concrete history. An active process of self-negation drives history into an absolute forward movement. Christians must celebrate the resurrection of the advent of the Kingdom of God, which is realizing itself as a movement that culminates “in a kenotic pleroma, a pleroma which itself is the fullness of historical actuality” (90).

Altizer believes that resurrection is the negation of the negation, the death of death, and hence the end of absolute otherness that was originally negated in the fall. This negation is not a return to the eternal return, but rather a final repetition of negation that was first actualized in the self-naming of the I AM.

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9 Responses to “Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 5”

  1. A.J. Smith Says:

    Great series so far. I wonder, though, with Altizer if you shouldn’t do like a separate post or something succinctly outlining what he means by “Christian atheism” and when he speaks of the “death of God” (esp. as compared to Hegel or Nietzsche). These terms of his are often greatly misunderstood ( I’m not sure I understand them myself! And I’ve read some of his work). Thanks though.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    I feel like I’ve written enough explicitly to address these questions in a previous series entitled the death of God. Although, I didn’t touch on Hegel, I think it’s fair to say that Altizer stays more or less true to Hegel’s lectures in the Philosophy of Religion with his reading of the trinity. The death of God for Nietzsche is closely related to nihilism, which Altizer also touches upon as he understands modernism as being utterly nihilistic. The other question that might be out there is if Altizer links the death of God to the incarnation/crucifixion/resurrection, then why has it taken so long for Christianity to recognize this? I think our society is one that has actually embodied and enacted the death of God, which is to say the utter destruction of any God-concept or sovereignty anymore. Both Descartes and Luther are the beginning of such a tradition, and this is also why Hegel viewed the French Revolution as the enactment of the death of God. There’s also a societal element in which our society because of scientific/technological advances can no longer imagine having a relationship to God that man used to have. We know too much, we’ve been divested of any pre-scientific naivete. I think this is what Bonhoeffer’s touching on in Letters and Papers from Prison when he tries to rethink theology in a world in which there’s simply no longer any room for God.

    Here’s a quote that I think does a good job of summarizing Altizer’s understanding of the death of God. Really though, Altizer’s theology is one from transcendence to immanence. Likewise, Zizek (Hegel) they both read the Holy Spirit as merely being the bond amongst believers, God is dead. The ascension and resurrection are merely betrayals of the finality of the crucifixion. For Altizer, Jesus is truly God-forsaken on the cross because God actually fully negates himself.

    Altizer says, “When the Incarnation and the Crucifixion are understood as dual expressions of a common process, a kenotic or negative process whereby God negates his primordial and transcendent epiphany thereby undergoing a metamorphosis into a new and immanent form, then the incarnate manifestation of Word or Spirit can also be understood as an eschatological consummation of the self-negation of God, an extension of the atoning process of the self-annihilation of God throughout the totality of experience. Such an apocalyptic and dialectical understanding of the atonement, however, demands a new conception of atonement or reconciliation: a conception revealing not simply that God is the author and the agent of atonement but is himself the subject of reconciliation as well.”

  3. A.J. Smith Says:

    Thanks for the response. I went back and investigated your previous posting on the death of God. Although I had seen some of your posts in that series, I was unaware that it was that extensive. You wrote that before I was a reader of your blog though.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    It’s all good. I actually just created a couple of pages that centralized a couple of series I’ve done not to mention book reviews. I think the death of God is such a complex term, but I hope those posts plus this book review on Altizer we’ll clarify certain ways to understand it. I also think the first introduction to Crockett’s book was helpful in laying out the main ways it’s been understood by radical theologians. You either have the Hegelian metaphysical description or a sort of linguistic deconstructive death of God. Both are important, but I think other works like Goodchild’s work on politics, economics, and theology show how the death of God has had incredible influences on society, i.e. capital is now our object of worship.

    Also, Williams Hamilton lays out ten different interpretations in the book he coauthored with Altizer Radical Theology and the Death of God:

    1. That there is no God and that there never has been. This position is traditional atheism of the old-fashioned kind, and it does seem hard to see how it could be combined, except very unstably, with Christianity or any of the Western religions.

    2. That there once was a God to whom adoration, praise and trust were appropriate, possible, and even necessary, but that now there is no such God. This is the position of the death of God or radical theology. It is an atheist position, but with a difference. If there was a God, and if there now isn’t, it should be possible to indicate why this change took place, when it took place, and who was responsible for it.

    3. That the idea of God and the word God itself are in need of radical reformulation. Perhaps totally new words are needed; perhaps a decent silence about God should be observed; but ultimately, a new treatment of the idea and the word can be expected, however unexpected and surprising it may turn out to be.

    4. That our traditional liturgical and theological language needs a thorough overhaul; the reality abides, but classical modes of thought and forms of language may well have had it.

    5. That the Christian story is no longer a saving or a healing story. It may manage to stay on as merely illuminating or instructing or guiding, but it no longer performs its classical functions of salvation or redemption. In this new form, it might help us cope with the demons, but it cannot abolish them.

    6. That certain concepts of God, often in the past confused with the classical Christian doctrine of God, must be destroyed: for example, God as problem solver, absolute power, necessary being, the object of ultimate concern.

    7. That men do not today experience God except as hidden, absent, silent. We live, so to speak, in the time of the death of God, though that time will doubtless pass.

    8. That the gods men make, in their thought and action (false gods or idols, in other words), must always die so that the true object of thought and action, the true God, might emerge, come to life, be born anew.

    9. That of a mystical meaning: God must die in the world so that he can be born in us. In many forms of mysticism the death of Jesus on the cross is the time of that worldly death. This is a medieval idea that influenced Martin Luther, and it is probably this complex of ideas that lies behind the German chorale “God Himself is Dead” that may well be the historical source for our modern use of “death of God.”

    10. Finally, that our language about God is always inadequate and imperfect.

  5. Jeremy Says:

    I should amend my previous comment. Right now I’m skimming through George H. Chok’s dissertation called The Concept of God in Thomas Altizer, and he actually addresses your exact question. He notes that the book coauthored with Hamilton is almost entirely written by Hamilton. Chok also claims (and I must agree and here part with Hamilton) that Altizer’s concept of the death of God is more comprehensive than Hamilton’s (especially in 1990’s). He said of these 10 options, Altizer’s notion of the death of God would have to expand to encompass 3, 4, 7, 8. 9. According to Chok, Altizer completely disagrees with the preface, and here again we begin to see just why the death of God theology was easily discounted in the 1960’s. They were all saying different things, all of them. And if Altizer is the only one still speaking this is because his understanding was most radical and most comprehensive.

    • A.J. Smith Says:

      I’m almost through Grenz and Olson’s “20th Century Theology” (which is quite good, though perhaps a little over-critical at many points, especially in the radical theology section. Have you ever checked out) and even they admit the concept is ambiguous and do little in the way of unpacking. My basic understanding of Altizer’s use of the term “Death of God” is that it refers to God’s purposeful kenotic self-annihilation where he becomes immanently identical with humanity as symbolized (or actualized?) through the death and crucifixion of Jesus.

      I’m obviously not as familiar with Hamilton, but the death of God concept was ambiguous enough without it’s two foremost (in the 1960’s) proponents saying different things. My understanding is also that the death of God, as baptized by the mass media (such as the famous Time Magazine cover) also egregiously misunderstood what Altizer and co. were trying to say. But this is part of the reason I have a problem with the dominant propensity to associate theologians with certain schools so as to dismiss them.

      • A.J. Smith Says:

        Sorry, I meant to say have you ever checked out “Modern Christian Thought, II Vol.” by James Livingston, Sarah Coakley and Francis Schussler Fiorenza as an alternative to Grenz’s and Olsons’s shorter work?

  6. Jeremy Says:

    Yeah I enjoyed Grenz’s work although his critiques of liberation and radical theology seemed quite trite to me. That and his criticism of Pannenberg was so weak, I think he ended up saying here are some critiques but he’s still writing so I’m sure he’ll address them all soon enough. I haven’t read the other volume, but what I appreciated about Grenz’s work was that it allowed me to branch out and study other theologies. For instance, I was able to figure out I wanted to read Barth but not Cobb.

    I think that what you’re describing is the ‘main’ use of the death of God for Altizer. However, the issue of nihilism and culture is also an issue. He sometimes connects the death of God to the end of Christendom with Kierkegaard. It has a multiplicity of meanings, and after reviewing Genesis and Apocalypse one gets the idea that the way he reads the history of God is more than just the death of the cross. Again, if it was merely the death on the cross then he shouldn’t bother with an analysis of so many modern poets, philosophers, and theologians. However, the delay from the cross to modernity (the period in which we have witnessed the actualization of the death of God) is the bridge he wants to connect with his dialectical theology. Basically, what is unique to modernity that enables to us to finally recognize the totality of God’s self-emptying on the cross? Furthermore, what conditions does modernity open up that finally recognize and embrace this apocalyptic change.

    That same Time Magazine cover appears in Rosemary’s Baby. Moreover, at the very end when the Antichrist is born the Satanists proclaim, “God is dead! Long live Satan!”

    Unbelievably idiotic.

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