E/RS Interview asks is God dead?

Newswire photo by Ryan Kambich | Left to right: Dr. Waleed El-Ansary, Dr. Kristine Suna-Koro, Dr. Timothy Quinn and Dr. Gabe Gottlieb at E/RS panel.

The Ethics/Religion and Society Program hosted its first event, “Is God Dead?” on Sept. 13 in Kennedy Auditorium. The event featured philosophy department Chair Dr. Timothy Quinn, theology professor and Lutheran Pastor Dr. Kristine Suna-Koro and Islamic Studies chair Dr. Waleed El-Ansary.

The three faculty members were interviewed by E/RS Director Dr. Gabe Gottlieb to get their perspective on the question, “Is God dead?”, a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s controversial 1882 aphorism from The Gay Science: “Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

Quinn, a lifelong reader of Nietzsche, was quick to explain that “God” in this context refers to all forms of higher authority, and that modern science had rendered the ancient authority of “God” dead. However, newfound reverence for science and the nation-state constituted the rise of new Gods for Nietzsche, who saw them exert inordinate control over our lives. This rise of scientism and nationalism defined a new conception of God, likewise grounded in a form of faith.

Fundamentally, according to Quinn, the death of God represents the death of an important fount of meaning for Western civilization.

Suna-Koro, when asked about the issue, responded that “rumors of God’s death have been greatly exaggerated,” drawing laughter from the crowd.

She went on to explain that in order to meaningfully prod the question, we must all reflect on our conceptions of God and added that God takes on a number of forms. In some cases, Suna-Koro said the rise of science has rendered certain conceptions of God unbelievable. However, there are still visions that persist unscathed.

She also pointed out that many, especially among Christian sects, now see God as “functionally absent” in their lives, leading millennials to report dissatisfaction with institutionalized religion and low levels of belonging to religious affiliations.
Meanwhile, Dr. El-Ansary pointed out that among Muslim youths, the faith has never been stronger, and in fact seems to be growing.

He explained that while Nietzsche has heavily influenced the dissatisfaction of Christians in the West, Islamic thought never seperated science, philosophy and theology, but instead blended the three. Therefore, the rise of scientism in the West never had the same impact on Islamic thought and never dissatisfied its intellectual elite or practitioners. Rather, the authority of God is indistinguishable from the findings of science or the questions of philosophy and is therefore very much living.

“I think it is a very pertinent topic, especially during this political time, even though the E/RS event was not political in a sense,” Dr. Suparna Chatterjee of the history department said. “For some, God is a kind of support system. For some, God is a route to something. And some don’t believe in God. So what are these various intersecting forces? What are the thoughts and the cognitions that come up when you think of God? I was really thankful for perspectives that came from the theologians and the philosophers.”

“I think one of the strengths that the talk had was bringing together theologians and philosophers to answer the same question,” junior HAB and philosophy double major Yan Idrissov agreed.

“They were able to have these two almost radically different sides talk about a question that both camps have to deal with and work through.”

When asked about the value of the E/RS Program, Idrissov explained, “It’s great because they are able to gather people from different backgrounds educationally, and that allows them to struggle with questions through their own background.”

The next E/RS event will be a lecture by Michael Brownstein on implicit bias. It will take place on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. in Kennedy Auditorium.

By: Ryan Kambich ~Copy Editor~