Rev. Allen Brill

Bury the Gods

More than a century ago, Nietzsche's madman cried out, "God is dead ... and we have killed him." How we might wish that he had been at least partly right, for we are plagued even in this postmodern era with some gods possessed of uncanny powers of resurrection! They persist in existing to incite us to violence, confuse us about our sexuality, promise us what they cannot deliver and excuse us from a lack of concern for our fellow humans. Whether it takes a wooden stake or silver bullet, we must find a way to intern these gods so that they haunt us no longer.

Let's bury God the Commander-in-Chief. It was bad enough in ancient times when the conception of God as a Divine Warrior incited the slaughter of innocents with swords of bronze, but in an age when a few fanatics can kill millions, we really must discard the notion that "our god is bigger than their god." As far as the biblical record goes, it's understandable how a tiny nation surrounded by great empires might feel the need for divine intervention when Ancient Near Eastern politics was continued by means of bow and spear, but 21st-century American generals really should be relying on their well-trained troops, their state-of-the-art equipment and the strategic wisdom of their own planning rather than the relative size of their god. Can't we deep-six God the Commander-in-Chief and replace him with a God who wants us to love our enemies?

Let's bury God the Prude. Some theists make us wonder why the Creator ever made us sexual beings if so much of sexual activity is God-displeasing. All of it can't be blamed on the Bible, either. Even the priestly writers that jotted down the laws against adultery, incest and male homosexual acts expended far more words advocating the elimination of economic inequality. Paul made a few negative comments about homosexuality but he devoted his ministry to reaching out to those who had previously been judged as unfit to be part of God's community. Let's close the casket lid on the sex-obsessed God the Prude and listen to the voice of God who abhors the degradation, exploitation or oppression of human beings by any means.

Let's bury God the Fairy Godmother. In churches in our poorest neighborhoods and in many parts of the Third World, hucksters preach a "prosperity gospel" of health and wealth to people desperate for more of both. This God can scarcely be found in any ancient scriptures, for those writings would never have been preserved through the centuries had they proclaimed such an obvious fraud. "Have enough faith," those preachers say -- and they mean "trust in me enough to give me your last dime and you'll be healed of AIDS. You'll be driving a new car." Maybe God the Fairy Godmother can just be left out for the crows to eat.

Let's bury God the "Get Out of Jail Free" Card. Nearly 500 years ago, the western Christian church was in thrall to God the Accountant. He tallied the indulgences and the masses, then calculated what each soul deserved. Reformers were aghast at such an image of God that turned God's mercy into quid pro quo, and they preached a God of grace who threw open the gates of heaven on account of Christ. In the centuries since, what had been a course correction has itself become a caricature of God. Head up to the altar, repeat the magic formula and receive your free pass to heaven. There is no cost to discipleship, only reward. There is no need to be concerned with loving your neighbor as long as you're "born again." Let's burn God the "Get Out of Jail Free" Card and respond instead to the God who calls us to be salt and light in this world as we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit the prisoners.

It seems to be innate to humans to create gods in their image. Gods who condone our desire to dominate or exact revenge, who feed our sexual phobias, who use our materialistic desires to manipulate us and who then let us off the hook for all of it if only we'll recite the club oath are nothing more than the same monsters created by the minds of human beings for thousands of years.

Some of us believe in a God who somehow manages to penetrate our solipsistic sense of the divine to reveal the true nature of the Holy One. When a voice is heard crying "Peace" in the midst of the wilderness of war, we hear the voice of God. When a despised prophet defends the social outcast and calls the powerful insider to account, we hear the voice of God. When the skeptic exposes the religious charlatan, we hear the voice of God. If we just listen now, we'll hear the voice of God demanding that we bury those false gods we have constructed so that the God of peace, justice and mercy is no longer obscured.

Rev. Allen H. Brill is a Lutheran pastor (ELCA) and member of the bar in South Carolina. Email

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