The Life and Death of the Death of God

ObitThere’s a whole subculture of people who, when the newspaper arrives, go straight for the obituaries. Well, now they’ve got their own, quite excellent literary website: Obit. All death, all the time. I’ve got a new essay there on the “death of God” theology of the 1960s, a bit of a follow-up to my recent piece in the Guardian on the subject. In this one, though, I have the great joy of presenting my favorite part of the whole controversy, Anthony Towne’s Excerpts from the Diaries of the Late God.

The most memorable critique, though, came in the form of the ultimate obituary. It appeared in the Methodist magazine motive as well as in the Times. Poet Anthony Towne, under the headline “God Is Dead in Georgia,” related the particulars of God’s death on Nov. 9, 1965, due to a case of “diminishing influence.” Altizer he names as the deity’s chief surgeon; dignitaries the world over and the man on the street alike comment on this unfortunate event. “It is difficult to imagine how we shall proceed without Him,” admits the pope. And, says a housewife in Elmira, New York, “At least he’s out of his misery.”

By 1968, Towne had enlarged the satire into a book, Excerpts from the Diaries of the Late God. We learn straight from the divine pen about everything from creation (“what a week it has been!”) to popular preachers (“Billy Graham has halitosis of the soul”) to final reflections on life (“I’m glad I did it, but I don’t think I’ll do it again”). The Diaries are at once wise and ridiculous, casting the notion of a God who could die as no better than a joke. Towne’s “Prefatory Caveats” remind us of “God’s passionate antipathy, while he was alive, toward all forms of death.”

Read the rest of “The Life and Death of the Death of God.”