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New issue, now live

Our March 21 issue is now live on the website, with a feature essay from Terry Eagleton (adapted from his new book) on the Christian response to Frederick Nietzsche, “the first real atheist.”

Nietzsche sees that civilization is in the process of ditching divinity while still clinging to religious values, and that this egregious act of bad faith must not go uncontested. You cannot kick away the foundations and expect the building still to stand. The death of God, he argues in The Gay Science, is the most momentous event of human history, yet men and women are behaving as though it were no more than a minor readjustment. Of the various artificial respirators on which God has been kept alive, one of the most effective is morality. “It does not follow,” Feuerbach anxiously insists, “that goodness, justice and wisdom are chimeras because the existence of God is a chimera.” Perhaps not; but in Nietzsche’s view it does not follow either that we can dispense with divine authority and continue to conduct our moral business as usual. Our conceptions of truth, virtue, identity, and autonomy, our sense of history as shapely and coherent, all have deep-seated theological roots. It is idle to imagine that they could be torn from these origins and remain intact. Morality must therefore either rethink itself from the ground up, or live on in the chronic bad faith of appealing to sources it knows to be spurious. In the wake of the death of God, there are those who continue to hold that morality is about duty, conscience, and obligation, but who now find themselves bemused about the source of such beliefs. This is not a problem for Christianity—not only because it has faith in such a source, but because it does not believe that morality is primarily about duty, conscience, or obligation in the first place.

Read the whole thing here.

Also, Margaret O’Brien Steinfels writes on Robert Gates and his memoir (“just as he did his duty to his commanders-in-chief, he now does his duties to his fellow citizens, who are still paying for two failed wars” [subscription]), and Ronald E. Osborn examines just-war pacifism and its realist assumption “that foreign policy is seldom if ever guided by rigorous just-war precepts.” The full table of contents for the March 21 issue is here.

And while you’re on the site, don’t forget to stay current with our ongoing series of daily Lenten reflections from Joseph A. Komonchak. 

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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If there is no God, then there is no heaven or hell.  If there is no heaven or hell, there is no reason to do or not to do anything; there are no sanctions after death, so the only sanctions are whatever sanctions in this life can be imposed by civil authority.  But "civil authority" is composed of human beings who realize that the only sanctions are what they devise.  They realize that all moral sanctions are just social constructs devised by ... people like themselves.  

So, under this regime, If I feel like murdering someone, then the only  consideration is, can I get away with it.  Incidentally, the John Lennon song Imagine, proposes just such a scenario.  Too bad, because musically, not considering the lyrics,  it is a lovely song.  Nietzche really was an intellectual jacksass.

That was real deep, bruh.

Sometimes I think that John Lennon's lyrics to "Imagine" were the source of young people's rejection of all religiOn. By listin religion with all the supremrly bad thimgs, "no war. . . No religion" he gave them ermission to turn their backs on the old valurs. Though, as Eagleton might agree, they tried to re-introduce the values they liked that formerly were grounded in religion. Their whole search for transcendence could then only be foind in dope and other psuedo-mystical exerienves.

(please excuse typos. This phone has a mind of ots own.)

I know this thread is not esentially about "Imagine," but the remarks touch on what I've thought as well as I her my teens 40 years later love that i do... even wincing at that line and its beautiful  naivete.

I'm re- minded however, of Bonhoeffer's "religionless Christianity," Derrida's deconstructionism, Dom Aelred's "The End of Relgion,"and James Carse's compelling "The Case Against Religion," as well as Tillich and others.

Not sure about i all and even as "re-ligion (ligare)" is "re-connecting" for me, I know all of us understand its terrifying and separating power for eveil as well.


I read the essay and it was interesting however I would hesitate to call Nietzsche and atheist, if my atheist, you mean someone who rejects God and creative element of God and opts to live according to some version or other of natural law.

Nietzsche once said that God is not dead because men still believe in grammar. And so in this, Derrida is closer to Nietzsche's intuition around language and its ability to convey a collective meaning of truth.

Nietzsche was an individualist and said many things of Christianity that are very incisive and cut deep to the quick. Benedict recognized this in his encylical on love. Nietzsche says that Christianity severs erotic love just when it is about to bloom and in this there is a certain truth to how we have historically celebrated the very human gift of sexuality. I also think that his Übermensch is a complicated figure but largely accurate in terms of how we actually live our lives. The will to power and removing any barriers legal, ethical, religious to full creation of self is a powerful theme and there is more than a touch of the mystic in him.

The point is that there is much to be gained from him but in the end his lack of ethics is problematic. Not ethics framed as proscritpions or derivative of natural law but in our ethical response to the "other" as first philosophy. I like Levinas in this regard. Response is our obligation, naturally, religiously, and in all ways. We cannot escape the response to the other. And Nietzsche, it seems to me, does violence to the other in his basic conception of subjective growth. Still, his was a reaction and an important reaction and I think he stands apart from the crop of modern day atheists who are quite anti-Nietzschean in their reverence of modern science.

Nietzsche is indeed the forerunner of postmodernity and, as Catholics, we should not necessarily feel like we have to defend the modern period. So he is a kind of fellow traveller in some, limited sense.

If we believe that non believers are inherently less ethical then believers, then we're denying a tenet of our faith;God's laws are written in our hearts .That applies to all humans not just those who cognitively assent to belief in God.All people have a SENSE of the ethical,no person,no society ,whether pagan or atheistic has ever believed that anyone can do anything to anyone for whatever reason at any time.All people have prohibitions againt murder, rape ,theft .What those prohibitons are differs concretely across cultures, individuals ,time and place,and across specific religious  beliefs .The moral sanctions devised by socieites whether religious or secular, partake of the reality that  God made us in his image therefore all possess  a sense of the ethical; that there is right and wrong, good and bad,just and unjust behaviors between,among people.The commandmants.are present in us ,though not explicitly,So for example in the past it was deemed ethical for members of one  tribe to rape or kill or kidnap people of other ttirbes. it was NOT moral to rape or kill or kidnap anyone  for any reason in their tribe.Gods laws are writtien in our hearts.Albeit darkly .                                                                                                                                                  Not all people want to harm others, or are selfish or greedy etc. Not because they fear punishment ,whether by other people, or God, but because they are nice people.We do not need faith in God to be ethical.Faith is a gift ,not givern to all .Faith can be missued ,as when people of faith invoke the religious concept "sin" to evade responsibility for our actions and our ethical obligations towards others.Religion can be used to keep people from transgressing but  it is neither religion or social mores that is at the heart of ethics.Though people  may or may not   subcribe to their societies ethical norms and/or  belief in religion,a sense of the ethical,that there even is an ethical dimension to our interactions with other people, is prior to and independent of belief in God or of a socieites'  particular morals.

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