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What Can You Say?

Entry 828, on 2008-08-08 at 20:53:36 (Rating 4, Religion)

I received a random email recently which contained the line: "What can you say about a society that says that God is dead and Elvis is alive?". The quote was attributed to an American journalist, Irv Kupcinet. OK, fine. So what can you say about that?

Well first, I don't think the quote is literally true. I think there would be more people who think God exists than who think Elvis is alive, especially in the USA. But I guess that's not really what Kupcinet was trying to say so let's look at the quote a bit less literally.

I would say if we believe the quote is true that we can attribute some pragmatism to the society. We know that Elvis did live at some point and was a real person. OK, so the overwhelming balance of evidence indicates he died, but I guess its possible there was an error and he didn't. God, on the other hand, has never given us any evidence that he existed or exists now. So the quote doesn't seem totally unreasonable from this perspective.

So what else does it say? We know Elvis gave us a lot of great music. Well, I can't say I like it much myself, but many people do, and he was an important figure in the history of popular music. God is also an important historical figure but only as a convenient placeholder for processes people didn't understand at the time. We now know we have evolution to thank for the variety of life on Earth, not God. And similar arguments apply to other supposed gifts from the supernatural.

Its well over 100 years since Nietzsche told us that god is dead. He wasn't quite right. God still lives on, but he's on life support. God will probably never die completely but he will gradually fade away and live on more as some sort of undead zombie than a real living god. So the people who say God is dead have a point even when the idea of a god is considered in the more metaphorical sense. God never lived because he never existed, and even the concept of god is dying, even if that is happening slowly.

Why do I say belief in God is fading? Well, in established countries, especially in Europe, religious belief is decreasing. Even in America disbelief is growing every year. Religion is only growing in newer, less modern nations but that won't last forever. Eventually the supply of new nations to convert to established western religion will run out, and from then it will be all down hill.

There is one other thing that the statement says about society. That is that it is very tied up with inconsequential issues. People are more concerned with pop singers and movie stars than they are with theology and science. So I guess that does support the original meaning of the quote to some extent.

So I guess old Irv had a point in what he said, but I think the quote shows that western society has both good and bad points, and I don't think that's quite what he was originally trying to say.


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