September 21st, 2012 / 2:00 pm
Author News

DIED: Gabriel Vahanian

Gabriel Vahanian, author of the book The Death of God: The Culture of Our Post-Christian Era, died on Saturday, September 8. He was 85.

He was not an atheist. He was a theologian and critic of what he referred to as “Religiosity,” Christianity that appealed broadly to his contemporary culture, that embraced faith without doubt, that was literal in its interpretations of the Bible, that was “trivial.” Here he reveals the death of God in the names we give God:

Why is it, then, that the modern ways in which popular religiosity designates God make one shudder? What is wrong with designations for God as a “Porter” or the “Man Upstairs”? Why are such expressions more objectionable than certain Biblical ones which are no less down-to-earth and just as fragile?

It is not the modern phrase which can (or must) be objected to so much as the understanding it expresses of the self and its relation to other selves and the world, and to God. By contrast with the Biblical instances, these modern, popular appellations suggest that the deity is a missing link in man’s unsuccessful attempts to grasp the meaning of his self and of the world. The deity becomes just a global hypothesis, a mere cog of an intricate machine, whether friendly or formidable. Thus the conception of God as the Cosmic Pal is but another step in the development of universal anthropocentrism, away from the original theocentrism of the Bible.


When I did a search for Gabrial Vahanian, one of the first links that came up was to the conservative message board Free Republic. Someone had linked to his obituary. Much of the discussion that followed was simple snark at the death of an “atheist.”

God: 1
Vahanian: 0

“I wonder if she said, ‘oops.'”

The lesson here: no matter how thoughtful or powerful your work, most people won’t get past the title. Give up. Die without attempting to contribute to the culture. Your impact will be minimal.

Unless, I don’t know, you’re into that sort of thing. Then go ahead and go for it.

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  1. bemightee

      nice post reminds me of the economist’s obituaries – shedding light on the interesting and recently deceased. look forward to reading more.

  2. Kyle B. Bjorem

      Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann should be read more. Marcus Borg is a contemporary guy who writes more accessible mass audience work but is also in this vein.

  3. Bobby Dixon

      I was raised in the church. I may not be a true believer, but faith is everywhere. And it is important. It is slick and can be gross and is sometimes most important when it is tested. Faith is most powerful in the face of failure. It can kill too.

      I have a lot of faith in these DIED posts, ms.

  4. Matthew Simmons

      Attempting one or two a week for a while. As long as people keep dying.

  5. Matthew Simmons

      I’ll look into Borg. Thanks, Kyle.

  6. Matthew Simmons

      Thanks, Bobby.

      I really like the enfolding of doubt into the act of faith. Seems like the greatest weakness in the faithful is their lack of doubt.

  7. bemightee

      cool. say hello for the UBS for me.