It's a lovely place, and we saw many interesting things. I have to say, though, that the visit troubled me a little. Journeying through the history of European art, it became clear to me that God, or at least a certain explicit way of expressing divine things, goes away. At the beginning one sees so many beautiful depictions of the Lord and the saints. Over the course of time, the dominance of the mysteries of revelation and the saints evaporates.
It brought Nietzsche to mind:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann)
I don't want to beat any culture war drum and bewail that our civilization went wrong by doing away with God. It may be true but that's a judgement that certain cautions with me prevent me from making. But I will say two things about what seems to follow. First, our civilization, as I think Nietzsche warns, has not understood the implications of having killed God. And now, as 'God' becomes a concept without any intelligible content at all for whole sections of society--sometimes even for religious people, though many times it's not their fault--we don't even know why it becomes impossible to make value judgments or avoid slipping into the relativism in which there is only the rule of power.
Second, and this is the thing that's really been on my mind, I wonder if we who are believers have really done any better with taking the death of God seriously. Have we found ways to preach and catechize that both confess and confront that all of us who are heirs to western civilization are implicated in deicide? God is dead. And remains Dead. And we have killed him. Does our religion admit this? Or worse, does it just live in denial in such a way that we become functional agnostics or even atheists?
To be fair to the Church, I think that Gaudium et spes, for example, was something like an attempt at answer to this sort of question. But the more I read it, the more I become convinced that it was the Church's shot at embracing the humanistic optimism that western civilization tried to substitute for God, and that just as the rest of the world was giving up on it after witnessing its rotten fruits during the bloody twentieth century.
For us who have killed God and put him out of the human civilization he himself created, I'm wondering if something more radical is called for. But I admit I'm not sure what it is.
Update: I'm not sure what it is primarily because the execution of the God who failed to live up to our best religious expectations is at the heart of Christianity, and I haven't put this truth together with the historical data yet.