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Faith in Crisis: Death of God, Auschwitz and Militant Atheism

Three developments

Traditional religious faith was challenged in the twentieth century by three radical developments: (1) the emergence of Death of God theories, (2) the historical tragedy connected to the name of Auschwitz and (3) the birth of militantly atheistic states and the persecution of religion in many countries throughout the world. These developments originate in the process of secularization, which appeared in an intense form during the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. Secularization spread rapidly during the nineteenth century and permeated the culture of most European societies. As a consequence, atheistic theories became popular and Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous dictum of ‘the death of God’ attained unprecedented popularity. The First and the Second World Wars led to cultural chaos, in the aftermath of which traditional faith was difficult to maintain. And the creation of history’s first atheistic state in the Soviet Union added a dark shade to this grim picture. The initial success of National Socialism in Germany resulted in the persecution of Jewish people and eventually to the monstrous attempt of an epochal annihilation. After the Second World War, the name of Auschwitz became a symbol referring to the shock many believers, Jew and Christian alike, had to live through when facing the question, Where was God in Auschwitz?1 This question was formulated in many ways along the lines of the rise of new atheistic states which persecuted all forms of faith. These developments constitute a common history in which faith in God was endangered and even pushed to the brink of disappearance in a number of countries.

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