Thomas J. J. Altizer

Thomas Jonathan Jackson Altizer (b. May 28, 1927[1]) is a radical theologian who is known for incorporating Friedrich Nietzsche's conception of the "death of God" and G. W. F. Hegel's dialectical philosophy into his systematic theology.


Altizer was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and grew up an only child. After briefly attending St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, he graduated with BA, MA, and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago. His master's thesis (1951) examined the concepts of nature and grace in St. Augustine. His doctoral dissertation (1955), under the direction of sociologist of religion Joachim Wach, examined Carl Gustav Jung's understanding of religion.

He was assistant professor of religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, from 1954 to 1956, before becoming associate professor of Bible and religion at Emory University from 1956 to 1968. He was professor of Religious Studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (Stony Brook University) from 1968 to 1996. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at SUNY Stony Brook.

"Death of God" controversy

During Altizer's time at Emory, two Time magazine articles featured his religious views—in the October 1965 and April 1966 issues. The latter issue, published at Easter time, put the question on its cover in bold red letters on a plain black background: "Is God Dead?"

Altizer has repeatedly claimed that the scorn, outcry, and even death threats he subsequently received were misplaced. Altizer's religious proclamation viewed God's death (really a self-extinction) as a process that began at the world's creation and came to an end through Jesus Christ—whose crucifixion in reality poured out God's full spirit into this world. In developing his position Altizer drew upon the dialectical thought of Hegel, the visionary writings of William Blake, the anthroposophical thought of Owen Barfield, and aspects of Mircea Eliade's studies of the sacred and the profane.

In the mid-1960s Altizer was drawn into discussions about his views with other radical Christian theologians such as Gabriel Vahanian, William Hamilton, and Paul Van Buren, and also the rabbi Richard Rubenstein. Those religious scholars collectively formed a loose network of thinkers who held different versions of the death of God. Altizer also entered into formal critical debates with the evangelical Lutheran John Warwick Montgomery, and the Christian countercult movement apologist Walter Martin. The evangelical theologians faulted Altizer on philosophical, methodological and theological questions, such as his reliance on Hegelian dialectical thought, his idiosyncratic semantic use of theological words, and the interpretative principles he used in understanding biblical literature.

In Godhead and the Nothing (2003), Altizer examined the notion of evil. He presented evil as the absence of will, but not separate from God. Orthodox Christianity—considered nihilistic by Nietzsche—named evil and separated it from good without thoroughly examining its nature. However, the immanence of the spirit (after Jesus Christ) within the world embraces everything created. The immanence of the spirit is the answer to the nihilistic state that Christianity, according to Nietzsche, was leading the world into. Through the introduction of God in the material world (immanence), the emptying of meaning would cease. No longer would followers be able to dismiss the present world for a transcendent world. They would have to embrace the present completely, and keep meaning in the here and now.

Since 1996 Altizer has lived in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania. His 2006 memoir is entitled Living the Death of God.

See also

Critical assessment



  1. "Altizer's Personal Website". Retrieved 2014-08-08. External link in |website= (help)

External links

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