Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Altizer draws upon the work of William Blake, the Romantic poet and illustrator, to discuss the idea that the biblical Creator and Lord is actually Satan. This “blasphemous” notion is the foundation for Blake’s Milton: A Poem (1804-1808) and Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804-1820). Altizer cites apocalyptic writers who believe that Satan or the Antichrist appears only when he falls or dies, and at his death the world of darkness that characterizes his reign will end, freeing man from all tyrannical and repressive power. When the death of God (Satan) occurs, a new “aeon” of Christianity is possible. When God empties himself, negates himself, his “residue” becomes Satan, who then must “undergo a final metamorphosis into the eschatological epiphany of Christ.” This notion squares with Altizer’s other comments regarding how the death of God will lead to a Christ-centered Christianity, but associating God with Satan is such a sensational notion that it was one of the reasons that Altizer’s book encountered such vitriolic opposition among fundamentalists.

A similar situation exists with Altizer’s ideas about the forgiveness of sin. For Altizer, sin derives from the idea of a natural and universal moral law or from an abject and guilty humanity facing a transcendent Lord who is Creator and Judge. This isolates sin from grace, making it impossible to realize the forgiveness of sin, which Christ used in his ministry. Citing Paul’s comments about the old covenant, Altizer concludes that the God of judgment was abolished by the grace of God who died on Calvary. Nevertheless, Christians are plagued by their guilt, which should have been erased through Christ. Faith must deny the consciousness of sin and overcome the self-alienation that arises from guilt, a holdover from a belief in a transcendental God. The forgiveness of sin then becomes a forward step in the ongoing process of redemption.