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Lloyd Geering’s

God in the New World and From the Big Bang to God.

 By Duncan Roper


It is almost fifty years since the publication of Lloyd Geering’s first book entitled 

God in the New World.  It is still a significant in that – more than any other book 

published in New Zealand – it set down an important landmark for Christian 

‘theologising’ regarding the coming of the secular age.  More recently, Geering 

has published a book entitled From the Big Bang to God, in which he seeks to 

find man’s place in the overall scheme of evolution, and the task of charting our 

course into what might otherwise seem an unknown future.  It is therefore a book 

that purports to be about everything.  However, a question that we might need to 

ask is ‘Does this everything include God?’


In this respect, an interesting point of contact with our previous article arises 

because of the way in which Lloyd Geering introduces his own translation of 

Psalm 8 as a kind of poetic metaphor at the very outset of the book.  As such it 

seems to provide the dignity and significance for a species that otherwise seems 

to have evolved with the rather strange propensity to get grandiose ideas of 

themselves.  If we look at ourselves as the result of a chance result of the 

evolutionary unfolding of matter, then we might well be so underwhelmed by our 

cosmic insignificance that this propensity to think big about ourselves is really 

rather silly.  Nonetheless, for some reason we all seem to need a sense of purpose 

and meaning to our short lives of four score years and ten, a mere blink of an eye 

when this is measured against the 14 billion years since it all began with the big 



This therefore brings into focus the question of the (in?) significance of 

humankind in our relationship to whatever the ultimate source of meaning of the 

cosmos and its order, might be.  As both the questions and answers to this 

mentioned in Psalm 8, are concerned, they do not, at first sight, square easily 

with the picture of the naturalistic ultimate source of meaning and order painted 

by modern science.  First the Big-Bang and then the Neo-Darwinian picture of 

chance mutations to our DNA providing the means by which we have reached the 

incredible scope and wonders of this cosmos presented by the sciences investigat-

ing our world.  However, to what end?  Aren’t we to be compared with fish who, 

by chance have evolved lungs, but not the legs, arms and the other things 

necessary to exercising dominion over the creatures of land and sea, and are 

therefore condemned to the non-realization of our deepest longings? 

This might well be the reason for Geering’s inclusion of Psalm 8 at the beginning 

of his book.  It provides the hope of meaning and significance that, at the same 

time is negated by the sheer materiality of the ultimate origin of things: im-

personal, loveless matter that is deaf and blind to love, mercy, justice and the 

need for forgiveness.  As such, the Psalm is a metaphor or poetic expression for 

the hope of satisfying these seemingly deep and noble desires that well up from 

deep within our hearts, shouting out our the seemingly incurable desire for the 

need of a genuine and authentic meaning and purpose to our lives. 


We will return to From the Big Bang to God later.  For the present, let us now 

turn to the earlier book, God in the New World.  It is divided into three parts: the 

first is entitled The Coming of the New World; the second The Biblical Origins of 

the New World; and the third The Meaning of Christian Faith in the New World.

Another way of referring to ‘the New World’ would be the use of the word 

‘modernity,’ and we could define this word in the sense of the way in which the 

political leaders of Western Europe, at the Peace of Westphalia (1648), agreed to 

the unfolding of Western European history in a way that gave up the idea of an 

overall institutional religious head of Western Europe, in favour of the political 

and legal sovereignty of what came to be called nation-states.  At the same time, 

the impetus of the Reformation in the early phase of modernity had already 

emphasised the importance of the Biblical meaning of the faithful keeping of 

offices in the realms of everyday life, at the same time as down-playing the 

traditional significance of religious orders and monasteries.  However, a further 

stage in the development of modernity occurs with The Declaration of 

Independence, and the victory of the United States over her colonial British ruler, 

and the subsequent development of the Constitution of the USA.  The swearing 

in of the newly elected President is not done with reference to any institutional 

church.  Rather, the task is performed by the sitting Chief Justice.  Indeed this 

remarkable development preceded the French attempt to deal with persistent 

privileged power of the Catholic Church in the life of the French state by having 

the Pope present at the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor, but with the latter 

actually placing it on his own head. 


Although a moderate Deism had played a significant role in the drafting of the 

Declaration of Independence and many features of the division between Church 

and State in the nascent USA, the advent of the influence of the two Great 

Awakenings (The forerunners of the Billy Graham Crusades), one in the 

eighteenth, the other in the nineteenth century provided a significant role for the 

Christian gospel in what the Greeks had called the ‘civic virtue’ required for a 

Republic.  For much of the nineteenth century, especially in the north, this 

consensus continued.  However, as is well known, there has been a significant 

split in American Protestantism - between liberals and fundamentalists – since 

the early 1900s that has made the climate in that country very difficult.

Now, the development of what we have called modernism –with its emphasis of 

ordinary people taking the responsibilities of their tasks in day–to-day life very 

seriously, may be misunderstood as implying that the modern world arose 

primarily as a popular movement.  However, this would belie the fact that the 

people who shaped the intellectual framework of modernity were largely 

philosophers, theologians, scientists and business-people, as well as literary 

figures like Voltaire.


Another major feature of modernity was, of course, the ongoing development of 

the sciences, with the major break occurring in the sixteenth and seventeenth 

centuries and the major conflict between the natural philosophies of Aristotle and 

Descartes.  However, it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century 

that the consequences of the new world of ideas developed by such thinkers as 

Descartes, Spinoza, Bayle, Voltaire, Diderot, Hume, Kant and many others, 

began to eat away at the fabric of the broadly Christian heritage of the Western 

world – of France, Britain, the USA and Germany in particular.


In this respect, Part I of Geering’s God and the New World fleshes out some of 

the more pertinent details of the ways in which ‘the modernism’ that began in the 

eighteenth century saw the emergence of ‘the New World.’  Indeed it is what we 

might call the civil public and state world, as opposed to ‘the Church or the 

religious world’, with its continuing emphasis upon secularist callings that are 

generally wrenched free from any sense of the offices mentioned in the previous 

article as – being undertaken as the faithful/unfaithful worship and service of 

God in the course of our seven day a week calling to do just this. 


There are therefore seven chapters in Part I of God in the New World.  They are 

all introduced by the words ‘The New…’  As a consequence of this, we have (i) 

‘The New’  ‘Source of Knowledge’ [science]; (ii) ‘The New’  ‘View of the Bible 

[a fallible book authored by humans]; (iii)    ‘View of the World’ [Solar centric 

as opposed to Geocentric cosmos or, at least, solar system]; (iv)    ‘View of 

Origins’ [Darwinism]; (v) … ‘View of Man’[‘body/soul dualism’ to 

‘psychosomatic unity];(vi)… .’Secular Culture’ [emphasis upon ‘the 

marketplace’ as opposed to ‘the sanctuary’]; (vii) and finally ‘The New’     



In order to understand what Lloyd Geering means by ‘The New Theology’ for us 

today, however, it will be more helpful for us to leave his text of fifty years ago 

and turn to some more recent events, including some ideas spelt out in his newer 

book From the Big Bang to God.


In 2004, a day seminar was conducted in Wellington to address Lloyd Geering’s 

thought as developed in the series of his published books inaugurated with God 

in the New World in 1967.  This was followed up with the 2006 publication by 

Otago University Press, of various contributions to a book entitled A Religious 

Atheist – Critical Essays on the work of Lloyd Geering.  Geering does not like 

being described as an atheist, and a year or so later, a subsequent seminar was 

held in Wellington to further review Geering’s thought.  Although it did not 

really achieve its aim in this respect, the most pertinent piece of writing that I 

know of clarifying just what he means by ‘God-talk’ is found in his recent From 

the Big Bang to God, in which he clearly articulates his indebtedness to the ‘left-

wing Hegelian thinker (who also provided an important step towards the 

emergence of the Marxist outlook) – Ludwig Feuerbach.


Geering compares Feuerbach’s place in the history of human thought on religion 

with that of Copernicus in cosmology and Darwin in biology.  As Copernicus 

revolutionised our understanding of the universe and Darwin revolutionised our 

understanding of human origins, Feuerbach revolutionised our understanding of 

religion.  Quite literally Feuerbach turned the world of religious upside down or, 

as he said ‘the right way up’ when he claimed that all talk about God was really a 

projection of human aspirations and hopes upon an imaginary ‘father in the sky’, 

so that the core of what religion was concerned with should be focused upon its 

proper object – the realization of the highest human values in the communal life 

of humankind in this (secular) world.


This takes a bit of digesting, as it entails a redefinition of religion that, in fact, 

does not really account for many of the most salient features that most religions, 

as we find them now or in the past, exhibit.  One example will suffice.  Religions, 

in their use of the word ‘god’ usually mean powers arising from the cosmos over 

which humans have little or no control.  As such, because these powers threaten 

human well-being, they should be appeased in ceremonies of sacrifice.  Such 

ways of construing ‘the powers of nature’ tend to be associated with what we 

would count as polytheistic nature religions that Christians, Jews and Muslims 

described as ‘pagan.’  Insofar as those embracing them – such as the Vikings – 

they might be said, in the light of Feuerbach’s (and Geering’s) definition, to 

involve – ‘human projections of the less noble of human values to the powers 

beyond human control.  


However, the consequence of the radical switch from ‘the divine’ to ‘the human’ 

entailed with Feuerbach’s ‘revolution in thought’ has a serious anomaly once we 

compare it to the revolutions in thought associated with of Copernicus and 

Darwin.  The subject matter of astronomy and biology remained basically 

unchanged before and after the contributions of the thinkers just mentioned.  

Geering’s definition on the other hand, has a lot more in common with the so-

called ‘law of three stages’ of the influential nineteenth century positivist 

philosopher, Auguste Comte.  He claimed that human social and cultural life was 

in the process of going through three distinct stages or phases: the religious or 

theological, the metaphysical and the positive or scientific.  This is clearly not a 

law that summarises the facts.  It is rather a prescriptive law that tries to prescribe 

‘what should be,’ based partially upon facts (and much else besides).  Thus 

Geerings’ description of the phases in the evolution of ‘the nous-sphere’ (the 

human thought world linked by Geering to Karl Popper’s World 3) involves 

similar differences to the religious phases described by Comte.


Thus, in From the Big Bang to God, Geering speaks of ‘the monotheistic age’ as 

a period in which the ‘religious’ character of human social and cultural life was 

ruled by monotheistic religion – presumably arising from the major initiatives of 

the Jews under Moses.  Of this Geering (following Feuerbach) says that in ‘the 

monotheistic age’ we started with God and moved toward the human.  What 

Feuerbach did, on the other hand, was to start with the human and move to God, 

or, to quote Feuerbach himself, ‘The old world made spirit the parent of matter, 

the new makes matter the parent of spirit.’


A number of questions follow from this.  First, if everything proceeds from the 

matter of the cosmos (together with is laws) of which we are part, how is it possible 

for such a cosmos to exhibit the properties of living things, of sentient things and 

human (conscious, moral and thinking) things?  Karl Marx did take the step of 

ostensibly placing matter as the only reality, with serious consequences for the 

human social and cultural life lived in the atheistic communist regimes tracing their 

roots to Marxist Leninism.


Now, of course, the defenders of Feuerbach will point out that, in fact, what 

Feuerbach did, was to set aside the theoretical question as to how we came to be 

what we are, and rather just confront the empirical reality that ‘our human spirit’ 

is capable of the realization of what we term the ‘high values’ of ‘love, justice, 

mercy and forgiveness.’  That is true, but it does not establish either of the claims 

that these high values are truly ‘the essence of man’ or that humanity is genuinely 

capable of their unaided realization.  Nor does it give us any real answer to the 

question of what, ontologically, it might mean for humankind to be made in the 

image of God.


What Feuerbach, in fact did, was to assume that somehow matter did give rise to 

spirit or mind, and that the consequent emergent aspirations for love, justice, 

compassion and forgiveness were then projected upon a Creator God, and that 

when the imagined divine ‘being’ disappears, these values remain.  These leads 

Geering to make the following punchline of the hope of the secular(ist) age:

“Although these – love, justice, forgiveness, compassion – are human 

values, it is to them that we must respond as our forefathers responded to a 

(monotheistic) God.”


Feuerbach further contended that as soon as God is recognised to be a humanly 

constructed idea, it becomes meaningless to ask whether God exists or not.  For 

that reason Feuerbach refused to call himself an atheist.  The real question, he 

contended, is ‘How did the concept of God evolve in human thought and what 

role or purpose has it served in cultural history?  The answer given to this 

question is that When ‘God’ and ‘religion’ are properly understood, they play an important 

part in human self-understanding.  The role of God is to gather under one 

symbolic term all the moral values to which we feel bound to respond, 

along with the laws of nature to which we are bound to submit.  All of 

these in their sundry ways ‘lord it over us’ or are as ‘God’ to us.  Together 

they explain the human condition.  In Feuerbach’s view, theology (the 

study of God) is really anthropology (the study of humankind).  It is the 

study of our highest values and of how we can make the most of our lives.

Thus, it is in this light that it becomes clear just what Lloyd Geering (following 

Feuerbach) means by having faith in God in a secularist world.  Learning from 

Kierkegaard’s ‘leap of faith’ (against reason) it entails a whole-hearted 

commitment to the possibilities of these highest human values triumphing over 

what we might call ‘the sin-ridden, harsh, unloving and unjust realities of the 

world that we actually live in.’ It is, in other words, a faith in humankind, one 

that entails our pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Hence the significance of Psalm 8.  To understand Lloyd Geering, however, we 

must replace all references to ‘God’ – whether overt, unsaid or implied – by our 

highest human values of love, justice, forgiveness and mercy.  As such, this kind 

of outlook has a lot in common with that articulated by such people as Julian 

Huxley, Teilhard de Chardin and many others. [see reference to my Stimulus 


As for us, whilst we can applaud the emphasis it places upon the kinds of values 

this outlook seeks to uphold, we cannot go along the confessional path of faith 

that it articulates.  Our hope for the possible further realization of love, justice, 

mercy and forgiveness arises from the reality of the grace of God who transcends 

this cosmos calling us to engage in the whole spectrum of secular tasks in this 

secular age.  The grace of God is the hope for we lost human-beings who seek, in 

vain, to bring about a Kingdom that does not reckon with all-encompassing need 

of God’s grace as administered by the Holy Spirit. 


In this respect, one thing should also be noted.  The reply to Lloyd Geering’s 

book commissioned by its publisher, for the then Auckland Classics Professor, 

E.M. Blaiklock, was an attempt on the part of a respected Evangelical Scholar to 

represent the case for some form of orthodoxy.  However, the reality was that 

whilst the book he did write – under the title Layman’s Answer – may have 

reassured many believers, it was nothing short of woeful in its treatment of the 

issues raised by Lloyd Geering.  It, in fact represented the extent to which the 

genuine work of the Holy Spirit in the Evangelical revivals since the days of the 

Wesley brothers failed to be accompanied by a level of serious scholarship that 

was able to deal properly with the Enlightenment thrust of the mainstream 

thought of the time and into our very present situation.  This was as much due to 

a serious lack of insight regarding the Biblical character of office - as applied to 

the breath of the disciplines, trades and skills required by the steady advances of 

Western culture both then and now.  As a result, their Methodism was largely 

unaccompanied by the depth of thought in philosophy in relation to the sciences 

and other related disciplines enabling them to realistically be able to counter the 

development of secular Christianity as fostered by Geering and other authors.

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