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The Death of God PDF Print E-mail

 

given by Sam Alexander

1. Introduction

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born 15 October, 1844, in Rocken, Prussia, and died in Weimar, Prussia, 25 August, 1900. A philosopher, poet and classical philologist, he became one of the most provocative and influential thinkers of modern times.

Nietzsche first used the expression, “God is dead”, in the Gay Science in 1882. It is contained within aphorism 125, and this passage forms the basis of this talk.

To state the obvious at the beginning, I am not talking about a bullet to the head, but a metaphor for a change of perception on God. Further, for the sake of clarity, all reference will be to a Christian God.

Heidegger noted in his The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays in 1954, that:

The strange notion of the death of god and the dying of the gods was already familiar to the younger Nietzsche. In a note from… The Birth of Tragedy in 1870, Nietzsche writes, ‘I believe in the ancient German saying, “All gods must die”’

This would be consistent with his later concept of the “overman”, for to believe such a concept, then all Christian values would need be abolished for this overman to rise above the herd.

With this talk, I will first explore the passage. And try and determine what Nietzsche was alluding to. I will then attempt to place these conclusions within our present situation and cultural circumstance.

2. The Madman Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. “Have you lost him, then?” said one. “Did he lose his way like a child?” said another. “Or is he hiding?” “Is he afraid of us?” “Has he gone on a voyage?” “or emigrated?” Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.(Madman) Two of my favourite “madmen” come to mind when reading this passage. Kahill Gibran’s The Madman (1938) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner (1798). This is a common theme, where an outsider is used to take people out of their comfort zone. However, in keeping with a theological theme, there are other numerous parallels to madmen in both the Old and New Testaments. The first similarity is to the madman called legion and exorcised by Jesus in Mark 5:9. Another, which may give an insight into Nietzsche’s intent, is in: Proverbs 26:18-19. Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, Is the man who deceives his neighbour and says, “I was only joking!” I believe Nietzsche is toying with his readers and has his tongue firmly in his cheek. He is only joking in an ironic way. (Lantern) The lantern lit in the early morning hours suggests to me the madman has received the word or “light” and follows Jesus to the marketplace seeking Him (God). Now this marketplace could be the same as that within the temple area in Luke 19:45 where Jesus overturns the moneychangers tables. The many standing around are the same as in Matthew 22:34 – 23:33, of which some extracts follows:- Matt 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 14. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will be punished more severely. Matt 23:28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matt 23:33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? These I sense are the people the madman confronts in the marketplace, the many standing around, not believing in God, are the same hypocrites who challenged Jesus. That the madman sought God leads me to ask whether or not he seeks God as the One, God as the Father or God as Jesus. If it is God the One then Nietzsche is heralding nihilism, where he rejects all positive values and believes in nothing. If he is referring to God the Father then in a sense he is proclaiming Jesus as the only way to the Kingdom of Heaven. If he is seeking God as Jesus then he is proclaiming Arianism, denying the full divinity of the Son with his essential being contained in the Godhead alone. I wonder, with regard to the following passage, is Nietzsche trying to write scripture with the madman proving the prediction. Psalm 14:2. The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. This thought is consistent with my notion that Nietzsche may well think of himself as a later day prophet more than just a mere philosopher. Sarah Kofman, in Nietzsche and Metaphor, believes that following the “Death of God” all concepts change their meaning and thus the madman, lighting a lantern in broad daylight, symbolizes the confusion of man and all lunacy becomes possible and all absurdity licit. (Disbelievers) The disbelievers came up with some interesting comments. Was God lost; as if he is on the wrong path, insinuating that Godliness is wrong. Is he lost like a child; reminding me of the young Jesus, recounted in Luke 2:41, who, when his parents returned home, stayed back in the Temple to learn from and talk with the priests. As to hiding and being afraid I recall Jesus’ words from Matthew 10:26-31 of which an excerpt follows:- Matt 10;26 “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. I wonder if Nietzsche is playing with his readers? Or am I reading too much into this narrative? With regard to the voyage, it may be a reference to St. Paul who traveled far and wide on his voyages to proclaim Jesus. The comment, has he … emigrated? Leaves me a little perplexed as locals would normally ask, has he immigrated? It leads me to believe that Nietzsche is thinking as the madman writing about himself. The madman piercing them with his glances again reminds me of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. Perhaps this is also a literary technique to introduce forthcoming dialogue. 3. We Have Killed Him Wither is God” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him --- you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drunk up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns. Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward. Forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not night and more night coming in all the while? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? The madman now answers his own question with the answer, we have killed him. Now for God to be killed, then in the first instance He must have been alive or existent. For Him to have been existent then He must of served His purpose, say, at the least, creation. Now that He is dead, has he left the world, at worst, incomplete or, at best, complete? Whichever, it appears that Nietzsche is not so much as acknowledging deism, a rationalist religion ruling out the supernatural or irrational elements of Christianity, but introducing modernism., a reinterpretation of doctrine in terms of scientific thought. Not withstanding my earlier comments concerning confusion, it would appear that Nietzsche has picked up his starting point this time from Luke LUKE 21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that tune they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Linking passages such as this to what Nietzsche has written may be drawing a long bow, but I see so many parallels that I believe Nietzsche is tempting and then tormenting us with an unrealised ambition for us to meet Jesus’ expectations. The word sponge only appears in the bible in the death of Jesus narrative. Is the unchaining of the earth from the sun a metaphor for mankind from the Son? Most profound is Ronald Hayman, in Nietzsche – A Critical Life, who states: “… once he (the madman) has accused the people and himself of murdering God, his questions rapidly cease to be absurd, while the bludgeoning rhythm and the nightmarish imagery make it harder for us to sidestep them,” Kofman, in Nietzsche and Metaphor, goes on to say: “The ‘death of God’, abolishing any proper and absolute centre of reference, plunges man into Heraclitus’ Becoming-mad’.” The pattern emerging from all commentators is that Nietzsche, probably the madman, must first kill off or desanctify God. Richard Schacht, in Reading Nietzsche, believes that the pathos of the madman may well be a pathos that Nietzsche himself may have experienced. For me what is emerging is that this God is the Christian God and most likely Jesus. 4. God is Dead Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? What was holiest and must powerful 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 to great for us? Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever will be born after us- for the sake of this deed he will be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.” Nietzsche is now becoming more and more anthropological. It is not enough that God is dead; He needs to be buried, He needs to decompose and smell, and finally He needs to remain dead. Now a man of Nietzsche’s ability must be aware of what he has written – word for word, therefore the murderers of all murderers could only have killed one God. The following refers:- Revelation 17:14 They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” To me there is now no doubt that Nietzsche is referring to Jesus when he says that God is dead for the murderers of all murderers could only have killed the Lord of lords and King of kings. There are further metaphors in that God has given us Jesus for the world, He died under our hand, He baptized us with water. Now if the Church is the body of Christ and Jesus is the head, then Nietzsche may well be implying that with the burying and decomposition of the “body” of God, then he may well be saying that the Church is dead. Further, by suggesting that we now ourselves become Gods the madman (Nietzsche) is now starting to show his intent with regard to the overman. Heidegger, in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, picking up on Aphorism 343 states that: “… it is clear that Nietzsche’s pronouncement concerning the death of God means the Christian God... The pronouncement ‘God is dead” means: The suprasensory world is without effective power.” Martin Buber, in Eclipse of God, expands on this by signifying that the Nietzsche statement that we have slain Him, “dramatically sums up the end situation of the era.” The involvement of others beyond the general “we” such as the gravediggers and murderers leads Taylor, in Erring: A Postmodern Theology, to go on and say: “The death of God in not tragedy passively suffered by hapless and helpless servants but an event exacted and embraced by rebellious and self confident human beings.” It would appear that Taylor is in agreement with Nietzsche and believes that the death of God is no accident but a deliberate act of humankind. Sander Gilman, in Nietzschean Parody, believes that the symbol of the dead God for the madman is the fossilised institution of religion. 5. I Come too Early Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke and went out. “I come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering – it has not yet reached the ears of man. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.” I believe this paragraph to be the most important of the aphorism because it is here we get a clear indication as to Nietzsche’s intentions. First of all the madman, who to me is most definitively Nietzsche, spits the dummy. He has delivered his tirade, he has put forward his case, but still his listeners are silent and astonished. He throws down his lantern, for which he is the light not Jesus, and he confesses the he has come to early. The madman is the overman, the second coming of Jesus.His message has not been heard, the people still believe in the dead God. Again Nietzsche calls upon parallels from the bible and I trust again I am not drawing to long a bow from these to passages, one from Exodus and a very long one from Job to show where he draws his language and allegory. Exodus 20:18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19. and said to Moses,” You speak to us and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” Job 9:1 Then Job replied:2 “Indeed, I know that this is true. But how can a mortal be righteous before God?3 Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer one time out of a thousand.4 His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed? 5 He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns in his anger.6 He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble.7 He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars.8 He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. I believe Nietzsche in this passage has come to terms with his battle with God, whom in reality he could not really kill, and perhaps identifies that it is not the almighty he wants to kill but His memory or cognisance within man. Hayman, in Nietzsche – A critical Life, sees this paragraph and its preceding paragraph in a different light. The following refers:- “Nietzsche was borrowing from Christianity not only the language and the rhythms of Biblical parable but the crucifixion story, writing a daring sequel about the death of the father….While the madman explicitly associates himself with the killers of God, Nietzsche associates himself with the madman.” Heidegger, in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, on the other hand sees the passage in other terms:- “The speech of the madman says specifically that the word “God is dead” has nothing in common with the opinions of those who are merely standing about and talking confusedly, who ‘do not believe in God.’ For those who are merely believers in that way, nihilism has not yet asserted itself at all as the destining of their own history.” Hayman is taking quite a dynamic view of the passage whereas Heidegger is totally analytical and in some ways individualistic. 6. The Requiem It has been related further that on that same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” It appears to me that Nietzsche has thrown in the towel. He is now distancing himself from the madman by referring to “It had been related further” this allowing himself to appear as the commentator and not the instigator. That the madman sings his “requiem to the eternal God” is further proof that he wishes God is dead! Finally, to claim that the churches are the tombs and sepulchers of God indicates to me that for Nietzsche there is a clear delineation between the church and Jesus, and God. Gilman, in Nietzschean Parody, believes that though the madman sought God and could not find him he then becomes aware of the death of God. He then goes on to say: “While the madman uncovers the death of God, accusing mankind as his murderers, it is only in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that Nietzsche fixes the actual cause of death: “God is dead: he died through his sympathy with man.” The death of God is for Nietzsche, a direct result of the human situation.” It is obvious that Nietzsche sees himself as one step beyond the modern man.


7. Conclusion Buber, in Eclipse of God, directly links Nietzsche’s death of God with the overman. The following refers:- “Nietzsche knew, so basically as not many modern thinkers before him, that the absoluteness of ethical values is rooted in our relationship to the Absolute. And he understood this hour of human history as that in which “the belief in God and in essential moral order can no longer be held.” His decisive utterance is the cry “God is dead.” But he could bear this proclamation only as turning-point, not as an end-point. Time and again he seeks a conception that will show a way out that might save God for those who had become godless. “Religions are wrecked by their belief in morality,” he says. “The Christian moral God is untenable.” But this does not yet lead to simple atheism “as though no other kinds of gods could exist.” From within man himself must come forth, if not the new god himself, at least a valid substitute for God, the “Superman.”” Schacht, in Reading Nietzsche, runs with this theme but expresses it in different language as follows: “One of Nietzsche’s main themes here is thus what we are; and another, equally important to him, is what we may become. These twin themes – of the generally human, naturalistically reconsidered, and of the genuinely or more-than-merely-human, reconceived accordingly – are the point counterpoint which give the volume its underlying structure and unity, with the “death of God” as pedal-tone.…Nietzsche thus advocates and exemplifies what might be called an anthropological shift in philosophy. …involving the attainment of what might be called an anthropological optic whereby to carry out the program of a de-deification and reinterpretation of ourselves and our world. It thus in effect involves the replacement of epistomology and metaphysics by a kind of philosophical anthropology as the fundamental and central philosophical endeavor.” What is Nietzsche playing at?

  1. The madman seeks God.
  2. As God cannot be found he states that we have killed Him.
  3. The madman has us bury God
  4. The people have not yet realised God is dead.
  5. The madman claims the churches are the tombs of God.

Nietzsche is writing scripture.

  1. Nietzsche is the madman. God is Jesus.
  2. The people who killed Him may well be the theologians and philosophers who came before Nietzsche.
  3. Jesus is buried in order that there may be a second coming.
  4. Nietzsche is the new messiah or overman but the people do not recognize him for what he is.
  5. The madman has begun his ministry by denouncing the church.

I believe Nietzsche has put a lot of thought into this aphorism. He has used the language from the scriptures to show his readers that he is capable of walking in the same footsteps as the master. When portrayed as the madman Nietzsche is the new messiah. When writing as the commentator Nietzsche is the prophet. If ever called to account I would not be surprised if Nietzsche were to recite Proverbs 26:18-19 and say, “I was only joking.” Nietzsche is a coward. He has an amazing intellect but has hidden his desires and aspirations in rhetoric. He has tried to rise above the others by bringing them down. He has not appreciated that the hoi polloi did not kill God off, it is just that Jesus was a man and capable of communicating at our level and therefore existing within our world. Nietzsche on the other hand, were he the new messiah could not communicate with the masses. He will never have his sermon on the mount. God is DeadNietzsche, 1882. Nietzsche is DeadGod, 1900.


 
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