God is dead. We have killed him!

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I have a Greek barber who fancies himself as a bit of a philosopher. Every now and again we talk about the ultimate issues of life and death while he cuts my hair.

On one such occasion he asked me, “How can you believe in God when so much evil has been done by religion?” Good question.

In 1882 a German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously declared that God is dead.

In the Madman he wrote:

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 around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest 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 too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

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 into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the 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?”

Nietzsche saw the implications of his philosophy. The death of God must inevitably lead to the rejection of absolute values that are binding upon all. The loss of an absolute basis for morality leads to nihilism—the loss of meaning in life. Nietzsche’s solution—”the will to power.” We become “gods” who define our own reality, our own truth, our own morality.

Just a few years before Nietzsche buried God, the Russian novelist Dostoevsky wrote: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

Is it any wonder that the era in which modern man embraced the death of God, was also the age of history’s worst atrocities? Both Hitler and Stalin, and a hundred other petty dictators, knew the implications of the death of God.

5 Comments

  1. Posted 19 January, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    The question is: “Why did Nietzsche think God is dead?” Becasue of Darwin. Darwin devised a scheme, passed off today as scientific fact, that seems to explain the world without God. As Dawkins said, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled athesit.” That is why it is so important for Christians to be very clear on the biblical worldview (Creation in six days, Fall, Flood, Babel, Israel, Christ, Restoration) and to be able to defend that worldview.

    A question to the barber is, “If there is no God, then how do you define evil?”

  2. Sandlava
    Posted 12 April, 2011 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Why, as an athiest, I would define evil as a term given to anything immoral. Even without a God to tell us what is morally justified and not so, even without these moralities having an objective meaning, we, as a society, have created our own laws; we live our own way, hold our own beliefs, invent laws and justify punishment.

    Even if none of this has a meaning, even if in the fullness of time ‘morality’ has turned into something that means nothing at all, we still have good and evil, but we choose our definition of it.

    I would ask you to name a single evil act that could not be placed in a context that would make it an act of good. Even murder itself can serve a greater good, if the murder victim planned to blow up a school. But under the law of God, that murder nets you an eternity of torment.

  3. kingpomba
    Posted 27 September, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    That is an extremely weak argument to say the least. It is down right silly to link those atrocities to nietzsche or the rise of atheism. There have been plenty of atrocities in the distant past where atheism was a minority but you conveniently forgot those.

    I hate using this example but think about the crusades as well. So much bloodshed carried out directly in the name of religion. So, even if according to you the absence of religion causes atrocities, the presence of religion clearly does as well.

  4. Siceless
    Posted 24 April, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I defiantly must disagree with your sentiment about a century of wars and hate is the result of a lack of belief in god. Specifically, your god. In Nietzsche’s time his ideas couldn’t have been heard across the continent let alone around the world. Only many years later were they beginning to gain merit. My understanding of the “madman” is Nietzsche sees in this individual himself. As a sort of prophet, proposing the question what comes of us if there were no god? And being rejected by the people he saw he was attempting to free from an ever suppressing concept.
    About our “times” If anything times have always been “dark” the only difference is the rate at which we can kill one another and how quickly we hear about it. A life without “a divine” doesn’t equate to the end of morals. For some without this belief life is not worth living. And for those people a god concept is defiantly necessary. Just as atheism is not for all, belief in the one known as “god” is not for all. Every religion claims to be the only one that is true, the one that upholds what they interpret what their divine has told them is the true way of life.
    I understand that for many a life devoid of an ultimate power, or divine meaning would defiantly result in a life of meaninglessness. How insignificant is man without a great all knowing being to have a species so complex, created all we see, influence all that we do. If life is not a test to return to that perfect existence after “mortal” life, then each person’s life on earth is essentially meaningless. If we get the short rope in life, we are promised a heavenly existence like that which we could never imagine in reward for our obedience. I don’t know what sound more frightening, the possibility of endless suffering in “hell” or the idea that after I die there is a possibility that nothing comes next. Its in opposition to the possiblity that as great as man is we are beings to an end, it’s through fear of starring into this void that we cling to that endless reflection of a promised continuing of our existence. My honest opinion on god, one god, or no god. Is no body knows for a fact what will happen after we come to our end.
    Life is but a perspective. Your reality is your own. God or no god. Believe that which makes you feel complete, align with principles that sustain and enrich you. Or better yet, realize your own. It all depends on how deep down the rabbit whole your willing to go with your thoughts. If you find your life with no meaning or point of existence to continue on by all means believe in a divine. But understand a life free of restricting your own thoughts is quite liberating. For my perspective, I feel like Im able to actually become who I should be. I can decide for myself that which is moral and I’ve found life to be so much more than the color of the looking glass being either white or black, good or bad. Upon the basis of absolute indisputable principles. Instead I’m able to finally appreciate life like never before. Open mindedness is my guide. Life is a mystery. And luckily enough I didn’t loose it after I stumbled into that period of nihilism. My belief is life shouldn’t be spent in servitude to a figure I’ve never had any personal experiences with. I’ve had feelings of a god, but what if those feelings were nothing more than what I perceived as god? Based on a book with conflicting views and absolute principles conflict. But hey thats just me. I get that belief in god is to believe without knowing. Through faith. However in seeing the need for man’s purpose to define that which is unknown and feared. I can see multiple sides and viewpoints. I’ve simply chosen those that make the most sense to myself in my experience.
    May I suggest you take a look at Nietzsche’s view of Slave vs Master Morality, Freud’s view on Reaction Formation (love thy neighbor principle) Or Machiavelli’s “The Prince” As well as many other world belief systems. Also if a life of the possibility of godlessness is too difficult to swallow. (It defiantly was for me and I was raised christian, church every Sunday, baptized and all) then may I suggest in the bare minimum, to suggest that if you are in protest of the scientific explanation of creation (I’m speculating here) May I suggest the thought that what if the scientific point of view is the “how”, and not the counter to belief in god. I understand it seems tomfoolery to think we came from the monkey. But its man’s attempt to explain our creation through means of universal understanding of science. May not be the correct answer either but without questions being raised there is nothing further to be learned. I leave you with a quote to deeply ponder the meaning of. A thought that caused me many restless nights and propelled and perplexed me into the journey of self discovery,”The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates

  5. Siceless
    Posted 25 April, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    May I add that the dissolution of absolute principles is only inevitable. For example if all 10 commandments are absolute. Tho shall not kill specifically, then any form of a man killing another man without the approval of god is immoral. It became justified as “carrying out god’s will” back in the day. The inquisition comes to mind as a standing belief to man justifying his defiance of his god’s principles. But as always in retrospect it becomes seen as man being influenced by the all evil Satan. After society’s paradigm shifts so to does the responsibility for these atrocities. The blame is then placed on the man, who believed he was pleasing god. But was wrong. Instead of blaming god the man thought he was following in the first place. The dissociation of wrong doing on a perfect all knowing being is transferred to the insignificant man. As god does not make mistakes, it is not possible for him to will these things we see as unspeakable evil to be committed.

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