It’s commonly held, or taught that Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most famous atheists of all time; the man who coined the phrase “God is dead.”
Nietzsche is responsible for that phrase, yes, and he was very influential in Western philosophy, but his quote, “God is dead” is often taken out context and misconstrued. He used the phrase as a critique of the Age of Enlightenment, saying that the Enlightenment has destroyed the centrally help conception of God in the West. To this there was no turning back, and the repercussions would see not only to the rejection of a belief of cosmic or physical order, but also a rejection of absolute values themselves.
Below is a parable Nietzsche wrote, called the Madman, which is the first time he used the phrase and idea that God is dead. Have a read and see what you think he’s actually saying.
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’s Madman confronts the atheists in the passage and asks if they understand what it means to perceive life as though God is dead – what values will guide you then? Who’s morals?
To Nietzsche the “death of God” was a crisis that would drastically change the way society functioned, and I believe he was deeply and genuinely concerned. The Western world, which had been formed and unified under a Christian system with Christian morals governing the people, would no longer have a foundation to stand on if God were gone. And without that, Nietzsche held, that society would spiral downward into a nihilistic abyss where nothing mattered.
I don’t know about you, but I think Nietzsche may have been a prophet. Look at what happened and what is happening. Can we say it’s a better world? I don’t know. In some cases, yes. In some cases, no.
*** I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on how the enlightenment has made the world better or worse than it was before. What is good in today’s world? What is bad? What shape are we in? And where do you think we’re going from here? ***
And to that last sentence: “What, after all, are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”
I know that one could easily understand these words if they went around NZ and visited as many churches as they can. Even in Christchurch! Yes, there are some vibrant churches doing good work, with healthy congregations, witnessing and seeing conversion growth. BUT there are many more relics of a past Christendom that has died, and in the eyes of secular NZ God has died too, leaving the old churches as nothing more than a pretty tomb of what once was.
It’s sad, but it’s true. Do I believe in revival? Sure! I also believe that nothing can stand against the coming Kingdom of God, not even the gates of Hell. So, we (humanity, the enlightenment, modern philosophy, naturalism, etc.) may have killed God – in a sense – but God, in reality is not dead; only in the minds of many. And the minds of many are no match for what God has planned.
Maybe what you are a part of, being in this church, is working toward revival. Maybe the God who raises the dead, can be resurrected through us! Oooooh, that’s a controversial statement, Jono! Yes, but if God is dead in the minds of our people, then let the resurrecting power come full circle! Let that power that raised Jesus to life, that gave us new life, be the same power that brings God back to life in the minds of the West, nay – in the HEARTS of the West!
But listen to me. There is no one, uniform way to do that. We must be creative, and patient, and loving in this venture; in our mission as Christians today! JUST DON’T BE AFRAID TO ENGAGE!