Death of God Part II


Nietzsche’s eerie section in the Gay Science of the madman who announces the murder of God to the townspeople has provoked a variety thoughts and interpretations. I’d like to clear up what I perceive to be some misconceptions. First, the profundity that Nietzsche attaches to the event suggests that he does not take the murder of God lightly. This is not just a mere Enlightenment critique of religion. Nietzsche’s feelings as evidenced by the madman’s fervor are a testimony to the ambivalence he has towards the event. Atheists like Dawkins tend to treat religion as pre-scientific belief that no longer offers an appropriate explanation of the world in which we live. They do not understand that the death of God does not merely require an updated cosmology, but rather a rethinking of all values. I believe the reason Nietzsche portrays the madman as recognizing he has come to soon is because of the childishness with which the atheistic villagers respond to his proclamation. Their immature response implies that the townspeople have yet to understand the terrible significance. Many atheists today want to discard the metaphysics of Christianity but hold on to the positive virtues that it encourages, like Don Cupitt. Yet, I believe that this is the exact position that Nietzsche would despise the most. However, Nietzsche realizes what really needs to be rethought is morality itself. He views Christian morality as an eternal ‘no’ to the pleasures of this life because of the promise of eternal life. Also, he believes that the ethics Christianity promotes are actually expressions of weakness and cowardice. That is to say virtues such as charity, forgiveness, and peace are moralities advocated by those who lack power. Thus, they become extolled by the weak who are dominated by the strong. Nietzsche envisions on the horizon a new type of man who will fully invest in this life, live out his desires, and say yes to his power and no to piety. This becomes especially evident in his critique of Paul in the Anti-Christ(ian). Although, I believe his reading of Paul is a bit one-sided, some of his points do bear repeating. For Nietzsche, Paul has betrayed the only true Christian, Jesus of Nazareth, by re-inscribing Jesus’ message of liberation and freedom back into a priestly religion focused on the Law, sin, guilt, and eternal life. Paul also remains blind to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ death by turning it into some metaphysical exchange between the crucified and God. Instead, Nietzsche believes the cross to be Jesus’ fidelity to his ministry and ethics (I’m tempted to say a rejection of the substitutionary view).

So, returning to the murder of God, what exactly does Nietzsche mean when he declares that ‘God is dead’? First, off it would be naïve to think Nietzsche once believed in a God who now no longer exists (I’ll return to this perspective with Altizer in my next post). Instead, he believes that moral/metaphysical God, what Lacan terms the Big Other, no longer is believable to modern man because of the process of secularization. A useful interpretation revolves around the loss of meaning that occurs with God’s death. Because God is the ground of order, meaning, and truth with his death we must cope with the chaos that it has left behind. However, Nietzsche views this opportunity to be one of great promise, even if the task is burdensome. This is summed up by Vattimo’s quote, “There are no facts only interpretations, and this too is an interpretation”. Not only do we lose ground for all objectivity, it also results in the dissolution of a universal moral law. Hence, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche maps out a new system of values in which the Overman says ‘yes’ to this life with courage and responsibility for his own existence.

While I agree with Nietzsche in much of his critique of religion especially the death of the moral/metaphysical God, I question whether this is the God of Christianity. I understand it is certainly represented in parts of Scriptures. For one, many of the virtues he affirms I find to be a repetition of Jesus’ message. My friend Jack believes that the statements that Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount, “You’ve heard it say, but I tell you…” are Jesus’ attempts to alert us to the futility of following the law. Ultimately, we must become like the lilies of the field and quit worrying about everything. Liberation in Christianity also means liberation from Kant. I’m not sure I wholly embrace this perspective, but perhaps that is because it reminds me too much of Luther’s identification of law and sin. Also, I believe that it’s likely the historical Jesus was not interested in completely overturning the law, but I’ll save that for another day.

While I certainly think that Christians ought not to fully endorse the ‘will-to-power’, because this supports a wholesale abandonment of the weak, the first to enter the Kingdom. His eternal ‘Yes-saying’ to life, his affirmation of the importance of this world, his embrace of freedom and responsibility and rejection of guilt are already advocated by Jesus. I also believe that the Christian God is not the God who looks over your back and keeps score of the amount of bad things you’re doing. This moral God is disgusting, oppressive, and more or less the cruel superego. I believe wholeheartedly with Simone Weil in Waiting for God where she argues that when you see your neighbor suffering, it is a sin at that moment to turn your thoughts to God. Not only is this committing violence to the absolute singularity of your neighbor’s pain, you also transform your neighbor into some test of faith. The God of the Puritans must die!

I’ll let Bonhoeffer finish this post, “Before God and with God we live without God”.


2 Responses to “Death of God Part II”

  1. Wesley Says:

    I like that ending quote with Bonhoeffer, good stuff.

    I need to read me some Nietzsche. But I’ve resigned myself to reading Bertrand Russel’s History of Western Philosophy for same of understanding where Philosophy came from before I venture into ‘later’ philosophies in any sufficient manner.

    Anyways, this Nietzschian cry: “God is Dead!” always struck me as more than it was made out to be; more than a belligerent enlightenment critique of religion. I really like your interpretation of Nietzsche’s (or at least the Madman’s) cry but I’d like to hear more about why this isn’t the Christian God?

    Maybe you answer this in further posts (I’m reading them after I post this)


  2. jbsrh18 Says:

    I didn’t mean to suggest that Christianity is not guilty of promoting a moralistic/superegoic God. It is. However, I don’t believe that that conception is the only concept of God that’s embedded in the Christian tradition. I was trying to work out that idea w/ what Jack had said and the promising, liberating ethic Jesus preached/practiced. In John 14, Jesus calls his disciples friends. I think that’s a beginning way to begin to loosen one interpretation of God. Also everyone loves to reference the fact that God is love. Sure, save for the fact that a bigger emphasis in the Bible is on God’s justice. His restoration to the oppressed and condemnation of the wicked. This strikes me though as different than the God who makes us feel guilty for only personal struggles. It tends to focus more on systemic/economic/political sins. Not just individualistic sins. Focusing on that liberating aspect offers at least a partial escape from the oppressive, pietistic God

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