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Eileen Jakeway

Instructor: Malcolm Campbell

English 1103
Our Existence in Limbo: Was Friedrich Nietzsche an Atheist?

Nietzsches famous declaration that God is dead, has echoed to all corners
of modern, Western thought. Countless philosophers and thinkers have read The
Parable of the Madman and concluded that Nietzsche was an atheist, condemning
Christian morality and thereby disbelieving in God. I would like to separate these two
and dissect Nietzsches work a bit further to explore what I consider the human
attempt to understand the good and evil of this world through rationality. Rather than
dispelling belief in a God, Nietzsche criticizes the herd mentality that has taken
over the Christian church as an institution. Congregations are following whatever has
been handed down to them because they believe it is the rational thing to do. At
the same time, critics such as Steven Kreis argue in Lecture 3: Nietzsche, Freud and
the Thrust Towards Modernism that Nietzsche realized that man must understand
that life is not governed by rational principles!There are no absolute standards of
good and evil which can be demonstrated by human Reason.
Building on this statement, it is necessary to take a look at what Nietzsche
defined as God and the implications this has on the way humans understand truth.
In his The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes that, !God is the creator, the source of
Being and of all things...Yet such a God is also the God of truth !the philosophical
pattern of rationality and intelligibility![found] reflected and incarnated everywhere
throughout the universe (Allison 91). This definition of God, which Nietzsche claims
to be at the root of humanitys beliefs, complicates our comprehension of the world.
Eileen Jakeway 11/25/13 4:36 PM
Comment [1]: uieat place to jump in with
youi peisonal voice
Eileen Jakeway 11/25/13 4:37 PM
Comment [2]: Wheie is this fiom.
Eileen Jakeway 11/25/13 4:37 PM
Comment [3]: I'm not suie if you have to
put the citation since you stateu the souice
explicitly, but I woulu uouble check.
If God is the source of rationality are any advances we make using reason and by
extension, science and technology, not moving us closer to God in our modern day
and age? This is not what Nietzsche suggests. He argues that we are killing God, in
a sense, exchanging him for a new idol, deity to worship. In the following quote from
the Introduction to The Gay Science, this exchange is highlighted quite clearly:
There was no longer felt to be a need for the Old God. His function as
creator, confessor, balm, judge, and accountant was replaced by another
agency, namely, by science and by another faith- the faith and belief in an
omnipotent technology.
The Judeo-Christian God eventually comes to be replaced by the new marvel
of a universal scientific order of creation, production, and rationally consistent
explanation (Allison 92).
The Old God was, in a sense, pushed out by a consensus reached by general
populations. In The Parable of the Madman, the churches are called the tombs and
sepulchers of God. God was locked out by the very people who claimed to worship
Him. They still attended church, still went through their routine, but the intention in it
was not to find truth. Their truth existed outside, in the world, in the patterns and
theories presented by science. If they prescribed to Nietzsches philosophy, they
would see this truth indeed reiterated everywhere, but accept it as flowing from God.
When critics claim that Nietzsche shunned the idea of a God, I cannot accept that he
would accept Him as the source of truth, without accepting him as the source of
morality. And in his writings, he is very focused in the everyday decisions we make
that create what we perceive as truth. And he believes that truth has to be fought for
every step of the way. (Williams xvii).
When exploring these assumptions, questions about the fundamental
characteristics of our universe arise. Is it chaotic or rational to begin with? Can we
even claim to understand it? We want to exchange one belief system for another, but
is this just a different manifestation of the same weaknesses and fears that have
always been present amongst human populations?
One theory that Nietzsche proposed is religion as a power struggle. Our definition of
God changes based on how we feel we need to perceive the world. Weakness and
metaphysical illusions came into existence as a psychological compensation for the
weakness of people who were powerless, and this outlook triumphed over the
conventionally strong and their view of the world (Williams x). The death of God is
presented as the result of a power struggle: the weak control what they can. It was
thought that fear and weakness generated a need for God, the old God but really it is
the new God of science and technology that is the manifestation of a fear of humans
role in the universe. The more we are afraid of our own insignificance, the more we
seek to understand and control through science, making it the center of our lives and
In his quest for truth, Nietzsche admits the source of Being is also the source of
value and truth. This truth is universal and concrete; despite our advances in
science and technology, we cannot replace the truth that has always been. He does
not doubt the beliefs of the old Christians who worshipped in churches; rather, he
attacks contemporary Christians for their lack of true belief, their doubt in an old
truth. In Book III of On Geneaology of Morality, he wrote:
You will have gathered what I am getting at, namely, that it is still a
metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests-that even we knowers
of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the
Eileen Jakeway 11/25/13 4:38 PM
Comment [4]: Yay questions! Exploie
exploie exploie
flame lit by the thousand-year-old faith, the Christian faith which was also
Platos faith, that God is truth, that truth is divine().
In my personal opinion, there does exist a fundamental truth that we must fight to
uncover. It is a lifetime challenge and struggle; the quintessential meaning of life
we are all looking for. I believe that Nietzsche was doing exactly that in his work, in a
manner not pledged to any one school of thought. However, just because his
expression was radical and unconventional, does not mean he did not reach any
meaningful conclusions. Just by virtue of dedicating his life to the pursuit of the
divine, Nietzsche was a deeply spiritual person, per my definition of the word.
Spirituality, to me, is to associate meaning to life other than the immediate. It is the
acceptance of the value of aesthetics, the emotion evoked by language and the
impact we have on each other. I believe that living is a spiritual experience, but not
everyone is aware of the metaphysical journey each day represents. Nietzsche was
spiritual because he was awake. He was very conscious of his existence and that of
othershe looked for truth and for meaning. He chose to uncover his spirit and
understand that of humankind. That is what makes a spiritual person; religion is just
one vehicle for undertaking said journey.
I agree with author David B. Allison that, [Nietzsche] saw the unraveling of
Christianity as part of the phenomenon that he called European nihilism, the loss of
any sense of depth or significance to life. Since humans could explain a lot about
the world, they did not bother to look any deeper. They accepted still rather
rudimentary, though scientifically accurate, perceptions of the world. If something did
not check out logically, like a faith or religion, it was dropped by the wayside, left
behind. However, this blocked people from seeing the interconnectivity of the
Eileen Jakeway 11/25/13 4:38 PM
Comment [5]: Page numbeis in
paientheses aftei this
universe as a whole and disregards belief systems that people have held for
thousands of years.
In order to understand Nietzsches goals for combatting nihilism, it is
important to know what this concept entails and what various scholars of the time
thought in regards to this doctrine.
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be
known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a
radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in
nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to
destroy. While few philosophers would claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most
often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive
effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical
convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. (Pratt)
As a young philosopher, Nietzsche was influenced by several older mentors,
including Arthur Schopenhauer. Interestingly, Nietzsche became a huge proponent
of his when he first read the work of the prominent German philosopher. Throughout
the course of his career, however, Nietzsche discovered several incongruences
between his personal beliefs and the notions entertained by Schopenhauer. A major
one of these includes the prospect of human suffering and its implications for
humanity . There has also been some contention over Nietzsches view on suffering.
While some suggest that Nietzsche views suffering as a sign of weakness that is
ultimately eliminable from human existence, (Conway) others maintain that
Nietzsche possessed a hyper-sensitivity to suffering!.linked to a total refusal to
forget, not only the existence of suffering but the fact that suffering was necessary to
everything that he and anyone else valued (Allison xvi).
Many scholars read Nietzsches work and see it as a challenge to the
Christian Church. And that is very true. One might even consider him an atheist and
be right, because it is very likely he would not believe in religion, as it exists
today. However, one would be wrong in discarding his belief in God. He believed in
morality and truth and fought very hard to discover it in the course of his lifetime. The
fact that he explored such a variety of subjects in a very critical way: morality, truth,
the divine, religion as a power struggle, the will to power and the eternal recurrence
to name a few, made it very easy for other philosophers to impose their own value
systems on his work and interpret them through that lens. Writer David B. Allison
agrees. The deeply radical spirit of his work was combined with a lack of effective
political and social ideas, leaving a blank on which many different aspirations could
be projected (Allison xii).
Nietzsche did not believe in a traditional God or the God that is currently
worshipped in temples and churches. Nor is this the God that has always held that
position. But Friedrich Nietzsche believed in Truth. And he believed that it is the
responsibility of people to hold themself to this truth, to make the decision to seek it
out and to find morality in that pursuit:
At any price: we understand this well enough once we have slaughtered
one faith after another on this altar! Consequently, will to truth does not
mean I do not want to let myself be deceived but there is no alternative- I
will not deceive, not even myself; and with that we stand on moral ground.
Humans use Reason to try to make sense of the world. However, the morality that
flows from God and Nature, the inherent Good and Evil, is thereby blocked out by
trying to explain it. Any attempts to reason and to rationalize the extent of a world
simply outside of our grasp, are a spiritual step away from God. With every rational
decision we make, Nietzsche argues that we move one step further away from the
morality stemming from God or Nature. Nietzsche is so vehemently opposed to
Christianity, not because he is against God, but because he detests our position in
the world as we currently exist. We are simply drifting unawares away from all
suns!plunging continually!backward, sideward, foreward, in all directions
(Nietzsche, The Parable of the Madman).
In these arguments, Nietzsche is attacking humanity, not God. There is a
God, he says in his writings, but we refuse his morality without accepting our own.
This is what Nietzsche is combatting: the mindless followings of an institution that is
not truly Godly. Really, this does not make Nietzsche an atheist. It makes him a
more conscious, curious Christian than most. In a way, he argues that we can have
it one way or have it the other. But instead, we are just joining a mindless herd
mentality and avoiding the choice. This is what Nietzsche abhors, why this
tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of
men (Parable).
This is really great Eileen! I think youve done a fantastic job at organizing
Nietzsches key philosophies, into clear and understandable points. You also make
great use of the criticisms against him as well as placing your personal thoughts into
the essay! Besides a few MLA things, I didnt have much to edit. As you continue
writing, I would just suggest working on the flow between the paragraphs and
making a strong conclusion! Yay!