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Who Killed God

Fall 2006

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Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who coined the phrase “God is Dead”
(first published in his book “The Gay Science” in 1882), is regarded in the
philosophical community as one of the greatest contributors of all time. Nietzsche
is described as the “most brilliant, most challenging, and most demanding
philosopher of the modern period”. The majority of Nietzsche’s work is
intertwined, his ideas and theories building off of one another with time.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in Germany on October 15th 1884. Nietzsche’s
father was a Lutheran pastor who passed away when Nietzsche was just a young man.
This would be the first death in his family that he experienced; the second being
his brother Joseph. The tragedy of his father’s death had a heavy impact on
Nietzsche, a weight that he carried throughout his life. The writer David Krell
writes in Good European that Nietzsche purchased a tombstone for his father’s
grave, thirty-six years after the occurrence of his death.
When Nietzsche was fifteen, he claimed that he was ‘seized’ with an urgent and
overwhelming desire for knowledge. Nietzsche attended Bonn University and studied
theology and philology, the study of religion and the interpretation of classical
biblical texts, respectively. When Nietzsche was twenty-one he accidentally came
across a book of Arthur Schopenhauer in a bookstore, and quickly became intrigued
with attaining a higher level of thinking. Nietzsche was later brought on by the
University of Basel in 1869 to fulfill a teaching position when he was only
twenty-four years old. Though he did not have a doctorate, his education from a
first-rate boarding school in his youth had helped to foster his brilliance, and
this combined with the recommendation of his personal friend Ritschl got him the
job with no conflict. This same year, he was recognized as an Extraordinary
Professor of Classical Philology. Ironically, despite this positive recognition,
Nietzsche was not a very successful professor. His lectures were much too
complicated for his pupils to follow, and his lack of sociability led his
colleagues to believe that he was indifferent to them. While Nietzsche was in fact
extremely intelligent, he was much more interested in his own thoughts and ideas
than those of his students. In spite of these issues with his teaching style and
personality, Nietzsche remained at Basel, teaching for ten years before health
issues forced his resignation in 1879.
Several years before starting at the University, Nietzsche served in the military
during the Franco-Prussian War to fulfill the duty that was required of him. He
served under Otto Von Bizmarck, a man whom he admired for his power, and who he
hoped to emulate. His belief that Bizmarck had a “higher morality” is what
motivated him to serve under his command. His service was cut short due to a
serious chest injury sustained while climbing onto a horse, and he left because he
was too hurt to carry on. This unfortunate experience returned to plague him
numerous times throughout the course of his life, he was constantly coming down
with serious illnesses, presenting him with difficult obstacles that most people
did not have to worry about or deal with. While serving in the military, for
example, also contracted dysentery and diphtheria, which led to him suffering
insomnia. Not only this, but throughout the rest of his life he continued to have
severe migraine headaches as a result of these sicknesses.
Nietzsche began publishing his works in the early 1870s, with his first book, The
Birth of Tragedy, Out of the Spirit of Music being published in 1872. Other key
writings of his include the Human, All too human series, Unfashionable
Observations, and The Old and the New Faith: A Confession. Nietzsche often praised
or ostracized his peers, either directly or indirectly poking fun at their person
or their theories. An interesting topic to note is that of German culture,
discussed in the four studies found in Unfashionable Observations. Nietzsche
could be brutal at times, mercilessly attacking the views of his colleagues. His
desire for knowledge is reflected in his words: “Nietzsche claimed that the
principle of ‘life’ is a more pressing and higher concern than that of
‘knowledge’, and that the quest for knowledge should serve the interests of life”.

Perhaps one of his most well-known works, The Gay Science was published in 1882,
and contains his coined phrase, “God is dead.” Two thousand years later and this
theory is still discussed in philosophical classes today, the phrase referring to
the idea that anyone who believes in God believes in something that has long been
gone. The idea behind God is gone, its force lost. There is no creativity left,
and Nietzsche felt that creativity is extremely important in one’s life, for
without it the world would be routine. Religious followers who desired having
and believing in a god of their own did so just to fit in with others. These
followers were referred to as the “Herd” in Nietzsche’s writing, not only playing
off of the idea of God as a shepherd and his children the flock, but to a sheep’s
common practice of following a crowd without thinking for itself.
Nietzsche writes that it is humans who have killed God, killed the idea of it and
stripped it of all meaning it once held. Religious followed think they believe in
God, but do not see beyond themselves. Nietzsche ponders which is worse; the death
of God, or knowing there is no God. This led to his Overman theory, which is
essentially, the idea that we must overcome all. Nietzsche sets people’s worth by
their values and how and what they can contribute to the society. The
contributions one can make the value of the person, the only logical measurement
that will ring true. Nietzsche ties this idea in with his ideas on Nihilism, the
diminishment of values and the meaning of all things. With the death of God,
everyone would be in a state of transformation, where they will not know
themselves, as everything they had believed in was not the reality of life. The
decline of Christianity and society in general would come about with all haste.
The world would basically lose moral, social and political thought and
restrictions, causing an unbalanced place where people focus on their personal
desires and nothing else. The death of God threatens human worth, therefore our
existence, giving our life a “complete loss of significance”.
Because of the great calamity caused from the death of God, the strong men, the
people who have overcome the death of God remain standing. These people have
overcome themselves. Nietzsche introduced this idea of an “overman,” also referred
to “Super-man” in some translations, essentially one who overcomes. This higher
type of man has overcome the herd of society that he was once a part of. The
Overman’s life will continue on because he has overcome the struggle, whereas
those who are unable to will fall to the wayside. Conquering struggle is the main
quality of the overman, there can be no overman without his emergence from
struggle. The overman has no idols, or “false idols,” and is the outcome of what
Nietzsche believes is coming to the world. The overman is a symbol of atheism, and
possibly of Nietzsche himself.
Those people who have found that God is dead and are unable to overcome are
considered Underman by Nietzsche, unsure of themselves after their eye-opening.
These Undermen are alone in the world, their God is no longer in their faith, and
they are lost without anything to believe in. These people are mere mortals,
whereas the Overmen are able to rise above this level, they are trapped by their
Nietzsche’s main ideas about God are that if we were created by God, and
after his image, that with his death we will loose our meaning, being his children
we were given identity and purpose through Him. These ideas regarding the overman
can be viewed as an evolutionary theory, it being a mental evolution as opposed to
a physical one. Darwin’s ideas may have helped bring this idea to Nietzsche’s
foresight. The overman theory was briefly mentioned in his book, Thus Spoke
Zarathustra (1883-5). With the idea that the overman is above regular men, one can
conclude that while it is possible to reach this level, we cannot comprehend it.
Nietzsche’s brief mention of the overman leads one to believe that he did not see
himself as an overman of his time.
In his book The Gay Science, Nietzsche describes a madman in a market who is
speaking to a crowd of atheists. The madman seems to be acting strange, shouting
to the crowd that he seeks God, later saying that “God is Dead.” After the crowd
has had their laugh, the madman continues, saying, “and we have killed him.” The
madman continues by saying “How could we drink up the sea?,” questioning human’s
infallible ability to use up our available resources and exploit them until
nothing remains.
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 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."
Nietzsche slightly resembles the madman in his parable with his outlook on the
world and his interpreted understanding of values. The idea of losing God means
Madness, this madman has lost God, whether he ever truly believed in God is
irrelevant, the fact remaining that in the present day and time in his life he
does not know God. Despite his thoughts on God, Nietzsche believed that if the
world was without faith then nothing would have significance, and as a result,
more poverty, murder, greed and a loss of respect, would surely ensue.
A few decades before this work of Nietzsche’s was published, Darwin’s infamous, On
The Origin of Species, was released. A book with such a profound influence on
society certainly played a role in Nietzsche’s subsequent writings, Darwin looked
on my many as a sinner and a blasphemer, but by others as a genius before his
time. The Christian religion is founded on the idea that they are Gods creations,
each specially made for a specific purpose, and to love certain things. Darwin’s
theories, however, state otherwise, introducing the idea of evolution and survival
of the species, life adapted over million of years until it reached the point that
they were living in the present world. Going so far as to suggest that God did not
create the world in seven days, did not create Man in His image, Darwin was taking
an incredibly risk, particularly because his audience was so unwilling to hear
these things.
Similar to the ideas of Darwin, Nietzsche’s ideas went against the common grain of
society, and raised concern from his peers who were not readily accepting of his
theories. Nietzsche claimed that if we would dig deep into our psyches we would
see that our true faith is not in God, but in science. Nietzsche declared that no
man can have true faith in God; supporting this by claiming it is not possible to
have authentic faith in God in the world he lived in, criticizing its endless
distractions, temptations, and developing technology to alter the course of our
After publishing his life’s work, the end of Nietzsche’s life drew near. Nietzsche
lost his mind after witnessing a horse getting brutally beaten by a coachman in
1889, and he would never be the same. He spent the rest of his life in a villa;
his mother taking care of him until her death. Nietzsche’s sister than took the
role of caring for Nietzsche until his passed away at age 56, a broken man.
Nietzsche was buried next to his mother and sister beside a church in Rocken Bei
Nietzsche’s ideas were groundbreaking for his time, not only his theories but his
brashness and disregard for others’ reactions. Nietzsche’s ideas on the culture
of the past are still resembled in our culture of today. Although he lived an
irregularly short life, his contributions to the world have been vast. Nietzsche’s
writings are connected by a rope which has been only strengthened over the years
since his death from enforcement and increase of will to power.

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