What did Nietzsche mean by the expression “God is dead”?

What did Nietzsche mean by the expression “God is dead”?
“God is dead” (German: “Gott ist tot”) is probably the most famous and notorious statement of 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. This sentence appears for the first time in his book “The cheerful science” under aphorisms 108 (“New wrestles”) and 125 (“The fool“), and a third time in aphorism 343 (“Our cheerfulness”). It is also found in “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” and it is mainly in this work that the popularity of the expression is due. Nietzsche’s nihilism and his position on God are still bothering many today.


Nietzsche’s ambiguous relationship with religion

Friedrich Nietzsche, son of a Lutheran pastor from Saxony, spent his entire life debating church and Christianity. He mainly fulminated against the values ​​of Christianity, but in his writings he nevertheless dealt with religious themes such as the gods of the ancient Greeks, Catholicism and Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. He even studied Protestant Theology in Bonn for a short period and was appointed associate professor of Classical Philology in Basel at the age of 25.

Denial of God and the meaning of life
Nietzsche is considered the pioneer for existentialism. He denied the existence of God and refused to give any meaning to life or history. He demanded a “revaluation of all values” that man had to achieve with the help of the “will to power”.

His concept of the future of humanity, “the Übermensch” who did not need religion or science to prescribe his values, would later be misused by the National Socialists in Germany. Apologists of Nazism relied on Nietzsche’s writings as a philosophical justification for their teachings in the 1930s and 1940s, but most historians regard this as a perverse distortion of Nietzsche’s thinking.

Christianity as a slave religion that wants to chain people
Nietzsche considered Christian civilization to be decadent, and instead of her “slave mentality he promoted a new heroic morality in which man of the future would represent the highest level of passion and creativity. This ‘superman’ would make his own standards of good and evil. In this light, his statement “God is dead” must also be viewed.

After the “death of God” man must create new values
In his writings, Nietzsche collapses the basic values ​​of “truth”, “morality” and “religion” like card houses and replaces them with “nihilism” – nothing. However, the man should not be left with a hold, but on the contrary – after the established death of God – reassess all values ​​and create “new values”.

The death of god: Nietzsche was not the first to write about it
Although this proposition and its significance is attributed to Nietzsche, other philosophers, writers, and theologians had previously considered this issue. Hegel had already discussed the concept of the death of God in 1807 in his ‘Phenomenology of the mind’. In it he regards the death of God as “no more than an easily recognizable part of the usual Christian redemption cycle.”

The expression can also be found, for example, in the poem “Le Christ aux oliviers” (“Christ on the olive trees”) by Gérard de Nerval from 1854, and Victor Hugo wrote in his social novel “Les Misérables” from 1862: “Maybe God is death “, here apparently referring to Gérard de Nerval himself. Hugo notes that Nerval “confuses progress with God, and its interruption with the death of Being.”

Nietzsche “God is dead”

It is in 1882 that for the first time at Nietzsche we find the expression about the death of God, namely in ‘The cheerful science’.

The happy science
A translated excerpt from the fool’s speech reads as follows:

“God is dead! God remains dead! And we killed him!
How do we comfort ourselves, the killers of all killers?
The holiest and most powerful thing the world has ever known has been bled to death under our knives.
Who wipes this blood from us?
Which water can we use to clean ourselves?
Which reconciliation feasts, which holy games will we have to invent?
Is the scope of this act not too large for us?
Should we not become gods ourselves to be worthy of them? “

Nietzsche: The cheerful science, third Book, 125.

Interpretation of “God is dead”
Nietzsche’s critical view of Christianity must be framed within the growing skepticism of religion at the time, as expressed by other German philosophers such as Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. The place of religion in human life was previously no longer so dominant as a result of enlightenment, rationalism and the growth of scientific insights. These developments were reinforced by the the realization that he had to rely more on his own thinking and acting.

Unlike most other philosophers, and not just those of his time, Nietzsche does not really have a coherent philosophical system. His work is highly subjective, peppered with sometimes prophetic aphorisms and lacks substantive consistency. This also applies to the quote “God is dead!” that after Nietzsche Marxists, existentialists, Nazis, theologians, etc., were interpreted in different ways.

Nietzsche was convinced that without God there would be positive new opportunities for people. After releasing faith in God, human creativity could, according to him, develop freely. If people would stop looking at heaven in search of Divine guidance, nothing would stand in their way to enjoy the value of the world in which they lived.

“There is no being responsible for the fact that anyone exists at all, that everyone is as he is, that everyone was born in certain circumstances and in a certain environment it’s great that such a creature is missing. “

Nietzsche: Wille zur Macht

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