Nietzsche: God is dead

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him”, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in 1882. To understand what the German philosopher meant; and what he thought of men, morality, and society as a whole, we collaborated with professor Stephen Hicks on this Sprouts special series.

Wow great video. Can’t wait for part 2👍💯👏

Damjan Vulić
THE FULL STORY

For thousands of years humans have been religious, but in the modern world religion has become a shadow of its former self. Nietzsche’s dramatic phrase “God is dead” is meant to capture the shocking quality of this revelation.

Religion

For those raised religiously, religion personalized the world. It gave them a sense that the world had a purpose and that they were part of a larger plan. It gave them the comfort that, despite appearances, we are all equal and cared for and that upon death — instead of a cold grave — a possible happily-ever-after ending awaits.

But in the modern world we find it increasingly hard to believe those values. We have seen the dramatic rise of science, which has offered less comfortable answers to questions religion traditionally had a monopoly on. We have thrown off the shackles of feudalism with its unquestioning acceptance of authority and have become more individualistic and naturalistic in our thinking. But in historical time all of this has happened very quickly.

For millennia we have been religious, but come the nineteenth century even the average man has heard that religion may have reached the end of its journey. For most of us, even the suggestion of this hints at a crisis.

Imagine a thirteen-year old who is awakened in the middle of the night to be told by strangers that both his parents have died. He is suddenly an orphan. For as long as he can remember his mother and father were present in his life, looking after him and guiding him. Now they are gone and ready or not he is thrust into that world alone. How does the young teen handle that sudden transition?

Culturally, Nietzsche says, we are like that young teen. For as long as we can remember our society has relied upon God the Father to look after us. But now, suddenly, we are orphaned. We wake up one morning to discover that in our heart of hearts our naively childhood religious beliefs have withered.

So now, whether we like it or not, a question creeps into our minds: How do we face the prospect of a world without God and religion?

Socialism

In the nineteenth century, says Nietzsche, most people did not face that question well. Most people avoid the issue, sensing that even to raise it would be to enter dangerous territory. Life without religion is too scary to contemplate, so they retreat to a safety zone of belief and repeat nervously the formulas they have learned about faith.

Slightly better to Nietzsche, but not much, are the socialists of the nineteenth century. Socialism is on the rise, and many socialists accept that God is dead — but then they are very concerned that the State take God’s place and look after them. The mighty State will provide for us and tell us what to do against the mean people of the world.

Think of it this way: The Judeo-Christian tradition says this is a world of sin, in which the weak suffer at the hands of the strong, that we should all be selfless and serve God and others, especially the sick and helpless, and that in a future ideal world — Heaven — the lion will lie down with lamb, and the inescapable power of God will bring salvation to the meek and judgment to the wicked.

The socialist tradition says this is a world of evil exploitation, in which the strong take advantage of the weak. But we should all be selfless and sacrifice for the good of others, especially the needy — “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” and the forces of history will necessarily bring about a future ideal world that will end all harsh competition, empowering the oppressed and eliminating the evil exploiters.

Religion vs Socialism

Both religion and socialism thus glorify weakness and need. Both recoil from the world as it is — tough, unequal, harsh. Both flee to an imaginary future realm where they can feel safe. Both say: Be a nice boy. Be a good little girl. Share. Feel sorry for the little people. And both desperately seek someone to look after them— whether it be God or the State.

So where, asks Nietzsche, are the men of courage? Who is willing to stare into the abyss? Who can stand alone on the icy mountain top? Who can look a tiger in the eye without flinching?

Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche, who was born in 1844, was not only a fierce critic of church and socialism, but also nationalism and antisemitism. His strong moral stance meant that he openly condemned many of his intellectual friends and even broke his relationship with his own sister who married a notorious anti-semite.

what do you think?

So what are your thoughts on Nietzsche? Do you agree with his understanding of the world we live in? For more information about this extraordinary man and his impact on our society, check the descriptions below. There you’ll also find a link to Stephen Hicks’ full account of the German philosopher.

Sources

Classroom Exercise

Have you heard of Nietzsche before? Do you think Nietzsche’s ideas apply to 21st century? Discuss it among friends, family, in school, or let us know in the comments below!

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