Our fourth week of Atheism For Lent focuses on Friedrich Nietzsche, specifically one of his best known remarks: God is dead. This phrase is often turned against him, stating that Nietzsche is dead and God is not. This turn, however, is a misunderstanding of the phrase. For if God exists, you cannot kill him. And if God does not exist, there is nothing to kill.
Nietzsche most famously uses this phrase in his parable of the Madman (which we will explore tomorrow) but its first appearance is cited earlier in the same book under the heading, “New Struggles.”
After Buddha was dead people showed his shadow for centuries afterwards in a cave, – an immense frightful shadow. God is dead; but as the human race is constituted, there will perhaps be caves for millenniums yet, in which people will show his shadow. – And we – we have still to overcome his shadow!
(Nietzsche, Gay Science, 81)
The “new struggle” is to see the cave for what it is and call the shadow out as an ideological construct. For it is this, our ideological construct that we declare to be God, which has died. This is the God of our creation, perpetuation, and subjugation. This God is dead but we insist on keeping him alive.
Nietzsche’s atheism was not a denial of God, however, but a methodological tool he used to free himself from the guilt caused by the Christian interpretation of God. He did not mean so much that God was dead, but that we are alive and on our own as human beings.
For this is Nietzsche’s work in a nutshell: the retrieval of humanity and of one’s personal divinity by denying categories like the “sacred,” the “supernatural,” and even the “natural,” at times, until finally he had to remove God to get at divinity. Because sometime god gets in the way of God.