“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him…”
This is one of Nietzsche’s best-known contribution to our current pop culture. This line, in particular, has been giving anyone studying philosophy headaches collectively that has lasted since the 19th century up until this day. It is one of the most popular statements, even to people that have never picked up the book where it originated from, The Gay Science.
But of course, he surely didn’t literally mean that God is dead, right? So, what does it mean for us in the 21st century and why is this, in any way, still relevant? Nietzsche, a theologist-turned Atheist meant that God didn’t literally drop dead, however the idea of God we held dear in our religion did. After the Age of Enlightenment, philosophy had shown that to govern, we did not require the divine right to be legitimate. World leaders didn’t need to be the one chosen by God, but by the consent and rationality of the people being governed. Moral theories could consistently exist without needing to refer to the divine will. The idea of a universe that was governed by divine providence was replaced by the idea that the universe is governed by physical laws.
This event was life-changing for the western world, as the western world as we know it didn’t necessarily need God anymore as their source for all morality, value, and order in the universe. Philosophy and science were more than capable to replace the divine being. This led to the philosophical idea that not only God was dead, but humans desire of knowledge to understand the world better leads to scientific revolutions, and in the process of that had killed God.
Nietzsche explained that the death of God wasn’t exactly a good thing. By that point, the basic belief system of the western world has been created around the necessity of having Divine Providence. Kingdoms were built using His name, the war waged under His name. Nietzsche mentioned this in Twilight of the Idols:
“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”
Nietzsche believed that the removal of this basic belief system put most people at the risk of despair and meaninglessness. What is the point of life without God? Even if there was one, we know that God didn’t put us in the center of the universe, and we’re learning of the lowly origin from which man had evolved. This enlightenment had caused us to realize that the universe wasn’t made solely for human existence anymore. It made us realize that we’re a speck of dust in a much bigger universe, that we are nothing. Nietzsche was afraid that this new understanding of the world would lead to pessimism, or a so-called “a will to nothingness”, which was against the life-affirming philosophy Nietzsche upheld.
Nietzsche offered a way out from a nihilism-pessimism point of view that would eventually blight the society. The creation of our own values as an individual. That we should strive to create a meaning of life by we, the ones living them. That archetype of people that can will their own lives are called “Superman” (Ubermensch) in Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche didn’t feel that such a person existed yet, however the Ubermensch would create meaning in life by their will alone, and understand that they are, in the end, responsible for their selection.
“…the spirit now wills his own will.”
(A quote taken from Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
This begs the question, are we as individuals up to the task of creating our own values? Can we create meaning in life by ourselves without aid from God, dogma, or popular choice? Perhaps, understanding the implications of the death of God, we have a better chance in doing so. The despair Nietzsche have thought the humanity would suffer from; the dystopia of a Godless reality and the despair of the death of God may give way to new meaning in our lives. Because, as Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Life begins on the other side of despair.”
feat image via: leah-sepiashvili.medium.com