“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? “
Few quotes in Philosophy have been as controversial as Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead”. Few quotes have been just as misunderstood.
In popular culture the phrase is often mistaken as an anti-Christian statement. Some sort of declaration of Atheism. This is most obviously manifested in Christian content like the film God’s Not Dead. In the movie, a disgruntled atheist professor demands his students declare the death of God and embrace atheism.
At first glance it could be understood why this is a popular Interpretation. “God is dead”, is a pretty bold statement that seems to be offering an anti-Christian message. This is pretty far from the truth though.
The line is part of The Parable of the Madman a section from Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. It depicts a maddened individual running around a village asking where he can find God only to declare that God must be dead. In his ever creative style Nietzsche is using this madman as an outlet to explore an idea. Particularly he’s interested in the shifting values of European culture during his lifetime.
Nietzsche saw Europe was slowly transitioning into a sort of cultural Nihilism. As advancements in science and technology lead to more and more questioning of the status quo, Philosophical values were beginning to shift. What Nietzsche is getting at here isn’t a declaration of the truth value of Christianity. In fact truth is a topic Nietzsche is extremely critical of. Instead he’s pointing out the weakening of Christian influences on society.
It might come to a surprise to some but Nietzsche didn’t really see this has a positive thing. In fact the anxiety of the madman reflects well on Nietzsche’s feeling towards evolving culture. He was actually fearful of losing Christianity as the dominant Philosophy. Even though he was extremely critical of it, he recognized how Christianity was very good at maintaining peace among the masses. It gave people purpose, kept them focused and mostly non violent. He was concerned that absent of Christian values there would be mass nihilism. Mass nihilism that could totally destroy Western Civilization and potentially lead it into chaos.
This fear of popular nihilism is actually a pretty common theme for Nietzsche’s work. A big focus of his philosophy was trying to find solutions for getting past nihilism. Finding ways for individuals and society to not get trapped by a lack of truth and meaning but to use it as a springboard into a more empowering lifestyle.
Nietzsche is extremely critical of Christianity but to take “God is Dead” as a sort of atheist statement is just wrong. Nietzsche is one of those thinkers that is easy to misunderstand and take out of context but hopefully this clears things up. “God is Dead” simply means “The Christian god is becoming increasingly irrelevant to philosophy and culture”.