Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Nietzsche and the Death of God

In my MCCC philosophy of religion class I just presented and explicated Nietzsche's famous "parable of the madman." Tonight I read some more of Stephen Williams's The Shadow of the Antichrist: Nietzsche's Critique of Christianity. The section I'm at is Williams's commentary on Nietzsche's parable. He calls it "one of those purple passages whose impact is virtually deadened by comment." (119) Nonetheless, he offers six bullets.

  1. It tells us that God and theism are gone.
  2. There are plenty of people around who know it.
  3. There are not plenty of people around who understand it.
  4. The demise of God and God's world is the product of human will and human deed, not an accident.
  5. It is more massively world-historical than anything imaginable.
  6. It induces vertigo as we think about the future.
Nietzsche, in the guise of the madman, has been likened to the biblical prophet John the Baptist. Evelyn Underhill called him "that unbalanced John the Baptist of the modern world." (Ib., 120) When the madman gives his prophetic announcement about the logical ramifications of the death of God and the village atheists don't get it he says, "My time is not yet come," echoing Jesus' words in John 2:4.

In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche said, "There will never again be a life and culture bounded by a religiously determined horizon." (In Ib., 121) For that reason the death of God is the most prodigious event. "Ultimate definitive truths" do not exist. With the moral foundation Christian theism provided now gone, humanity is cast adrift, directionless. For anyone interested in atheism, this is the real thing. Vertiginous.