Nietzsche’s Atheism: Death of God and It’s Consequences

Welcome back to Defender’s Voice. This is Paul Kattupalli. Today I would like to talk about Friedrich Nietzsche. His life was between 1844 and 1900. He famously said, ‘God is dead’. The title of my message is, ‘The Death of God and Its Consequences’. Down the centuries many people told themselves in silence, ‘God is dead’. But Nietzsche boldly proclaimed what he believed in his heart.

   Nietzsche was not just another philosopher with a few provocative ideas. We cannot understand our modern world without starting with the philosophy of Nietzsche. Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, these two thinkers laid the intellectual foundations of the 20th century. So, we have to take time to listen to their ideas and their impact.

    Nietzsche initiated a major paradigm shift since the birth of Enlightenment. Now, what is Enlightenment? It refers to a historical period during the 17th and 18th centuries when European thinkers defined humanity by its rationality. They emphasized scientific method and the power of reason to elevate the human condition. The Christian Church was dominating the public and political life during those years. The founders of the Enlightenment challenged the dominance of the Catholic Church and its doctrines on the intellectual discourse. But they still held onto certain core beliefs like rationality, progress, objective truth and absolute moral values. Since Enlightenment, generation after generation believed and defended those values. Then comes Nietzsche and initiates a major paradigm shift since the birth of Enlightenment.

    Nietzsche was first Western philosopher to deny the fundamental rationality of the universe. We talk about God, his moral laws, objective truth, objective morality,  judgment, heaven, hell, democracy, equal rights, human dignity. Nietzsche said that is all trash, I am going to philosophize with a hammer. Christianity gave us all these ideas to suppress our most creative animal passions. We are born with ‘will to power’.

    Nietzsche called Christian morality, ‘the slave morality’. We should liberate ourselves from this slave morality through a process called ‘revaluation of values’ and unleash our true potential by exercising the ‘will to power’. First let me give you a brief biographical sketch of Nietzsche’s life before looking into his main ideas.

    Nietzsche’s life was between the years, 1844 and 1900. He was a German philosopher. He was born in a small village called Röcken, a small village near Leipzig in central Germany. He was raised in a minister’s home, his father was a Lutheran pastor. He observed the lives of Christians very closely. Later in his book Antichrist, he wrote, “There was only one Christian, and he died on the cross”

   He was a precocious child. In 1862, he was composing music for piano, when he was only 17. He started to question Christianity from an early age, but prepared to become a minister and began the study of theology at the University of Bonn in 1864. He developed a deep understanding of the Bible. Later in his book A Genealogy of Morals, he would write, ‘I do not love the New Testament’. He was a man of passions. He would tell you in clear terms what he loves and what he hates.

     He did a Ph.D. in classical philology. He became a professor at the University of Basel when he was only 24 years old. He had many health problems. So, just after 10 years, he left the academia and became a writer. He developed a gradiose view of himself. He said, “I am by far the most terrible human being that has existed so far; this does not preclude the possibility that I shall be the most beneficial.”

I am the most terrible human being, but I could be the most beneficial!

    In 1889 he had a mental breakdown. His physical and mental health would deteriorate. He would spend the last twelve years of his life in insanity. His sister Elizabeth would take care of him.

Nietzsche’s Main Books 

Nietzsche wrote many books. For the sake of our discussion, I will limit our conversation to 8 important books.

The Birth of Tragedy (1872)

The Gay Science (1882)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883)

Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

On the Genealogy of Morality (1887)

Twilight of the Idols (1888)

The Antichrist (1888)

The Will to Power (1889-1900)

Influence of Nietzsche’s philosophy:

Nietzsche knew that his philosophy would produce far reaching consequences for the modern world. He knew that the idea ‘God is dead’ would turn the world upside down. He expresses this sentiment in the memorable words he penned in his book The Gay Science.

This prodigious event is still on its way,

still wandering; it has not yet reached

the ears of men. Lighting and thunder

require time, the light of the stars

requires time, deeds, though done, still

require time to be seen and heard.

This deed is still more distant from them

than the most distant stars – and yet

they have done it themselves. (Nietzsche, The Gay Science)

A tsunami started far in the depth of the ocean. Now it is all quiet and calm. But as you wait and wait and wait, you will realize the scale of destruction the tsunami wreaks in its path as it roars towards you. The mad man is shouting, ‘God is dead, God is dead’. You might think, ‘it is just a mad man’s shouting. Who cares?’. But you wait and see. As people realize that God is dead, as they erect their families, their institutions, their politics on the foundation of God’s death, you will see the impact of ‘this prodigious event’.

Nietzsche died in 1900. People did not care for Nietzsche’s ideas for a while. Then came the First World War in 1914. The assassination of kings, invasion of nations, the trench warfare, the mustard gas and chemical weapons, the screeching battleships, war tanks, machine guns, mutilated soldiers, dead bodies in the fields, rapes and plunder, genocides, influenza pandemic….it does not look like a world ruled by God. People remembered Nietzsche, ‘Didn’t the good German told us that God is dead?’  Nietzsche’s books were sold like hot cakes. Social and political institutions started on a new foundation: God is dead. If that is hard to swallow, he is irrelevant to human condition.

Let me summarize how Nietzsche’s ideas influenced different areas of our society.

Theology: The ‘death-of-God’ philosophy entered into Christian seminaries, colleges, denominations and churches. Nietzschean theologians argued because God is dead theology should be centered around man. Thomas Altizer (1927 – 2018) adopted Nietzsche’s philosophy into systematic theology. In his book The Gospel of Christian Atheism, he wrote that Christians should accept that God is dead and move on with their lives. Forget about God, Jesus and Second Coming, just be nice and compassionate to others.

Academia: Educational institutions molded their philosophy of education with the philosophy of Nietzsche and naturalism of Darwin as their foundation. Nietzsche appropriated many of Darwin’s ideas. Both espoused similar ideas: There is no Creator God, universe is blind, man is an accident of nature, survival of the fittest dictates the course of evolution. But there is an important difference. Darwin incorporated the victorian idea of progress into his evolutionary theory. Nietzsche sees no progress in evolution. There is no teleology. History has no purpose. In this aspect, the modern evolutionists are nearer to Nietzsche than Darwin.

  For Nietzsche, human evolution is all about power. In his book, The Twilight of the Idols, he wrote a passage under the heading, Anti-Darwin.

“The general condition of life! is not one of want or famine, but rather of riches, of lavish luxuriance, and even of absurd prodigality, – where there is a struggle, it is a struggle for power.’

Art: Major artistic movements such as Dadaist, Surrealist, and Futurist Manifestos were influenced by Nietzsche. Their art reflected a crisis of meaning, a disdain for the tradition, a rejection of rationalism and objectivity .

Music: Richard Strauss composed his symphony Thus Spoke Zarathustra based on Nietzsche’s book of the same title. English singer David Bowie (1947 – 2016) was one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Many of his albums like The Man Who Sold the World (1970), Hunky Dory (1971) were influenced by Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Movies and Television: Hollywood loves Nietzsche. God cannot save humanity or the nature. Only man can save the humanity and the nature. From Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to M.Night Shyamalan’s Glass (2019), Hollywood movies place humanity’s future in the hands of different versions of the superman conceived by Nietzsche.

   Television series A Game of Thrones enthralled millions of viewers around the world. The whole series was based on the premise that the powerful win the wars and decide what is right and wrong. God has no place in their arbitrations. That is Nietzsche’s philosophy served with computer graphics.

Literature: Many literary movements were born out of Nietzschean philosophy. For example, deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida, who was profoundly influenced by Nietzsche. Superheroes of the comic books were modeled after Nietzsche’s ubermensch. Cartoonist Chris Ware wrote a graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. In his novel God is replaced with a Superman, who resembles Nietzsche’s Ubermensch.

Philosophy: Modern philosophers man centered secular existentialism and postmodernism. Grand narratives, rationality, objectivity and certainty of classical Western philosophy were mocked and attacked for the sake of ‘being in time’.

New Age Religions: Many New Age religions adopted Nietzsche’s ideas. Science fiction writer L.Ron Hubbard (1911 – 1986) conceived of a new religion called Scientology based on Nietzsche’s philosophy and eastern mysticism. This religion has no references to a God who controls the universe. It is ‘a philosophy by which a person can live, can work, and can become better’. No sin, no redemption, no salvation, no heaven, no hell. Just meditation and feeling better about yourself.

Criminal Justice system: Man is at the mercy of his instincts. In the famous trial of Leopold and Loeb, prosecuting attorney Robert Crowe asked Leopold, ‘I wonder now, Nathan, whether you think there is a God or not. I wonder whether you think it is pure accident that this disciple of Nietzsche’s philosophy dropped his glasses or whether it was an act of Divine Providence to visit upon your miserable caracasses the wrath of God’. Nietzsche said the free will is an illusion and human beings are determined to act based on their instincts. Many illustrious attorneys like Clarence Darrow imbued their legal arguments with Nietzsche’s ideas.

Modern Politics: Nietzsche died long before Hitler came to power. But Nietzsche’s ideas like Eugenics tremendously influenced the Nazis. The SS officers distributed the copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra to Nazi soldiers. According to Steven Aschheim, 150,000 copies of specially durable wartime edition of this book were distributed to the troops.

Professor Robert C.Solomon notes, “Nevertheless, it can be argued that even if Nietzsche was not a member of the Nazi party, many of his ideas and attitudes prefigured the views of the Nazis – notably, his more general views about race and human inequality, his celebration of power and ‘might makes right’, his championing of the Ubermensch (superman) and ‘master morality’, and his condemnation of the weak.”

Fascism: Mussolini adored Nietzsche, “I, more down to earth, stated that Nietzsche is valid for everyone; everybody understands him; the deluded recover couraged by reading him; the revolutionaries conquer again a faith by experiencing him”. “To know the life of Nietzsche is to live it again, it means to penetrate and live again the philosophy of the Superman”.

Colonialism: Through Manifest Destiny, the strong are destined to occupy the lands of the weak. The Superman can go for more space and more resources.

Atheism: On April 8, 1966 Time magazine published a cover story, Is God Dead?. It was TIME’s first cover design to feature only text.

“Nearly one of every two men on earth lives in thralldom to a brand of totalitarianism that condemns religion as the opiate of the masses—which has stirred some to heroic defense of their faith but has also driven millions from any sense of God’s existence. Millions more, in Africa, Asia and South America, seem destined to be born without any expectation of being summoned to the knowledge of the one God.

New Atheism: French philosopher Paul Ricœur (1913-2005) coined the phrase ‘Hermeneutics of suspicion’ to discuss the common ideas of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche. He called them three ‘masters of suspicion’. The vehement rejection of religion as nothing but poison started not with the four horsemen (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris) but with the three masters of suspicion.

Popular Culture: Many of Nietzsche’s pithy sayings became famous quotations in our culture. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”  “A joke is an epitaph for an emotion.”

Sexuality: Gone are the days when human sexuality is a sacred precinct. Nietzsche wrote, ‘Dionysian intoxication contains sexuality and voluptuousness’

In his book  Gay Science, Nietzsche wrote these words under the section The Madman ‘Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning light, ran to the marketplace and shouted incessantly, ‘I seek God! I seek God!?As there were many people standing together who did not believe in God, he caused much amusement. ‘Is He lost?’, asked one. ‘Did He wander off like a child?’, asked another. ‘Or is He hiding? Is He afraid of us?’ ‘Has He gone to sea?Has He emigrated?’ And in this manner they shouted and laughed. Then the madman leaped into their midst, and looked at them with piercing eyes and cried, ‘Where did God go? I will tell you! We have killed Him – you and I! We are all His murderers! But how did we do this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it heading? Where are we heading? Away from all suns? Are we not constantly falling? Backwards, sidewards, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothingness? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is night not falling evermore?” Nietzsche said the death of God will have very, very profound consequences. It will be like the whole horizon wiped away, it will be like earth unchained from sun; Is there still an above and below? We will be completely disoriented. We will stray into infinite nothingness.

I will stop here for today. Next time, we will take a deeper look into Nietzsche’s specific ideas. Let us pray. 

Dear Lord Jesus, our living God and Savior, glory to thy great name. You created the universe, came to this world as our Lord and Redeemer, lived before us as the sinless and perfect human being, conquered the grave and established yourself as the master of the universe. Yet, the world rejected you. We pray for the lost souls who still believe there is no God. Open their hearts and minds to see you as their Lord and Savior. In your precious name we pray, Amen.

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