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Nietzsche - The Key Ideas: God is dead

by Dr Roy Jackson

In The Gay Science, published in 1882, Nietzsche introduces the character of a ‘madman’ who enters a busy market place and asks, ‘Where is God?’ The madman is mocked by the people in the market, which causes him to say, ‘We have killed him, you and I.’ What Nietzsche means when the madman says we have killed God is not that God is literally dead, but that our belief or need for God is dead. The so-called ‘madman’ is only seen as mad by the common people, but for Nietzsche he represents the philosopher – such as Nietzsche himself – who realizes that we no longer truly believe in God and that we must urgently face the consequences of this moral and spiritual gap in our lives. With the death of God, mankind is looking for something to replace Him, and Nietzsche’s writings are littered with criticisms of these new replacements, including scepticism, nihilism, feminism, democracy, utilitarianism and scientific positivism. Although Nietzsche is also critical of religion, it is more the modern condition, or ‘modernity’, that he finds unsatisfactory. In fact, Nietzsche – rather like the madman – was in many ways sincerely religious and spiritual, for religion can provide a vision and meaning to life. But the people of Nietzsche’s time have replaced God with a faith in science or other modern ‘-isms’ which fail to provide us with the same kind of meaning. Nietzsche’s spirituality calls for a rebirth, for an appreciation of earthly life and nature, represented by the Greek god Dionysus.

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