“Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning 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 most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”
The Gay Science (1882), New York: Vintage, 1974, p.181
The Madman in Nietzsche’s parable goes around announcing that God is dead. In a post-war England the parable gained incredible popularity. Several newspapers and Magazines asked: Is God Dead?
The question created quite a stir. It referenced Nietzsche’s parable as the inspiration behind the “God is dead movement” which insisted that “man” has killed God because “man” has evolved beyond our need for gods.
As far as Nietzsche was concerned, we now live in world without meaning, without promise, without hope — a world of despair. Nietzsche envisioned that the Western world would collapse into nihilism — the belief that there is no meaning or purpose in existence.
In a way Nietzsche was right. The first World War terminated Western Europe’s faith in modern progress. With the reality of war, the anticipation of the promise of a better future was terminated.
Secondly, the dissolution of the Soviet empire also cancelled faith in Marxism as the guarantee of progress — Marxism’s promise of a better world never came to fruition. And though there seem to be continued belief in a better future through modern means, there is enough evidence that hope in progress through human means is empty.
Nietzsche also observed that modernity will ultimately kill God. However, I doubt that Nietzsche was primarily concerned with making an ontological claim about God, rather I think he is suggesting that the Christian tradition is no longer the foundation for Western civilization.
When considering Nietzsche’s claim, “God is dead,” it is important to consider the context and complexity of its delivery. It is tempting to see that Nietzsche is making a claim about the existence of God as a distinct private/impersonal consciousness or reality.
But looking at it closely, the Madman not only declare God dead, he actually blames the audience of being the perpetrator. Due to society’s collective effort, God, or whatever is represented by God, has been killed. Humanity’s power and knowledge has exceeded beyond expectation. For Nietzsche, the explanatory power of religious doctrine is substituted by scientific understanding.
Yet, Christianity is more than explanatory instrument. More fundamentally, for Nietzsche, it is a system of value and ethics. By overcoming Christianity, society will liberate itself from a value system that once operated as the foundation Western Civilization.
More than denying the ontological reality of God, Nietzsche’s primary concern is to highlight how are we going to fill the void left by the Christian tradition.
For the “the death of God” movement this void is filled by following a modernist, Enlightenment dogmas, resulting in the modernist blind faith in human autonomy. Within the hubris of a modernist worldview, the Sacred takes a hit and is overcome by the self-assured “rational men”.
The self-centered Cartesian ego eradicates anything that might be a threat to or impose a limit on its imperialist self-expression. Thus, God must be nailed down on the cross. Religion must be entombed and buried far below the scientific discourse and criticisms. God must die. Religion must disappear. That is the modernist dogma!
But there a problems with this modernist attempt to crucify religion. It hardly succeeded in receding religion into the recesses of cultural memory. Perhaps a long way to go before the secular spirit might triumph over history. Because, if there is a secularisation of the sacred then there is also a sacralisation of the secular.
The question for me is that why do so many postmodern cultural expressions are preoccupied with religious motifs, spirituality and even “God”? For example, U2’s Pop album was simply loaded with songs of spiritual longing like “Playboy Mansion,” “If God Will Send an Angel,” and “Wake Up Dead Man.”
Similarly, the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was also spiritually preoccupied? In “bullet with butterfly wings” Billy Corgan sings that while he cannot believe that he can be saved, nevertheless, his deepest desire is to have a relationship with God like Jesus did: tell me i’m the only one tell me there’s no other one Jesus was an only son tell me i’m the chosen one Jesus was an only son for you.
It’s not that difficult to notice that this is a prayer. Isn’t this song a desperate cry into the void, a call to God?
My point is that if under scientific modernism we witness an attempt to crucify religion then under post-modernism we witness the resurrection of religion. Under the post-modern condition religion gets a new life, in which, if religion must survive, it will have to “make sense” to whom it is addressed. And this quest for survival is also a temptation to succumb to the dominant ideals, to become a self-portrait of the reigning ideals.
For better or worse, under post-modern condition religion is resurrected. under post-modern condition religious themes and motifs stubbornly reappear in – art, literature, music, poetry, politics – cultural products.