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Mandeblind's avatar

What did Nietzsche mean by "God is dead"?

Asked by Mandeblind (420 points ) April 18th, 2012 from iPhone

Please answer the following: Is there any possibility that he meant that people have created god, they misdefined and insulted him. And god eventually “died”.

Is this an intelligent explanation/guess?

Please first answer the question, then say whether the guess in details is silly or not.

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27 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

No. What he meant was quite clear – that modern culture had become so secular and had moved away from religon and god as an important part of daily life that society.

If you want some one who truly beleived that god had died you need to look at Altizer.

Mandeblind's avatar

^ Okay, but is my guess reasonable or at least not dumb?

thorninmud's avatar

Nietzche was out to tear down all of the ideals that prevented man from reveling in material existence. He saw himself as heralding the dawn of a new era when such mental constructs as God would no longer oppress our natural freedom to live in the world as it is.

His “God is dead” meant that the idea of God no longer had a place in this more highly evolved view.

Jeruba's avatar

When he said “The churches are the tombstones of God,” that didn’t sound like reveling in materialism to me. It sounded like blaming organized religion for impoverishing spirituality.

Mandeblind's avatar

Guys, please read the details of my question. First is what he meant, second is that is my guess reasonable or dumb.

Jenniehowell's avatar

I don’t know what he meant by that statement but I would venture to guess that if there were a God & if that God could in fact actually die that the moment that death may happen would be the moment when the human ego determined it was the job of humanity to be the spokesperson for said God therefore causing him to have a heart attack at the idiocy of that idea.

That’s just my two cents but in order to know the answer to your question I would think someone would actually have to point out some facts with regard to the context of the comment. Where did it come from? What did the words before and after that statement say? What was the general view of Nietzsche overall? What other comments did he make about God? etc. etc.

Your guess seems not as reasonable to me because if people actually created God then I would take that to mean “made him up” and in that case he really could not exist and therefore without existing he could not die whether from insult or from injury. If you mean that people have created him more in the manner of Golem in a more real manner then that would be interesting indeed and your guess would perhaps not be quite so unreasonable in that case.

Jeruba's avatar

@Mandeblind, asking the question is a good idea. If I understand your interpretation correctly, I’d say don’t stop there. Keep looking, dig deeper.

King_Pariah's avatar

For someone who is unfamiliar with Nietzsche, your guess is not a dumb one.

thorninmud's avatar

@Jeruba His materialism was nuanced, but materialism nonetheless. He flatly rejected metaphysics. For him, the body was the self. Anything that smacked of idealism—God, soul, “slave” morallity (e.g. sympathy, kindness, patience, humility) was a perversion. When he uses the term “spirituality”, it is in the sense of living a life of unbridled passion.

Mandeblind's avatar

What I mean is people have created a supernatural being and named it god, giving this creation certain characteristics and definitions. they misdefined the potential supernatural being, that can never be known in this universe. (Im an atheist, but some might believe that there is a supernatural energy out there). so, they created the idea of the god in the holy books, and killed it by insulting the potential truth (which is impossible to know).

Thats why I said created it, then misdefine and insulted it which lead to its death.(the true god’s/supernatural being’s death, if there was ever one)

thorninmud's avatar

Nietzsche would have completely rejected your idea of a supernatural being, too

SmashTheState's avatar

@thorninmud You have misunderstood the meaning of the “slave mentality.” Nietzsche’s morality was of a higher order (literally, according to the Kohlberg scale) than “don’t do it cuz the Hebrew god of storms will strike you down.” The Overman’s morality comes from an internalized set of principles rather than some external authority. External sets of morality are established by men of great Will, who impose it upon those of lesser Will, who accept these dictates as laws because they haven’t the strength to disregard them. It is this willingness to abide by some other man’s law which Nietzsche regarded as the slave mentality.

The Overman dismisses all external authority, relying only upon his internal moral compass, and through his Will to Power causes other men to bend to it. When Nietzsche says that God is dead, he is saying that the hoary, hidebound laws of our fathers no longer constrain us, that the Overman has brought down the Throne of God through the rejection of external authority.

thorninmud's avatar

@SmashTheState Nietzsche was pretty explicit about what he meant by “slave morality”. He sees it as taking weakness and elevating it to the status of virtue. This is from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“According to Nietzsche, slave morality takes certain typical characteristics of the “lowest order” and redescribes them in morally praiseworthy lights. So, for example, their impotence becomes “goodness of heart,” their anxious lowliness becomes “humility,” their “inoffensiveness” and “lingering at the door” becomes “patience”, and their desire for retaliation becomes a desire for justice.”

thorninmud's avatar

This is from Nietzche’s “On the Geneology of Morals”. It gives a pretty unambiguous statement of his position on God:

“Consequently, absolutely unconditional atheism (—and that’s the only air we breathe, we more spiritual men of this age!) does not stand opposed to this ideal [the “will to truth”], as it appears to do. It is much rather only one of its last stages of development, one of its concluding forms and innerly logical outcomes. It demands reverence, this catastrophe of two-thousand years of breeding for the truth which concludes by forbidding itself the lie of a faith in god.”

flutherother's avatar

I think Nietzsche was referring to the Christian God which had outlived its usefulness and that God and Christian virtues were preventing the development of Man into superman.

Your explanation seems OK but is a bit passive. Nietzsche was full of energy and a little insane. He wanted to murder the idea of God.

SmashTheState's avatar

@thorninmud Nietzsche was quite clear that he supported Goethe’s position that one must be either the hammer or the anvil. That is, if a man is not becoming the Overman through the exercise of the Will to Power and thereby creating morality for other men to follow, then he is the underman, Untermensch, who keeps the slave morality. There is no third path. One either dismisses the external laws of God and State, or one is a slave.

From Beyond Good and Evil:

“The noble type of man regards himself as a determiner of values; he does not require to be approved of; he passes the judgment: ‘What is injurious to me is injurious in itself;’ he knows that it is he himself only who confers honor on things; he is a creator of values. He honors whatever he recognizes in himself. Such morality is self-glorification. In the foreground there is the feeling of plenitude, of power, which seeks to overflow the happiness of high tension, the consciousness of a wealth which would fain give and bestow: The Noble man also helps the unfortunate, but nor, or scarcely, out of pity, but rather from an impulse generated by the super-abundance of power.”

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thorninmud's avatar

@SmashTheState That’s also the text where Nietzsche says that the aristocracy rightly “accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, must be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments.” Again, to be clear, he’s saying that this is just fine.

I really wouldn’t want to be the one making a case for Nietzsche as advocating human kindness.

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SavoirFaire's avatar

@Mandeblind When Nietzsche says that God is dead, what he means is that the idea of God can no longer do the work it was introduced into our conceptual framework to do. Regardless of whether or not God exists, He can no longer fulfill the theoretical functions for which people rely upon Him.

Descartes took the existence of God as one of the two foundational points of his entire philosophy, while Locke took God to be the source of all moral authority. They were neither the first nor the last philosophers to do so. Indeed, the view that God is ultimately responsible for all goodness and truth can be found all throughout the history of philosophy.

Nietzsche, however, contends that the advancement of society—particularly in the areas of science and philosophy—has made it such that belief in God is no longer intellectually viable (that is, one would have to delude oneself in order to believe in God). Thus God is “dead,” which is to say that He is no longer an answer to the questions life presents.

As for the guess you give, it is by no means silly or foolish. I think it is certainly an intelligent guess, even if it is ultimately an incorrect one. Nietzsche certainly believed that it was humans who had created God, and that they had undermined their creation through their intellectual development (thus causing Him to “die”).

I’m not sure what about the phrase might make you think people had misdefined and insulted God, however, unless by “misdefined” you mean simply that they had never had a clear idea of Him in the first place (making His eventual undermining almost inevitable) and by “insulted” you mean that their search for scientific and philosophical answers was an affront to the very reason they had created Him in the first place. That would be something at least approaching what Nietzsche is attempting to get at when he says that “God is dead.”

LostInParadise's avatar

@Mandeblind , Taken out of context, there could be many ways of interpreting the quotation. I would say that, without any additional information, your interpretation is reasonable.

@thorninmud , @SmashTheState , I don’t really see any disagreement between you. Nietzsche’s attitude could be summarized as “do unto others before they do unto you.” Nietzsche’s attitude toward religion is kind of interesting. On the one hand, he deplored the morality of religion as a way of bringing down the Overman by the masses. On the other hand, he was upset to see the decline of religious passion as a cause for conflict. He saw the coming of the “last man,” foolishly guided by science and rationality and more interested in comfort than in conquest.

I once saw a nice summary of the difference between Nietzsche and Sartre as,
“To do is to be” – Nietzsche
“To be is to do” – Sartre

Actually, is is supposed to be part of piece of graffiti, whose last line was,
“Do be do be doo” – Sinatra.

You never know where you will find wisdom

josie's avatar

He said it more than once, to make different points.
Here is the quote the first time it appeared in print.
“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?”
Nietzche was a cynical nihilist. I suspect he was not giving mankind a compliment, and that your analysis is reasonable.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise Why do you take Nietzsche’s attitude to be “do unto others before they can do unto you”? It seems to me that his cheerful Übermensch would have no use for such maxims. Indeed, the point of the second essay in On the Genealogy of Morals is to diagnose the felt need for cruelty and treat it as a sickness. Thus it is not conflict that Nietzsche mourns the passing of, but rather the sense of purpose that religion gives to people. Nietzsche’s ideal is a creative one, and people require motivation to create. If they lack God, they must find something else—but will they?

This is why I am also not quite convinced that your reading of the Last Man is correct, either. As I read Nietzsche, the Last Man is not interested in science and rationality at all. He enjoys their results, but is not in fact engaged in either pursuit. He is intellectually lazy, and thus has given up the goal of self-mastery (which is what the will to power is actually about, common misinterpretations aside). Content to rest on what others have accomplished, and convinced that there is no God for whom he must strive, the Last Man gives up the creative spirit. He abandons the Nietzschean ideal.

@josie The first use of the phrase actually appears earlier, in section 108 of The Gay Science:

New struggles. — After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave—a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. — And we—we still have to vanquish his shadow, too!
This first usage foreshadows the ultimate point that Nietzsche wishes to make about morality and the death of God: the type of morality that Nietzsche targets in his work finds its origin in theistic accounts of life and is not sensible in the absence of that foundation, but people continue to cling to an untenable morality because they cannot comprehend the logical consequences of the death of God.

European morality, says Nietzsche, is the shadow of a dead God. It cannot escape its Christian origins. Thus we must find a new ethics—or perhaps a very old ethics (viz., that of the Greek heroes). Only then can we understand what it is to live outside the shadow of God. When we see how Nietzsche’s philosophical views are grounded in his work on Greek philology, we understand him much better.

I agree with you that Nietzsche was not giving mankind a compliment in the passage you quoted (commonly known as “The Madman”), but I’m not quite sure why you call him a “cynical nihilist.” It is true that Nietzsche was influenced by the ancient Greek Cynics, and that your passage makes reference to Diogenes, but that is not what the English word “cynical” refers to anymore. As for being a nihilist, nihilism was what Nietzsche fought against. Though he may have accepted some of the same premises as philosophers like Schopenhauer, he quite explicitly rejected their conclusions.

LostInParadise's avatar

Nietzsche spoke of Christianity as having a “slave morality.” Nietzsche’s idea of morality has a lot in common with the libertarian view. He felt that showing compassion for the weak took away resources from those who were superior and could therefore make better use of them. Nietzsche would have despised the modern welfare state.

In connection with that huge and immeasurably disastrous initiative which the Jews launched with this most fundamental of all declarations of war, I recall the sentence I wrote at another time (in Beyond Good and Evil, p. 118)—namely, that with the Jews the slave condition in morality begins: that condition which has a two-thousand-year-old history behind it and which we nowadays no longer notice because it has triumphed.

On the Genealogy of Morals, section 8

LostInParadise's avatar

As for Nietzsche’s attitude toward science:
_Would it not be rather probable that, conversely, precisely the most superficial and external aspect of existence—what is most apparent, its skin and sensualization—would be grasped first—and might even be the only thing that allowed itself to be grasped? A “scientific” interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it be one of the poorest in meaning. This thought is intended for the ears and consciences of our mechanists who nowadays like to pass as philosophers and insist that mechanics is the doctrine of the first and last laws on which all existence must be based as on a ground floor. But an essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. Assum- /336/ ing that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a “scientific” estimation of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is “music” in it! _
The Gay Science, Section 373

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise The difference between master and slave morality is not a matter of politics. Nietzsche despised politics, and was neither liberal, conservative, nor libertarian. His Übermensch lives away from all of that. The main differences between master and slave morality, then, reside in the fact that they take different things to be the objects of assessment (consequences vs. intentions) and that they use entirely different scales of morality (good/bad vs. good/evil).

As for science, the passage you cite does not contradict my reading of the Last Man. Nietzsche does not denigrate science in that passage, but a particular attitude one can take to it. This is the recurring theme of his work: we must engage, rather than passively accept. The Last Man is not interested in real science because real science engages. Instead, he passively accepts what a parade of technicians masquerading as scientists tell him.

Just as Samuel Johnson said that we are perpetually moralists, Nietzsche tells us that we are perpetually philosophers. Yet Nietzsche also recognizes that neither of these statements is quite true: we are capable of giving up both activities and degenerating into something less than human. The death of God facilitates this degeneration, which is one reason that the Nietzsche is concerned with the consequences of the event despite his atheism.

If Nietzsche has anything bad to say about science, it is only that its practitioners sometimes lose sight of the fact that there is more to the world than just science. His fear is that people will fall back onto science as if it were a means of escaping difficult questions about the world—e.g., questions of life and how to live it. To Nietzsche, though, this is to give up science for a parody thereof. This is why “scientific” is laid out in quotes throughout the passage you cite.

LostInParadise's avatar

@SavoirFaire , Morality manifests itself in action. I hope that we can agree on that. I would agree with Nietzsche, and Sartre as well, that belief in and of itself is of no consequence.

What actions did Nietzsche advocate that were not in alignment with what he saw around him? It seems to me that Nietzsche was opposed to assisting those unable to help themselves, that he saw this as a perpetuation of failure and a drain on the Overman.

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