Stephen is an online writer and former English teacher who is interested in sociology, economics, and literature.
"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?"
Not only is God dead but we are responsible for his death. How? What did we do? Nietzsche is not saying that God has withdrawn from the world and left us to it. No, we have forced him off the stage by killing his character off.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - the religions of the book - are unique amongst religions. God created the world and placed Mankind at the center of creation. Human society reflected God's wishes. The man was head of the family, his wife subservient to him, and his children obedient to his will. Kings were rulers by divine right, their subjects were subservient to them. The lowest subject accepted his place in the world because, by following God's laws, his reward awaited him in heaven.
In the Christian world, there were (and still are) disputes between theologians about the exact nature of God. Protestantism broke away from Catholicism. But there was no dispute about the basic fact that God was our father and a good person obeyed God's will and knew his place in God's world. If anyone doubted the existence of God, he would, if he knew what was good for him, keep his thoughts to himself.
As the nineteenth-century hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" put it:
"The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate."
In truth, when the hymn appeared, this ordering of society was already being questioned. It was published in 1848 when much of Europe was in revolt against the monarchies and Marx and Engels published "The Communist Manifesto".
The hymn describes a society that no longer had such a dominant hold over its members. But it was a view that had held sway for centuries.
The Enlightenment Turn
The Scientific Revolution started in the 16th century and, as discovery built on discovery, gained pace as time went on. Each discovery seemed to nibble away at God's territory until, by the late nineteenth century, Nietzsche could claim that there was no space left for him. He was dead because we had destroyed the world that he had created.
This was the world that God had created in a week and given mankind mastery over. A world in which Adam and Eve had turned their backs on God but which was still open to God's forgiveness and mercy. For all mankind's arrogance and hubris, this was still God's world. And this was a world that was the center of all things, a world that had been created around 5,650 years before, according to Archbishop James Ussher. Ussher was writing in the !7th century but, by then, the rot had already set in.
In 1543, Copernicus had published his heliocentric model. Earth was no longer at the center of the universe, where it should be. The sun was now at the center of all things. This theory seemed to run counter to common sense - anyone could see that the earth was the point around which everything else moved - so Copernicus didn't meet with general acceptance at first. However, still before Ussher, Kepler had come up with the laws of planetary motion. It was beginning to seem that the earth was not in the privileged position that everyone had assumed.
Then, in 1637, Descartes advanced his famous "Cogito ergo sum" argument that said that one should doubt everything until it could be rationally proved. Diplomatically, Descartes came up with rational proofs of God's existence. But the horse had already bolted. A thoughtful reader of Descartes could see that God was irrelevant to the rational method - and, indeed, Descartes's arguments for the existence of God are not convincing.
When Darwin released his description of evolution through natural selection, in 1859, it explained how mankind had come about through processes that did not require divine intervention.
Meanwhile, geologists were showing that the world was older, much older than had been thought. Strange fossils showed that creatures had roamed the planet that were not mentioned in The Bible.
Whether or not these thinkers were atheists is beside the point. Collectively they, and many others, were describing a world that didn't need God.
Perhaps, then The Bible was not literally true. Perhaps it was metaphorically true. The problem with this interpretation is that a metaphor isn't, by definition, the object that it is connected to.
Where We Are
For many people, of course, God is not dead. Faith survives and, in many places thrives. However, God is no longer necessary as a force in society at large. Nietzsche wonders what those who no longer need God are going to replace him with. Well, we have lived in Nietzsche's world for a long time now.
People have found new philosophies, or are comfortable enough with no strong belief in anything. People do not seem to have become any more or less selfish.
For those who live without God, their situation is similar to children whose father has gone. The rules have changed, no longer is there a strict patriarch who laid down the rules. For many, this brings freedom and new responsibilities. But many find this freedom irksome and feel that there are no certainties.
Humanity can, I believe, thrive without God. Many cultures have done very well without our monotheistic beliefs. It is a question of finding meaning. This is a challenge that offers exciting opportunities. It is all up to us now.
As this is an opinion piece, no primary sources were used except for the opening quote. Dates were checked in Wikipedia.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.