It is not often disputed that there is some sort of objective morality by which humans are obligated to live by. Even Friedrich Nietzsche, the renowned atheistic philosopher who built his thinking on a philosophy of moral destitution and despair, recognized the significance of God in any discussion of the presence of a moral law. But think of what happens when God is removed from the equation. Nietzsche spent much of his life tracing out the implications of how life would be if there really were no God. The recent movie, “God’s Not Dead,” centers around the atheistic professor’s quoting of Nietzsche’s statement, “God is dead.” This statement actually comes from a story Nietzsche wrote, by which to convey his idea of what would happen in the 20th century, because of how society had killed the idea of God by the end of the 19th century. He was right with all of his predictions, including that the 19th century would be the “bloodiest of all centuries,” and one where objective morality would be so abhorred that what once was right would be wrong, and what was wrong would be right.
In his “Parable of the Madman,” Nietzsche uses somewhat stunning language to portray the desperate condition of a world in which the notion of God has been carved out of existence.
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 am looking for God! I am looking for God!” As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around there, he excited considerable laughter.
“Have you lost Him then?” said 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 or emigrated?”
Thus they shouted and shouted and laughed him to scorn. But the madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.
“Where is God?” he cried;
“I’ll tell you. We have killed him — you and I. We are all his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns maybe? Are we not perpetually falling – backwards and forwards, sidewards and in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not more and more night coming on us all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? God’s decomposed too you know, and God is dead. He remains dead, and we have killed him.
“Now, how shall we, the murderer of all murderers compose ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has ever possessed has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe away this blood from us? With what water can we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not this, the greatest of deeds, too great for us to handle? Must not we ourselves become god simply to seem worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed, you know; and whoever shall be born after us for the sake of this deed shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; they, too, were silent and they stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out.
“I come too early. My time is not yet come. This tremendous event is still on its way – still traveling – and it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds require time even after they have been done before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.”
It has been related further that on the same day this madman entered diverse churches, and there sang Requiem Aeternam Deo. Led out and quieted, he is said to have retorted each time: “What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of a dead God? We have killed Him.”
Without God, life is void of course or purpose. What Nietzsche really is saying is that if we do away with the idea of God, we do away with morality, direction, purpose, and meaning to life itself. Nietzsche chided many of his contemporaries who were ready to accept the termination of the Christian God but unwilling to give up on objective morality. Nietzsche reprimanded them numerous times, insisting,
“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet.”
We’ll conclude this apologetic discussion next time.