God is dead

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Friedrich Nietzsche (circa 1875)

God is dead is a popular quotation from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It appears in his books The Gay Science (1882) and Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883). He may have been influenced by earlier use of the phrase by Hegel. The phrase has influenced many philosophers and artists. It predicted a future secularisation of culture because the concept of God had already become meaningless or superfluous. He later extended the concept to consider the possibility of God metaphorically dying as a consequence of the argument from poor design.


The Gay Science

The Gay Science contains three sections that reference the death of God: aphorisms 108, 125, and 343. The first aphorism states:

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!

Aphorism 125 is the story of the Madman who rushes through a market searching for God. The crowds jeer at him and the Madman tells them that "God is Dead," and this has caused an existential crisis of meaning and a shift into nihilism. He calls on them to invent replacement festivals and values to replace what has been destroyed. While he claims the people are responsible for the death of God, the Madman realizes they are unaware of the occurrence of the death of God but will discover it in the future.

Aphorism 343 provides a more general interpretation of the earlier aphorisms. Because the "belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable," many dependent beliefs, including European morality, would be undermined. However, Nietzsche looks forward to the future with optimism and without great concern.

Thus Spake Zarathura

"God is Dead" is also referenced in "Thus Spake Zarathustra." This book was most responsible for popularising the phrase. The chapter "Out of Service," speculates that if a loving God existed and seeing his own poor design of creation, he would have died of pity for man's situation:

—"Thou servedst him to the last?" asked Zarathustra thoughtfully, after a deep silence, "thou knowest HOW he died? Is it true what they say, that sympathy choked him;
—That he saw how MAN hung on the cross, and could not endure it;—that his love to man became his hell, and at last his death?"—

The danger of pity is a major theme of the book. The chapter "The Ugliest Man" describes a character who is filled with self-contempt and who caused God to pity to such an extent as to cause his own death. While Zarathustra can avoid the Ugliest Man, God would not be unaware of him and therefore die. In "The Ass Festival," an idolatrous ass (donkey) God is revived and worshipped against Zarathustra's wishes. Zarathustra's followers tell him:

"Whether HE yet liveth, or again liveth, or is thoroughly dead—which of us both knoweth that best? I ask thee."

Zarathusta finally commends the ass festival, as long as it is dedicated to self-respecting love. There are many possible interpretations of the concept in "Thus Spake Zarathustra," which is expressed in a poetic rather than logical form. While the old God may be dead, new sacred concepts may be invented. It is more important to consider the context and value of ceremony, rather than abolishing the sacred completely.


The secularisation of the West since the late 19th century has been significant. It is common for religious writers to admit that god appears dead and is widely (but falsely) considered to be insignificant. [1] [2] Mainstream religion rejects the concept of God is dead: [3]

"It is a living God we worship, not a dead God, and the church was ordained to pro­claim the good news of the living God to all mankind. Let us not be recreant in this duty."

The main solution proposed by mainstream religion is a revival of faith in God or religious reformation to adapt to modern culture.

A minority of theologians and followers have embraced the idea by rejecting the existence of God but retaining some aspects of religious teaching and culture. These positions are called Christian atheism or Death of God theology.


  1. Bridget Brenton, God IS dead… at least in Western Christianity, Christian Today Australia, 21 Mar 2014 [1]
  2. D. Gene West, Is God Dead?, Gospel Gazette, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2006 [2]
  3. D. A. Delafield, If God is Dead, Ministry, Feb 1966 [3]

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