The question of whether God really exists has elicited heated debates and remained unsolved for as long as documented history can trace. This is mainly caused by the belief that unless man establishes the existence of God he can not really understand the purpose of his existence. The belief in God is what maintains world peace and morals as most people desist from violence and crime for the fear of God.
It is the realization of God’s role in the maintenance of orderliness that inspired Nietzsche to create a hypothetical situation where God did not exist.
He told a story of a mad man who ran around the market place searching for God. Many of the Atheists who were around at that time teased him. They asked the madman whether God was hiding or had lost his way like a child. Some asked whether God was afraid or whether he had ran away. They cajoled and laughed at him.
The mad man, after listening to their questions jumped into their midst saying that they had all killed God. They were all God’s murderers.
He thus asked a series of questions to the effect that it was almost impossible to mkill God but they had done it. He compared killing God to drinking up the sea, wiping away the horizon or unchaining the earth from the sun.
The Mad Man
The mad man concludes his speech by wondering how we humans could comfort them in the face of such a grave sin. What festivals of atonement or ceremonies could they perform to wipe God’s blood of themselves? Could they substitute God with themselves and perform his role? As his listeners reflected on his speech the mad man implied that mankind had killed God by disregarding his morals and yet distanced them from it. He later went to several churches and declared them tombs of God.
This story appeared blasphemous at first glance and as expected aroused a lot of criticism from the church at that time. Perhaps the story was meant to show how the degradation of morals had turned God into a far off notion. Nietzsche does not imply that God existed at one time and then died literary. The death of God represented the erosion of Christian values and Christian morality.
He essentially tries to foresee a future when such erosion will reach a level where there will be nothing to guide human actions. He therefore tried to create an alternative source of morals, which is why the madman asks whether man has tried to replace God. By deviating from the guidelines of Christianity men destroyed the very concept of God as we knew it.
Most people including the Christians of the time took “the death of God” literary. This put Nietzsche at odds with them. In defense he argued that God was only a notion in their mind which continued fading into an illusion with each passing day. He proposed that mankind needed an alternative source of morals which was not based on the wishes of a supreme being.
Since the idea of God is in peoples minds they might as well learn to live in peace with each other without fear of divine punishment. It is in this sense that the mad man said that people had murdered God or the notion of him thereof. This had happened through the hypocrisy of believers which discouraged potential believers. Their actions demeaned God to the extent that he became an object of ridicule the likes of the atheists at the market.
Basically Nietzsche was talking of the death of belief in the metaphysical realm. If metaphysics is not strong enough to sustain its influence on people’s lives, it is wiser to think ahead and prepare for a world run without it. He viewed metaphysics as an idea that was bound to collapse just like anything else with a beginning.
A world without God, to him, was not only possible but inevitable. This world would be less restrictive and would enhance mankind’s creativity and material progress. In this world human beings would no longer turn to heavens for guidance but would discover the strengths within them. This would usher in a new era in human existence where man would fully realize the potentials locked in the world. All values that guide humanity would be reviewed and a new code would guide their actions.
In Nietzsche’s opinion people do not accord the physical the attention it deserved. It is because of this devaluation of the world around them that they seek comfort in the spiritual and metaphysical ideas which are not compatible to human reality. They seek answers for the uncertain nature of life in abstract beings which limit the bounds of their creative potential. He proposed that the solution to this would come in the form of mankind learning to rely on itself for enlightment (Nietzsche 49).
Nietzsche, being one of the believers in the rule of the body over the body over the mind believed that ideas contained inhibited the body’s actions (72). Thus the body is the true self though it it can be denied that inner feelings drive it. This means that qualities like bravery, laziness, or physical exhaustion can greatly influence the physical condition. The idea of the mind operating on its own and controlling the body is just a manifestation of the body’s power.
This power is displayed as will or determination. The psychological part of a human being that controls these qualities is connected to the unconscious part of the mind. In his other woks he suggested that this subconscious part of the human mind is what some people referred to as God. What people referred to as visions are simply a connection of multiple ideas in the mind. The fragments of ideas gained in the course of ones lifetime.
In his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra He described the mind as one of the many components that were necessary for the body’s survival. He in effect proposed that the mind could survive on its own without the external influence of religion or the belief in God. “Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage- whose name is self. In your body he dwells; he is your body (William 61).
There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom. And who knows why your body needs precisely your best wisdom?” (Nietzsche 49).
This view contrasted with the Christian doctrine that depicted the body as the very epitome of evil. The bible urges Christians to ignore the body’s desires since they eventually led to sin. By ignoring the body’s desires one has to ignore its abilities as well and seek to over-rely on the mind.
Nietzsche was brought in a Christian tradition. His radical views and materialistic ideas might have been a rebellion against tradition. He thus sought to change the view of the world as a sinful and dirty place. In the same way the body to him was a self sufficient entity with multiple abilities. To him there was no need to refer to the mind or the supernatural realm for answers that were easily available in the physical realm.
In the 19th century saw the popularization of the importance of the body and the physical world. Many scholars scandalized conservative beliefs and the mainstream morals.
Existence of God
The inevitable finality of life further drives people to seek the comfort of an imaginary life beyond the present which distracts them from their present day to day life. Thus, the idea of heaven or the after life blocks the full realization of exploitation of the world’s resources.
People concentrate so much on the imperfections of life and spend little time trying to make it easier by withdrawing into the utopian world where life is more perfect. Sensible people on the other hand take their troubles in stride and consider the realities of life as inevitable. Just like the non-believers in the market place we should not distract ourselves with the idea of the existence of God.
It is this attitude that Nietzsche called “the death of God”. They just went about their daily business and suspected that God was afraid of them or had simply deserted them. However man simply can not live without something to believe in.
With the rise of science many intellectuals tried merge it with their Christian values with disastrous results. The two were simply incompatible. Science does not accept anything that can not be supported by facts. The mad man in Nietzsche’s story wonders whether there is still an above an below.
This suggests that God and his existence can be supported by the physical world. The death of God would mean that the death o0f the physical world too. Our very existence is the proof that God exists. Therefore science does not substitute God but is just one of the supporting facts to the existence of God.
Without God, according to the mad man, there would be no above and below, no horizon, and no world. The material world in itself must have originated from somewhere beyond the physical real.
As Doctor Lewontin put it “It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated” (Lewontin 28).
Science supports the existence of God rather than his death in more than one way. The laws of nature that scientists so much insist on must have been created or set in motion by an external force. A scientist takes the long route of tracing the interconnection between the forces of nature to arrive at the same conclusion with the mad man.
An astronomer will eventually conclude that the universe must have had a single beginning.
Since Islam and Christianity depict God as “ a being than which no greater can be conceived” it is only logical to argue that he too exists (Lewontin 132) The amazing nature of the universe which science itself confirms the existence of greater scientist who engineered it.
It is in this sense that the mad man asked “Who had given man the sponge with which to wipe away the horizon” scientists confirm that the earth is designed with such precision the if the earth and the sun were a bit further from or closer to each other than they now are, life on earth would be simply unbearable. Such precision defies the random nature through which evolutionists claim that the world came into being. The chances of a single protein molecule forming at random are simply impossible.
The philosophical law of cause and effect states that things can not simply come into being. The existence of the universe can therefore be looked at as an effect which must have occurred by a divine cause. Despite Nietzsche’s emphasis on the dynamic nature of the body and the physical realm, he confirmed the internal willpower is what drove the body.
This subconscious part that he equated to God is what the Bible refers to as conscience- the God in man. The existence of this part of man can be further supported by universality of some of the laws and values that are dear to man. Regardless of race, culture and time in history murder, vices such as stealing, lying are prohibited.
The dates provided by Darwin’s theory do not concur with the dates that an astronomer would give to explain the formation of the world. Molecular biologists eventually agree that no amount of time would see to the complex make up of cells. Philosophers would eventually agree that at the heart of science is a set of laws that makes objects not fall upwards. These laws must have been put in place by a force beyond the physical realm (William 136).
Believing in this force would call for adherence to faith which contrasts to the law of logic that is central to science. While religion has done its best to accommodate science the latter seems to thrive on the denial of the former.
The world, at Nietzsche’s time and today, relies more on the scientific-technological realities and would rather ignore the possibility of the existence of a force beyond the physical world. Science has become the basis of truth and seems to come to the fulfillment of his prophecy.
This seems to further confirm the swiftly approaching death of God in people’s minds. Religion continues to adjust itself to accommodate science which relentless strives to annihilate it (Gabriel 112).
Nietzsche cunningly put the ideas he opposed into a madman’s mouth. The mad man may not have been literary crazy since his thoughts were coherent and sensible. What made him look mad to the crowd was that he had realized how people had denied God without realizing it (Altizer 118). While many were aware that God was no more, few realized that it was they who had killed him.
Some of them still went about their business as if God was still supreme, not willing to accept the fact that their actions were a continuous denial of his existence. By developing a science-based system of thought and belief the people had slowly edged God out of their lives. What remained was just a shell of rituals that people went through out habit and tradition.
The whole parable seems to have been directed at people’s hypocritical ways. Humanity had ceased to act in the ways of religion but continued it give lip service to God. They practiced science and preached religion. As a result the world became so full of chaos as a result of people trying to subscribe to two opposing doctrines. The mad man further compares the chaos to the world being unchained from the sun.
Nietzsche also seems to support the idea that God is a product of a fantasy that all mankind escapes to. He therefore seems to be for that man should either conform completely to religion or abandon it instead of slowly killing God. He thus proposed ways of approaching both options.
Altizer, Thomas. Radical Theology. London: Mac Milan, 1936.
Gabriel, Robert. The Culture of our Post-Christian Era. London: Random, 1968
Lewontin, Fredrick, Billions and Billions.NY: Random Publishers, 1997.
Nietzsche,Friedrich .The Gay Science. NY: Vintage Publishers,1882.
William, Edwin. Death of God. Priceton. Princeton, 1972.