GOD’S DEATH — POSTMORTEM BY NIETZSCHE
It reminds me of a remark of Tom Lehrer as saying that “Most patriotic Americans are feeling like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.” I am actually finding it either amusing or laughable. On the other hand, when I realize that so many Americans take this nonsense seriously, it can become quite depressing.
One also remembers Bernard Shaw’s dictum “Beware of the man whose God is in the skies.” The problem is, of course, that these people simply state things as fact as coming from the word of God, and yet God does not have a phone number and is not available for confirmation.
Some time back, there was a great deal of consternation over the phrase “God is Dead!” Many people knew it somehow came from the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, but that was about it. They hated the idea, considered it blasphemy, and the kinder of them took pity on him and those who agreed. However, they never really understood what was meant by that phrase.
We are going to change all that right now.
First, an amusing bit a graffiti:
“God is Dead.” – Nietzsche
“Nietzsche is Dead.” – God
And thus it remained until the final statement, understood only by those who knew a bit about the subject:
“I was born posthumously.” — Nietzsche
And there it has stood for some time.
It seems quite clear that many of these people never read past the first mention of God’s death in the Prologue to Book One of Zarathustra. In fact, many of them do not realize that the character Zarathustra was invented by Nietzsche and undergoes a change during the course of the work. He took the name of Zoroaster, the mystic, because he had experienced no prophet with whom he more intensely disagreed, and it is worth mentioning as well that the transliteration of Zoroaster is often Zarathustra, or something quite close to it.
I take it that few readers of Nietzsche also realize that he was trained as a classical philologist and studied a wide variety of languages. He was especially interested in pre-Homeric writers.
So, with this in mind, let us look at a few passages where Zarathustra discusses God’s death. Nietzsche is nearly impossible to translate to anyone’s satisfaction, but Walter Kaufmann, who came to Nietzsche hating everything he stood for BEFORE he did the translations, manage to translate him into sense in English and thus understanding what he actually stood for and changing his mind radically. R. Hollingsdale and M. Cowan have also produced excellent and scholarly accepted translations. I am providing my own, just because I don’t want to bother worrying about the absurdity of “fair use” and because I want to translate it the way it came across to me originally. If you can read the original German, ignore the translation. Nietzsche abounds in plays of words, puns, double-meanings, and like to joke a great deal and one who takes everything seriously and as the last word will be helplessly lost.
Here is that first mention:
Als Zarathustra aber allein war, sprach er also zu seinem Herzen:
“Sollte es denn möglich sein! Dieser alte Heilige hat in seinem Walde
noch Nichts davon gehört, dass _Gott_todt_ ist!” –
Einst war der Frevel an Gott der grösste Frevel, aber Gott starb, und
damit auch diese Frevelhaften. An der Erde zu freveln ist jetzt das
Furchtbarste und die Eingeweide des Unerforschlichen höher zu achten,
als der Sinn der Erde!
When Zarathustra was alone he spoke thus to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint in his forest not yet heard that God is dead!”-
Sacrilege was the greatest crime of blasphemy against God, but God died, and so also those blasphemers. To blaspheme the earth is now the role and the entrails of the unknowable to ensure higher life as the meaning of the earth!
The key to that now is that the idea of God is dead, blasphemy is to be stupid enough to attack quantitative evolution, a leap upwards from Mankind. (I know, you can have your own interpretation.)
One of my favorite, however, comes at the end of the third book, after Zarathustra has absented himself from man twice before and gain a better perspective on things.
Ist es denn nicht _lange_ vorbei auch für alle solche Zweifel? Wer
darf noch solche alte eingeschlafne lichtscheue Sachen aufwecken!
Mit den alten Göttern gieng es ja lange schon zu Ende: – und wahrlich,
ein gutes fröhliches Götter-Ende hatten sie!
Sie “dämmerten” sich nicht zu Tode, – das lügt man wohl! Vielmehr: sie
haben sich selber einmal zu Tode – _gelacht_!
Das geschah, als das gottloseste Wort von einem Gotte selber ausgieng,
– das Wort: “Es ist Ein Gott! Du sollst keinen andern Gott haben neben
– ein alter Grimm-Bart von Gott, ein eifersüchtiger vergass sich also:
Und alle Götter lachten damals und wackelten auf ihren Stühlen und
riefen: “Ist das nicht eben Göttlichkeit, dass es Götter, aber keinen
Wer Ohren hat, der höre. –
Also redete Zarathustra in der Stadt, die er liebte und welche
zubenannt ist die bunte Kuh. Von hier nämlich hatte er nur noch zwei
Tage zu gehen, dass er wieder in seine Höhle käme und zu seinen
Thieren; seine Seele aber frohlockte beständig ob der Nähe seiner
II is long passed for all such doubts? Who may still wake up those old light-shunning things!
With the old gods, it went so long since come to an end: – and verily, a good joyful Deity-end they had!
Their “falling asleep” is not to death – that is probably lying! Rather, they laughed themselves to death once!
That happened with the most godless word of a God himself, – The word: “I alone am God! Me! Thou shalt have no other gods before me! “-
– An old grim-beard of a God, a jealous old fart, forgot himself thus. And all the other gods then laughed, and shook upon their thrones and shouted: “Is this not just divinity that there are gods, but no God exists? “
Who hath ears to hear, listen!
And that is it. Obviously, Nietzsche did not write “fart,” but it fits! You can supply whatever you like there – try Langenschiedt’s (or however it is spelled).
Later on, Zarathustra offers details as to how God died (as it is, I skipped over about 15 different versions between the first one and the last). In Book 4, after another hiatus in his life, Zarathustra speaks much more calmly and evenly as his audience is comprised of only the “highest” of mankind.
Probably the most salient reason is that God died of pity for man after he saw man nailed to the cross.
Nowhere does God mention the morning after pill.