Thus Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Gay Science. The whole passage is very powerful and well worth reading. There are a whole load of things I'd like to say about this. I'd like to draw attention to the fact that Nietzsche, unlike many of the contemporary atheists I come across, understands just what the death of God entails, in terms of the loss of all values. I'd like to explore the history of the death of God as a concept, and ask some questions about whether Nietzsche is the inevitable result of trends in western philosophy and theology. I'd love to explore the extent to which the madman represents Nietzsche himself in this parable.
But for this post, I want to settle on one thing: the death of God is an event. It is a happening.
It seems to me that Nietzsche is not so much an atheist as a deicide. I don't mean that Nietzsche believed in an existent, metaphysical entity called God, an entity which humanity has now killed. I don't think he had much interest in metaphysical entities of any sort. But the vivid imagery of the death - indeed, the murder - of God is not the language of the man who has just realised that there never was any sort of deity after all and therefore we can all enjoy our lives. Something has changed. There used to be God - this earth used to be chained to its sun, there used to be warmth and light, there used to be meaning. Now it has all gone. And we have done it. What is left is the nihilism from which Nietzsche hopes to provide some escape (but only for some?) through his philosophy.
Now consider this stanza from a hymn of Faber's:
O come and mourn with me a while,
and tarry here the cross beside.
O come together, let us mourn,
Jesus our Lord is crucified.
The subject is, of course, the death - of God? I think we could be so bold as to say so. Because in Christianity, also, the death of God is an event, a happening.
There is debate about whether we can really speak in this way - is not the death of Christ really the death of his human nature, and not at all the death of God? I think there is good reason to reject this approach, although I recognise it has been the majority position in the church. Perhaps I'll write something about this at some point.
I suppose the main difference between Nietzsche and Faber is the little phrase "a while" in the hymn. For Nietzsche's madman, God is dead and remains dead; for Faber, there is just a little while to mourn the death of God. How is that?
For Nietzsche, the death of God is an event in human history, for which human beings must take responsibility, the aftermath of which it is up to human beings to sort out. For the Christian, the death of God is an event in divine history, for which God takes responsibility (though indeed, it is true that we have done it), the aftermath of which God has sorted out by raising Christ from the dead. The madman is driven frantic by the responsibility. We have killed God; now what must we do? Must we not become gods ourselves to be worthy of the deed? The Christian agrees: we have killed God. We will mourn for a while. But ultimately we know that God himself has taken responsibility for our - murder? deicide? - and has completely undone what we have tried to do.
O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act your strength is tried,
and victory remains with love
for thou, our Lord, art crucified.