Nietzsche’s Madman and God

This post is an excerpt of the most famous passage in Friedrich Nietzsche. Click on the link only if you’re brave.

Here’s the passage about the death of God.

The Madman. 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 seek God! I seek God!” As many of those who do not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. “Why, did he get lost?” said one. “Did he lose his way like a child?” said another. “Or is he hiding?” “Is he afraid of us?” “Has he gone on a voyage? or migrated?” Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped and pierced them with glances.

            “Whither is God,” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from the sun? Whither is it moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backwards, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? 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? Gods too decompose.  God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? What was holiest and most powerful of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever will be born after us—for the sake of this deed he will be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

            Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke and went out. “I come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering—it has not yet reached the ears of man. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still distant from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.”

            It has been related further that on that same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said to have replied each time, “What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” (from the Gay Science 1882)

FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS

1. Where did the madman call out unceasingly?

2. How was the people’s belief in God?

3. How did the people respond to the madman?

4. What happens to the world after the bloody deed?

5. What (or who) must the people become to seem worthy of the deed?

6. How did the people respond after the madman’s tirade?

7. The madman sang his requiems in a variety of churches. Were the churches empty or full? (Column two)

Payoff Question:

8. How did the people kill God?

ARTICLES IN OUTLINE SERIES (alphabetical order)

Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

Clifford’s Ethics of Belief

Descartes’s Mind-Body Separation (Meditations I and II)

Hick’s Evil and God of Love

Hume’s Argument against Design

Hume’s Theory of Knowledge

James’s Will to Believe

Kant’s Ethics

Locke’s Theory of Knowledge

Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics

Nietzsche’s “Death of God”

Paley’s Watchmaker Design Argument

Plato’s View of Justice and the Soul

Plato the Soul Man

Rachels’s Moral Objectivism

Ryle’s Category Mistake

Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism”

Socrates’s “Apology”

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