Nietzsche's most famous proclamation of the death of God is voiced by a madman, and directed not at believers but at unbelievers, who mock the madman's claim to be seeking God by the light of his lantern in the sunny marketplace; how can anyone still think that God might be found in our daylight world? All right-thinking people have long known that there is no God; belief in His existence was a childish superstition, a cognitive error overcome by advances in our understanding of the world, and human maturity requires that we learn to live in the clear, invigorating light of that knowledge. But the madman finds this marketplace atheism to be more childish than the theistic belief it claims to have outgrown. His perception is that God is dead, not non-existent; God's absence is not a discovery but the result of a deed, and a terrifying one. We are God's murderers. His presence was real, part of the living tissue of our culture, our responses, our most intimate self-understanding. His destruction is therefore a radically violent act, not only against Him but against ourselves. And His corpse remains unburied; the stench of His putrefying culture still lingers in the nostrils - in, for example, the morality of compassion for the weak that we cling to even after discarding what we think of as its theistic underpinnings.
LRB 11 September 2003 | PDF Download