Death of God or the Death of the Bible

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One of the most misunderstood statements made by Nietzsche is sadly his most famous one. Gott ist Tot. Is God dead? Is he dead biologically, killed by a biological subject by means of a material instrument with blood gushing out of his veins?

Submitted: April 03, 2014

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Submitted: April 03, 2014

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One of the most misunderstood statements made by Nietzsche is sadly his most famous one. Gott ist Tot. Is God dead? Is he dead biologically, killed by a biological subject by means of a material instrument with blood gushing out of his veins? I think we should examine the statement more briefly and proceed to a more in depth analysis of the statement.

If I were inclined to interpret it at face value given the statements raised in Also Sprach Zarathustra or in The Gay Science, my interpretation would dwell on the same tone as that of my critique of Freud i.e. that Nietzsche was criticizing the religious conception of God as the fundamental source of morality (or in Freud, God as a substitute for the father I killed which shapes my whole Ego). But I think this reading is shallow.

To begin this exploration, let me start from Zarathustra’s speech which I think summarizes the whole Nietzschean critique of religion in the whole book set in positive tone. Remain faithful to the earth.[1] The significance of this statement could be extended to the entirety of Nietzsche’s system of criticizing the religious discourse of death and afterlife and that the discourses raised by the religious are empty assertions made to subject man into submission. The main objection that those who work against religion claim that religion simply substitutes the really existing world with another one that is to come. On a further note, the atheist claim that this other world is simply the product of the imagination that serves as a tentative solution to the fear of death.

I believe it is a rather simplistic objection to religion and a shallow interpretation of Nietzsche’s work. Let me look at the question more deeply through going through the two main statements of our title.

 

Death of God: Who killed him?

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"[2]

Who killed God? Is this a ridiculous question to ask? Do we not encounter a contradiction in the theological sense of the term? In a strict theological language of metaphysics, it seems that the death of God is a self-refuting statement, met with the strict and rigorous logic of Aristotle and the philosophical presuppositions made by the sacred synthesis of the Angelic doctor. But what the philosopher meant with the death of God proves in a discursive manner that God, in our understanding of that transcendent entity, pushes every linguistic limitation set by the logic of language itself.

Is it not the work of Pseudo-Dionysius in the Via Negativa that uses the negation to prove the transcendence of God through the use of the negatives? What Pseudo-Dionysius demonstrates is that set in a positive statement, language occurs within the context of actually existing entities like particular state of affairs. In the negative way of approach, God becomes the signified in the negative sentence: God is not good; God is not temporal and so on. Therefore, through these statements, God shoves the logic of language as describing (in the manner of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus) “the world is all that is the case.”[3] On the side of the signifier, the signifier does not hold anything. Not good does not refer to anything. It is so to say an empty signifier that proves something transcendent. This signifier although empty has become the centre of discussion. However, we cannot equate it to a pure signifier since it is a negative statement. Simply said, the empty signifier used in the via negativa refers to something absent in the particular state of affairs.

This extension of the proof of God from the metaphysical to the linguistic changes the horizon of God-talk to the front of the phenomenology of discourses. I would like to place God-talk in that case under the banner of discourses. A division is created between talking about God as such and God as we know it to be. This simply dichotomy opens up what seems to be to be the impasse in every apologetics that turns from a metaphysically proven God and the pluralistic conception of God in religious discourse.

Returning to our question: who killed God? The question seems to be aimed at the question of religion. In a perspective that sees God as the ultimate absolute term upon which everything could be deduced to particular statements of theological discourse. However, faith is not rooted in the rational discourse as with science or the practice of metaphysics. Religions have had an uneasy treaty of reason after the reformation and our contemporary religious milieu seems to be muddled in the same science vs faith debate since the 16th century and while the Catholic church sought to reconcile the two, the fundamentalist movement has become ever more energetic in countering the findings of science with their own brand of scientific discourse.

 

[1] Friderich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Walther Kaufmann, in The Portable Nietzsche, selected and translated with Introduction by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin Books, 1982), p. 125.

[2] Friederich Nietszche The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), p. 182.

[3] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. Daniel Kolak, in Analytic Philosophy: Beginnings to the Present, ed. Jordan S. Lindberg (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2001), p. 109.


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