What did Nietzsche mean by the phrase ,God is dead,?

,God is dead, (German: ,Gott ist tot,) is probably the best known and infamous statement of the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. This sentence appears for the first time in his book ‘The cheerful science’ under aphorisms 108 (,New struggles,) and 125 (,The fool,), and a third time in the aphorism 343 (,Our cheerfulness,). It is also found in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ and it is mainly to this work that the popularity of the expression is due. Nietzsche’s nihilism and his position on God still annoy many.

Nietzsche’s ambiguous relationship with religion

Friedrich Nietzsche, son of a Lutheran pastor from Saxony, debated with church and Christianity all his life. He mainly railed against the values of Christianity, but in his writings he nevertheless dealt with religious themes such as the gods of the ancient Greeks, Catholicism and Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. He even studied Protestant theology in Bonn for a short period, and at the age of 25 was appointed associate professor of Classical Philology in Basel.

Denial of God and the meaning of life

Nietzsche is considered the pioneer of existentialism. He denied the existence of God, nor refused to attribute any meaning to life and history. He demanded a ,revaluation of all values, that man had to achieve with the help of the ,will to power,.

His concept of the future of humanity, the Übermensch who had no need for religion or science to dictate his values, would later be abused by the National Socialists in Germany. Apologists for Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s invoked Nietzsche’s writings as philosophical justification for their teachings, but most historians regard this as a perverse distortion of Nietzsche’s thinking.

Christianity as a slave religion that wants to chain man

Nietzsche viewed Christian civilization as decadent, and in place of its ,slave morality, he promoted a new heroic morality in which the man of the future would represent the highest level of passion and creativity. This ‘superman’ would create his own standards of right and wrong. His statement ‘God is dead’ should also be viewed in this light.

After the ‘death of God’, man must create new values

In his writings, Nietzsche collapses the basic values of ,truth,, ,morality, and ,religion, like a house of cards and replaces them with ,nihilism, – nothing. However, man should not give up, but on the contrary – after the appointed death of God – revaluate all values and create ,new values,.

The death of god: Nietzsche was not the first to write about it

Although this statement and its meaning are attributed to Nietzsche, other philosophers, writers, and theologians had previously considered this issue. For example, Hegel had already discussed the concept of the death of God in 1807 in his ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’. In it he views the death of God as ,no more than an easily recognized part of the usual Christian cycle of redemption.,

The expression can also be found, for example, in the poem ‘Le Christ aux oliviers’ (,Christ on the olive trees,) by Gérard de Nerval from 1854, and Victor Hugo wrote in his social novel ‘Les Misérables’ from it 1862: ,Perhaps God dead,, here apparently referring to Gérard de Nerval himself. Hugo notes that Nerval ,confuses progress with God, and its interruption with the death of the Creature.,

It is in 1882 that we first find Nietzsche’s expression about the death of God, namely in ‘The Gay Science’.

The happy science

A translated excerpt from the fool’s speech reads:

“God is dead! God remains dead! And we killed him!
How do we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?
The holiest and most powerful thing the world has ever known has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood from us ,With what water can we cleanse ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we invent?
Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Must we not become gods ourselves to be worthy of them?,
– Nietzsche: The Gay Science, Third Book, 125.


Interpretation of ‘God is dead’

Nietzsche’s critical view of Christianity must be framed within the growing skepticism about religion at the time, as expressed by other German philosophers such as Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. The place of religion in human life was no longer so dominant as a result of the Enlightenment, rationalism and the growth of scientific insights. These developments strengthened people’s awareness that they had to rely more on their own thoughts and actions.

Unlike most other philosophers, and not just those of his time, Nietzsche does not really have a coherent philosophical system. His work is highly subjective, peppered with sometimes prophetic aphorisms and lacks substantive consistency. This also applies to the quote ,God is dead!, which after Nietzsche was interpreted in different ways by Marxists, existentialists, Nazis, theologians and so on.

Nietzsche was convinced that without God, positive new possibilities would arise for people. After letting go of belief in God, according to him, human creativity could develop freely. If people would stop turning their eyes to heaven in search of Divine guidance, nothing would stand in their way of enjoying the value of the world in which they lived.

“There is no being responsible for the fact that anyone exists at all,
that everyone is as they are, that everyone was born into certain circumstances and in a certain environment
– It is wonderful that such a being is missing.”
– Nietzsche: Wille zur Macht

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