The Death of God and Nihilism
1. The Death of God as the Self-Overcoming of Christianity. What, in all strictness has really conquered the Christian God? The answer may be found in my Gay Science (section 357): "Christian morality itself, the concept of truthfulness taken more and more strictly, the confessional subtlety of the Christian conscience translated and sublimated into the scientific conscience, into intellectual cleanliness at any price. To view nature as if it were a proof of the good and providence of a God; to interpret history to the glory of a divine reason, as the perpetual witness to a moral world order and moral intentions; to interpret one’s own experiences, as pious men long interpreted them, as if everything were preordained, everything a sign, everything sent for the salvation of the soul — that now belongs to the past, that has the conscience against it, that seems to every more sensitive conscience indecent, dishonest, mendacious, feminism, weakness, cowardice: it is this rigor if anything that makes us good Europeans and the heirs of Europe’s longest and bravest self-overcoming.
All great things bring about their own destruction through an act of self-overcoming: thus the law of life will have it, the law of the necessity of "self-overcoming" in the nature of life — the law-giver himself eventually receives the call. . . In this way Christianity as a dogma was destroyed by its own morality; in the same way Christianity as morality must now perish too: we stand on the threshold of this event. After Christian truthfulness has drawn one inference after another, it must end by drawing its most striking inference, its inference against itself.
2. The Madman.Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace and cried incessantly: ‘I am looking for God! I am looking for God — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him then?’ said one. ‘Did he lose his way like a child?’ said another. ‘Or is he hiding? I he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage?’ — Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. ‘Where has God gone?’ he cried. ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him — you and I. We are all 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 its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, 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 more and more night not coming on all the time? 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, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives — who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?’
3. What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; — why?— finds no answer. (Will to Power, 2)
4. Christian Morality and Nihilism. What were the advantages of the Christian moral hypothesis? (1) It granted man an absolute value, as opposed to his smallness and accidental occurrence in the flux of becoming and passing away. (2) It served the advocates of God insofar as conceded to the world, in spite of suffering and evil, the character of perfection: evil appeared full of meaning. (3) It posited that man had a knowledge of absolute values and thus adequate knowledge precisely regarding what is most important. (4) It prevented man from despising himself as man, from taking sides against life; from despairing of knowledge: it was a means of preservation. In sum: morality was the great antidote against practical and theoretical nihilism. (Will to Power, 4)
5. The Destructive Phase of Nihilism. But among the forces cultivated by morality was truthfulness. This eventually turned against morality, discovered its teleology, its partial perspective — and now the recognition of this inveterate mendaciousness that one despairs of shedding becomes a stimulant. Now we discovering ourselves needs implanted by centuries of moral interpretation — needs that now appear to us as needs for untruth; on the other hand, the value for which we endure life seems to hinge on these needs. This antagonism — not to esteem what we know, and not to be allowed any longer to esteem the lies we should like to tell ourselves — results in a process of dissolution. (Will to Power, 5)
6. Nihilism as a Transitional Stage. The supreme values in whose service man should live, especially when they were very hard on him and exacted a high price — these social values were erected over man to strengthen their voice, as if they were commands of God, as reality,- as the -true" world, as a hope and future world. Now that the shabby origin of these values (i.e., in resentment) is becoming clear, the universe seems to have lost value, seems "meaningless" — but that is only a transitional stage. (Will to Power, 7)
7. Decline of Cosmological Values. Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a "meaning" in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the "in vain," insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure — being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long. This meaning could have been: the "fulfillment" of some high esthetical canon in all events, the moral world order; or the growth of love and harmony in the intercourse of beings; or the gradual approximation of a state of universal an annihilation — any goal at least constitutes some meaning. What all these notions have in common is that something is to be achieved through the process — and now one realizes that becoming aims at nothing and achieves nothing. Thus, disappointment regarding an alleged aim of becoming as a cause of nihilism: whether regarding a specific aim or, universalized, the realization that all previous hypotheses about aims that concern the whole -evolution" are inadequate (man no longer the collaborator, let alone the center, of becoming).
Nihilism as a psychological state is reached, secondly, when one has posited a totality, a systematization, indeed any organization in all events, and underneath all events, and a soul that longs to admire and revere has wallowed in the idea of some supreme form of domination and administration (if the soul be that of a logician, complete consistency and real dialectic are quite sufficient to reconcile it to everything). Some sort of unity, some form of "monism": this faith suffices to give man a deep feeling of standing in the context of, and being dependent on, same whole that is infinitely superior to hit, and he sees himself as a made of the deity. — "The well-being of the universal demands the devolution of the individual" — but behold, there is no such universal At bottom, man has lost the faith in his own value when no infinitely valuable whole works through him; i.e., he conceived such a whole in order to be able to believe in his own value.
Nihilism as psychological state has yet a third and last form. Given these two insights, that becoming has no goal and that underneath all becoming there is no grand unit" in which the individual could immerse himself completely as in an element of supreme value, an escape remains: to pass sentence on this whole world of becoming as a deception and to invent a world beyond it, a true world. But as soon as man finds out how that world is fabricated solely from psychological needs, and how he has absolutely no right to it, the last form of nihilism comes into being: it includes disbelief in any metaphysical world and forbids itself any belief in a true world. Having reached this standpoint, one grants the reality of becoming as the only reality, forbids oneself every kind of clandestine access to afterworlds and false divinities — but cannot endure this world though one does not want to deny it.
What has happened, at bottom? The feeling of valuelessness was reached with the realization that the overall character of existence may not be interpreted by means of the concept of "aim," the concept of "unity," or the concept of "truth." Existence has no goal or end; any comprehensive unity in the plurality of events is lacking: the character of existence is not "true," is false. One simply lacks any reason for convincing oneself that there is a true world. Briefly: the categories — "aim," "unity," "being" which we used to project some value into the world — we pull out again; so the world looks valueless.
Suppose we realize how the world may no longer be interpreted in terms of these three categories, and that the world begins to become valueless for us after this insight: then we have to ask about the sources of our faith in these three categories. Let us try if it is not possible to give up our faith in them. Once we have devaluated these three categories, the demonstration that they cannot be applied to universe is no longer any reason for devaluating the universe.
Conclusion: The faith in the categories of reason is the cause of nihilism. We have measured the value of the world according to categories that refer to a purely fictitious world. Final conclusion: All the values by means of which we have tried so far to render the world estimable for ourselves and which then proved inapplicable and therefore devaluated the world — all these values are, psychologically considered, the results of certain perspectives of utility, designed to maintain and increase human constructs of domination — and they have been falsely projected into the essence of things. What we find here is still the hyperbolic naiveté of man: positing himself as the meaning and measure of the value of things. (Will to Power, 12)