Parable of the Madman
by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
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 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? Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? Or emigrated? 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 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 the earth from it`s 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 if through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night 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, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the 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 be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us-for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on it`s way, still travelling, -it has not yet reached the ears of men. 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 more distant from them than the distant stars-and yet they have done it themselves.”
It has been further related that on the same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”
Nietzsche is famous for pronouncing that God is dead: but his was not just an atheistic exclamation of the supposed fall of that great celestial arbiter of humanity, but rather the demise of faith and belief in hearts and minds as the onward march of rationalism and science replaced those religious values he considered restrictive to personal freedom. There is present today in many western minds an acute indifference to God; the Judeo-Christian cultural values imbued within religious belief has been subsumed by the worship of mamon, the shopping mall, the impatient wait for the next iPhone upgrade and a shallow psychological indifference to a standard morality system. Psychopaths have a moral construct within which they may consider they are behaving entirely rationally and appropiately; with the slackening of the grip of an all pervasive religious dogma upon a dwindling congregation, we now all operate within a personal, subjective moral system. Humanity has been freed from the shackles of religious morality to be released to graze onto the fertile, limitless pastures of selfishness. Subjective morality is now the way ahead for all: even if such a concept is enshrined in law, there is no longer a right way or a wrong way for many of us — just our way. For Nietzsche, God was standing in the way of knowledge: He was a persistent obstruction on the long highway to human improvement. The Ubermenschen would take their place at the pinnacle; more intellectually rigorous and spiritually challenging, they would drag the rest of humanity out of the wasted centuries of religious darkness into the blazing light of the fulfillment of human potential. With their adoration of scientific rationalism, the Ubermenschen would wrestle with the implications of a godless universe and impose their own quasi-religious structure on an improved human race and forge ahead into a giddy paradise of man as the measure of all things. Into the vacuum of this morally aesthetically gutted universe of godless super-men, stepped the great psychopaths of 20th century history, Hitler and Stalin: for Hitler in particular, the Nietzschean concept of a godless super-race sprung from the intellectual dungeon of religious scruples and morals, was like receiving the fascist Ten Commandments from the mountaintop. Precarious humanism would be swept away, and the meaninglessness left from God`s absence would be replaced by brutalizing the human spirit and abandonment of moral inquiry and self questioning. Nietzsche`s assault upon truth and the nihilistic termination of humanity had no happy ending for the Third Reich, as Hitler`s abuse and intellectual mangling of Nietzschean philosophy went down in a ball of flames along with the rest of Europe. Whether God is dead is a moot point: although there are significantly strong elements of selfish behaviour without conscience in modern society, the common decency of humanism runs strong enough to keep the spectre of Nietzschean godless intellectual nihilism at bay………For now.