Classic Essays

Gott Ist Tot


Nietzsche’s agonizing “God is dead” has become a twentieth century cri de coeur. Although almost everyone knows the text, few know the context. We present below the editor’s translation of the madman sequence from Die Froehliche Wissenschah (Book Three. 125)

(ILLUSTRATION: Friedrich Nietzsche)

HAVE YOU HEARD of the madman who lit his lamp on a bright morning, ran to the marketplace and cried out endlessly, “I search for God, I search for God.” Since among the bystanders were many who did not believe in God, there arose a great laughter. “Is he lost?” said one. “Has he run away like a child?” said another. “Is he in hiding — Is he afraid of us? Has he sailed away somewhere? Wandered off?” So they spoke and laughed among themselves.

The madman sprang into their midst and let his glance bore through them. “Where is God?” he cried. “I will tell you where. We have killed him — you and I. We are all his murderers. Why have we done this? How could we have emptied this sea! Who gave us the sponge that has washed away all our horizons? What did we do to unchain the earth from its sun? Where will it move in the future? Where will we move? Away from all suns? Will we not continually fall and stumble — backwards, sidewards, forwards, in every direction? Is there still an up and a down? Won’t we be forever straying through an infinite nothing? Can we breathe in empty space? Isn’t it growing colder? Isn’t night coming and more night? Must we not light our lamps in the morning? Don’t we hear the noise of the gravediggers as they bury God? Don’t we smell traces of the divine decay? Even Gods decay.

“God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How are we to console ourselves for this murder of all murders? The Holiest and Mightiest the world ever possessed has bled to death from our knife wounds — and who will wash this blood away from us? With what water can we be purified? What form of penitence, what holy ritual must we invent? Is not the immensity of the deed too great for us? Must we not become Gods ourselves, if only to appear worthy of them? There was never a greater deed — and those who are born after us will belong for the sake of this deed to a history higher than all previous history.”

The madman stopped and was silent and again looked at his listeners. They were also silent and regarded him strangely. Finally he threw his lantern on the ground. It broke into pieces and went out.

“I have come too soon,” he said. “The time is not yet ripe. This monstrous event is still taking place, still spreading over the landscape. It has not yet reached the ears of men. Thunder and lightning need time, starlight needs time, deeds need time, even after they take place, in order to be seen and heard. This deed is farther from men than the farthest star, even though men have accomplished it.

The tale is still told that on the same day the madman broke into several churches and played his Requiem aeternam deo. When he was led away and brought to justice, he repeated over and over these words: “What are these churches, if they are not the tombs and the gravestones of God?”

* * *

Source: Instauration magazine, October 1977

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Alex Wells
Alex Wells
4 July, 2018 3:18 am

I notice that the madman did not say how mankind “killed God.” It would be nice to have that explanation.

Martin Kerr
Martin Kerr
4 July, 2018 7:01 pm

Nietzsche expands on his dictum “God is dead” in the prologue to “Thus Spake Zarathustra.”

Here is a National Socialist interpretation by Matt Koehl, in “Faith of the Future, ” Chapter 4 “(Twilight of the West”):

“Cultures live and die with their gods. That the god of the West should have died was foreordained from the very beginning, and it is in this sense that Nietzsche’s celebrated pronouncement must be understood. For how could a Middle Eastern import permanently satisfy the real spiritual needs of Aryan man? Yahweh/Jehovah could murder Zeus and Jupiter, Odin and Thor. But how could he maintain forever the fiction that he was the real father of their children?”

Alex Wells
Alex Wells
4 July, 2018 10:01 pm

I never understood what he meant by it in Thus Spake Zarathustra, either. Matt Koehl’s remarks read very much like something that Alfred Rosenberg would have written. However, I’m not sure that’s really what Nietzsche had in mind.

Martin Kerr
Martin Kerr
5 July, 2018 11:40 am

Alex, you are making this more difficult on yourself than is necessary. It is not really that deep. Nietzsche was speaking metaphorically. When he says that “God is dead,” what he means is that “the belief in God is dead,” and that science has replaced religious belief as the foundation of Western civilization. But while science may satisfy the intellect, the death of God (religion) has cast Western man adrift from his spiritual moorings. Nietzsche believes that this results in nihilism. His doctrine of the Superman is meant as rational, non-supernatural replacement for religion (the belief in God.) “The Madman” was written during Nietzsche’s early nihilist period, and “Zarathustra” a few years later when he became an anti-nihilist. Matt Koehl’s interpretation is somewhat in keeping with Nietzsche’s meaning, but in… Read more »

Alex Wells
Alex Wells
Reply to  Martin Kerr
5 July, 2018 2:48 pm

Thank you, Martin that makes more sense, anyway. In fact, the death of a belief in God is something that occurred to me right away, but it didn’t make sense. Nietzsche proclaimed that “Gott ist tot” about 130 years ago, when belief in “God” was actually widespread in Europe. It would be a much more accurate description of the beliefs of Europeans today (except in Poland).

Travon Martinberg
Travon Martinberg
7 July, 2018 2:37 am

A supernatural creator may exist, which by coincidence may be the God of the Bible, if the supernatural creator “created the heavens and the Earth in six days”, as the jews wrote of it. Yet, the Bible’s authors, the Pope, and believers in general have no more proof of God’s existence than anyone has proof of God’s non-existence. And, the Bible does not stop at creation, but provides a litany of stories, parables, fables, commandments, etc. that most people consider to be the words, actions or intents of God. Again, there is no proof that any of it is. However, it is possible to put existence in creationist terms. There are 100 elements in the universe, and universal laws of nature like the boiling point of water, etc. that appeared… Read more »