Friedrich Nietzsche’s Madman, the death of God and the Jew

The Gay Science

The Gay Science (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a follow-on from The Death of God: Two Jews

There’s a third “witness” to the Death of God, Friedrich Nietzsche‘s Madman in Nietzsche’s Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1882), written just before his Also sprach ZarathustraThus Spoke Zarathustra.: A Book for All and None.” One of the English translations of Die fröhliche Wissenschaft is called “The Joyful Wisdom.” Here is part of the introduction by the translator: “Here the essentially grave and masculine face of the poet-philosopher is seen to light up and suddenly break into a delightful smile. The warmth and kindness that beam from his features will astonish those hasty psychologists who have never divined that behind the destroyer is the creator, and behind the blasphemer the lover of life.”

But then we read this from the “lover of life.”

The Madman, — Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out unceasingly ‘I seek God ! I seek God !’—As there were many people standing about who did not believe in God, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why ! is he lost? said one. Has he strayed away like a child? said another. Or does he keep himself hidden ? Is he afraid of us ? Has he taken a sea- voyage? Has he emigrated? — the people cried out laughingly, all in a hubbub. The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. ” Where is God gone ? ” he called out. ‘I mean to tell you ! We have killed him,—you and I! We are all his murderers ! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea ? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon ? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions Is there still an above and below ? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness ? Does not empty space breathe upon us ? Has it not become colder ? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God ? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? — for even Gods putrefy ! God is dead ! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers ? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife, —who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves.’” The Joyful Wisdom, translated by Francis Common, 1924 (first published 1910), p. 167-168.

Very joyful – for all and none.

(“The Joyful Wisdom” is not a good translation of “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.” Wissenschaft means “science,” and Weisheit means “wisdom.” Since Walter Kaufmann‘s translation in the 1960s, “The Gay Science” has become the common English title. They should swop “gay” – it is now commonly used to mean something else – for “joyful,” the opposite of “dismal,” to get “The Joyful Science,” the best translation, I suggest, of Die fröhliche Wissenschaft).

The madman asks (above), “With what water could we cleanse ourselves!” It will have to be ourselves, our über selves, Nietzsche’s übermadmensch, breaking free of repressive religious systems.

In the 1960s, a new theology came on the scene: the “Death of God theology.” The common meaning of theology is  the study/science of God, not the study of No-God, for which the atheistic counterpart should be called more appropriately “atheology.”  Theology “broadly construed is the science of the reasoned knowedge of God, Theology presents the system that results from philosophical analysis of the facts set forth by a religion” (“Handbook of Rabbinical Theology: Language, system, structure,” Brill Academic Publishers, 2002, p.1).

One of the pivotal English works in the vein of “The Death of God theology” was Bishop John Robinson’s (1963) “Honest to God,” in which he relegates God as a personal being to the ground of all being, that is, an omnipresent force that starts the ball of creation rolling. Now where have I come across that before? Well, in all the “there must be something out there” people. Robinson was a Bishop. Any Bishop who can say such things about the God of the Bible should close shop. If God is not personal, then it follows that the Bible is not the word of God but myth.

Reconstructionist Judaism (and Reform Judaism, by and large) would say that it doesn’t matter whether the Torah is myth, or, to use a reconstructionist term, “folklore;” what’s important is that it is a shared myth, and it is the sharing of a common heritage that binds a community together. What matters is the binding, not the “Book.” In Reconstructionist Judaism, therefore, God is not the supernatural personal being of the Torah, with a mind, a will, who loves, who judges, and so forth, but is a transcendent power, a force, which evolves. (The Torah: shared myths and other stories in Reconstructionist Judaism). Viktor Frankl goes deeper; not “the Force be above you,” not “the Force be with you,” but the “Force be in you.” This Force is the Will. Frankl drags down – as Nietzsche did – the transcendent power into the will of man.

In “The Light shineth in the darkness, but did Viktor Frankl comprehend it?,” I described Frankl’s Logotherapy as, in essence, the “will to mean.” In Logotherapy, there is no outside Force (personal or impersonal) pulling us up when we fall. In Logotherapy, we pull our own strings and pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. For Frankl, a typical Jew, there is no meaning – ethical, epistemological or ontological, or religious – outside man. I say “typical,” because most Jews are either agnostic about the existence of a divine Creator or about the God of Torah, the “Holy One of Israel.”

Modern Jews, like Frankl, have greatly influenced the shaping not only of the modern Jewish “soul,” but the modern Western “soul” (others are Sigmund Freud, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Mordecai Kaplan, Elie Wiesel). Many “Westerners” don’t regard their rejection of God (as revealed in religions such a Judaism and Christianity) as the root cause of their unhappiness. If it only stopped there. For example, Eli Wiesel’s narrative of suffering in his bestseller “Night” has had a tremendous influence on his fellow Jews and on the rest of the world. Wiesel said, “God may still live but if he does, He has much to answer for.” (Heinze, A. R. 2004. “Jews and the American Soul,” p. 328). (See What (nasty) piece of work is man: The typical Jewish view of salvation). Recall Nietzsche’s “Madman” above:

Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God ? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? — for even Gods putrefy! God is dead ! God remains dead!” Nietzsche ended his days not only mad at God but mad; it is reported that syphilis drove him insane. He was a great writer whose works formed a large part of my philosophy courses and delight at university. He seemed honest. The main thing, though, is whether, he was honest to God.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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