Photo By Jacob Meyer
THE MADMAN—-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 seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”
Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]
Nietzsche, in a sense, has prophetically declared the world in which we now live. This story of the madman needs to be read several times in order for the implications of it to really resonate. He asks, “Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?” Does it not seem as if darkness has fallen upon us through all hours of the day, even the earliest of morning hours? I’m not completely sure of Nietzsche’s intentions for writing such as piece as the madman, but I personally have taken this writing to be incredibly moving, not only for the world in which we live, but also within my own life. I can’t help but hear his desperate cries and plea as to all of us, as if to ask, do we know what we are doing? Are we in full comprehension of the tremendous consequence of “killing” God? The madman in this story at first may appear to be “mad” or insane, but really the “insane” one’s are those who just laugh at the madman who ever so desperately cries out, “Where is God?” Notice how the people around the madman are ridiculing and mocking him by asking him questions about some of the potential reasons for explaining God’s disappearance. I feel like the majority of our world are full of people much like them. Laughing and mocking in the very face of those who are seeking the sacred. I know myself, I was one of such people. In “killing” God and abandoning our relationship with Him, have we as a species achieved true freedom? What is our ultimate intention for removing God from our lives, our schools, our churches, our homes, our court rooms, our palaces, our governments, our public discussions? Have we now “arrived” since we have now “killed” God? I do not believe we have, in fact, I believe we have ultimately killed our freedom and ourselves.
In America, freedom is a word that gets thrown around quite a lot. Although, I would argue that most people don’t full understand or appreciate what freedom actually is. We tend to view freedom in the west as being able to do anything we want, at anytime and as much as we want. Ideally, pursuing such freedom will not come at the expense of harming another, which somehow justifies our noble pursuit of this kind of freedom. However, I believe our view of freedom is completely wrong. True freedom has limitations. In fact, these limitations are what create the sense of freedom. It may seem paradoxical or counterintuitive, but truly the greatest freedoms in life have limitations. For instance… let’s suppose you have a home, whose backyard backs right up to a relatively busy street. In order for your child to experience the freedom of your backyard, you would need to build a fence to protect your child from running out into the street. By building this fence, you are allowing your child to play freely without worry or concern that they might be struck by a car. Depending upon the age, you might also be able to let your child play in the backyard without supervising them the entire time, because the fence is what protects them. I believe our view in the west of freedom would demand that the fence be taken down. Not because we want to inflict harm upon the child, but ultimately because the fence is limiting. We do not view boundaries as necessary, certainly not sacred, and see them as encroaching upon our “freedom.” G.K. Chesterton once said, “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” (http://www.chesterton.org/taking-a-fence-down)
You see we have done a phenomenal job of removing the so called “fences” from your schools, institutions, courts of law, etc. However, we have done so without reflecting upon why they were put there in the first place. We assume that these “fences” are old-fashioned or for a previous time or generation. They are no longer relevant to your culture now. In doing all of this, we have lost touch with our fundamentals, our foundation. Ever increasingly we appear to be chipping away at the foundation upon which modern society was built upon. If we continue along this trajectory, it is only a matter of time before modern society collapses under the weight of itself, as it will no longer be able to hold itself up. I wish more people would take the time to do some self-reflection and ponder upon the direction we are all heading. It is even more crucial for the individual to look within themselves to search for all of the areas in which their own moral foundations are being compromises. I believe the fall of modern society will not come from a single devastating blow, rather, it will be a “death of a thousand paper cuts.” Slowly we are eroding the moral foundations upon which we all stand upon, and soon there will be nothing left. Nietzsche is right when he asks, “Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down?” Without God as our moral absolute, the reference from which all moral judgements should be measured against, what now do we have to measure our moral judgements. Without and “up or down” element anymore, we will look to the “right and left” only, and in doing so find only subjective opinions. In the United States we only speak of the “right and left”, especially when it comes to politics, yet I have rarely heard a politician mention the need for the “up and down.” If all we have left is the “left and right,” then I believe we are destined to chase truth around in circles like a dog chasing its own tail, not knowing when to stop, or even worse, we won’t be aware we are even doing it. In our pursuit of ultimate “freedom,” we have actually cut the head off of it.
When Christ was crucified, God Himself was literally murdered. God really did die. However, the Gospels proclaim that on the third day Christ rose from the dead. God is alive and has conquered death. You and I have killed God, and we still do on a daily basis. The most wonderful hope at the heart of the Gospel, however, lies grace. The grace of God, is sufficient to cover the multitude of sins you and I have committed against God. I am so thankful that even in our attempt to kill God and remove Him once and for all, He has the final say, declaring that love triumphs in the end. Until you and I receive the Son whom God has sent to die for our sins, Jesus Christ, we will continue to living our lives hopelessly lost. The “up and down” must become our foundation if we are to have any hope of survival. Without God, our morals will fluctuate with the winds of each and every succeeding generation.