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Nietzsche and the Madman

Nietzsche and The Madman – A Culture Without God
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his famous, one-page essay, “The Madman,” for the periodical, Gay Science, in 1887. Modern culture in “the age of science and reason” had just declared, “God is Dead!” Nietzsche used his Madman to ask if Western culture was really ready for the philosophical ramifications of “killing God?”

Nietzsche and The Madman – “I Seek God”
Here is the original Nietzsche essay, The Madman:1

“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.”

Nietzsche and The Madman – “God is Dead”
“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…”

Nietzsche and The Madman – “God is Dead”
Over a hundred years after Nietzsche and The Madman, the news of God’s death has finally reached ‘the ears of man.’ The horizon defining the limits of our world has been wiped away. The center holding us in place has vanished. Our age, which more and more is coming to be called postmodern, finds itself afloat in a pluralism of perspectives, a plethora of philosophical possibilities, but with no dominant notion of where to go of how to get there. A near future of cultural anarchy seems inevitable.2

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1 Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Madman,” Gay Science, para. 125 (1882, 1887), in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1954), pp. 95-96.
2 James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 4th ed. (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 212.

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