No, not really.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously introduced this idea to the world in a work published in 1882 called The Gay Science. In this book, he attributed the quote to a marketplace “madman.” However, it was not Nietzsche himself who thought the man mad. Quite the contrary, he considered this man a great philosopher, perhaps not unlike himself. No, in his story, it was the “common people” of the marketplace who questioned the man’s sanity, either unwilling or unable to digest the full measure of his pronouncement.
Now what Nietzsche, neither a Christian nor an atheist, was actually saying is not that God was literally dead. Rather, he contended that, post-Enlightenment European society no longer truly believed in God. And as such, they must now come to terms with both the moral and spiritual implications that this “insight” brought with it. So following his grand declaration to the marketplace crowd, the madman continued his address by claiming about God, “We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderer” and finally inquiring quite insightfully, “How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?”
Nietzsche’s provocative words here, in my opinion, actually do a service to his readers. I’m certainly neither a fan of his philosophy nor a proponent of his worldview, but I do admire that he called upon the people of his time to THINK, to spend some quality time contemplating things that truly matter. For instance, How is a society that no longer believes in God to be consoled? What is the significance of life if there is no God? Does it matter at all? etc.
No matter who you, where you come from, or even from what period of history you hail, there are essentially four questions that everyone needs to answer in order to develop a framework, a foundation upon which you develop a worldview and with which you base your life choices. These four questions concern origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.
Where did I come from?
What is the meaning of life?
Is there a right and wrong?
What happens to me when I die?
These questions were relevant in 1882, but guess what? They mean no less today.
Speaking of today, let’s fast forward now from Nietzsche’s Europe to contemporary American society. Recent statistics make it woefully clear that there has been a gradual, consistent decline in religious commitment in the U.S. I could cite a lengthy list of examples here but suffice it to say that religion is losing its influence in Americans’ lives. Speaking just from the aspect of Christianity, some results of this are that Americans know less about the biblical God, have less knowledge of Jesus, less understanding of the Trinity, less of a concept of what message the Gospel story conveys, than their recent ancestors. What’s more shocking is that many of these people call themselves Christians.
But are these people embracing atheism, naturalism, pantheism, or some other religion…Nope.
I am truly concerned that it is not that most Americans disbelieve in God. The problem I see is that most Americans simply no longer care to be bothered to think about him. Like those to whom Nietzsche’s madman spoke, they simply move about in the marketplace of life without giving much concern to what may or may not lie beyond what they see.
Speaking of distractions, there are frankly so many available to us these days that we can pretty much avoid idle time if we are so inclined. Instead of contemplating God’s existence, we can play Madden, watch five seasons of our new favorite show on Netflix, endlessly scroll Facebook…you name it, there’s an app for it.
Meanwhile, we’re living in a culture that dissuades much “God-talk.” That might be considered offensive or something. So, in order to not offend, we remove God from schools, media, and other major cultural outlets. We don’t see much about God but we have plenty of other “fun” things to do. Of course, all of this works together to remove God from our minds and replace him with easy listening, temporal distractions. As a result, we just don’t feel the need to tackle those pesky old questions anymore. They simply don’t matter enough to stir us into consciousness, to make us ask “Why?”
The way I see it is there either is a God or there isn’t. If there is and He created you along with everything else, wouldn’t it be kind of important to know what He says? If there is a God, wouldn’t you want to be prepared to meet him if you died tonight? Wouldn’t that be a little more important than pretty much anything else you could possibly think of?
And if there isn’t, then at least you’d know that you didn’t truly have anything to live for, that there was no meaning beyond the subjective meaning that you build up around you, that your life was a meaningless speck in an infinite universe or an infinite number of universes, You could just get back to business as usual.
But at least you would have invested the time in answering those questions for yourself instead of being guilty of what could be the most pitiful act of mental lethargy in history.
One day we will all die. We can probably at least all agree on that. Then what? These questions need answers.
As a Christian, I obviously implore any non-believer to explore the Bible for him or herself. In fact, even if you are a total skeptic, I would ask that you just say a quick prayer to God asking that, if He is out there, that He would reveal himself to you through his Word. Then start reading the book of John.
If you are a Christian, I would ask that you pray with me for the many millions of lethargic wanderers out there and ask God to lead you to them, that you might be that light they need that guides them to him.
Either way, let’s wake up and start thinking about and discussing God.