In reading some of Nietzsche's works, his disappointment with humanity and God is evident to me. But so far I haven't seen any text by him where he explicitly endorses atheism. At the same time, many secondary sources - commentaries on his work and lectures, etc.. - imply that he was an atheist.

Can it be confirmed from his own texts or biography that was indeed an atheist (as understood from a Christian perspective)?

  • The original question: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/41137/21482
    – Delfino
    Jun 9, 2015 at 12:01
  • There's a few things going on here that are slightly unclear to me (these may be language issues). Please edit your question to clarify, but are you asking (1) was Nietzsche an atheist? (2) do Christians consider Nietzsche an atheist? (3) who calls Nietzsche an atheist?
    – virmaior
    Jun 9, 2015 at 12:37
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    @virmaior I don't find this question particularly obscure, or off topic. He wants a specific citation from Nietzsche's work that confirms he (Nietzsche) would be considered an atheist (with specific reference to the Christian perspective). Please reopen. Jun 9, 2015 at 13:16
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    I don't speak Portugese, but I've taken the liberty to edit the question to perhaps make the underlying question a little more clear. Feel free to revert the changes if they don't match your original intention. Jun 9, 2015 at 15:11
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    @Delfino Is there any difference between "atheism from Christian perspective" and just "atheism"? It is plain that Nietzsche was anti-Christian, it is not so plain that he was an atheist, but that is as true in Christian perspective as in some other.
    – Conifold
    Jun 9, 2015 at 22:25

5 Answers 5


"God is dead" appears several times in The Gay Science, and again in Zarathustra. The first reference in TGS is:

108 New struggles.- After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave-a tremendous. gruesome shadow. God is dead;l but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. -And we-we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.

He puts the words into the mouths of overwrought or insane people, but it is clear he means what he is saying. He makes deductions from the statement ("God is dead... We have killed him... Must we not then make ourselves gods in order to be worthy of this act?"). And he uses those deductions in later books. For example the middle of TGS item 125 goes:

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? b there stilI any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it Dot become colder? Is not night coatinually 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.

One of the main themes of both "Beyond Good and Evil" and "Twilight of the Idols" is the creation of the elements of traditional philosophy, including God, as a projection of human needs. He opens item 5 of the Four Great Errors secton of TotI with:

The psychological explanation: to extract something familiar from something unknown relieves, comforts, and satisfies us, besides giving us a feeling of power. With the unknown, one is confronted with danger, discomfort, and care; the first instinct is to abolish these painful states. First principle: any explanation is better than none. Because it is fundamentally just our desire to be rid of an unpleasant uncertainty, we are not very particular about how we get rid of it: the first interpretation that explains the unknown in familiar terms feels so good that one "accepts it as true." We use the feeling of pleasure ("of strength") as our criterion for truth.

If God had any sort of real existence for Nietzsche, it would not be possible to create him or to kill him. (Being God, he could easily prevent this.)

The choice to say 'dead' rather than some equivalent of 'fake' indicates (to me) that he did not want to deny the effectiveness of God. God was very real in a certain way, but that very way of 'being real' was not very real.

He takes the same stance against physics if it goes beyond mere prediction or description and insists on positing specific things. God is as real as electric fields, but those fields are a pretense of another sort. They have effects, in that they give us better leverage over the use of electricity, but they exist only to explain effects, and that is not a genuine way of being real. For example in TotI, in The Four Great Errors, he ends item 3 with:

The thing itself, the concept of thing is a mere extension of the faith in the ego as cause. And even your atom, my dear materialists and physicists — how much error, how much rudimentary psychology still resides in your atom! Not to mention the "thing-in-itself," the horrendum pudendum of metaphysicians! The "spirit as cause" mistaken for reality! And made the very measure of reality! And called God!

All crutches are equally crutches, whether from tradition, or overreaching logic. They are both projections of our needs, and not part of our experience.

(So most modern atheists, who tend to throw the role of God back on science or natural law, would have an equally hard time with his variety of atheism.)

  • @Keelan The creation and the killing are both metaphorical, as Nietzsche treats God as a made up projection of human morality, which he blames for dominance of the "weak". However, Nietzsche's denunciation of morality is specific to Christianity (whose origin he ascribed to Zoroaster), so in principle it is compatible with agnosticism, or even belief in a deity of a different sort (he was searching for "deeper values"). Hegel played with "death of God" as well, as a "phase of the highest idea". And he was even Christian. I do wonder if Nietzsche embraced atheism explicitly.
    – Conifold
    Jun 9, 2015 at 20:04
  • @jobermark, please, you could contextualize the sentences of Nietzsche, with parts of the text where they belong?
    – Delfino
    Jun 12, 2015 at 19:39
  • The answer below from @jeronik being taken in a context where he is talking about himself, and not trying to prove some other point is more telling. He clearly considered himself an atheist.
    – user9166
    Jun 12, 2015 at 20:21
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    This "chopping out references" way of doing philosophy is, to my mind, essentially wrong. You either get the message, or you don't, and for thinkers like Nietzsche, who keep themselves overwrought and artistically exaggerated, to find a concise place where a given message is conveyed is generally a waste of time. That said, I injected four references.
    – user9166
    Jun 12, 2015 at 20:35
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    You can imagine God existed and desired us to become independent of him at just the right point. (Greg Bear gets cute cyberpunk out of the notion. It is fun.) Neitzsche could probably put up with that notion, if he thought it. But given his sense of humor, it is too 'slick' to escape his putting it to paper. Still, it is just humor, mere wordplay: it does not accord with what philosophy as a whole called God. I can imagine there were no atoms until we found proof of them, at which point the world suddenly changed to make me correct. But it makes me seem silly. This has the same flavor.
    – user9166
    Jun 29, 2015 at 22:13

A clear definition of what is a "christian perspective" would make it easier to approach your question philosophically. Common sense is of little help here. Wordplay is also hardly useful. To place Nietzsche on the witness stand, or to read him literally is a mockery.

The perspective of religion (the doctrine of the Church) would be associated, according to Nietzsche's judgment, to the killing of God in the hearts of men (obviously not a metaphysical statement), so you could say that Nietzsche being considered an atheist in the eyes of the theological tradition proves nothing.

I think this text from William Large addresses your question directly, and at the necessary level of detail. I hope it helps.


Everyone knows that Nietzsche wrote 'God is Dead' at the beginning of his book Thus Spake Zarathrustha; but if one reads towards the end, we read of his encounter with the Ugliest Man:

Zarathrutha, however, became absorbed in dark recollections, for it seemed to him he had once before stood in this valley. And much heaviness settled on his mind, and he walked more slowely and slowly until at last he stood still. Then, however, when he opened his eyes, he saw something on the wayside shaped like a man, and hardly like a man, something nondescript.

And then:

And all at once there came over Zarathrustha a great shame because he had gazed upon such a thing. Blushing upto the very roots of his white hair he turned aside his glance and raised his foot that he might leave this ill-started place. Then, however, the dead wilderness became vocal: for from the ground a noise welled up, gurgling and rattling, as water gurgleth and rattlers at night through stopped up water-pipes. And at last it turned into human voice and human speech. It sounded thus:

"Zarathrustha, Zarathrustha! Read my riddle! say, say! What is revenge upon the witness?

"I entice thee back. Here is smooth ice! See to it, see to it that thy pride does not here break its legs!

"Thou thinkest thyself wise, thou proud Zarathrutha! Read then the riddle, thou hard but-cracker - the riddle that I am! Say then, who am I!

And then

When Zarathrustha heard these words - what then ye think took place in his soul? Pity overcame him, and he sank down all at once, like an oak that has long with-stood many tree-fellers. Heavily, suddenly to the terror even to those who meant to fell it. But he immediately got up from the ground and his countenance became stern.

"I know thee well", said he with a brazen voice, "thou art the murderer of God! Thou couldst not endure him who beheld thee - whoever veld thee through and through, thou ugliest man. Thou tookest revenge on this witness!"

Here, then, is a riddle; can a man who is an athiest then call the 'murderer of God' the 'ugliest man' be wholly an athiest, through and through? Perhaps N is setting us here a riddle himself.


I think @jobermark has summarized it best. In addition, I retrieved this quote where he spells it out explictly: from Ecce Homo, Warum ich so klug bin. 1:

Ich kenne den Atheismus durchaus nicht als Ergebniss, noch weniger als Ereigniss: er versteht sich bei mir aus Instinkt. Ich bin zu neugierig, zu fragwürdig, zu übermüthig, um mir eine faustgrobe Antwort gefallen zu lassen. Gott ist eine faustgrobe Antwort, eine Undelicatesse gegen uns Denker —

In English, Ecce Homo, why I Am So Clever 1:

I have not come to know atheism as a result of logical reasoning and still less as an event in my life: in me it is a matter of instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questioning, too high spirited to be satisfied with such clumsy answers. God is a too palpably clumsy answer; an answer which shows a lack of delicacy towards us thinkers -

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    "'God', 'immortality of the soul', 'redemption', 'beyond', are simply ideas that I have not paid any attention to or devoted any time to, even as a child, - perhaps I was never childish enough for them? - I have no sense of atheism as a result, and even less as an event: for me it is an instinct. I have too much curiosity, too many doubts and high spirits to be happy with a ridiculously crude answer. God is a ridiculously crude answer, an undelicatesse against us thinkers -, basically even a ridiculously crude ban on us: thou shalt not think!" Jun 11, 2015 at 1:36
  • This fine translation by Judith Norman may bring a better light to the fragment you chose to quote. Interestingly, we can see that he is talking about ideas, not realities. Jun 11, 2015 at 12:11
  • @AndréSouzaLemos Sorry, just grabbed a translation from the internet. Doubt if this one is better, as 'ideas' is a translation of 'Begriffe', which rather should be translated as 'terms' (hence the quotes).
    – jeroenk
    Jun 11, 2015 at 12:20
  • In this context, 'notions' could be even better. I've seen it used. Jun 11, 2015 at 12:54

Nietzsche was not an atheist. Rather, he was unmaking what the Catholic church in particular had done to mysticism and spirituality. When he says that, as a thinker, such things as heaven, God, salvation and so forth had become so darkened they were lost, I think he means they have lost significance. He is seeking to lay the groundwork for their recovery.

But first he must undo what they have done. As he says, the spirit is in decline and has become decadent: Science, as well, he feels in the new ascetic ideal. He says,

ever since Copernicus mankind has gotten himself on an incline plane slipping faster and faster into what? Into Nothingness.

It is this nothingness that has its origins in Christian dogmatism. And now science, which he stated will soon have to answer the question.

What right do we have to truth? The Ouroboros is a Greek word meaning "tail devourer," and is one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world. It can be perceived as enveloping itself, where the past (the tail) appears to disappear but really moves into an inner domain or reality, vanishing from view but still existing. Hence the ascetic ideal remains concealed while dominating. This is what Christian dogma has done. And now science....

  • Ourobouras - this image reminds me of an image I once saw of a snake eating its tail. Dec 3, 2017 at 10:01
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    There is no support given for your first sentence.
    – user9166
    Dec 22, 2017 at 19:03

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