What does German Philosopher Nietzsche mean when he says : "God is dead"? In one of the books of an Indian Mystic Osho, I read this reply from Osho: "Nietzsche is wrong because God has never been born". What is Nietzsche trying to imply from his statement?

Does Nietzsche also deny spirituality -- the idea of eternal soul, meditation, enlightenment (in the sense of Buddhism and Hinduism)? Some of your comments imply that he denies. But I have read a story (that sort of contradicts these implications, I think) about him in a book: One night he was found dancing on a street in Germany at night keeping a book on his head. Asked what he was really doing, he said: "I read many books in life. But throughout this long journey, I never encountered a book as beautiful as Geeta. After I read this book, I could not hide my happiness." As someone with some knowledge in Hinduism, I can tell that Geeta is perhaps the most important scripture in the religion.

I however have no references for this story as I read it long time back, and don't remember the book where I found it. If this really was a truth, Nietzsche certainly cannot deny spiritualism.

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    Nietzsche meant the concept of God was "dead", and therefore, any ethics and indeed sense of direction in general founded on this metaphysical claim of the existence of God and religion was "dead" as well. – Ben Jun 23 '13 at 16:06
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    In addition to "conceptual" death, at least one other implication here is the cross: the historical event of God's death (which Nietzsche doesn't place any great faith in, of course, but it seems worth mentioning as one of the valences of God's death) – Joseph Weissman Jun 23 '13 at 23:07
  • I found a nice article regarding the same here, theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/feb/07/…. I hope it'll be helpful too. – Adeel Ansari Jun 20 '18 at 9:59

First, it's important to avoid the not-so-uncommon misinterpretation that Nietzsche is saying God once was but no longer is: Nietzsche is definitely not saying that something happened to God as an entity (according to Nietzsche, God never existed), but rather that we have done something to God as an idea. Specifically, we have abandoned the idea of God, hence "killed" him, much as we would say "you are dead to me" to someone we no longer care the slightest about - though again, Nietzsche doesn't think God was ever real as an entity.

To Nietzsche, this is an inevitable step in the timeline of civilization. He claims that we both created God and are bound to destroy him, and furthermore that this latter event is on the horizon.

Note this passage:

There is a great ladder of religious cruelty, with many rungs; but three of these are the most important.

Once one sacrificed human beings to one's god, perhaps precisely those whom one loved most... [examples in history]

Then, during the moral epoch of mankind, one sacrificed to one's god one's own strongest instincts, one's "nature": this festive joy lights up the cruel eyes of the ascetic, the "anti-natural" enthusiast.

Finally - what remained to be sacrificed? At long last, did one not have to sacrifice for once whatever is comforting, holy, healing; all hope, all faith in hidden harmony, in future blisses and justices? didn't one have to sacrifice God himself and, from cruelty against oneself, worship the stone, stupidity, gravity, fate, the nothing? To sacrifice God for nothing - this paradoxical mystery of the final cruelty which was reserved for the generation that is now coming up: all of us already know something of this.-

Beyond Good and Evil - 55

In the final paragraph specifically, Nietzsche is asserting that after all we have given up for God, all the "life-denying" actions of "ressentiment", we are overcoming the illusion that we need him, and in doing so metaphorically "killing" him.

Likewise, in another passage:

"What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"

The Gay Science - 125

If, as Nietzsche says, "God is dead and we have killed him," then these remnants of our worship to God will be all that remains once we have fully realized this ultimate murder. Among people God will be but a distant memory of ages past, if even that; their strengthening life-instinct and growth toward the overman (i.e. that gradual progression of humans toward a stronger race which Nietzsche advocates) will mean that there is simply no use for the idea of God - hence, his death.

  • Excellent explanation! Nietzsche implies even more, namely not only is the idea of God dead, but all metaphysical ideas (such as essential eternal forms, the eternal soul, objective morality) are dead, for the same reason as mentioned: they are projections of ressentiment. – jeroenk Jun 24 '13 at 7:27
  • Well-known quote: "Behind nothing, before nothing, worship it: the zero." From the book All The Strange Hours by Loren Eiseley – user16869 Jan 16 '16 at 23:43

He's talking about European Christianity and he is simply pointing out that European Christians did not abide by the ethics as professed by Christianity. They act as though 'God' is not alive. Unlike other prophets & demagogues who came to turn their attention back towards God, he declares God is dead. Taking this seriously means finding a new anchor for morality.

Although Nietzsche mentions other religions in passing, it is clear he knew very little about them. But given the prominence of Western modernity & its philosophical tradition on the world stage its not surprising reactions develop elsewhere - hence the pointed Osho quote - to interpret, kill your God if you must, but don't try the same trick with ours.

Nietsczhe is not a metaphysician, he is a moralist (or as he would prefer - an immoralist). This also explains the distance between Osho (as a mystic - towards God/Infinite/Mystery) & Nietzsche (as an moralist - towards World/Power/Senses).

Note, Nietszche makes it very clear that he is an admirer of Christ and of Socrates - a strong ethical thinker:

In truth there was only one Christian and he died on the cross

Nietszche was brought up in a pious household, his father was the local pastor. In his first year at university he won the preaching prize. Being the man that he is - would he have not dared to compete with the great renunciate Christ himself? One could then suppose his rejection of Christianity came as a great release.

However to classify him as a straight-forward athiest is to reduce the complexity of his religious thinking - it is an act of appropriation by those who have come after him, as he himself wrote:

How much boundlessly stupid naivety is there in the scholar's belief in his superiority, in the simple, unsuspecting certainty with which his instincts treat the religious man as inferior and a lower type which he himself has evolved above and beyond

Further, world-historically speaking, this isn't the first time athiesm has made an appearance - for example the Nyaya-Lokyata & Carvakata school in India. The Greek atomists, epicureanists & stoics.

Finally, anthropologists have identified religion as deep-rooted 'instinct' in society. One could ask can atheism take a religious form? Recall that Buddhism developed without a personal god(s) in contrast to the exuberant polytheism of the many schools of Hinduism. It is rightly seen as a religion now, though the Western form of it seems rather more to emphasise its philosophy and its godlessness.

Consider further that Auguste Comte, a french philosopher of science founded positivism, and the religion of man - a religion without God or the super-natural - and roundly ridiculed at the time by both theists & atheists; consider also the new social movements of Brights. To paraphrase Zizek, when religion passes away it comes back first as tragedy, and then as farce.


A belief forms rules for ethics. According to Nietzsche, these 'moral beacons' aren't used anymore: everyone does as he wishes without looking at what's wrong or right1. This is what he means with "God is dead": we don't use the rules of a God anymore, so we killed him.

The next step is to become an Übermensch - this is a being that gives himself new moral beacons.

1: Note that this is time-specific, and Nietzsche lived from 1844-1900.


The way I interpreted what he was saying, is that we have transcended the need for a "God" figure. "God" is a way to explain the unexplained, to understand what we had no way of understanding. Once scientific knowledge reached a certain point, we became able to understand the universe and no longer needed a mystical figure to balance the equation.

I see it as an equation, knowledge + X = reality. Reality is a constant, knowledge is constantly growing, and X represented what we don't know. X historically has been filled by a "God" of some sort. In recent history, "God" has been replaced with "We will find out."

So saying "God is dead", is saying that we don't need Him to balance the equation.


God is dead, Spirit is reborn

I am pleased to read so many good interpretations of Nietzsche. He himself predicted that it would take some 200 years before people would understand him (Ecce Homo).

I am pretty sure that Nietzsche has served as a gate opener for many already and I trust that the story has just begun. Nietzsche was influenced by Schopenhouer, who again was influenced by eastern thinking. Our own understanding is always limited by the way we got where we are. Living in a culture that has developed and preserved it's own way of thinking by some two thousand years old books our whole world view is infected. Ideas can only be stepstones for improvement, but as Wittgenstein said, use them as a ladder to reach greater heights and then throw the ladder away. Nietzsche said 'Do not become like me', that is also very similar to 'You will perform greater wonders than me', by Jesus.

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    This seems more like a comment than an answer to the question...? – Joseph Weissman Mar 8 '14 at 14:32
  • It was not meant that way. – Lasse Mar 8 '14 at 14:40

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