“The Übermensch shall be the meaning of the earth! I entreat you my
brethren, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak
to you of supra-terrestrial hopes! …
Behold, I teach you the
Übermensch: he is this lightning, he is this madness! …
Behold, I am a
prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud: but this
lightning is called Übermensch.”
-Thus Spoke Zarathustra, prologue
Nietzsche's critique of Christianity is that it is a slave morality, a way for the weak to control the strong, and which turns attention away from our present lives to a speculative other world.
I argue here that we can understand Nietzsche through Monster Theory
What did Nietzsche mean by monsters and the abyss? where I also quote
"In viewing the monstrous body as a metaphor for the cultural body,
the contributors to Monster Theory consider beasts, demons, freaks,
and fiends as symbolic expressions of cultural unease that pervade a
society and shape its collective behavior. Through a historical
sampling of monsters, these essays argue that our fascination for the
monstrous testifies to our continued desire to explore difference and
prohibition." -from the anthology Monster Theory: Reading Culture
We can see this dynamic in Nietzsche's metamorphesees, where the lion instar is needed to fight the dragon Thou Shalt. Nietzsche was profoundly influenced by both Graeco-Latin mythology, and the revival of enthusiasm for pre-Christian Germanic stories that saw the Brothers Grimm compile their work, and that inspired Wagner.
Nietzsche understood what I think Durkheim made clearer in his work on the sociology of religion: above all religious practice is about social cohesion. Discussed here and related to Nietzsche on the dangers of nihilism and social decohesion What are the origins and evolution of mythology/religions? This article also gives nice context Whence comes nihilism, the uncanniest of all guests?
In the pre-literate world before the Axial Age (ie arrival of Confucius, Socrates, Buddha), cohesion was about spectacle, of sacrifices and feasts, or games like bull-leaping or the Ancient Olympic Games. In the era of mythic stories (which required cults bards or monks dedicated to memorising and chanting them), from Gilgamesh to the end of Nevuah (the Jewish era of prophecy after which there will be no more prophets), these figures could embody cultural forces and transcend the mortal to attain 'kleos aphthiton', imperishable renown (discussed here What are some philosophical works that explore constructing meaning in life from an agnostic or atheist view?). For Nietzsche the end of that era, was the end of the creation of values, of the binding together of societies with worldly dramas celebrating capability. Religions of books end the drama of value creation, that's all been written down and we can cross-check so nothing changes. We can only interpret, not create values. He consciously returned to the idea of a living prophet, and of heroes fighting monsters.
The 'Death of God' is really just the death of one example metanarrative, which the postmoderns also see as having collapsed as an entire strategy. Nietzsche is quite reasonably claimed as a foundational postmodernist. I argue here that the postmodern critique shifts the focus from talking about what art is, to what it does for people, by changing cultural discourse Does postmodernism in art criticism collapse into relativism? What's its merit? This is Nietzsche's perspective too, that art, dance, laughter, music, can grip us, bind us, shake us out of our malaise and our nihilisms.
Nietzsche's metamorphesees are all necessary steps on the road to creating values, the self-sufficiency of the camel, taking up conflicts with old values of the lion, but the new values arrive from the child:
"Man's maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a
child at play." -in Beyond Good & Evil
Nietzsche sees a different future for humanity than others of his time. Through valueing of capacities, we can become 'overgoers', those driven to cross the tightrope over an abyss, from the ape to the angel.
“Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Übermensch – a rope over
an abyss.” -Thus Spoke Zarathustra, prologue
That requires someone who can be their own source of values, imbue meaning to their own lives independently of the judgements and concerns of others. Nietzsche published only as few as 60 copies of each of his books, in his own lifetime, but he felt what he had to say was worth dedicating his life to. And I would say history has proved him correct. More awkwardly, one of those Nietzsche celebrated most was Napoleon, but there is historical context to that about the pendulum of French politics seen from Germany, and judgememt before his story was fully played out, I think. Goethe's Faust exemplifies an ubermensch, who gains nearly limitless and worldly power in allegory to those perfecting science and engineering, and yet through his heroes journey is able even still to redeem his soul he bargained against being untemptable by love (and Goethe as scientist, writer, politician, was certainly using his experiences to engage with cultural discourse). Though I can't know if Nietzsche would agree, I also think of VanGogh, who never sold a painting in his lifetime, but who's body of work is now the most valuable of any artist; he pursued his vision against all opposition, and society's failure to value it at the time, to become one of the most influential figures in Western art.
In a finite life not looking beyond itself, we can see how to come to understand Eternal Recurrance. It means truly living without regret, seeking to live authentically so as to be truly reconciled with the acts of our lives being all we have of ourselves. That requires cultivating capacities, like the camel and lion. But also laying down those skills, going beyond attachment to them, to create. This great article links that to the Apollonian and Dionysian, and amor fati, embracing fate, as a way of making a ladder out of the bones of old ideas that can take us beyond them: Nāgārjuna, Nietzsche, and Rorty’s Strange Looping Trick. I think of how each generation throws up some who say, this isn't enough, or that will not accept what they are told they must, and seek a future to flourish in, demand that.
Nietzsche never gave a clear unambiguous description of the overman. But putting all this together, I take him to be talking about someone that can honestly recognise what stories bind our culture together, and enter dialogue and conflict with them to create the values of future people, who turn towards rather than away from life.