Nietzsche’s philosophy is notorious for its famous pronouncement that “God is dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” (The Gay Science--Kaufmann, Section 125). When Nietzsche deals with death in the general sense he speaks of the “art of dying at the right time”, very similar to Heidegger's notion of "authentic resoluteness." A free death is one where the dying chose or take death as one’s ownmost possibility, to put it in Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit language. According to Nietzsche, this autonomy and resolve of the will serves as an inspiration to others to be courageous in the midst of such existential Angst. Yet what remains bothersome is how come this free death does not apply to God, or, for example, to the case of Jesus which Nietzsche admits died too young (as a historical figure and not as an agent of the Christian religion). It seems that this possibility would be especially more prevalent in the case of the divine. Does this reveal that Nietzsche's philosophy is not atheistic, but certainly remains theophobic?

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    I admit I don't quite understand your reasoning. Any sort of "free death" would certainly need not apply to God; Nietzsche doesn't think God exists, thus how would God even determine a free death for himself? As for Jesus, again I don't see the line of argument - just because Nietzsche considers a certain sort of death more, say, significant, that is no reason to claim that Jesus (who is definitely an outlier) should have experienced it. I think the logical steps in your question could use some further explanation.
    – commando
    Feb 16, 2014 at 22:39
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    Nietzsche is not an atheist like I said. It is more accurate to say he is a polytheist or even a transtheist; it’s a brand of theological finitism. Religions for the herd are what Nietzsche is after, which is why he writes: “I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.” Nietzsche was God obsessed, “Anti-Christ.” So it does beg the question is a “free death” the mark of a God. Also, historical divine-human encounters cannot be reduced to psychological projections in Feuerbach’s sense. Is not the transvaluation of values an internalization of divine transcendence? Feb 16, 2014 at 23:15
  • The greatest theophobes are theists themselves. They fear the punishment from God.
    – rus9384
    Feb 10, 2019 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


It's easy to overstate the relevance of Nietzsche's pronunciation to the terms of classical Theology. When Nietzsche talks about God, he talks about God as a cornerstone of Western Culture, not God as the character of a Christian story. From section 343 of TGS, Nietzsche spells out his intended meaning:

The greatest recent event - that God is dead, that the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable - is already beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe.

Throughout Western history, belief in Christianity was not merely seen as True but as a necessary prerequisite to any kind of civilized culture. It might seem hard for us to think now, given that we seem rather accustomed to a kind of capitalism-driven hollowness underlying the notions of Globalization, but Europe and its colonies was very much founded on the idea of a principled providence, that the West carried the truth about God and that its spread across the globe is that of Divine Right. Sure, this made empires very wealthy, but that was proposed to be simply reward for the elect and confirmation of their faith, rather than the purpose behind a protracted and vicious campaign of motivated subjection of others who lacked their technologies of power.

Nietzsche addresses the death of God in such terms - namely that given the mass of evil and suffering that has befallen the world in the actions of a humanity spurred on in this way, there can be nothing left of Him now. Whatever Christian theology might claim of or about God in metaphysical terms is not specifically his concern, because the evidence is clear - we are monsters, and whatever abstract right to rule that we proposed God bequeathed upon us as his servants has clearly been jettisoned in our rush to bring the sword.

In the process of the Enlightenment, of Secularism and Science, the truth of this has started to become clear, and the utter fallacy of Christian imperialism leaves us in a state of not merely uncertainty but of profound ending and absence. The Christianity that grounded our world's actions is what we do in fact believe about God, and the Redemption and ultimate Salvation that it offered us is part of why we as a society did what we did to the rest of the world. We have to face up to the reality of what we have done, and to claim that either that self-same God lives on or that he forgives us is an act of escape and pretense; our task is to try now to find some way to live on past it in the cold void of a God that no longer defends or supports our collective action.

Can we say that God's death was freely chosen? Christ, perhaps, took his choices into his own hands and acted with authenticity, but God's death seems to have been violent and long drawn out by a Christian West that scraped his bones dry for every ounce of empowerment we could find.

  • Great answer, Paul! As a side note, I was not sure how Nietzsche deals with Jesus as the Son in relation to the Father. Does it become a matter of Christian propaganda to have Jesus promise us "many rooms in my father's house"? The beginning of your answer looks very similar to Schelling's "history of eternity" and his philosophy of mythology, but he accepts God as the "ideal person" who we as persons seek to be in actual relation. He claimed the process of polytheism (relative monotheism) was a necessary step on the way to absolute monotheism. Feb 16, 2014 at 23:51
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    I've always understood the Father/Son relation in that sense as another and incredibly powerful aspect of the technology, though that's very much influenced by my own readings of the psychoanalysts and some of the interesting material on Nietzsche's writings about fatherhood more generally rather than his responses to nihilism as such. Ben-Ami Scharfstein has a very interesting (albeit maybe a little speculative) take on Nietzsche in his book on the lives of key Western philosophers: books.google.co.uk/books?id=FWGAnPaQgvkC
    – Paul Ross
    Feb 17, 2014 at 0:33
  • As far as Schelling goes, I'm not familiar with his work I'm afraid, but great philosophers often leave traces of themselves in others who read them - I'm quite influenced by, among others, Karen Armstrong's "A History of God", which does a great job of looking at the human side of the refinement and changes in our concept of the divine.
    – Paul Ross
    Feb 17, 2014 at 0:50
  • I'm definitely going to check out Scharfstein's book; it does look real interesting. Yes, I really like Armstrong's book I think she does a compelling job, especially in the final chapter. I'm very appreciative for the info and anything you can add please let me know! Feb 17, 2014 at 2:51

I think it is a bit too easy to characterise Nietzsche as an athiest or theophobic. Its possibly the simplest first move one can take when approaching his work. There can be little doubt that he was God-obsessed. Even his move away from religion was to an other - that of Dionysius.

His awareness of the bright attraction of majesty, power and violence in this world chimes with Blakes in his song of experience:

Tyger, Tyger burning bright

In the forests of the night

Who himself was deeply influenced by both Christianity and the Greek classics.

Mary Midgeley, in her book Science & Poetry wrote that it is a mistake to treat God as a common criminal that one can haul up in front of a court to be judged. To do this already reduces him to our stature, our scale. This is not to say that a critique cannot be made. If one takes Platos conception of the soul seriously: introspection of the self leads to an introspection of the city - secular and spiritual.

In these terms one cannot say that God can chose a free death.

Is then the death of God chosen freely by the Christian West? One certainly recognises the similariy of the father and the Son here.

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