Around a year ago I wrote an all-too-purple piece about the death of God in Nietzsche’s writings, starting from his famous madman in the marketplace scene. Perhaps a more considered treatment would while away part of a grinding Friday afternoon (for me, if no one else).
It was a prophetic point the like of which I am not familiar with elsewhere. The imagery is of the light of dead suns still falling upon us as a metaphor for the apparent continuance of God as our ground and our goal while in truth the source has long since ended. His madman spoke of how even a hundred years hence no one would yet understand the truth of this. By which he meant that no one but himself truly knew what it would mean for humanity when its previous foundation of God for all things was revealed to be vacuous. And he was right. No one truly understands it, more than a century on. Especially those people who still do not realise the truth of the death of God.
Even for atheists, all conceptions of morality (for example) are rooted in this. It could not be possible for pre-religious sources of morality to have survived the millennia of monopoly religion has ground into us that it has on such matters. Although the evident nature of evolution gives us a much clearer insight into our origins, and has removed the idea that there is a goal, we are still mired in narrative that may as well have issued from the throat of a bronze age pontifex. After all, our religions and their mythologies stem from us and our nature, rather than being in-the-world discoveries that apes of utterly neutral nature happened upon.
Even could we understand what it means for our once-eternal source of normativity to be gone (or, with boring accuracy, to have been shown never to have been what we believed) we would have no stomach for it. Nietzsche knew that. In fact, in stark contrast to most philosophers, he felt that beautiful, useful lies were preferable to truth. His focus on individuals of higher nature was not just (not just) soaring elitism, and not just part of the idea that not everyone, only the few, could ever grasp his ideas and make proper use of them, but that such people should become their own mythologies, ones that could essentially be their own self-sustaining sources of normativity. Though, a source conceived of differently than before, not being in any sense objective.
Or so I believe. I don’t believe Nietzsche had any other recourse. Because a central part of the death of God, this loss, this realisation that all never was, is that there is no replacement. No scientific basis, no aesthetic theory, no historical sense, can take its place in this void. It is one reason most find Nietzsche so difficult. He offers us nothing, having torn away all of our illusions. Somehow we find this… obscene. But he had no place or authority to do so. All we are left with, in darkness and cold stellar substance, is ourselves. And we simply forge ourselves, and our own ways, if we even recognise that this is what we do. For now the light of dying suns continues to blind us, and we do not listen to those we can only see as madmen.