Long have humans engaged in the creation of altars in which they can consecrate their life’s purpose. Yet, like the meaning often sought in such creative endeavours, the ‘divine’ is found still distant—perhaps dead. The foretaste of a purposeful life is only matched by the aftertaste of an apparently meaningless belief. It lingers like an afterburn; it rages on into a love for God that feels unrequited. The paradise of Adam is forever lost in the hostility of the worldly garden. Here, the hunting for a religion that affirms life, rather than condemns it in its suffering of sin, commences. The hunting is at the same time haunted. That is, attempts to explain religion have been burdened by a herculean task of approaching it pontificated on the high altar of the mysterious and the sublime—the otherworldly, inaccessible spiritual world. Sans any disavowal, such a brand of religion has been shelved in the dark alley of the inviolable, along with the repressed and the unsaid. In this structure, the starting point of a believer’s relational ontological standing towards religion is one defined by apprehension. Nevertheless, it sustains the image of a God that is reckoned as powerful and therefore has control over anything that subsists. The telling of its story has remained uncontested: salvation is the main act of the protagonist God; tragedy is to those who need saving. Any picture of a tragic God is simply inconceivable, even farcical. This was until Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed that God is dead.
The prodigious task of disturbing the foundation of religion has found its champion in the seeming absurd hero of Nietzschean storytelling, that is, Zarathustra, climbing the vertical tension of the mountain of the spiritual. Conversely, in telling this story, Nietzsche threw one of his boldest accusations: men are the murderers of God; humans are the murderers of all murderers! What is left of this is a religion unveiled of its mysteries and normative authority. A literal reading of Nietzsche paints an image of religion obliterated to its ground. Hence, he was indicted for not only being ‘mad’, but also for instituting nihilism as an indisputable ideology. Nihilism, the utter rejection of the fundamental principles of existence—moral codes, religious values, and objective truth—rules the day. From here, the question arises: does God's death necessitate the death of the old religion? By ‘old’ what I mean need not be the arguably antiquated, defunct, or dysfunctional institutionalised Church that many assert has to be salvaged. Instead, ‘old’ here is simply used to juxtapose the claim for a postmodern religion—if there is one—which points to an understanding of religion that has remained fluid over time. This situation brought by nihilism casts a sort of shadow over Europe by the declaration of the death of God. This particularly points to the western God regularised in contrived rules and closed dogmas. Such declaration proceeds in its promulgation: it opened the doors of established churches and subject their holy men to their own inquisition; it brought institutionalised religion into the court of men to defend its claim for any relevance. Those who abandoned religion made their stance against the backdrop of a nihilistic attitude towards its claim for any theological and moralistic structure.
As this shadow of mistrust was cast over ideological claims and belief systems that espouse a sense of purpose, the declaration of the death of God was sustained. So was the question of religion vis-à-vis the notion of nihilism. On this account, Nietzsche was easily accused of divesting life of any meaning and of turning against common morality. His ideas were peddled as a commodity for those tired of life’s uncertainties compounded by farce and overlapping tragedies. Today, like those rugged blue denim jeans, nihilism is back in fashion, albeit its meaning misplaced and Nietzsche left synonymous with pessimism and utter cynicism. Nietzsche is nothing of the kind. Understanding its danger, Heidegger would undertake the recovery of Nietzsche’s claim of nihilism from this misreading. He contends that nihilism is a historical movement. It is not an exclusive product of the present age nor an isolated enterprise of the nineteenth century. As such, Nietzsche did not establish nihilism; he simply heralded its inevitable coming. In a way, Nietzsche’s declaration of nihilism is a challenge to constantly grapple with the meaninglessness of existence—that in affirming its tragedies and ugliness, life’s beauty is affirmed all the more. Thus, nihilism is not an abandonment of life; nor is it a retreat to the safehouse of indifference. Rather, it is a fair warning of theistic cultures that aggrandise values through their tales of the eternal fiery pit and final judgment. That is why it is important for Heidegger to explain that the terms ‘God’ and ‘Christian god’ in Nietzsche's thinking are used to designate the suprasensory world (i.e., the realm of the Ideas and ideals), pertaining to the transcendental basis of values. Heidegger intimated: if the suprasensory ground of the highest values is dead then nothing remains from which humans can orient themselves. In a way, the ‘killing of God’ is a quaint reflection of the disintegration of traditional morality that is replaced by science’s evolution (man is not of God’s own image and likeness) and revolution (the earth, no more than a speck of dust, is far from being the center of the cosmos). In this exegesis, what comes to the fore is a picture of a Christian God that is devalued—an empty and phantasmal basis for moral values. This is how then nihilism is regarded: the death of God as the devaluation of the highest values. Or in Nietzsche’s words, “the highest values devalue themselves.”
This tottering of the highest values is close to Vattimo's claim as the end of the metaphysical foundation. In his book After Christianity, he maintains that such an end means that God can no longer be upheld as the ultimate foundation and as the absolute structure of anything real. Contrarily, Sloterdijk argues that although Nietzsche interpreted metaphysics as a symptom of suffering from the world, it is also from here that aid to fleeing from it can be determined. This brings to the fore the question of ‘where is “here”?’. In the dislocation of the otherworldly, where will humans flee from the suffering of the physical world? Dazed and confused, man is found dancing in the earthly happiness of the greatest number. Sloterdijk qualifies this realm of the greatest number as the 'base camp problem' where, free from the vertical tension of the mountain, the despicable humans who are without yearning thrive as they deteriorate. Here, the modus operandi of the many (i.e., the greatest number) is that of a servile and dead sure follower: the postmodern yes-man. Bereft of individuality, they are those lost among the faceless crowd, subsumed in the status quo of the herd. Nonetheless, if Nietzsche is to be asked, rather than evacuate the world, it is here in its suffering that one can inherit again the power of the ‘free spirits’ (i.e., self-overcoming, life-affirmation) which once thought that only gods can wield. Largely, it is also here that the task for the revaluation of the highest values can resume.
As if dying an improbable death, talks of a resurrected God haunt those who turned religion into the tomb of the supernatural. The cold empty spaces that skepticism created produce a crisis for any preamble to an existential realisation. Conversely, hunting for the stability of meaning has become glaring in the scarcity of epistemic certainty. In a way, Nietzsche's declaration opens the appropriation of religion into the 'clearing' that Heidegger identifies, that is, the open space in a thick forest where light reveals itself. Today, the public sphere can serve as the 'clearing' where talks of God or religion have metastasised into ideologies that are not necessarily legitimised by divine right nor moored to any structured establishment. It is also here that the death of God gives rise to new forms of foundation. This succeeded in replacing God with a new 'god', whether that comes in the form of nature, science, technology, or the market. The absence of a monolithic establishment leads to the evacuation of beliefs to anything that can serve as a foundation. From this, religion is once again being pontificated. This time, in the pulpit of postmodernity.
In the postmodern, the careful maintenance of religion is relaxed. It is turned into the library of the commons—the publication of its secrets and dogmas. The lacuna that created the deafening silence of the medieval God is reclaimed into a project of salvaging the perennial link between the sublime and the mundane. The postmodern allows one to foray into the territory of the exo-mundane without abandoning the landscape of the afflicted world. This makes sense in arriving at a religion that is no longer comforted in the clausura of the structured church. Instead, one that meets the others in the industrial temple of factories where peasants remain cogs in the churning wheels of production, in the streets of privileged spaces where the poor are taking their refusal to oppressive regimes, or even in fringed spaces where heteronormative structures fetter people in gendered roles and identity. The death of God gives birth to the revaluation of the conclusiveness of religious claims and the polarised tension between the secular and the religious. In this state of affairs, we can participate again in discourses that talk of God without fearing the nuances of theism.
Perhaps we can argue that the death of God does not render any requiem; it opens a prelude to an alleluia in the darkest of lent. The declaration of Nietzsche has offered a rich terrain in the retelling of the story of religion. It is neither born out of a messianic promise nor an eschatological warning in the marketplace of the world where Zarathustra preached: in the domain of the public sphere, or even today, in the echo chambers of social media. Instead, it offers a vantage where humans can situate their engagement with the transcendent while sharing the world with others. This revaluing of religion regards a genuine intention to arrive at a belief for the sublime—one that is not only largely understood but profoundly felt.