Postmodern Theology and Nietzsche’s Influence

QUESTION: Postmodern Theology – Nietzsche’s Influence


In the pre-modern era God, revelation, and the clergy were the ultimate sources for truth about reality. However, in the modern era science and reason became the key resources for truth about reality. Well into the age of modernism, Friedrich Nietzsche stated the obvious from a modernist perspective: “God is dead; we have killed him.” By this statement Nietzsche did not mean to imply that humanity killed God or that God was once alive and had died. Rather Nietzsche meant that belief in God was no longer necessary.

Postmodern Theology – Nietzsche’s Madman
Foucault later checked the vital signs of modernity and discovered a corpse as cold as Nietzsche’s God. He discovered that the modernist era had given way to another— Postmodernism. With this coming new era both Nietzsche and Foucault predicted a period of violence, death, destruction, and ultimately the end of humanity itself. Nietzsche put it down as follows:
    Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—

    As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes.

    “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

    “How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

    Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

    It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”1
Postmodern Theology – God is No Longer Necessary
Foucault elaborates: “...Nietzsche indicated the turning-point from a long way off; it is not so much the absence or the death of God that is affirmed as the end of becomes apparent, then, that the death of God and the last man are engaged in a contest with more than one round: is it not the last man who announces that he has killed God, thus situating his language, his thought, his laughter in the space of that already dead God, yet positing himself also as he who has killed God and whose existence includes the freedom and the decision of that murder? Thus, the last man is at the same time older and yet younger than the death of God; since he has killed God, it is he himself who must answer for his own finitude; but since it is in the death of God that he speaks, thinks, and exists, his murder itself is doomed to die; new gods, the same gods, are already swelling the future Ocean; Man will disappear.”2

Both Nietzsche and Foucault agree that after humanity kills God, they sign their own death certificate. A worldview perspective reveals how theological beliefs have implications for other areas of life. Nietzsche and Foucault understand the connection.


Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, trans. and comm. by Walter Arnold Kaufmann (New York, NY: Random House, 1974), 181. For a clear and understandable analysis of Nietzsche’s anti-God and anti-Christ positions, see chapter nine of Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1983).

2 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1994), 385. Students reading Foucault need to keep in mind his own admission, “I am fully aware that I have never written anything other than fictions.” Quoted in Dreyfus and Rabinow’s Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 204. Cited in Myron B. Penner, ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), 30.

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