Nietzsche’s God is Dead is perhaps the single most provocative statement that permeates common understanding and makes every young and modern atheist drool like Pavlov’s dogs. Used in pop cultures like worn out concert tees enduring ages of torments and misunderstandings, this statement sparks debates or ends discussions when done by folks who are unfamiliar with the context.
In Nietzsche’s 1882 collection The Gay Science, he proclaimed “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” after seeing that god and religion had been killed by science. The post-enlightenment era saw the dawn of a new thinking where humans get to decide who they are and what their purpose is. At least, that was how scientific explorations put us in perspective against the unbiased, vast universe. Yet humans, small and fragile, lose meanings altogether, falling into a dark existential crisis where the purpose of life feels so distant and detached to our everyday life. And while juggling between the ambitious scientific pursuits and the quiet pull of the solitary minds, we feel the heavy agony of finding meaning unto life without a meaningful death.
Here, Nietzsche explores every possibility of this new thought where humans take the driving wheel. But in the midst of this passionate discussion of the new thinking, I also can’t help but think that such existential crisis will rarely rise to the surface in community-centric societies. They’re too busy taking care of each other in their whole life that the meaning of life itself is shaped by people and relationships, and rarely by a solitary internal discussion. Here, blood ties are more than blood ties. I am you, you are me, they said. And it literally takes a village to, say, celebrate births and deaths. To search meanings from the beginning, while neglecting this essential bonds, is rather amusing.
From across the Indian Ocean, I’m seeing how Western philosophies swing from one extreme to another across centuries, like a restless pendulum. A zealot to God that justifies divine interventions, the great Enlightenment Era that puts science and humanity first, the Industrial Era that rewards our innate desires for power and wealth. Amidst thousands of years, pearls of wisdom are swept clean and then there’s a start over. A single thread of love that unites family and communities is losing its place, and reasons, until replaced by self-help books that are consumed by people hungry for love. And Nietzsche’s God is Dead, though a considerable weighty opinion for some, is a funny joke to others.
Conversely, on seeing Western values, I too, try to be more cautious about using them as a framework to reflect on what’s going on here in the East. Because not everything will make sense when seen from a Western perspective. Neither better nor more accurate. These values and ideas are bound to a rather specific place and time, a setting that complements their purpose. A worldwide cultural imperialism (in the West) might jeopardize the spiritual details in our everyday life, like scientific pursuits did to a religious calling. But stare far and long enough and you’ll begin to see the charms of distant stars. Take the words—Nietzsche’s words—and put it against the backdrop of history and social context, and a clearer understanding will rise to the surface.
Top this off with Maria Popova’s endearing testament to our state of understanding:
“We’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it. I mean, the true material of knowledge is meaning. And the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. And the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time.”