Posted on Jan 24, 2012
“Whither is humanity? cried the Madman. I will tell you. We have killed it. We are its murderers! But how could we do this? Are we not plunging continually? How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”
When Friedrich Nietzsche’s Madman told the world, ”God is dead, and we are his murderers,” it was as if he alone understood the enormity of the crime. This deicide was never anything but a fiction: Nietzsche never thought there was a real God who could really be killed; instead he saw the idea of God dying in the European mind. (Others knew God was alive and laughing at the Madman.)
It took a Nietzsche to fathom the depths of what this “death of God” would mean:
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….”
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.“
And what if the Madman were to survey the world today? Would he not would cry out, “Humanity is dead!” Yes, and he would ask, “Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying humanity? Do we smell nothing as yet of the human decomposition?” And he might again conclude that his time is not yet.
But why would the Madman say such a thing? How have we killed humanity? you ask. Is this not a more clearly a fiction than Nietzsche’s ever was? Are there not 7 billion persons who can witness to humanity’s vitality?
Yes, humanity still lives, just as God still lived in Nietzsche’s day. It lives in spite of the universal mass murder that philosophical naturalism would inflict upon it: the attempted strangulation of the idea of the human. Its quest is the murder not of persons but of personhood, not of humans but of humanness itself. Naturalism will not succeed in this. That does not mean it is not trying.
I do not lay this charge directly at the naturalist’s feet: it is naturalism that is culpable, not you who are naturalists. Instead I call you to account, you who are naturalists, for your blithe ignorance of the magnitude of the atrocities you endorse. You tell of the carnage as if it brings hope to your breast. Who gave you the sponge to wipe away your own concern for the heart of humanness?
To be human is to be rational and aware, to have at least a measure of freedom, to be more than an animal, more than a machine. Your naturalism would deny that.
Your naturalism seeks to disown free will in humans, without which humanness is less than a shell of itself, and genuine humanity is eliminated.
It seeks to kill humanness—and thus all of humanity—when it tries to persuade us no person’s consciousness is anything other than illusion.
It seeks to kill humanity—all the glory of being human—when it places us on a plane with the animals and charges us with “speciesism” for considering ourselves otherwise.
It seeks to kill humanity—all the integral wholeness of the human—when it claims we are but machines crafted and co-opted by genes to reproduce themselves.
It seeks to kill humanity—all of humanity, all of humanness—when it tells us that physics and chemistry provide the most real, the most true explanation for who and what we are.
And all of this is to say nothing of the death of the human in relation to the living God who imparted humanity to us as beings in his own image.
Naturalism’s success would mean the destruction of all humanness everywhere. The universal murder would be accomplished. The genocide would be complete.
This is preposterous! you say. Where is this death of which you speak?
You do not see it, though it is right before your eyes? (“I have come too early,” said the Madman; “my time is not yet.”)
And again you say Call me not a murderer! I too am human. I will not kill; I will not accept such a charge upon me!
Yes, naturalist, you are human, and it is your humanness that may save you in the end. You say consciousness is an illusion, yet you say so consciously. You choose to say that choice is impossible. Your doctrine of fragmented reductionism issues not from your genes and neurotransmitters but from yourself: a person; a real person; a whole person. Your abstract naturalism unleashes its weapons of mass destruction upon humanness everywhere; still, your own very real humanness survives. So while you claim the murderous doctrine with your words, with your life you deny it; and how good it is that you do, for that very denial means your survival as a human person.
Nietzsche gloried in the horror of God’s “death.” Would he regard humanity’s death the same way? I can hardly think he would, even though today’s deadly naturalism is a tree nourished in the earth piled on God’s fictional grave. Nietzsche proclaimed God’s death as the liberation of humanity, but there finally comes a point when a horror such as this cannot hide under such a mask.
For though naturalism is an abstraction, its weapons have real effects on the world, just as the fiction of God’s death had real effects. Naturalism’s abstract weapons inflict real damage. The more the naturalist insists that we are but meat computers, puppets of our chemistry and environment, laboring under an illusion of human glory, meaning, and uniqueness when we ought to reject our speciesism and bow to the knowledge of our bland sameness, the more the naturalist and the rest of us will believe such things, and the more we will act as if they were real. We will treat ourselves and each other according to the degraded view we assign ourselves and others.
Has it not happened already in the wasteland of the TV sitcom? You say that is a trivial example. Is that not the point? We have trivialized our days and our evenings. We have trivialized our economic lives: our highest goal is not to serve but to survive, until one day we can walk out of it with the right gadgets and on the right golf course. We have degraded romance and intimacy into the virtually anonymous “hook-up.” We have degraded marriage into a come-and-go-as-you-please convenience. We have trivialized all our human experience; because we have taught ourselves humanness itself is trivial.
Therefore to the naturalist I say this: you carry with you a deadly weapon. You have it strapped on your body, as it were, for there is no escape, no exception: this universal death would entail the suicide of its perpetrators’ humanness, along with that of the rest of the world. Would you die for this? Or—speaking literally rather than figuratively now—would you deny your entire humanness for this?
Nietzsche’s Madman understood better than others (though not well enough) what the God-killers were clamoring to destroy. He would know today (though not well enough) what it means that so many seek to strangle all humanness out of all human beings.
God survived the Madman. The Madman is, in the end, quite mad. Humanity will survive his re-visitation.
It bears repeating: Naturalism has grown up out of the fictional grave of God. Ironically some naturalists call themselves “humanists.” I speak again to you who consider yourself a naturalist: perhaps you do not care about God. Maybe you find the thought of God loathsome to you. I do not know what might have led you there. I would dearly love to call you to the place where you could understand that God is really good, loving, and great; to help you see that whatever you find ugly in God is founded in some distortion or misconception, rather than in reality. If you could answer that call I would be happy to greet you in the company of those who, by God’s grace, have come to experience his truth and goodness.
That may be too long and difficult a step for you to take. It might involve a change of mind that for you at this stage is beyond even imagining. Then I ask you to consider taking this smaller step. It’s in the right direction. I ask you to consider a step back toward affirming your own humanness, and that of all the people you know and love. Give up telling yourself with words what your real self knows to be false. Affirm—do not deny as “illusion”—your own freedom, your own awareness, your own worth beyond that of the animals. You are human, and you know it.
The genocide of which I have been speaking here is abstract, not real. In the end our humanness will prevail. Let your own humanness prevail in you—even if it leads you one frightening step back toward God.