In the late 1880s the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche announced that God was dead. He did not mean that God actually died, for he did not believe that there ever was a God to die. It was the ancient myth of God, that is, the idea of God that died. Advances in science and philosophy rendered it no longer possible for people to believe in a Creator-God, or so Nietzsche reasoned.
Nietzsche realized that if people no longer believed in the existence of a God who created all that exist, then they would face a seemingly unsolvable problem–why does anything exists? Nothing would make sense. Every individual would have to face the question of ultimate meaning without any hope of finding an answer. To avoid despair and insanity, one would have to find meaning in the creation of a new “god-myth.”
Nietzsche believed that there were some who would courageously face the existential question of ultimate meaning. They were the ones he called übermench, or supermen. They would create the new myth by which individuals could escape the crisis of meaning resulting from the “death of God.”
Already before the Great War of 1914-1918 the intellectual elite were losing faith in human beings as rational creatures. The war merely acted as a catalyst. What before the war was a generation who believed in progress and the potential of basically good human beings to build a better future became after the war the so-called “lost generation.”
The supermen appeared in the person of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Lenin, and Joseph Stalin, not to mention the many lessor myth spinners. Each fashioned an ideology that provided a reason to live for those who struggled to find meaning for their continued existance in the wake of the Great War. One could find meaning and purpose by, e.g., becoming a born again socialist man or women. Becoming a follower of one of the totalitarian ideologies was much more than merely giving intellectual assent to a political cause or philosophy. It meant becoming a convert.
Today, October 15, is the birthday of Friedrich Nietzsche. Most people today do not have any idea who he was, or why it is important to know who he was.
If I could ask him a question just one question today, it would be simply this: Do you still think that God is dead?