There are two impulses unique to the human psyche. The first is the resident notion that there must be a point to our existence – it is this impulse that holds at bay the dark abyss of meaninglessness that would swallow us up, otherwise. The second is the baseline assumption of a summum bonum (a highest good, an ultimate goal) – it is this impulse that places value on concepts like justice, truth, beauty and love. And it is the synthesis of these two impulses that give impetus to our conviction that life is worth living . . . even though we may be uncertain about the actual underpinning origin of these impulses.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the well-known atheist philosopher, famously declared that “God is dead and we have killed him” – the intent of this statement being commonly misunderstood. For Nietzsche, the non-existence of God was a given starting point, therefore his intent isn’t about a god who dies, but rather, a need for the death of a moral system predicated on the existence of God. Nietzsche observed that in nature the strong and powerful dominate the weak – making this the natural ordering principle of morality. So that at its core morality is best understood as a display of power – which was largely the morality of the Greco-Roman world that Jesus entered into . . . and forever changed.
This is likely why Nietzsche self-described as the antichrist – not as an eschatological claim, but rather, as a measure of his commitment to undoing the legacy of the Jesus mythology with its moral premise of a self-emptying indiscriminate love that deems every person, regardless of cultural status, equally capable of sharing in this gift of God. Because to Nietzsche’s mind, such a moral premise invariably compromises the authority of the powerful – allowing the under evolved plebs to control the moral order of society . . . which would be tantamount to a devolution of man as a species. Because if the culturally elite aren’t given the carte blanche moral authority they deserve – humanity is doomed . . . sound familiar?
And this is where I completely surprise you by saying – Nietzsche has it completely right! In a godless world morality is nothing but a weapon of manipulation in the hands of the powerful, and pretending otherwise is just intellectual sophistry. Without God there is no real point to your life, and the ultimate goal is to seek power – everything else is an illusion. It could be said that Nietzsche understood the philosophical significance of God’s transcendence – in some ways better than many Christians, and most certainly better than all of the post-modernist philosophers who presuppose transcendent moral value, without bothering to sort out how transcendence could exist in a strictly materialist universe.
This is the Nietzsche crucible – if God doesn’t exist, then the tyranny of the powerful becomes the moral standard. But because we are drawn to the idea that each of us is given an immeasurable value, which is the premise for imagining that we are all equal, each of us deserving of the dignity of our personhood, regardless of social status. Therefore when existential atheism pretends it can coopt this moral ethic regarding the value of all human life, while ignoring its transcendent premise . . . they only beg the question: From what premise should we base this moral ethic? Nietzsche would say — stop pretending to care about equality, if God is dead, the only premise is the materialist natural order of the strong passing moral judgement on the weak. So keep this in mind, when the godless attempt to sway you with their moral platitudes — it’s all just a power play for them . . . they have no real moral authority, they’re just pretending to have it.
. . . but we have something else waiting for us.