“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed Him.”
FRIEDRICH Nietzsche wrote these words in 1882 in the “Parable of the Madman”. This narrative revolves around a local man who informs the gathering crowd that they have killed God. He claims that they did this unknowingly and without any realisation of the consequences of such an act. He finally concludes that no-one understands what he is talking about, and that this truth is far beyond them. Thereby he is ultimately dismissed as a madman.
Jump forward 134 years, and suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a mad idea. Atheism is on the rise in Australia, with more people than ever before in our history declaring a symbolic “death of God”. So much so, that the ABS has decided that the term “no religion” should now take pride of place in our August 9 census. Indeed, a campaign has formed to encourage people to tick this box in order to lessen the “undeserved” influence of religion in our society and increase the lobbying power of the faithless.
What I love above Nietzsche is his honesty. He recognises the ultimate significance of his statement. Once God goes, Nietzsche explains, then morality, meaning, and truth go with Him. It is simply foolish to dismiss the notion of God, yet still live in a way that is fundamentally attached to His existence. Put simply, if chaos is all that runs the universe, then speaking and acting as if there is anything “good” is inauthentic.
To quote Nietzsche: “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?”
His solution of course is that we have to create our own meaning, our own individual truth, essentially become our own gods. We can be and do whatever we want on one proviso – that we have the power to do it. Why does the eagle swoop down and eat the lamb? Because he can. Good and evil do not come into it.
In essence, the question on the census is probably the most significant one that could ever be asked (though ironically an optional one to answer).
It is the question of whether we hold something to be transcendent and bigger than ourselves, or whether we declare, with a stroke of a pen, there is no higher mind than mine. Indeed, this question affects everything in our society from our laws, our work and even our motivations and actions towards each other.
Although some may see this census question of one’s religion as no more than a power struggle for influence, I honestly have a different attitude. No matter which box people pick, it is a wonderful opportunity to ask ourselves, at least every five years, what do we believe? Our understanding of truth, purpose, human identity, right, wrong, life, death, and indeed the very nature of reality all hang on our response to this one question.
For me, the beauty, love and goodness I see in this world can draw me to only One conclusion.
Nick Jensen is the director of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, which helps develop leaders in public policy (lmi.org.au)