The death of God had opened up exhilarating new possibilities for humankind. But it had also created a great despond. Humans could not exist without attributing meaning to their lives. For two millennia that meaning had derived from an individual’s relationship to God. Now that this relationship had been ripped asunder, little wonder that Europe felt itself as if trembling at the edge of a moral chasm. Worse, while God might be dead, ‘his shadow will remain on the walls of caves for thousands of years.’ Modern moral thought, from Kantian notions of duty to utilitarian ideals of happiness, and contemporary political demands, from the liberal belief in democracy to socialist ideals of equality, were simply reworked forms of Christian eschatology. It was necessary not simply to kill God, but ‘to conquer his shadow as well’.
Just the other day, Giles Fraser said, accurately enough, that Nietzsche would have thought little of today’s atheists. I would add this excerpt as a poetic way of expressing why Fraser was slightly off-target: Nietzsche would have felt that many of them were simply offering reworked forms of Christian eschatology while remaining unaware of the fact.