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"God is dead" (German: "Gott ist tot" (help·info); also known as the death of God) is a widely quoted statement by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, though the phrase appears several times in the works of G. W. F. Hegel. It first appears in 1882 in The Gay Science (German: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft), in sections 108 (New Struggles), 125 (The Madman), and for a third time in section 343 (The Meaning of our Cheerfulness). It is also found in Nietzsche's 1883 work Thus Spoke Zarathustra (German: Also sprach Zarathustra), which is most responsible for popularizing the phrase. The idea is stated in "The Madman" as follows:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?—Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann
This phrase was first put forward by Nietzsche and he put the words into the mouth of a character in a play.
The cover of the April 8, 1966 edition of Time magazine asked the question "Is God Dead?" and the accompanying article addressed growing atheism in America at the time. At the time, a movement called "death of God" was arising in American theology. The death of God movement is sometimes technically referred to as "theothanatology", deriving from the Greek words theos (God) and thanatos (death).
The main proponents of this theology in its original incarnation included the Christian theologians Gabriel Vahanian, Paul Van Buren, William Hamilton, John A.T. Robinson, Thomas J. J. Altizer, and the rabbi Richard L. Rubenstein. Today, thinkers self-consciously indebted to the death-of-God movement of the 1960s include John D. Caputo, Slavoj Žižek, Charles Winquist, Mark C. Taylor, Robert P. Scharlemann and Peter Rollins.
In 1961, Vahanian's book The Death of God was published. Vahanian argued that modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, lacking any sacramental meaning, no transcendental purpose, or sense of providence. He concluded that for the modern mind "God is dead." In Vahanian's vision a transformed post-Christian and post-modern culture was needed to create a renewed experience of deity.
Both Van Buren and Hamilton agreed that the concept of transcendence had lost any meaningful place in modern thought. According to the norms of contemporary modern thought, God is dead. In responding to this collapse in transcendence Van Buren and Hamilton offered secular people the option of Jesus as the model human who acted in love. The encounter with the Christ of faith would be open in a church-community.
Altizer offered a radical theology of the death of God that drew upon William Blake, Hegelian thought, and Nietzschean ideas. He conceived of theology as a form of poetry in which the immanence (presence) of God could be encountered in faith communities. However, he no longer accepted the possibility of affirming belief in a transcendent God. Altizer concluded that God had incarnated in Christ and imparted his immanent spirit which remained in the world even though Jesus was dead. Unlike Nietzsche, Altizer believed that God truly died. He is considered to be the leading exponent of the Death of God movement.
Rubenstein represented that radical edge of Jewish thought working through the impact of the Holocaust. In a technical sense he maintained, based on the Kabbalah, that God had "died" in creating the world. However, for modern Jewish culture he argued that the death of God occurred in Auschwitz. Although the literal death of God did not occur at this point, this was the moment in time in which humanity was awakened to the idea that a theistic god may not exist. In Rubenstein's work, it was no longer possible to believe in an orthodox/traditional theistic god of the Abrahamic covenant. Rather, God is a historical process.