‘God is dead’ – F. Nietzsche ‘Gay Science’ 1886
This is perhaps the most quoted statement in western human discourse. It’s seen as the most glorious epitaph of humanistic development. We have finally done away with God.
God and religion have fallen to the sharp sword of human reason. God lies slain by our informed discourse and intellectual development. Not only is God dead, but we have killed him. A triumph, a victory, wrought by us.
And yet, as with most things in our society, the tag line does not do justice to the author’s intent. We are too quickly pleased with simplistic narrative, else we might be forced to stop and think.
We often neglect the rest of this obituary. It reads as follows: ‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. 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?’
Striking isn’t it. Nietzsche mourned the death of God. He did not celebrate it. He saw it as the greatest of all murders, from which there was no hope of redemption. The only thing left is to try and ourselves become like ‘Gods’ so we can be counted as worthy of the murder we have committed lest the guilt overwhelms us.
The removal of God has left our society with no mechanism for forgiveness. As Nietzsche foreshadowed and we see painfully today, social media and our society at large has destroyed the barrier between public and private language. This destruction has led to a society where there is no hope of forgiveness.
Where one must speak perfectly not only by today’s standards but perfectly in light of all future standards. There is no such thing as personal growth, no accounting for context, no forgiveness; we must become ‘Gods’.
In 2018, Derek Daley was fired from his post as a racing analyst for the large American broadcaster WISH TV – his crime was for using the N-word in reference to himself in an interview in the 1980s.
When he was fired, he argued that such language was commonplace in the 1980s in Ireland, and it was a term that was usually used about oneself. Regardless of the validity of such an argument, and the obvious point that on some level he certainly should have known such rhetoric was wrong, he was fired 35 years after the comment was made.
Hold this in comparison with the hiring of Sarah Jeong as the youngest ever tech editor of the New York Times in 2018. After she was hired, it emerged that she had routinely tweeted hashtags such as ‘CancelWhitePeople,’ ‘WhiteMenAreTrash,’ and compared white men to dogs who urinate on fire hydrants.
Instead of losing her job, similarly to Daley, she was routinely defended by mainstream media as being taken out of context and for tweeting out of understandable anger.
The point that I want to stress here is not the discrepancy between the two cases, but to make the wider point that social media has created a unique dynamic by breaking down the boundary between public and private language.
Sarah Jeong’s tweets were often over 5 years old, they also were often written within a context of responding to racist abuse Jeong was receiving. Many therefore came out in defence of Jeong when these tweets were brought to light and her appointment to the New York Times was under threat.
The defence of her views ranged from arguments that terms such as ‘CancelWhiteMen’ were taken out of context and were not meant to encapsulate all white men, to more structural responses arguing that Jeong cannot be racist because she is herself part of a suppressed minority.
Whatever the reason that justifies Jeong’s comments, the point is that society sought to see the best in what she said. They sought to be forgiving, they sought to give her the benefit of the doubt. It, therefore, doesn’t stand that such an approach is impossible for people like Daley.
We’ve created impossible criteria whereby anything posted in the social realm needs to not only meet today’s standards of ‘woke’ but also the standards of society in 10 years, 20 years and onwards.
We must become omniscient ‘Gods’ peering into the future to ascertain the social standards that will dominate our society in the decades to come and make sure our language meets those future criteria as well as our own.
The punishment for not obtaining this omniscience is apparent. Daley was fired for a comment he made 35 years prior like he had made the comment that very week. This is the stark reality of social media. It doesn’t matter when or in what context the point was made, once it has resurfaced, it is as though it has just been said.
Therefore we live in a society where one must write to the standard of today’s society and all societies moving forward, and if they are found to fall foul of such a lack of foresight, there is no mechanism by which they can plead forgiveness or understanding – unless you are in a similar situation to Jeong.
Our perceived death of God has terrifying consequences that are as of yet not fully known to us. As Nietzsche stated, social media leaves us with our guilt fully visible and intact, a wound with no hope of feeling the healing hand of time, and with no God to seek absolution from, that guilt is impossible to wash off.