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The Eternal Return of the Sacred

February 5, 2009


Nietzsche’s famous or infamous “Parable of the Madman” (1882, 1887) announced the death of God, or more exactly his execution and the murder of religion by western culture making of all westerners the gravediggers of the holiest and mightiest. Zondervan (2005) began his Sociology and the Sacred. An Introduction to Philip Rieff’s Theory of Culture with the enraged speech of Nietzsche’s avatar.

(Whenever I mention the 20th century debate of the disenchantment and secularization of the world, my friend reminds me that only a part of the world – the West – adopted this ideology.)

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? 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? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. 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? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.” Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves. It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” (Nietzsche 1887: para 125) cited in Kaufmann 1974:181-2 and online here).

Work-in-process DRAFT do not copy

Keyword: culture, philosophy, post-secular, theory of culture, Freud, Freudian metaphysics, psychology man, modernity, second culture camp, Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Foucault, James Joyce, Marcuse, Habermas, Strauss, religion, desecularization of the world, Peter Berger,

illustrations, diagrams:

Timeline of social events related to Western desecularization-secularization

5th century BC The term modernity stems from the 5th century. See Alexander cited in Zondervan (2005: Notes:3).

Enlightenment: the term modernity used with connotations such as scientific, rationality, progress and individualization.

1882, 1887 Nietzsche’s famous or infamous “Parable of the Madman” (1882, 1887) announced the death of God, or more exactly his execution and the murder of religion by western culture making of all westerners the gravediggers of the holiest and mightiest. Zondervan (2005) began his Sociology and the Sacred. An Introduction to Philip Rieff’s Theory of Culture with the enraged speech of Nietzsche’s avatar.

1960s Emergence of the psychological man (Reiff).

1966 Berger, Peter L; Luckmann, Thomas. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge.

1967 Berger, Peter L. 1967 [1990]. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Anchor Books.

1978-03 Daniel Bell, professor of sociology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts wrote “The Return of the Sacred: the Argument about the Future of Religion” published in the Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 31: 29–55. There is a pay-per-use copy of this on the exclusive and darkened library of the Deep Internet.

1979 Brian Wilson wrote “The Return of the Sacred” published in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Webliography and Bibliography

Berger, Peter L; Luckmann, Thomas. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge.

Berger, Peter L. 1967 [1990]. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Anchor Books.

Kaufmann, Walter. Ed. 1974. The Gay Science New York: Vintage.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1882, 1887. [1974]. The Gay Science.

Zondervan, Antonius A. W. 2005. Sociology and the Sacred. An Introduction to Philip Rieff’s Theory of Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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