Joke You're Not the Lord
You're Nothing But a Fraud
is a passage from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
For the old gods, after all, things came
to an end long ago; and verily, they had a good gay godlike end. They
did not end in a “twilight,” though this lie is told. Instead: one day
they laughed themselves to death. That happened when the most
godless word issued from one of the gods themselves—the word: “There is
one god. Thou shalt have no other god before me!” An old grimbeard of a
god, a jealous one, thus forgot himself. And then all the gods laughed
and rocked on their chairs and cried, “Is not just this godlike that
there are gods but no God?” He that has ears to hear, let him hear!”
(Kaufman trans., Penguin, p, 182)
When I read it, I thought immediately of
two other texts which share the major image of this passage, and that is
surprising given that you would expect the notion of a God being laughed
off stage by his fellow Gods to be uncommon, even unique. But it is not.
And furthermore, it may be important that it is not unique. It may
therefore be seen to possess archetypal significance. I thought of this
scene from L. Sprague de Camp's great fantasy novel The Tritonian Ring:
When the gods of the West were gathered
in their place of assembly, Drax, the Tritonian god of war, said in his
ophidian hiss: “Events will take a deadly turn for us in the next
century unless we change this pattern.” The assembled gods shuddered,
and the vibration of their trembling ran through the universe.
[Some debate ensues over possible
courses of action, none of them very promising.] “We might pray to
our gods for guidance,” said the small bat-eared god of the Corians,
whereupon all the gods laughed, being hardened skeptics.
What's funny here is the irony that the
gods have no faith! You might think it would be the easiest thing in the
world for them of all people to have faith. But no. De Camp is right. Paul
says no one hopes for what he sees, that to walk by faith is necessary
only so long as one cannot walk by sight. But the Gods have sight, thus
they can have no faith. This is why the Epistle of James says the devils
"believe that God is one--and tremble. It is sight, not faith. "I know who
you are, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the Most High God. Have you come to
torment us?" That is why the Buddha says the Gods can help no one toward
salvation: they themselves stand in need of salvation because their sight,
their direct vision of the glories of heaven prevents them from having the
faith that this, too, will pass away, and that craving and suffering will
But De Camp depicts them as possessing the
possibility of faith. It's just that only one of them exercises it. They
have sight of themselves. They can harbor no doubt at all of the gods
whose existence eludes us and is a matter of faith for mortals. They see
their own divine existence, and so they have no faith in it. But what of a
higher tier of gods whom they might worship? We are back to faith, for
even the gods could possess no certainty. But most of De Camp's gods are
faithless skeptics. Needing no faith in their own existence they are
unwilling to exercise it in the possibility of gods they cannot see.
And thus De Camp's scene is some ways
opposed to Nietzsche's, in which the group of gods laugh to scorn a god
who is unwilling to have faith in other gods, his fellow deities whom he
ought to be able to see. I realize that De Camp's lone believer among the
gods credits the existence of his fellows whom he is urging to have faith
in the higher pantheon. It is the arrogant short-sightedness of his fellow
gods, skeptics all, which parallels the solipsistic pride of Nietzsche's
old grimbeard god who cannot even believe in his fellows, his colleagues.
For Nietzsche the laughable arrogance is that of the one god. And this
makes somewhat of a different point. I think Nietzsche is saying something
like Feuerbach, especially when you compare this passage with another:
But let me reveal my heart to you
entirely, my friends: if there were gods, how could I endure not to be a
god! Hence there are no gods. Though I drew that conclusion, it now
draws me... Away from God and gods this will has lured me; what could
one create if gods existed?
He is rejecting the God-construct that
human fear, guilt and moral cowardice have created. He is proclaiming the
death of the God who is the figment of our lack of faith in ourselves, our
shirking of our divine destiny. He harpoons the Great White Whale which
makes us believe we are minnows swimming beside it when in fact it is only
the magnified reflection of ourselves.
The notion that there should be a God and
us not Gods! The very idea that our destiny and character should be that
of submission, slavery, obsequiousness! What a hoot! What a joke! And the
terrible joke is on us if we believe it. There is no maturity, no moral
autonomy as long as we piously await our orders from a superior.
And who is that supposed superior? It can
only be someone like ourselves after all. Someone who has understood the
joke and is exploiting us. The Grand Inquisitor who has accepted his
rightful role as a God, a superman, but who stops short of proclaiming the
truth that we are all Gods! The Grand Inquisitor is the grimbeard God who
claims to be the only God! What an absurdity! But the joke's on you!
This brings me to the third text, really a
megatext, a whole group of related and equivalent statements of the same
theme. Let me read two sample texts from the Nag Hammadi Gnostic
I am amazed at the degree to which
Nietzsche's passage parallels these statements of Gnosticism, since he can
never have read them. They were rediscovered only half a century ago! But
great minds think alike. If we stop to imagine who the Gnostics were who
wrote and cherished these scriptures, we may be able to imagine the
implications for daily life and spiritual existence they saw in such
Gnostics were esoteric groups within
Christian Churches, Jewish synagogues and possibly other groups. They kept
mum about their beliefs outside their own meetings because they knew how
blasphemous their creed would sound to outsiders, and they might find
themselves in real danger. What was so blasphemous? Their common belief
that the creator and lawgiver of this world was not the true God! He was
an inferior being with delusions of grandeur who had made a mess of the
world and governed it with an administration of divine or demonic thugs.
And this inferior Godling, this bungling egomaniac was the God of
conventional Judaism and Christianity! After all, who but a megalomaniac
with an inferiority complex would have as his number one concern that
everybody worship him and tell him how great he is?
Such a God is a joke! When he proclaims
that he alone is God, the heavens above him, of which he suspects nothing,
resound with mirth! And the Gnostics were those who shared the divine
nature of the Gods beyond this inferior God. They looked down on him and
mocked him! They felt no obligation to keep the laws of this God or of the
bishops of the church that worshipped this God. In other words, they were
aiming to be Nietzsche's supermen, creating their own values. One of the
Gnostic texts even adopts the persona of the ancient prophet Zarathustra
as a mouthpiece of these doctrines, just as Nietzsche did!
Jung was truly a modern Gnostic. Just as
Nietzsche adopted the persona of Zarathustra, Jung wrote his Seven
Sermons to the Dead under the guise of the Gnostic master Basilides.
Jung believed that the Gnostics had correctly apprehended the process of
individuation within the human psyche. The arrogant Godling who loudly
proclaims his own unique deity is the newly-consolidated ego. Its sudden
chagrin, being rudely informed that it is not supreme at all--this is the
awareness that there is much more to the Self than the mere ego, and that
one must learn to assimilate and integrate the Shadow, the Persona, the
Collective Unconscious. And if one eventually does this, one attains the
true divinity that Humanity is capable of.
Inwardly one transcends the ego in favor
of the Self. Outwardly one dismisses and disdains the notion of a God Up
There, Out There, external to one.
To tilt back over from psychology to
philosophy for a moment, I demythologize the Gnostic myth as meaning this.
Who is the self-magnifying God who boasts of his lordship over creation
only to discover he is a silly fool of negligible importance in the true
scheme of things? He is traditional humanity, believing himself to be the
crown jewel in a world created for his convenience by a heavenly deity.
But then the revelations of science shock him with the knowledge that he
is a chance collocation of atoms in a blind universe unaware of his
existence and indifferent to it. Dethroned!
As Carl Ekdahl says of himself in
Bergman's Fanny and Alexander,
How is it one becomes second-rate, can
you answer me that? How does the dust fall? When has one lost? First I'm
a prince, the heir to the kingdom. Suddenly I'm deposed. Death taps me
on the shoulder... Stretch out your hand and you grope in a void.
But this bad news is only the doctor's
diagnosis. It's good to know it even though it hurts. You're going to have
to know it if you're going to do what you have to in order to get better!
And the remedy to the ailment of the delusion of theism, the belief in
ourselves as God's darlings, is to become Gods ourselves! At first all
seems bleak and desolate when one realizes the universe has no ingrained
meaning. But then one realizes that this leaves one free to assign what
meaning to it one will! You create the world of meaning! You do not
obediently receive it from another. If you did it could never be
authentically yours anyway!
In his spiritual autobiography To a
Dancing God, Sam Keen describes his first days at Harvard spent
unlearning all his childhood certainties, including his religious
The crisis came in the early hours of a
February morning within view of the Harvard Yard. The armies of the Lord
faced the army of Truth. On the one side was all that I had believed
about heaven and earth and my dazzling aspirations towards purity,
sanctity, and obedience to a known God. On the other side a restlessness
in the loins, a handful of facts that would not be denied, and a
wilderness which hinted of both terror and adventure. The issue was so
drawn for me, that the choice was between remaining a Christian or
becoming honest. The armies defending the Holy Land fought to the last
before yielding. Exhausted, I slept. I awoke at noon in Cambridge,
Mass., U.S.A., and after coffee and rolls, began to create the world.
It was a long fight, but he eventually
admitted defeat. And then he realized he had won the victory: That is your
option: for you to be God, instead of the old egomaniac grimbeard being
God, means that you create your universe. You decide what your world, your
life means, and not another. Bultmann said that only through Christ is
authentic existence available to man. But I say unto you, such an
existence, defined for you by a heteronomous Other, can never result in
anything but second-hand, inauthentic existence!
Tillich tried to avoid this by making God
the Depth, the Ground of our own Being. In this way, when we embrace
Christ, we are overcoming our deep estrangement from ourselves, the law of
our own being. Fine and good, but then this makes Tillich a Gnostic in the
classic sense. Christ becomes not a savior so much as a revealer, an
awakener to the forgotten fact of our own sleeping divinity.
Similarly, Panikkar observed that even
though we try to internalize God by saying God lives within us, in our
heart, etc., we are still captive to an image of externality, since God is
pictured as being "inside" us like a bullet that has penetrated us from
without. It is still an alien presence foreign to what surrounds it. To be
truly interior, God must become ontologically internal--identical with us!
We must become God!
In such an understanding, the revealing
Christ becomes another symbol of awakening of the Self. This Christ, the
Gnostic Revealer, is one with Zarathustra, and with Nietzsche's mad man
who carries a lantern into the village square at noon proclaiming, "God is
dead! We have killed him! Must we not become Gods ourselves to appear
worthy of the deed?"
Robert M. Price
July 5, 1997
Copyright©2009 by Robert
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