r m p






You're a Joke You're Not the Lord
You're Nothing But a Fraud


Here 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 follow.

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 scriptures.

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 passages.

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 convictions.

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. (pp. 12-13)

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




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