Nietzsche and the Idea of God: Is God Good or Bad for your Psychological Health?

David Leo Tracey

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Nietzsche tells us that he is more interested in the idea of God than in God as
such. The idea of God is not a mind-independent entity; it is a human idea. He
writes: “In former times, one sought to prove that there is no God—today one
indicates how the belief that there is a God could arise and how this belief
acquired its weight and importance.”1 He continues, “The ‘kingdom of heaven’ is
a state of the heart—not something lying ‘above the earth’ or coming ‘after
death.’”2 And finally, “the kingdom of God does not ‘come’ chronologicallyhistorically,
on a certain day … it is an ‘inward change in the individual.’”3 As
one commentator writes, Nietzsche asks “a series of questions that concern the
religious man, not religion itself.”4 Whether or not one believes in God, the fact
that people do believe in God is still a phenomenon in the world for which we
must account. Nietzsche’s question is not ‘does God exist?’ It is: why do people
believe in God, and what insight does this yield into human psychology? Under
the influence of Feuerbach, he answers that “religion can be exhaustively
accounted for by the psychology of error,”5 and he demonstrates how basic
human psychology accounts for the idea of God. Hence, if naturalism is an
attempt to account for phenomena without reference to the supernatural, then
showing that human psychology accounts for the idea of a supernatural God is a
quintessential instance of naturalism: the idea of God has its origins in nature.


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