Excellent article by Terry Eagleton at Commonweal, An Unbelieving Age:
Friedrich Nietzsche has a strong claim to being the first real atheist. Of course there had been unbelievers in abundance before him, but it is Nietzsche above all who confronts the terrifying, exhilarating consequences of “the death of God.” As long as God’s shoes have been filled by Reason, art, culture, Geist, imagination, the nation, humanity, the state, the People, society, morality, or some other such specious surrogate, the Supreme Being is not quite dead. He may be mortally sick, but he has delegated his affairs to one envoy or another, part of whose task is to convince men and women that there is no cause for alarm, that business will be conducted as usual despite the absence of the proprietor.
What Nietzsche recognizes is that you can get rid of God only if you also do away with innate meaning. The Almighty can survive tragedy, but not absurdity. As long as there appears to be some immanent sense to things, one can always inquire after the source from which it springs. Abolishing given meanings involves destroying the idea of depth, which in turn means rooting out beings like God who take shelter there. Like Oscar Wilde in his wake, Nietzsche is out to replace what he sees as a vacuous depth with a profundity of the surface.
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