The majority of people are so afraid of the possibility that life has no meaning, that it lacks any intrinsic worth whatsoever. This nihilism, due to the fear of the inevitability of meaningless suffering, is bolstered by the modern scientific view of the human species as just the “moldy film” of a tiny planet orbiting a very ordinary star in a ocean of billion of stars in a very ordinary galaxy in a cosmos of billion galaxies.
Nihilism is intolerable, and inspires the religious and the philosophical to invent an ontotheology that asserts the existence of the hinterwelt, a world beyond that of their life, that a supernatural entity or ultimate reality exists and can account for everything, and particularly suffering. This assertion is fetishized to the point that its origin as a human conjecture is forgotten, and their original motivation, the fear of potential nihilism, is also swept under the rug. Therefore, life has meaning and value, thanks to this ontotheological realm! Long live ontotheology! Whosoever denies this ontotheology must a crazed nihilist!
Nietzsche aims his critique at all types of nihilism, and their byproducts, ontotheologies. The ontotheologians routinely dismiss Nietzsche as a nihilist who is merely the bullhorn for the dissolute, degenerate, and the wicked for he hacks at the very foundations of the meaningfulness of human existence, and tries to erode all reason for living. However, Nietzsche is subtle: he is saying that the foundation is not necessary, it is superfluous. One can live, while, at the same time, be completely aware of the ugly facts of life.
Nietzsche’s critique of ontotheological nihilism is not presented as his disinterested philosophy, and nor does he direct his rhetoric to the nihilists who are slaves to their fears and uncritical conformists to the ontotheological structures of modern society.
Regrettably, most people cannot and will not understand his rhetoric. At least there are the very few who have the courage to say yes to everything, with their eyes wide open to the utter capriciousness of life, complete with all its pain and suffering. They don’t need a “grand justification” of life itself, content to sing and dance their cares away, for they are potentially free spirits, noble and divorced from the herd of conformists.
Nietzsche thinks his rhetoric can affect those potential free spirits and give them the immunization against the seductive rhetoric of the ontotheological nihilists. Those nihilists utilize their rhetoric in order to control or exclude those joyful nonconformists. Slaves to fear and anxiety, the herd exacerbate their situation with their envy of the life-affirmer’s freedom from fear, their resentment and their worry that the life-affirmer’s rejection of the nihilist’s reactive way of life will undermine the effectiveness of the ontotheological structure that was invented and nurtured over centuries by tradition in order to delude themselves that life isn’t contingent and accidents or misfortune were “meant to be.” Motivated by envy, resentment and fear of the life-affirmers, nihilists create life-denying and freedom-controlling norms of rationality and morality.
These motivations are the electricity that activates the device that creates modern morality. Gilles Deleuze claims these morals aren’t “created by acting but by holding back from acting, not by affirming, but by beginning with denial. This is why they are called un-created, divine, transcendent, superior to life. But think what these values hide, of their mode of creation. They hide an extraordinary hatred, a hatred for life, a hatred for all that is active and affirmative in life.”
Under the norms of morality, the life-affirmer is marginalized, condemned as naive, simple minded, irrational, and they are controlled or excluded by being tarred as evil and dangerous. The ontotheologian’s morality, dependent on the back-world that guarantees suffering is justified, actually degrades the natural functions of the body that is joyfully and spontaneously affirmed by those who do not fear life. People who are naturally life affirmers often succumb to the herd rhetoric and become enslaved by their slavishly fearful negation of life. Nietzsche directs his rhetoric to those free spirits in order to shatter the burden of the nihilist’s dogma. In his ridiculing of the nihilist’s rhetoric he outlines its genealogy and motivations to demonstrate how one can become immune and become a free spirit that affirms life.
Nietzsche’s intent is to write with a hammer that sounds the hollowness of those sacred cows, the ontotheological and moral claims. The god of ontotheology, in its metaphysical, epistemological and moral guises, has already died a long time ago to the wounds inflicted by the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment, Hume and Kant, and to the literary riffs of Voltaire and Dostoevsky. Hegel’s Aufhebung in particular spelled the epitaph of God when the genuine experience of faith has been sublated and surpassed for the sake of the historical reasons of the state, and towards the Absolute, leaving behind the intermediate philosophy of religion as a museum artifact that was once useful. This allowed room for Nietzsche’s genealogy to flourish with a dialectical analysis that highlighted the conflicting elements of culture. Within the demise of metaphysics, when ontotheologies no longer have any rhetorical effect, nihilism necessarily follows. On the psychological level, nihilism is also the necessary effect of the decline of the belief in God. It is not that people are no longer afraid, but slowly, we moderns are beginning to identify the black hole of nihilism as it yawns beneath us, a bottomless chasm… and the worst is to come!