Zarathustra vs John Lennon

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Chapter 3: ‘On Believers in a World Behind’
vs “God”, John Lennon (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, 1970)

Sickness, and convalescence – the former creates the belief in God and gods, icons and idols; the latter is the escape, an overcoming of such beliefs. Hear the confession: ‘At one time Zarathustra too cast his delusion beyond the human, like all believers in a world behind.’ Yet such a beyond begs a question. Zarathustra asks: ‘Beyond the human in truth?’ Answering, ‘this God that I created was human’s-work and -madness, just like all Gods!’ For Nietzsche’s philosopher, a belief in gods, a belief in a world beyond ( – beyond the material world in which we are alive) manifests a problem: why would a god create such an imperfect realm for humans? This world of suffering… a test to pass before the possibility of entry into the immortal and perfect realm? Cut away the chaff? Catch you out? This is the ‘image of eternal contradiction’. The suffering of the imperfect realm becomes a sick fantasy of a deranged god, ‘a drunken pleasure for its imperfect creator’.

Yet, of course, and in truth, ‘the sick and the moribund it was who despised body and earth and invented the heavenly realm… From their misery they wanted to escape.’ Belief in God and gods, icons and idols is the product of social ills, a collective fever. As John Lennon puts it: ‘God is a concept by which we measure our pain’.


Say it again, John: ‘God is a concept by which we measure our pain’. These startling lines, which kick-off Lennon’s piano driven song ‘God’, compose but the first part of three sections; three sections in which the themes of Zarathustra’s speech in Chapter 3 are mirrored: sickness, confession and convalescence. In designating God as a ‘concept’, Lennon is decrying God as manmade (sic) – all concepts are created. And in seeing the concept as the ‘measure [of] our pain’, Lennon understands that such a world behind becomes more and more a lure the worse our suffering; and this suffering more and more a ruse, a consequence of the belief in a world behind. A vicious circle: lure and ruse.

Accordingly, and in response to such a realisation, Zarathustra proclaims ‘I overcame myself as a sufferer’, and ‘Suffering it would be for me now, and torture… to believe’. This is the convalescence. Yet – and this is crucial – convalescence is not the path from falsity to truth. Zarathustra’s confession has an interesting use of ‘delusion’ – as if all there is are delusions. This is a remarkable move – for if this is the case, then surely the soundest idea would be to choose your own delusion. Why choose a delusion that depends upon making your life a ‘dream,’ ‘coloured smoke,’ a ‘fable of a God’? Why a delusion that makes the earth appear as ‘imperfect’? Belief in the perfection of some world-to-come, a world behind the one we live, one that can only be reached after our death. This is the worst of all delusions.

There is no easy way out, however. God is dead: we no longer need to believe in a world beyond. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes that knowing God is dead is not enough: ‘given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown’ (GS-108). Even though we do not believe in gods the structures of religious thought will capture up all our endeavours for a thousand years to come. In short, the god-structure remains in an insidious form through idealism. Here we encounter the belief in the absolute in some form or other, once again, one created by humankind; and once again, an invisible desire. Structures found in secular society. Structures that capture up both the herd in belief, and those who appear as higher beings to themselves and others. Zarathustra says: ‘All too well I know those who are God-similar: they want to be believed in’. This is just the move Lennon makes: ‘I don't believe in magic… I-ching… Bible… Tarot… Hitler… Jesus… Kennedy… Buddha… Mantra… Gita… Yoga… Kings… Elvis… Zimmerman [Dylan]…’ and – of course – ‘Beatles’.

Perhaps the answer appears to believe in nothing: nihilism. In the wake of the death of god, we should believe in nothing. Given the indifference of the universe to us, little specks of dust floating for a moment in the cosmos, we encounter a loss of meaning. But nihilism simply accepts the teaching of a world behind without the perfect world to come. In all these things, it is a weariness of the body which has lost its will to accept and affirm life, a will that is ‘poor and ignorant’, and causes the human to want ‘to attain the ultimate in a single leap, in a leap of death’. Lennon concludes the song, accordingly, with a new belief: ‘I just believe in me... Yoko and me / and that’s reality’. Yet such a belief – Lennon confesses – is the result of a period of convalescence. Once he may have believed in Gods and idols, but now ‘the dream is over’, and he realises he himself constructed such idols: ‘I was the Dreamweaver / But now I'm reborn’, and these idols included himself: ‘I was the Walrus / But now I'm John’.

‘Gentle is Zarathustra with the sick… may they become convalescents’. This is the path Zarathustra has taken, and a difficult, almost impossible one, to negotiate. A path Lennon has taken. Yeah – don’t believe in Lennon. Zarathustra himself has already pronounced such a proscription (Prologue 9) and will so again (I.22.3). Rather, ‘Listen… to the voice of the healthy body… it talks the sense of the earth’. Listen to the delusion of your own immanence.

First Part: Chapter 4 - Iggy Pop

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