Yet unlike Matthew Arnold, who saw the faith of the age retreating like an ocean current and was terrified by it, Nietzsche in a sense welcomes the abyss. He is, as he puts it, an “immoralist.” In his view, the abyss enables us for the first time to escape guilt. It vanquishes the dragon of obligation. It enables us to live “beyond good and evil.” Morality is no longer given to us from above; it now becomes something that we devise for ourselves. Morality requires a comprehensive remaking, what Nietzsche terms a “transvaluation.” The old codes of “thou shalt not” are now replaced by “I will.”

Therefore, in Nietzsche’s scheme it is not strictly accurate to say that God has died. Rather, man has killed God in order to win for himself the freedom to make his own morality. And the morality that Nietzsche celebrates is the morality of striving and self-assertion, “the deification of passion,” “splendid animality,” or in Nietzsche’s famous phrase, “the will to power.” Any goal, even one that imposes massive hardship or suffering on the human race, is legitimate if we pursue it with energy, resolution, and commitment.

There is a recklessness and savagery in Nietzsche’s rhetoric that thrills the heart of many modern atheists. We see it in the French existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre, who used Nietzsche as their foundation for a philosophy based on moral freedom. I also hear aNietzschean strain in Christopher Hitchens when he protests against the moral supervision of God, whom he portrays as a jealous tyrant. But most contemporary atheists—Hitchens included—aren’t willing to go as far as Nietzsche does in reviling the traditional norms of pity and Christian charity. Their rebellion is more confined. It is, one may say, a pelvic revolt against God.