"Among 19th-century thinkers it was an uncontestable commonplace that religion's cultural centrality was a thing of the past. For Georg Hegel, following in the footsteps of the Enlightenment, religion had been surpassed by reason's superior conceptual precision. In The Essence of Christianity (1841), Ludwig Feuerbach depicted the relationship between man and divinity as a zero-sum game. In his view, the stress on godliness merely detracted from the sublimity of human ends. In one of his youthful writings, Karl Marx, Feuerbach's most influential disciple, famously dismissed religion as "the opium of the people." Its abolition, Marx believed, was a sine qua non for human betterment. Friedrich Nietzsche got to the heart of the matter by having his literary alter ego, the brooding prophet Zarathustra, brusquely declaim, "God is dead," thereby pithily summarizing what many educated Europeans were thinking but few had the courage actually to say. And who can forget Nietzsche's searing characterization of Christianity as a "slave morality," a plebeian belief system appropriate for timorous conformists but unsuited to the creation of a future race of domineering Übermenschen? True to character, the only representatives of Christianity Nietzsche saw fit to praise were those who could revel in a good auto-da-fé -- Inquisition stalwarts like Ignatius Loyola."
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