A Nietzschean Objection to Christianity

“What is it that we combat in Christianity? That it aims at destroying the strong, at breaking their spirit, at exploiting their moments of weariness and debility, at converting their proud assurance into anxiety and conscience-trouble; that it knows how to poison the noblest instincts and to infect them with disease, until their strength, their will to power, turns inwards, against themselves–until the strong perish through their excessive self-contempt and self-immolation: that gruesome way of perishing, of which Pascal is the most famous example.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, as cited in Bertrand Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy, 766.

Bertrand Russell:

“Speaking of Spinoza (Nietzsche) says: ‘How much of personal timidity and vulnerability does this masquerade of a sickly recluse betray!’ Exactly the same may be said of him, with the less reluctance since he has not hesitated to say it of Spinoza.” – 767

David counters:

Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.

The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28

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On Manliness

You’ve met a man, so you say? How dare you use that wraith of a word? Yes, the ghost of manliness still haunts us to remind us that we are its killers. Do you know what that word once meant with all its embodied virility and strength? Perhaps you meant that you met a man like Gilgamesh the great king of Uruk. Your man, has he built the walls of Uruk-Haven, opened the mountain passes, fought the bull of heaven, and carved in a stone stela all his toils? What ambition does your man have? Or perhaps, he is more like David, with his cunning and righteous honor? Does your man brave death to face those who defy the name of God? Has your man withheld his hand from smiting his most loathsome enemy merely for the sake of God’s name? Yet, perhaps, this man of yours is different entirely. Perhaps his manliness is one of wisdom and piety. Has he governed his people well and made peace like that reluctant ruler, Numa Pompilius. Has your man seen the folly of youthful strife? Has he, by his strength of character, sealed the doors of Janus’s temple, washing clean hands filthy with blood? Or rather, is he like Gaius Mucius, who realized that while war may be inevitable it is better to die and freedom to be preserved? Tell me please, what is this man like, if you choose to call him that. Or if I may be so bold to ask, is he like that man, incredibly enfleshed who gave humanity its truest vision of manhood? Would he, like Jesus, courageously face death to serve and to call men and women to a higher vision of humanity, one which sees as its highest calling the service of the glory of God? Does his passion against sin burn to the point where he could brazenly flout the insidious religious traditions which enslave mankind? Would he bear with patience the consequences of others sin? Does he love like the lamb of God? Please, tell me if your man dares even to admire these men. If so, perhaps by the grace of God, you can say you’ve met a man.

On Life

Yes, they have accused us of destroying life, rather than living. We, the mystics, they say, have rejected utterly the power of the plus in exchange for the zero. Yet, it is not we who destroy. No, we who have seen the faintest glimpses of the overworld, we who have seen out of the cave, we love life more than all others. We have not foisted the burden of original sin on anyone. The reasonable men have all uttered one final “I do not understand” as death has pressed itself on them. The reasonable men have thought to vanquish all enemies. Like great Theseus, they have chosen the highways of our land to rid us of the ferocious beasts. Yet, as they swing their clubs, they kill one only to reveal another. Then finally, like Theseus, they withdraw. Or rather, their bodies withdraw like the bodies of all reasonable men have withdrawn before them. The reasonable men pass with all their plusses utterly negated while they deny even the possibility of it. We do not rejoice at their realization. No, we lament. We do not equivocate over the bitterness of death. We utterly reject it. We will refuse to accept the setting darkness, as ones who have seen that the sun rises again in the east. So we look east with expectant eyes. Just as original sin presses itself on all of us, so also the dawning from the east presses itself on us. How can we pretend that mankind has not seen it? How can we deny the reality of it? If just one of our kind stepped from this cave and lives to tell of it, shall we not heed? No, we, the mystics as they say, hold life as our highest end. We will live and do live. We live because one of our kind lived before us.

Politics or Culture?

These are two recent articles worth considering. R.R. Reno writes “Culture Matters more than Politics”:

“These days, the ability to talk about politics in a knowing way is treated as a mark of sophistication, so much so, I think, that we’ve come tacitly to regard political analysis as the rightful domain of intelligence. If George Stephanopoulos were to make passing reference to John Milton or Henry James, the TV host would very likely treat it as a joke. But his slightest speculation about Barack Obama’s latest public statements are treated with high seriousness.

It was not always so. Far from indicating effete and irrelevant erudition, the capacity to talk about Jane Austen or T.S. Eliot or James Joyce was once seen as clear indication of a highly developed and socially relevant mind. Literature, theater, film, the visual arts—a certain acquaintance with and command of these domains made people intellectuals. For Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun and their readers, debates about novels and poetry seemed more fraught with public significance than the ins and outs of current electoral politics.”

“Nightmares about cancerous aliens made Nazi anti-Semitism seem plausible. And today it is the cultural imagination of the Islamic world—not its oil wealth or official foreign policies—that makes the region so volatile.

At the end of the day, elections don’t shape or influence our cultural imaginations. On the contrary, our imaginations influence our elections, as the naive nation builders who thought that bringing elections to Iraq would transform the country discovered, much to their dismay.”

Tim Keller responds, “Politics and Culture

“James D. Hunter has been making the same point for years, though he invokes Nietzsche, rather than Marx. In On the Geneology of Morals, Nietzsche argued that Christian moral claims– of the primacy of love, generosity, and altruism–were really just ways for the early Christians to grab power from the people who had it. Christian morality developed out of the “ressentiment” by the weak of the strong and as an effort to wrest their position from them. This view will also lead to the conclusion that politics is what life is really about.

Hunter argues that ressentiment–”a narrative of injury”–has now come to define American political discourse. Both conservatives and liberals make their sense of injury central to their identity, and therefore in each election cycle it is only the group out of power, who therefore feels the most injured and angry, who can get enough voters out to win the election. Politics is no longer about issues but about power, injury, and anger. How Nietzschean! Hunter goes farther and argues that the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and even the neo-Anabaptist (think Dobson, Wallis, Hauerwas) are “functional Nietzscheans” in the public square, either because they see politics as too all-important, or (as in the case of the neo-Anabaptists) they think wielding political power is inherently non-Christian. In each case, Hunter says, Christians are being too shaped by Nietzsche’s view that politics and power is fundamental.”

Yet he concludes,

“Reno and Hunter warn that culture matters more than politics, and I agree with them. We must reject the growing belief that power politics is what really matters. Nevertheless, Christians must not over-react. The government is one of the key institutions among others that reflect and shape the underlying beliefs that are the deepest source of public life. I recently wrote an introduction to a book, The City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner. The authors plead with Christian readers to not under-value the role of politics in culture-making, even as they acknowledge the danger of over-valuing it. It’s an important plea. James Hunter makes the intriguing case that those Christians who counsel withdrawal from politics may have as nihilistic a view of power as Nietzsche.”

[Anytime I can put these tags on a post (Politics, FriedrichNietzsche, TimKeller, Culture), you know I’ll like it.]

Remember Jonestown, Waco, etc.

picture from Bettman/Corbis (wikipedia):

I thought his photo was powerful (from Jonestown, see also Waco Siege and Greater Ministries). I’ve been thinking a lot of these types of situations. Why do cults have so much success? Where is the epistemic deficiency? What is the responsibility of Chistian ministers to fight this? What sort of “faith” is dangerous? Living in Texas has opened my eyes to how much I am in agreement (ironically) with Nietzsche about the intellectual conscience:

2. The intellectual conscience.—I keep having the same experience and keep resisting it every time. I do not want to believe it although it is palpable: the great majority of people lacks an intellectual conscience. Indeed, it has often seemed to me as if anyone calling for an intellectual conscience were as lonely in the most densely populated cities as if he were in a desert. Everybody looks at you with strange eyes and goes right on handling his scales, calling this good and that evil. Nobody even blushes when you intimate that their weights are underweight; nor do people feel outraged; they merely laugh at your doubts. I mean: the great majority of people does not consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward: the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to this “great majority.” But what is goodheartedness, refinement, or genius to me, when the person who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments and when he does not account the desire for certainty as his inmost craving and deepest distress—as that which separates the higher human beings from the lower.

Among some pious people I found a hatred of reason and was well disposed to them for that; for this at least betrayed their bad intellectual conscience. But to stand in the midst of this rerum concordia discors [discordant concord of things] and of this whole marvelous uncertainty and rich ambiguity of existence without questioning, without trembling with the craving and the rapture of such questioning, without at least hating the person who questions, perhaps even finding him faintly amusing—that is what I feel to be contemptible, and this is the feeling for which I look first in everybody. Some folly keeps persuading me that every human being has this feeling, simply because he is human. This is my type of injustice.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

A Reason Nietzsche Rejected Christianity

Mark Vance sent me this one.

“I never saw the members of my father’s church enjoying themselves.”
Quoted in Current Thoughts and Trends, June 2001, page 4.

Reminded me of this quote I cited earlier from Thus Spake Zarathustra:

And he who lives in their (the priests) neighborhood lives in the neighborhood of black pools, from out of which the toad that prophet of evil, sings its song with sweet melancholy. They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in their Redeemer: his disciples would have to look more redeemed!

Nietzsche on Suffering

If you adherents of this religion actually have the same sentiments towards yourselves which you have towards your fellows, if you are unwilling to endure your own suffering even for an hour, and continually forestall all possible misfortune, if you regard suffering and pain generally as evil, as detestable, as deserving of annihilation, and as blots on existence, well, you have then, besides your religion of compassion, yet another religion in your heart (and this perhaps the mother of the former)–the religion of smug ease. Ah, how little you know of the happiness of man, you comfortable and good-natured ones!–for happiness and misfortune are brother and sister, and twins, who grow tall together, or as with you remain small together!

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 338