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The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 54): Friedrich Nietzsche–The Philosopher of the Hammer

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 54): Friedrich Nietzsche–The Philosopher of the Hammer

Deism, Enlightenment thought, the influence of the industrial revolution, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx…with a little bit of Darwin thrown in—with all this going on in the 19th century, onto the world stage stepped Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was to 19th century European thought what the atomic bomb was to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the thing one must realize about Nietzsche was that he was the only thinker in 19th century Europe who had the guts to push the “Christianitzed-Enlightenment-Deistic Worldview” to its logical conclusions. Or more properly, Nietzsche took the watered-down brand of 19th century liberal-theology Christianity that was more akin to deism than it was to historical Christianity, and he crucified it, completely.

Now, I’ve already written a number of posts on Nietzsche, so allow me to reference them here, and invite you to read a little more of the details and nuances about Nietzsche’s philosophy, particularly how it relates to biblical Christianity.

19th Century Liberal Theology: Keep the Morality, Lose the History
By the mid-to-late 19th century, the European outlook regarding religion was this: “Well, if there’s one thing the French Revolution taught us, it’s this—we can’t completely do away with religion! If we do so, we’ll end up with the guillotine and the Reign of Terror.”

Enter modern 19th century liberal theology. It basically said, “Let’s all agree that hardly anything in the Bible—at least the miraculous stuff—ever really happened. After all, we’re influenced by deism, and the deistic worldview acknowledges there’s a God, but rejects the idea he interacts with the world—it’s just the laws of nature that guide us, with no help from God. And so, since our presupposition is that God doesn’t interact with the world, and that the world is run by the laws of nature, it goes without saying that miracles do not and cannot happen—for that would entail (a) God intervening into human affairs, and (b) the laws of nature being broken….

“BUT…since we would like to stay living in a moral and stable society, we’ll agree that although the historical claims and the miracle stories in the Bible didn’t really happen (at least in any supernaturally-influenced way), the moral lessons in the Bible are very good and should be followed! It’s the Good Book! We’ll honor its moral teachings, but we’ll agree that science and our advances in philosophical thought has proven that none of that biblical stuff really happened in the way the Bible claims it did!

And there you have 19th century liberal theology in a nutshell: the Bible is good for its moral teachings (after all, it reflects Enlightenment thinking of natural religion: “We hold these truths to be self-evident”—sound familiar?), but otherwise, it is pretty useless when it comes to finding out about actual history, or what Jesus really did. A perfect example of this mentality can be seen in Thomas Jefferson’s Bible. He cut out all the miraculous stories, and was left with just the wisdom and moral teachings of Jesus. For the most of the 19th century, nominal European Christians were all too happy to adopt this view: Jesus, the nice, moral teacher…but miracles? Ehhh….

Nietzsche, the Big, Bad Dionysian Ubermensch
Then along came Friedrich Nietzsche, a man who made it his life’s goal to completely annihilate such a worldview. He called himself “the philosopher of the hammer”—and he proceeded to smash every vestige of 19th century Christianity (or moralistic deistic-thought) he could find. As Andrew Hoeffecker states, “Nietzsche foreshadowed the postmodern tradition that effectively eradicated the easy confidence in human nature and in rationality that was trumpeted by his Enlightenment predecessors” (Revolutions in Worldview, 301).

Simply put, Nietzsche’s message was this: Enlightenment thinkers have essentially killed God by denying he has any interaction with human kind, but they are too weak and scared to actually live out those implications.

And those implications are huge, especially when it comes to morality. For Nietzsche made it clear: if there is no God, then moral law is a fiction; moral absolutes do not exist; morality is completely arbitrary. Or to put it in Platonic/Aristotelian terms: without universals, then the particulars have no inherent, fixed meaning.

Yet most people, Nietzsche said, are simply too afraid to admit this, and therefore, they fall back on unsubstantiated truth claims about morality. Most people simply are too afraid to live out the implications of their worldview. In his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche essentially laid out the two fundamentally opposed worldviews in the world: (1) The Logic of Reason, as exemplified in the Greek god Apollo, who wishes to bring order and balance, and (2) The Logic of Life, as exemplified by the Greek god Dionysius, who celebrates life to excess, and damn the consequences.

For Nietzsche, it was Dionysius all the way. He insisted that it was up to human beings to create their own meaning, regardless of what others might say. After all, all truth is relative, so be Dionysius-like, and live out the truth as you see fit. Put yourself and your wants and desires first; refuse to be a slave to anyone; exercise your will to power, and be the Ubermensch (Superman) who makes and lives out his own morality, despite the inherent chaos of life.

Nietzsche’s Hatred of Christianity
Not surprisingly, Nietzsche hated Christianity—at least the 19th century brand of liberal/deistic Christianity. He saw Christianity as slave morality; he saw Christianity emphasizing meekness, humility, and love of neighbor, when people should be living boldly, reaching for their greatness, and loving themselves first and foremost. For Nietzsche, if one was to become great, one had to reject all things Christian, and become a true atheist—not one who claimed not to believe in God, but then clung to some idea of moral absolutes or truth. A true atheist not only rejected the idea of God, but also the idea of absolute truth and morality. And a true atheist had the guts to live such convictions out.

…and as far as Nietzsche could tell, there weren’t too many of those around.

Conclusion
Like I said, I wrote six posts on Nietzsche’s philosophy, and how it (surprisingly) relates to actual Christianity. I invite you to read them. I personally find Nietzsche fascinating—I don’t there has ever been a thinker who has been more right and more wrong at the very same time. But if you want to begin to really understand our society today, you have to get a grasp of Nietzsche. If nothing else, he has some amazing quotes…

Nietzsche ended up going insane. He had contracted syphilis, as a result of his many sexual encounters, suffered a mental breakdown in 1889, and then a number of strokes in 1899. In his insanity, he would just repeat over and over again, “I am dead because I am stupid…I am stupid because I am dead.” And when he died, he was hallucinating that he was Jesus Christ.

As fascinating as Nietzsche is, his deterioration, insanity, and death, I believe, foreshadow much of the madness in our postmodern world today. Indeed, Nietzsche was somewhat of a prophet in that regard. Unlike anyone else at the time, Nietzsche was able to see into the future what ultimate implications for 19th century Enlightenment thinking were going to be.

Why Nietzsche is Good for Modern Day Christianity

Why Nietzsche is Good for Modern Day Christianity

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Ultimately, Friedrich Nietzsche is an iconoclast, someone who longs to smash even the most sacred idols of a culture. That is a sentiment that every true Christian should embrace and practice. Now, it is true that Nietzsche felt that Christianity involved possibly the worst kind of idolatry, the idolatry of the will to truth; but if Christians are honest with themselves, they will admit that sometimes we have made idols of our neat little theological categories and “truths” that just explain everything. As my former professor Gordon Fee used to say, “Evangelical Christians have made an idol out of their theology.”

Indeed, I think modern day Evangelical Christians have unknowingly imbibed the arrogant yet false certainty of the Enlightenment worldview. Just as Enlightenment thinkers found themselves actually slaves to the claim that “science and reason has explained everything,” many Christians today have become enslaved to slogans like, “The Bible gives us answers to everything! It’s all there!” Ironically, that kind of “certainty” is unbiblical and completely out of step with Church Tradition. Claiming mental adherence to a series of theological statements or Enlightenment claims is exactly what Nietzsche derided as a slave morality and the will to truth. Therefore, Nietzsche’s challenge to Christians, as Lucy Huskinson says, is this: “It is not enough to express one’s allegiance to the Christian faith; one must embody it and continually test one’s faith to determine whether it is necessary and genuine, or habitual and idolatrous” (84).

One of the most frustrating stereotypes (and unfortunately a true criticism) of Christians is that they are too afraid and defensive when anyone questions their faith. Chosen ignorance is seen as a virtue. I remember my Bible teacher in high school one time actually warning us students from having an open mind: “Like I’ve always said, if you have an open mind, the devil can jump right in!” I also remember a certain Baptist pastor who often spoke in chapel at a Christian school at which I worked start every single one of his chapel talks with something like, “Now y’all, I’m not a smart man…but I love Jesus and I trust the Bible!” It was as if he was actually taking pride in the fact that he was ignorant. The impression I got in high school, and those students got in chapel was that “thinking” was dangerous, so avoid it…just love Jesus.

I never got that kind of mentality. If one’s faith cannot withstand to honest questioning and doubt, then it is a faith in some sort of blind, deaf, stupid idol, and it deserves to be mocked, ridiculed, and destroyed. Does that sound harsh? Tough, deal with it. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life about following Christ, it is this: Christ is no fluffy bunny and the Christian life is not easy. It’s not enough to love God with your whole heart. It takes all your mind as well.

Nietzsche would agree. As Huskinson says, “Life, Nietzsche argues, is not this simple or cheap! Indeed, such an approach to Christianity has, he claims, brought about ‘the euthanasia of Christianity’ (D 92). A genuine faith is one embodied in struggle and hardship, in which question s must be asked but no definitive answer is expected or sought” (84). Think about that phrase, “the euthanasia of Christianity.” When statistics show that upwards of 75% of students who have gone to Christian schools end up walking away from the Christian faith by the time they graduate from college, if that doesn’t speak of the euthanasia of Christianity, I don’t know what does. But that’s the thing—it’s not the euthanasia of Christianity; it’s the euthanasia of the idolatrous, slave-mentality, will to truth religious parasite that has sucked the life out of many churches in America today. And when the life is sucked out, it becomes almost impossible to truly live within this difficult and chaotic world that God has made.

The “answer” that Christianity gives is not some nice and tidy explanation of God, or some promise of leisurely bliss as long as you say the “sinner’s prayer.” The answer that Christianity gives is the very thing that Nietzsche yearned for, but missed because he mistook the 19th Century idolatrous notion of Christian etiquette for the historic Church Tradition and practice.

The Christian answer is one that empowers one to walk on the waters of chaos, to reel in Leviathan, to bathe in rivers of truth, to run and not be weary, to mount up on wings like eagle’s, and to paint the new creation on the canvas of the old, to where it seeps into every crack and crevice, and Christ is all in all, and we are one with him. That is not some “truth” to which you merely give mental adherence; it is not something to check off with our intellect. It is something to be lived and struggled for…and it involves death and resurrection every day. Any Christian who fails to take hold of his suffering and offer it as a living, daily sacrifice is someone who is a weak slave to that suffering, for that suffering is sacrificing him, and not the other way around.

Suffering and death are part of this creation…they are inevitable. How we react to them will determine whether or not we truly live. As Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh said, “People who are afraid of death are afraid of life. It is impossible not to be afraid of life with all its complexity and dangers if one is afraid of death. If we are afraid of death we will never be prepared to take ultimate risks; we will spend our life in a cowardly, careful and timid manner.” I think Nietzsche would have agreed, and perhaps he would have been attracted to the Orthodox Church Tradition in which it was said.

What this all comes down to is an understanding of what faith truly is. The kind of “faith” that Nietzsche condemned is a weak, idolatrous and slavish thing. It is afraid of suffering, questioning, and death. But as Church Tradition has proclaimed for the past 2,000 years, true faith embraces doubt and questioning, suffering and death—for it knows that is the only—the ONLY—path to resurrection and new creation. As Bishop Kallistos Ware has said, when talking about the death of faith, it is a “…loss of our root certainties (or seeming certainties) about God and the meaning of existence. But this too is a death-life experience through which we have to pass if our faith is to become mature. True faith is a constant dialogue with doubt, for God is incomparably greater than all our preconceptions about Him; our mental concepts are idols that need to be shattered. So as to be fully alive, our faith needs to continually die.”

Such is the Christian walk of faith. If Nietzsche can be used to shatter the idolatrous shackles that keep us from walking that Christian walk of faith, then God bless Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche’s “Ubermensch” vs. Jesus Christ

Nietzsche’s “Ubermensch” vs. Jesus Christ

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As we saw in the last post, Nietzsche had declared that the Enlightenment culture of Europe had essentially “killed” God, even though it had not yet realized it.  The question for Nietzsche thus became, “After the supposed ‘death of God,’ what was to emerge in the post-Enlightenment culture that Nietzsche envisioned?

The Ubermensch

Nietzsche’s answer was the Ubermensch—or “Superman.” Now, the Nazis took this idea of an Ubermensch and ran with it in terms a racially and genetically perfected race of Germanic people. But for Nietzsche, the Ubermensch embodied the “higher culture” that would be brought about by the will to power and would live out the master morality that lived life to its fullest, most creative extent. For Nietzsche, one must put one’s faith in himself, in the here and now, and not in some transcendent God who dictated his rules from afar and then showed supposed compassion for the slaves who couldn’t quite keep all those rules.

The only kind of God that Nietzsche felt was worthy of divinity and our worship was “…a noble God, a God who affirms our humanity and the instability of life” (Huskinson 55). For Nietzsche, the only true God would be one who “…embodies the will to power, and the capacity continually to create, destroy and recreate values in parallel to the ebb and flow of life” (Huskinson 55), or as Nietzsche had Zarathustra say, “I should believe only in a God who knows how to dance.”

I find it interesting to note that C.S. Lewis, when describing the very life of the Trinity and his relationship to his creation, explained in Mere Christianity that very relational life as a dance. He also emphasized that the various doctrines and theological statements found within Christianity are not God—they are only like maps that various Christians have recorded in the process of their own living out the life of the Trinity within their own lives. But the more I think about it, I like the idea of seeing the doctrines and dogmas of Christianity as “the dance lessons of God.” They are not static, unbending “rules” for us to blindly obey, but rather they are dances and steps that we are to learn, so we can enter into that ever-creative dance of the Trinitarian life within the Church.

But this, of course, would make no sense to Nietzsche, for he saw the doctrines and dogmas of Christianity as nothing more than the static, unbending “rules” that dictated moral behavior. And why wouldn’t he think that? That was exactly how the Enlightenment-influenced Christianity of 19th Century Europe presented Christianity—as nothing more that “Ms. Peabody’s rules for proper etiquette.” Sadly, even today, people tend to assume that Christianity is nothing more than a divinely-imposed etiquette class that really isn’t divine at all. In any case, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch was to be a supremely creative being who was able to overcome those superficially-imposed “etiquette rules” [which Nietzsche believed to embody Christianity] and work toward his own creative ends.

Three Types of People

And so, for Nietzsche, there were essentially three types of man. There is the slave, who he equated with the 19th Century Christian that believed “all we have to do is try to keep God’s rules, although we can’t, but don’t worry, he’ll show compassion on us, filthy sinners!” This sort of man, as far as Nietzsche was concerned, was a sniveling weakling who was too afraid to live his own life. And, ironically, I think Jesus would agree…for Nietzsche’s slave, although it might describe a certain perversion of the Christian faith, is not the true Christian faith.

Then there is the last man, who he equated with the 19th Century Enlightenment philosophers who convinced themselves that through science and reason they had come to complete knowledge about life and human progress. This sort of man, to me, typifies men like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris—arrogant, completely satisfied with themselves, and foolish enough to think science and human reason has given them the ultimate answers to everything.

Finally, there is the Ubermensch, who Nietzsche believed would be able to “harness the chaos of his conflicting instincts to his own creative ends” (Huskinson 60). For Nietzsche, the Ubermensch would be able to “walk on the waters of chaos,” and “dance on the edge of the abyss.” He’d never control them, for that was impossible, but he would be able to muster those chaotic forces of life to live out a truly creative life.

To this end, Nietzsche put forth the role-model of the Greek god Dionysus, who suffered in his human life and then was born back into that very life. Nietzsche rejected the crucified Christ because he felt it symbolized a “final redemption from the human condition, a delusory need for a life without suffering and a resurrection into a better life” (Huskinson 65). By contrast, Nietzsche felt that Dionysus affirmed the suffering that happens within human life. Simply put, suffering is a necessary part of human life, and to look to someone else who “dies for your sins” so that you won’t suffer is to, in fact, deny life itself.

Conclusion

And on this point, I feel Nietzsche is so close, yet so far away. Now, it is true, far too often, Christianity is presented as sort of a “Jesus died for you, so you can go to Heaven and suffer no more” type of thing. People who reduce the Christian faith to that, though, certainly have not seriously read their Bibles. Read Paul, read Peter, James, or the writings of John, and one theme runs throughout them: Christ suffered and died and rose again in order to show us the way we are to suffer and die to the world, so that we too would be resurrected. And that resurrection is not in some distant “spirit-heaven,” but in the here and now, beginning within this creation and culminating in a new and resurrected creation. Simply put, the message of Christ crucified is not one that seeks a flight from suffering and the human condition; it is one that invests meaning and redemption into that very suffering so that the human condition could be resurrected into, and with, the ultimate Ubermensch—Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow, I will wrap up my thoughts on Nietzsche by focusing precisely on how he can challenge Christians to live a more vibrant faith.

Friedrich Nietzsche: God is Dead…and We Have Killed Him!

Friedrich Nietzsche: God is Dead…and We Have Killed Him!

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Perhaps the most famous saying attributed to Nietzsche is, “God is Dead.” Sure, the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” probably comes in a close second, but most people don’t realize that comes from Nietzsche, and not Kelly Clarkson! In any case, the declaration, “God is dead” has caused many Christians to recoil in horror from Nietzsche. But when seen within the context that Nietzsche is speaking about, I think Christians can appreciate, at least to a certain degree, what Nietzsche is saying.

The Enlightenment Background to “God is Dead” 

The cultural context in which Nietzsche declared, “God is dead” was the culture of 19th Century Europe: a direct result of the flood of Enlightenment ideas that came about just a half-century earlier with the likes of Rousseau, Voltaire, and the events of the French Revolution. The Enlightenment was essentially a movement that condemned religion as irrational superstition, the Catholic Church as oppressive, and that purposefully and successfully mischaracterized the previous few centuries of European innovation and achievement as “medieval.” It was a movement that declared the ever-progressing advancement of human society which now had achieved such a high level of scientific and rational success, that it was time to cast off the shackles of superstition, religion, and of course, Christianity.

Therefore, anything good that came out in Europe precisely because of the Christian worldview—like universities, hospitals, charitable organizations, advances in orchestration and choral music, the list can go on—had to be glossed over; and anything seemingly bad that happened—be it the Crusades or the Inquisition—had to be mischaracterized and sensationalized as insane religious zealotry, and the entire time period was slandered as backwards and medieval.

And so, Enlightenment thinkers and the 19th Century philosophers that were children of the Enlightenment declared that it was time to do away with superstitious organized religion, and progress ever-forward with science and reason. But they couldn’t quite completely do away with the idea of God. Hence, we had Deism: a sort of head-nod to the idea of a creator God, but that nevertheless pushed him completely out of the picture regarding human history and involvement. Or we had the “god” of George Hegel, who equated with sort of a “grand idea” that was all of human existence, and that human existence was just the evolution of that idea until it achieved “total being.”

So the feeling in 19th Century Europe was, “Let’s get rid of religion, but let’s not quite get rid of the notion of ‘God.’ We’ll say we have ‘God-given rights,’ like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that make up what morality is, but we won’t have to bother with that ‘God’ actually revealing himself, or being actually involved in history!” (Remember, the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence? Those were Enlightenment times and Enlightenment ideals dressed up in “God language”).

Given that climate, given those nice, fuzzy, warm “God-feelings” coming from the hearth with the Enlightenment cottage, Nietzsche came along and essentially pissed in that fireplace. Yes, it’s a vulgar image, but one that is quite fitting. The famous “God is dead” quote comes from his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and the one who declares that God is dead is a madman. He says, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him! How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves?”

That is something very important to realize, for the “death of God” is not a condemnation of Christianity (although Nietzsche certain does do that elsewhere), but a condemnation of the European Enlightenment.

Nietzsche saw the Enlightenment narrative of the “inevitable progress of humanity by means of science and reason” as just another example of the will to truth that substituted the reliance on a God as the source of truth with the reliance on science and autonomous human reason as the source of all truth. He saw the Enlightenment worldview as simply “still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests…We godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from the flame [of] Christian faith” [The Gay Science 344]. It was just another crutch—therefore, when the Enlightenment philosophers “purport to know that God does not exist, they are not speaking from a more advanced perspective  than that of the madman who searches for God in vain. On the contrary, because Nietzsche maintains that to settle on the truth is to be deluded, we may assume that the madman is in fact closer to the truth because he has yet to find its source (An Introduction to Nietzsche, Huskinson 39).

Nietzsche and Nihilism…and Christianity

Simply put, for Nietzsche, life is meaningless and chaotic—any attempt to claim absolute truth, be it coming from God or from science and reason, is a futile and delusional exercise in the will to truth. This idea from Nietzsche brings us to another concept closely associated with him: nihilism. “Life is meaningless and chaotic, just accept it,” Nietzsche declares. If that statement seems to you to be pessimistic and depressing, Nietzsche says it doesn’t have to be. Given the nihilism of life, one can face it pessimistically, and just curl up and die, or optimistically. To that end, Nietzsche essentially says, “Exercise the will to power, play a part in the endless flux of life, be creative and live your life, although it will inevitably end.”  Or as Huskinson says, “After the death of God we can approach life either passively, in despair or in denial (unaware of the need for radical change), or actively, as dynamic creators continually refashioning our lives” (53).

Ironically, there is an aspect in Nietzsche’s outlook and goals that, despite his condemnation of Christianity, is actually thoroughly Christian. Christianity teaches that life is chaotic (just look at Genesis 1:1-2); Christianity teaches that human beings are slaves to the elemental things of the world; and Christianity challenges us to become united to Christ in order to mature and grow into the fullness of humanity that reigns with Christ over his creation.

To re-work Huckinson’s previous quote, we should realize that the Christian challenge is for us to be dynamic co-creators with Christ who continually reign and cultivate the New Creation that Christ as brought about. Christianity teaches that those who submit to the lordship of Christ will be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and will be able to grow into maturity in Christ—we will be able to walk on the waters of chaos, and “kick the darkness ‘till it bleeds daylight” (U2, God, Part 2). And what makes that possible? The love of Christ that has been poured out into our hearts.

The reason why the Christian message ultimately works, and why Nietzsche was ultimately wrong, is that what Nietzsche separates as the will to power and the will to truth only works as a unity within a resurrected human heart. The truth of God is not something “out there” that is imposed on us from the outside–the very notion that God is “out there” (a notion that Nietzsche ultimately takes for granted) is an unbiblical and Enlightenment/Deistic notion. The truth of God is among us, it is here. We do not need to go seeking it “out there,” for God has written it on our hearts. And we discover that truth as we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, when we give of ourselves to help others. And when we do that, we also discover that it is the Holy Spirit within us who is empowering us to do just that.

As much as Nietzsche railed against the Enlightenment certainty/delusion of absolute truth, he still nevertheless was a slave to its teaching of the autonomous human being as the measure of all things. “Make your own measure and create your own life according to your own rules,” Nietzsche basically said. But taken to its ultimate conclusion, that gets you where it got Nietzsche–loneliness and insanity. And why? Because one can’t do it alone–humanity is not just a collection of individuals trying to exercise their own will to powers. Humanity is a unity, where the individuals only have purpose, meaning, and creativity when they live in a truthful, empowered, and loving relationship with each other and the Living God who created them.

This key difference will lead us into discussing another aspect of Nietzsche’s: that of the Ubermensch—the superman.

Friedrich Nietzsche: Master Morality and Slave Morality…and Jesus

Friedrich Nietzsche: Master Morality and Slave Morality…and Jesus

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In addition to talking about the will to power and the will to truth, Nietzsche also has a lot to say about what he coins master morality and slave morality. These two terms, obviously, have a lot of overlap with the will to power and the will to truth.

Now Nietzsche sees Christianity as the epitome of slave morality—it is simply a “projection of ultimate power to provide a crutch for its impotent believers who are incapable of harnessing the power of life for themselves” (A Short Introduction to Nietzsche, 12). Simply put, it is a matter of being so afraid and impotent to take on life itself, one just projects that power on a “big daddy” in the sky whom one deludes himself into believing will make everything all right, as long as you are a “good boy,” submit, and keep the rules.

By contrast, master morality, for Nietzsche, is shaped by the will to power and finds its morality based in whether or not something is useful for “the furtherance of creativity and life” (14). Basically—if something adds to your self-worth and self-confidence, it is good; but if something hinders you or stunts your growth, it is bad.

Slave morality is just the opposite. Its basis for morality is this: if something makes you feel good about yourself, it must be bad…you need to deny yourself, bend your knee, and submit to the great “other” who will simply tell you what to do. So, what is “good” becomes nothing more than denying the good things in life that, well…make you feel good! And, as everybody knows, the person who lives his life in that way ends up being quite a pessimistic, waspish, and petty person.

Let’s face it, throughout the history of Christianity, this sort of mentality is well known, whether it is the 19th Century Victorian society in which Nietzsche lived, or the 21st Century American Evangelical society in which we find ourselves today. What is that old adage? When a young boy was asked how can we know God’s will, he answered, “If there is something that is fun to do or makes you feel good, don’t do it.”

Nietzsche is to a certain extent correct. There is a tendency within the human heart that gravitates toward being a slave and that is too afraid to truly live life. Why is that? I think it is because true freedom scares us. There’s a part of us that wants to just be told what to do, just so we can feel safe. We feel unworthy, ill-equipped, and too weak to have the courage to step out and truly live life. We are, in a very real sense, still children in our thinking. Paul says in Romans that as long as we are children in our thinking, we, for all practical purposes, are still slaves—either to the “elements of the world” or to God.

The difference, of course, is that those who are slaves to the “elements of the world” will never be able to grow up, for those “elements of the world” want to keep us as subservient slaves who cowering in fear, just so they can maintain control over us. By contrast, the whole goal of the Christian life is to “grow into maturity in Christ.” It is not to remain childish slaves. It is to grow, mature, and to eventually reign over this creation with Christ.

So where Nietzsche goes wrong is that he doesn’t seem to see that, by virtue of our own humanity, we will always have a starting position of “slave morality,” simply because we start off immature, weak, vulnerable, and gullible. That is part of the growing and creative process of life. This is the part that Nietzsche doesn’t see. He sees master morality as directly opposed to slave morality—it is an “either/or” for Nietzsche. But the Christian message is that in Christ it is ultimately a “both/and.” We are born with a childish mindset that is essentially that of slavery. The way out of that immature/slavery mindset, though, is, ironically, to submit to the source of true life and freedom—namely Christ. Paul is correct when he says that when you are a “slave to sin,” you are free from righteousness, life, and maturity, and that when you submit to God and become a “slave to righteousness,” you are freed from the slavery of sin.

But by rejecting the notion of God, particularly Christ as both God and Man, Nietzsche has attempted to argue that although we all essentially have that slave morality, we can somehow, by our own will to power, free ourselves of that sort of bondage into true freedom, so we can truly be ourselves. But what’s the problem there? If our starting point is, in fact, slave morality, then that is, in fact, who we are. Breaking out of that entails that somehow we make ourselves into something else—but what is that “something else?”

Nietzsche ultimately has no real answer to that, other than, “Whatever you want to be.” But, of course, if that is the case, if a master morality is simply defined as that which furthers life and creativity for a particular individual, then there is bound to be endless problems whenever one bumps into another individual—what if his desire for life and creativity conflicts with yours? Nietzsche’s answer is, “Whosever will to power is stronger.” But then doesn’t that become simply a power-play, and the imposition of a far more insidious slave morality on the weak, the kind of which the Nazis, in the name of Nietzsche, imposed?

Now, I have a hard time believing that Nietzsche would endorse Nazi ideology. I think the extent of Nietzsche’s talk of the will to power and master morality was simply about one talking control of one’s life and living it to the fullest. But by denying God, Nietzsche’s quest for “the good and truly creative life” opens itself up to manipulation by the powerful who, by their sheer act of will, bring death and destruction upon others.

But Nietzsche was right to reject the sort of watered-down, childishly-simplistic brand of Victorian Christianity. For it reduced the truly living, active, and creative work of Christ through the Holy Spirit to a weak moralism that did, in fact, say, “To be a good Christian means to be a ‘good boy’ who has good manners, is polite, and keeps the rules.” ….and that is a ‘gospel’ that is no Gospel at all. Jesus would reject it, Paul would reject it, and the living Tradition of the Christian faith rejects it.

The true slave of Christ is one who is empowered by the Holy Spirit to rule with Christ over His creation—and that morality is one that is reduced to basically two things: to love God and to love your neighbor. Love through sacrificial living brings life, creativity and power to reign. Anything else ends up in hatred, power-games, death, boredom, and impotence….and in Nietzsche’s case, insanity.

Friedrich Nietzsche on the Sea of Galilee

Friedrich Nietzsche on the Sea of Galilee

Nietzsche1882

In my previous post, I ended with the fact that groups like the Nazis have taken Nietzsche’s concepts and have used them to justify some very evil acts. That whole issue regarding how others have taken Nietzsche is not my concern here in this post.. I readily admit that Nietzsche’s teaching, like “the will to power,” can be taken, and has been taken, to horrible extremes—and such interpretations really are wrong. But I think that Nietzsche really wasn’t advocating mass murder. I think he was focused on how one lives one’s life: in bondage or in freedom. And on this level, I think we can see numerous similarities with Christ’s teachings and the Orthodox Christian faith.

To make my point, let me refer to four examples from the Bible: (1) the account of creation in Genesis, (2) Jesus calling to Peter to come walk on the water with him in Matthew 14:22-33, (3) Jesus’ words to Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” and (4) the often mistranslated Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

First off, what do we see at the very beginning of the Bible? Chaos—the Sea of Chaos. And what does God go about doing? Creating order out of chaos, creating dry land out of the sea, so that human beings can live and commune with Him. The chaos never completely goes away; it is always pounding against the shores of His creation, but it is held at bay. Is it too much to ask that we see Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power in this light? Furthermore, when God creates Man in His image, what does that mean, if not that we bear the image of the creator God—we are to reflect his justice, mercy, compassion, and His creativity within His creation. We are called to cultivate His creation, and thereby take part in that very creation. Part of what it means to be created in God’s image is that we do our part to bring order and beauty out of the dark chaotic abyss that continually beats against creation.

Secondly, this is what we see in Matthew 14:22-33. Jesus is walking on the water, he is treading down the Sea of Chaos, and he calls Peter out to join him. Peter begins to do just that, but soon becomes fearful and starts to sink. When Jesus catches him, he says, “O you of little faith.” The same admonition applies to us. We are called to “walk on the water” of this world of chaos, and the reason why we so often sink and fail is because we are of little faith. We too easily are frightened of the chaos and too quickly make a dash for the boat, if you will. Of course, the boat is already going down, so it’s really of no help! The boat, if you will, is similar to Nietzsche’s will to truth—it is our attempt to cling to a clear man-made definition and false security. Jesus’ call, on the other hand, is precisely what Nietzsche’s will to power is addressing: the challenge to walk on water.

Of course, no one in their own humanness can ever live out Nietzsche’s will to power. And the reason is because it is humanly impossible. Such faith can only be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Enter example #3: when Jesus talks to Nicodemus, he parallels the Holy Spirit to the blowing of the wind, and essentially says, “The Holy Spirit is going to go where he wants to go, and do what he wants to do. And just as you can’t box up the wind, you can’t box up the Holy Spirit.” But what the New Testament bears witness to is that for those who have put their faith in Christ and who have received the Holy Spirit, such a “spirit-filled, walk-on-the-water, will to power” type of life is their reality. Baby steps, to be sure…in little measured improvements day to day, but a slow, gradual acclimation to walking on the water to be sure.

And that leads us to Matthew 5:48. Instead of the word “perfect,” the Greek word telos denotes “full maturity.” Jesus is not saying that we need to achieve some sort of “standard of perfection,” as if all God is, is some Platonic “perfect form.” What Jesus is saying is that we are called to grow into full maturity, and thus be re-made into the image of God. Such a process is life-long, continual, and on-going. It takes people in an infinite number of ways, based on their backgrounds, inner make-up, and personalities. But such infinite creativity should come across as some sort of nihilistic/relativistic chaotic mess. Instead, it should be a cause of wonder and celebration. It illustrates the infinite creativity of God Himself. If we, as His image-bearers, step out in faith and follow Christ, and receive the creative and free Holy Spirit, our lives will be ones of infinite growth, development, and creativity, for we will be taken up into the very Trinitarian Life of God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is the eternal life that Christ has promised to those who love him.

And so, in an ironic way, Nietzsche has laid out the challenge to Christians that Jesus initially gave to Peter one night on the Sea of Galilee. Will we step out in faith and learn to dance on the edge of the abyss, or will we cling to our illusions of security within our rickety old tubs of a ready-made (and thus idolatrous) dogma?

Friedrich Nietzsche: The Enlightenment, Christianity, and the Philosopher of the Hammer

Friedrich Nietzsche: The Enlightenment, Christianity, and the Philosopher of the Hammer

Nietzsche1882Ever since I was in college, Friedrich Nietzsche has long fascinated me, although I’ll admit it right now: I couldn’t understand him 85% of the time. After struggling through his various works like Beyond Good and Evil, The Anti-Christ, Thus Spoke Zarathustraand The Twilight of the Idols, all I had really come away with was a handful of very insightful and insane quotes, and an odd sense in my mind that there was something really penetratingly genius in Nietzsche that somehow always slipped beyond my reach and back into the ramblings of that madman.

A few Christmases ago, I purchased a short introduction by Lucy Huskinson on the philosophy of Nietzsche, and for the first time in my life I felt like I actually “got” him…sort of. What I realized was that all of Nietzsche’s most famous, most controversial, and most influential teachings and concepts simply will stay incomprehensible to you unless you try to understand them against the backdrop of the Modern-Enlightenment-influenced 19th Century European Christianity. If that makes absolutely no sense to you, don’t worry. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explain things better over the next few posts.

Background

In the 18th Century, the Enlightenment swept through Europe. At the risk of over-simplifying things, the world seemed to be divided into two camps. First, there was the “old world,” that was characterized by monarchies, irrational superstition, and religion. Then there was the “new world,” that was characterized by democracy, reason, and science. It was around this time that the very term “medieval” was invented. It was a propaganda term that sought to denigrate the time in Europe when the Catholic Church wielded the most influence. That time was “the dark ages”—why? Because the Catholic Church was in charge! There was no learning, no advances, no logic or reason, because blind, superstitious religion snuffed out any sort of independent, rational thought!

Of course, such a characterization of Europe during that time is completely false. It is shockingly tragic to find that most people even today still think that. What does that prove? That the masters of 18th-19th century propaganda did their job well, and that 20th-21st century people—the grandchildren of the so-called “Enlightenment” are still buying it.

With the Enlightenment, there came an attack on religion in the name of reason. It was at this time that modern biblical studies was born. Hosts of biblical scholars (mostly from Germany) proceeded to attack the credibility of the Bible and the veracity of the traditional Christian faith. But what had happened in France (namely, the Reign of Terror) had no doubt scared the rest of Europe enough to put on the breaks to such violent revolution…at least a bit:

“Yes…” said the 19th century children of the 18th century Enlightenment, “…the Bible isn’t ‘true.’ Yes, the Bible isn’t reliable. Yes, the Church is outdated and wrong about its teachings about Jesus and God; BUT NO…we don’t have to discard Christian morality! Reason tells us that there probably was a God who created the world. But with all its natural laws, it works like a machine, and therefore God really isn’t needed in the created order. Therefore, there is no ‘revelation’ in the Bible. God hasn’t ‘revealed’ to us what is morally right. We can use our reason to figure that out. Indeed, science and reason and democracy will usher in a new, more enlightened, kinder, gentler religion.”

Such a view caught on like wildfire…even in major portions of the Church throughout Europe. This was the Victorian Era. The Christian religion that was accepted in society was one that preached (1) mental adherence to a handful of theological propositions, and (2) good behavior for the betterment of society. It was institutionalized liberal Christianity—and it was this trend that Nietzsche railed against.

Now Nietzsche was by no means a “secret Christian” who was merely speaking out against the 19th century neutered heresy of Christianity. When he says he hates Christianity, we should take him at his word, but we should also realize that his venom was directed at a kind of Christianity that many Christians like Soren Kierkegaard and others saw equally as abhorrent. In short, Christians today can actually learn a lot from Nietzsche. For he saw the way 19th century “quasi-Christian” Europe went about viewing reality, and prophetically pronounced judgment on its weak, hollow, and superficial worldview. Unfortunately, much of modern Christianity has unwittingly bought into the overall arching narrative of the Enlightenment, and thus feels threatened by Nietzsche’s condemnations. And perhaps it should feel threatened…for Nietzsche violently shakes things up, and anything that is not strong enough will crumble.

Will to Power/Will to Truth

One of Nietzsche’s fundamental criticisms of the modern world in general, and the modern version of Christianity in particular is that people are self-imprisoned slaves to the need to feel secure and safe. Reality is so chaotic, that most people cannot deal with it, and so “…many of us need and desire permanent structures of meaning, and that this need drives us towards projecting illusory structures on to the flux of reality in order to hide its meaningless nature” (3).

Translation? Let me put it this way: the reality of life is like a violent storm at sea, and people are clinging to leaky life rafts, all the while trying to convince themselves that the leaky life raft isn’t really a life raft at all, but rather an impenetrable ocean-liner. Why? Because it makes them feel better to believe that there is security and structure to life, than to own up to the fact that life is a chaotic mess. This kind of thinking is what Nietzsche calls the will to truth. It is a way of life that clings to the illusion of certainty: instead of having the courage to own up to the fact that you’re clinging to a leaky life raft, you have “gone to your happy place” on that fake ocean-liner in your head, and you have convinced yourself that that ocean-liner is really going to one day cross the sea and get to an even more fixed destination, if only you really believe it to be so.

Now, let’s say you really were in a life boat with a group of other people at sea, and there were a couple of people who “had gone to their happy place”—in reality, of what value would they be to the rest of the people in the boat? Probably not much. In fact, they might actually be a hindrance. If they are so convinced that their “truth illusion” is certain, they might end up trying to prevent anyone from actually navigating the life raft through the chaotic sea.

Such is what Nietzsche calls the will to truth. Not only does it not fully acknowledge the reality of the chaos of life, but it ultimately claims that the “truth” about life itself comes from a place outside of that very life—hence, it is the illusion of a weak person who can’t take on reality. And it is dangerous because that weak person attempts to impose his illusion of a ready-made “truth” on others, regardless of the reality of the circumstances of life.

In contrast to the will to truth, Nietzsche argues for the need of the will to power. Hutchinson defines it this way: “Will to Power seeks to enable the tension and creative dialogue between opposites, ‘like wrestlers of whom sometimes the one, sometimes the other, is on top,’ so that a multitude of perspectives and values are sought and played off against each other, which, in turn, inspires further ideas and values” (4).

Translation? Life is chaotic, multi-perspectival, and in a constant state of struggle. It is, if you will, an on-going wrestling match. And therefore, there really is no such thing as “fixed/absolute truth.” The truth of something depends on the situation. For instance, the “truth” regarding shooting a man because he looked at you funny and shooting a man who has broken into your house and is making a bee-line you’re your children’s room with a machete obviously depends on the situation. In the first instance, we understand that act to be immoral and wrong, whereas in the second instance, we understand it to actually be a moral act, because you are defending the lives of your children. And it is the various situations within human existence that actually force us to play such “truths” off each other, in order to get a better understanding of reality.

For Nietzsche, the essential difference between the will to power and the will to truth is this: although the will to power challenges us to embrace the uncertainty and chaos that is life, it also proclaims, “The door to infinite possibility and fullness of life is open!” The will to truth, on the other hand, not only denies that life is chaotic, it hands out a ready-made “cheat sheet” of all the answers you need in life! But then, if all the “answers are there,” what is the point of living your life? As Hutchinson states, “To be strong and powerful…is not to dominate life but to master our response to the strife that life presents. It is to create out of chaos and…even to dance on the edge of the abyss. By contrast, the will to  truth is weak precisely because it seeks to dominate and control life by imposing structure and purpose upon it” (9).

Simply put, will to power is the power of creation, development, and what Nietzsche calls, “great health,” whereas will to truth is delusion, nothingness, and ultimately living death. The value of life is in the living of it, not in the acceptance of a ready-made definition as to what it should be.

Now, it is historically true that many of Nietzsche’s key concepts were taken by Hitler and the Nazis and twisted to suit their own fascist ends. Admittedly, Nietzsche was so cryptic and all over the map, that it is easy to see how one could take his teaching to justify atrocities and mass killing. In fact, in his novel, Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky’s main character, Raskolnikov, attempts to live out this “will to power” and become a Nietzschean “superman” by rising above society’s “ready-made morality” and he ends up killing an old woman at the beginning of the novel. Throughout the entire novel, though, Raskolnikov is haunted by his conscience—he realizes that murder really is wrong, and that one cannot simply make up one’s own morality.

Come back tomorrow to see me take Nietzsche walking on the Sea of Galilee.

    

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