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.

7 Comments

  1. I love this response to Nietzsche. There are many concepts within the Ubermensch and Christianity that can be reconciled. It’s true that all mankind is on a journey toward self-actualization, and each of us have to be able to adjust our “dance” to be in sync with life’s unpredictable changes on our own. But living with the humility to recognize our unworthiness and dependence on the Atonement of Christ is an empowering step toward this ultimate goal. The idea that Christ died on the cross for humanity is not a reason to acquiesce in our natural state, but a powerful motivation to rise above it. It’s ridiculous to believe that you have to reject everything about institutional religion in order to live authentically, because many true principles and moral values are preserved and made accessible within the framework of religion.

    1. Yes Steven, I have gotten a lot out of reading philosophers like Nietzsche, who although are vehemently anti-Christian, still make some very thoughtful and insightful observations that are, ironically, quite in line with Christianity.

      1. This is one of those things that really bothers me, because it doesn’t seem to make sense.. How can someone state principles and ideas that line up with Christianity and yet completely reject it?

        1. I think that deep within every person there is something that points (or can point) him to the truth. Most people are too wrapped up in other things to listen to that inclination; they drown it out with other “stuff.” And too often that very tendency happens within many churches. I think there are many people (Nietzsche included) that long for truth, but are so turned off by a lot of the tepidness and hypocrisy that goes on in the given church or denomination they grew up with, that they end up rejecting ALL of Christianity, based on the bad experience they had in their particular church or denomination. So why did Nietzsche reject Christianity? Because the English-brand of Christianity in the 19th century tended to be more about good manners than actually seeking truth. At least, that’s what I’ve concluded.

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