In my previous post on Nietzsche, I began to address the German philosopher’s argument that “God is dead,” especially as it relates to Christianity and Christianity’s relationship to truth, distilled from The Gay Science. Here I want to address his second, more powerful argument against Christianity on the grounds that it is a “religion of pity,” and that in this way, it erodes man’s strengths and encourages his weaknesses, making it anti-human, and anti-life.
My summary of his arguments from The Antichrist, where these ideas are most fully developed, can be found here (the full text of The Antichrist itself here), but for brevity’s sake, I will include the full text of my summary, in its already shortened form:
Nietzsche begins, as all philosophers ought to, with definitions.
Good: “Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man.”
Evil: “Whatever springs from weakness.”
Happiness: “The feeling of power increasing, and the overcoming of resistance.”
He later goes on to define Corruption in an animal, species, or individual as when it “loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers, what is injurious to it.”
To understand this odd definition of evil, we can look to previous works by Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, Genealogy of Morals) wherein he differentiates “master moralities” from “slave moralities.” Masters–those who rule themselves–have no need for the term “evil.” They have only “good and bad.” “Evil,” as a word differentiated from “bad,” only makes sense as a philosophical hammer used by the weak against the strong.
The history of this concept of “evil,” as opposed to “bad,” begins with the Jews. The Jews are arguably the most interesting race in human history. They have been persecuted, hunted, and oppressed for longer and more vigorously than any other peoples, and have emerged more resilient for it. But the resilience has taken a peculiar form… they are not the strongest, the most skilled warriors, nor the toughest, but have instead developed an unprecedented verbal intelligence.
Nietzsche notes that the Jews, facing this historically difficult question “to be or not to be,” decided that their answer would be “to be at any price.” And the price they paid was high indeed; their soul as a nation, one could say.
Prior to Christianity, religions were matters of tribal ownership. Clans and cities and nations did not believe “only our gods exist” per se, but “our gods are our gods; we serve them, and they serve us.” The religion was fundamentally a national, and not an ideological matter.
The Jews sacrificed this and made Jehova a god for everyone. In the face of Roman persecution and oppression, out arose a universal God which put to use all of the verbal intelligence–manipulative intelligence–which turned “bad” into “evil.” This faith was Christianity.
For slaves, what is “bad” is “the master,” and so the ultimate theological weapon would be a system of morality that makes “evil” (bad to God? it will do) what is “good” for the master–increase in power.
Christianity is, at root, a religion of pity. It is by pity that God saves us (a condescending “love” expressed in pity), and it is pity that God expects of us towards others. Jesus upon the cross, even, is a sight of pity. The beatitudes are an exaltation of the “virtues” of all that is pitiable, and it is by accepting the pity of God and of others that we are made “holy.” Weakness is strength, and strength is weakness in the eyes of the Lord.
“A man loses power when he pities,” says Nietzsche. It is a vicarious, empathetic opening of oneself to the contagion of weakness, and an uplifting of what is weak while condemning what is strong, vital, admirable, and pro-life. Pity, in short, a denial and a corruption of human life. The theological justification of this is an inversion of values; that which is real does not matter; it is the hereafter that truly counts. The illusion, Heaven, is real, and the reality–this temporal world–is an illusion. The very nature of God as a spirit, rather than as a sort of man living in the world, confirms this.
But the reason that increase in power is good for the master is the same reason that it is good for humanity. Within it lies all the noble virtues–and the genetics for them–of life, that inspire strength, joy, fertility, and the continuation of life in human kind. When the will to power declines, there is a physiological decline which accompanies it. A condemnation of the will to power in man is a condemnation of mankind to corruption, the perversion of the instinct against the joy, strength, and continuation of life. This is not merely in the culture, but in the very coding of man. It’s manifestation is most pure in the priestly class: decrepit, weak, prone to illness, monotony and decay.
This tendency of corruption from Christianity not only corrupts the individual, but the will of nations, and not merely in sense of the embodied collection of individuals. “A nation that still believes in itself holds fast to its own God.” It may follow that for those who no longer believe in their nation, the time has come to seek out new gods
The God of all and none is as antithetical to the will to power of nations as it is to the individual, and for the same reason: the desire for self-annihilation in the greater whole. In other words, corruption.
Buddhism is nihilistic like Christianity, but is interesting because it has the merit of being true. Moreover, it does what it claims to do, which is to provide happiness and that sense of ignorant bliss to its’ proponents. It is superficially similar to Christianity, but remains in the land of the real, for instance, replacing a “struggle with sin” with a “struggle against suffering.” Like Christianity, Buddhism is corrupt in its pursuit of escape from suffering, from life, but it is at least honest, and this comes from the fact that it does not come from slaves, but from the bored.
The general pursuit of the teachings of Jesus by himself make far more sense when viewed in light of Buddhism, as a pursuit of happiness in the here and now. “Think not of the morrow” refers not to heaven, which the power-seeking manipulator Paul clumsily adds to the doctrines of Jesus for all the reasons described, but to now. Dying on the cross makes more sense as a demonstration, that the “kingdom of heaven”–Nirvana, happiness, disconnection from suffering–can be had anywhere, than it does as a sacrifice by God, of God, to God, on behalf of people made in the very image of… God.
The cumulative result of this theological, ideological weapon is a weakening of man. It instills an aversion to what is real in favor of preference for what is “to come”–what is unreal. An instinctual hatred of reality. Guilt, pity, gullibility, weakness, poverty, illness, dishonesty, resentment, and death are the virtues of Christianity.
One need not believe this was a Jewish conspiracy, but merely a convergence of interests. This pattern has continued since, wherein Jews have collectively and prominently advocated for an end to tribalism for all but themselves; open borders for all but themselves; multiculturalism for all but themselves; Communism, for all but themselves. A weakening of everyone… everyone but themselves. One cannot fault them for taking advantage of the gifts that history and biology have given them–the gift of gab greater than the Irish ever dreamed of. If anything, it is cause for both admiration and emulation. But it is also reason enough to be wary of them, especially of their ideas, philosophies, and theologies, especially the ones they themselves do not emulate. Notice that the God of Israel is not merely tribal, but geographic and ethnic.
In short, Christianity is the product of slave-morality re-sentiment–resentment. It is a Greek Gift of the servant to the master, a slow poison destroying the soul and the body of those who drink it… slow enough to take generations to feel its’ full effect. In this way, the spread of Christianity marks not the success of man via Christianity, but the success of Christianity via man, which is to say, the success of a runaway attitude originating in the desperation of slaves backed up against the wall of extinction. Think of the races that have taken up Christianity; there was success–political and military, yes–for they ran under the alliance of a universal God. But what happened to the people as that God of all and none took it’s toll? What of the heroes and conquests of the men of old? What of those once great and glorious countries now? Greece? Rome? The “Holy Roman Empire?” What of Germany, England, and Spain? What of France, the nation once known as the home of the greatest warriors in the world, now–having internalized the inverted values of Christianity–a military joke? America is going the way of it’s Etruscan predecessor. Who are the new rising nations? Russia and China, who have lived in horrendous pain, but without Christianity for nearly 70 years. Eastern Europe, the same.
This runaway attitude has taken a life of its’ own in faith, and the sophistry of the Jews, born of dire need and circumstance, has taken on flesh in the form of an idea beyond their control. This idea, Christianity, perverts the natural values into their opposites, and is anti-truth, anti-health, anti-strength, anti-nation, and ultimately anti-life. Because it cuts off what is good, and replicates all that is properly evil, it is a corruption of mankind, a weakening of the spirit and of the flesh.
Christianity is, in the purest sense, evil.
Rather than attempting to address this very powerful criticism directly, I will rather bring up another criticism of Christianity, one generally held to be the most powerful philosophical criticism of the faith–the problem of evil:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”
The formulation of Epicurus is an early version of what philosophers call the Logical Problem of Evil, which is that an all-loving, all-powerful creative force logically does not leave room for evil, and yet evil exists. The “logical” prefix is to distinguish it from the Evidential Problem of Evil, which understands the ordinary theological defense against the logical problem of evil–that in the full scope of time, it can be hard to distinguish between what is good or evil, and further, that the devil also acts in the world. The evidentialist, however, argues that the amount and intensity of the suffering, with no discernible benefit, is an argument against the existence of the sort of God that Christians believe in. What good could possibly come of the 250,000 men, women, and children who died in the 2004 tsunami in South East Asia? What good can anyone see in that, from any future time-perspective, that could possibly outweigh the harm and suffering? I could imaginably argue that the death of 4-6 million Jews, Gypsies, Gays, and various invalids in Nazi concentration camps teaches us a hard, hard lesson about allowing authoritarian dictators too much power, a lesson which might prevent further loss of life on an even larger scale in the future. But this is only necessary because stopping such movements of the dictatorial heart are not preventable by God without challenging free will. Stopping a tectonic shift doesn’t involve such a dilemma. Why not prevent such a catastrophic event, and the immeasurable suffering it induced? Even if the likes of Pat Robertson are correct, and these natural disasters are punishments from God for our sins, is killing hundreds of thousands of innocent (or at least no more guilty) humans indiscriminately a way, let alone the best way, to say that? The existence of the problem of evil itself tells us that such attempts at heavenly communication are counterproductive.
In its most common emotional form, this argument makes the anthropomorphic mistake I addressed in the previous Nietzsche post, namely in viewing God as a kind of being in the world, rather than as the ground for being itself. But there is a deeper interpretation of the argument that gets does not fall into the anthropomorphic trap, of identifying the occasional failure of steadfast nature of the values and principles that constitute living with God. It is this kind of thought that might have crept into Job’s head, as his friends tell him–like Pat Robertson–that because God allowed him to be punished, he must not have been righteous.
To answer these two criticisms–The Problem of Evil, and the Problem of Pity–let us begin with John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
The word “word” in its original translation was actually λόγος, “logos,” the same logos as was used in classical Greek drama and philosophy to refer to meaning, logic, or discernability. Words are the metaphors, analogs, and handles for objects and concepts that allow us to understand them. And so, in the beginning was discernability, the ability to comprehend, which was God.
As far as mythological metaphors go, consider the corroborating account in Genesis:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
To this day, sunlight and darkness are common analogies for “openness” or “understanding” and “opacity,” “secrecy,” or “incomprehensibility,” respectively.
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
-Justice Louis D. Brandeis
Knowledge and discernability are beyond being merely “good;” they are the foundations for happiness, for stability, and–to return to Nietzsche–for power. Conversely, the opposite of stability, harmony, and knowledge in classical mythology is Chaos. Understanding the nature of things requires stability of their form, and sometimes, the inertia of these stable objects can cause catastrophic damage and suffering, as a result of our ignorance of their nature, or our indifference to it.
Consider, again, the 2004 tsunami in South East Asia. The tsunami was caused by an earthquake, which in turn was caused by the movement of tectonic plates. The position that the advocate of the problem of evil must make is either that a loving and personal God ought to have manifested in the world and intervened, or ought to have created a world without things like tsunamis in them… or bears, tigers, and African sleeping sickness.
Intervention necessarily means the suspension of the logos in the world.
It can sound callous to the victims of any one disaster, let alone to a righteous victim suffering the work of the devil–of the world–from no sin or fault of his own. But the cost of intervention on every single possible tragedy that could unjustly befall a thinking person is absolute and total, whereas the cost of our own ignorance, our misunderstandings, our mistakes, and our failure to adequately plan for such catastrophes, however horrific they may be, are finite. In order to prevent an unjust tragedy of the more ordinary kind, such as a kind and loving human being run over by a drunk driver, God would have to intervene so regularly in the workings of the universe that there would be no discernible, stable, understandable universe for us to understand and learn to live within.
The desire latent within the Problem of Evil complaint is for a helicopter parent God, who never lets their child experience the risk and suffering necessary to learn. It is hard to imagine how a tsunami killing 250,000 people could be called a “learning opportunity,” but this is to conflate the God’s intent with the consequences of God placing us in the type of environment necessary for learning to be possible. Tectonic plates move, water displaces, and waves form in proportion to the displacement. This is a fact we’ve known for a very long time. It is no more God’s fault that the earth continues to move as it has for 4 billion years than it is anyone else’s.
Let us return now to Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity’s tendency towards pity:
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
“Poor in spirit,” “they that mourn,” the “meek,” the unjustly treated, “the merciful,” the persecuted, the reviled… the sermon on the mount does not sound like a veneration of the more noble virtues Nietzsche speaks of, those with a joyous freedom of mind who love life, and do not hold on to ressentiment, as those who are always waiting and calculating their moral stature do. Worse still, Jesus says:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.”
But consider that Nietzsche, in his appreciation of the necessity for suffering, wrote this for his followers:
To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.
-Nietzsche, The Will to Power
This is not spite, not malice, but genuine good wishes, with an understanding of the necessity of suffering for the benefits of a life well-lived–that is to say, of a life full of growth in one’s own power and knowledge–to be possible. This is the man, after all, who coined the phrase “what does not kill me makes me stronger.”
Upon rereading the introductory passages to the sermon on the mount, is there really much difference in description between the follower of Jesus and the disciple of Nietzsche, from the wishes of each teacher? And is there a difference between Jesus’s declaration to his disciples not to resist evil, but to conform to it’s strikes like water, and Nietzsche’s own emphasis on the degrading, corrosive effect of ressentiment, the originating emotion behind slave moralities? Here, at least, there appears to be a discrepancy, but only in emphasis for the sake of speaking to their respective audiences.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Far from a being a passage opposed to violence per se, what Jesus is trying to convey is exactly what Nietzsche attempted to capture in the dangers of ressentiment. He is, in fact, both displaying the force of nature quality of God, while simultaneously advocating humans emulate this quality in their own lives, exactly as Nietzsche did.
A modern, illustrative example of this concept was put on display when Joseph Campbell spoke with Bill Moyers on the Power of Myth:
I will participate in the game. It’s a wonderful, wonderful opera, except that it hurts. And that wonderful Irish saying, you know, “Is this a private fight, or can anybody get into it?” This is the way life is, and the hero is the one who can participate in it decently, in the way of nature, not in the way of personal rancor, revenge or anything of the kind.
Let me tell you one story here, of a samurai warrior, a Japanese warrior, who had the duty to avenge the murder of his overlord. And he actually, after some time, found and cornered the man who had murdered his overlord. And he was about to deal with him with his samurai sword, when this man in the corner, in the passion of terror, spat in his face. And the samurai sheathed the sword and walked away. Why did he do that?
Because he was made angry, and if he had killed that man then, it would have a personal act, of another kind of act, that’s not what he had come to do.
This leads us to one final problem: if Jesus and Nietzsche were so similar in their spiritual teachings, how did someone as brilliant as Nietzsche get Christianity so completely wrong?
Nietzsche was born in 1844, only 4 years before Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto. The peak period of his academic and cultural observations coincided with a rise in socialism and proletariat ressentiment that happened exactly at the same time as the atheistic leanings of the European Enlightenment were hitting the predominately medieval Russia. In reading The Antichrist, all of Nietzsche’s grandiloquent condemnations of the degenerative qualities of the values he saw in modernity read like a condemnation of communism, rather than of Christianity. But Nietzsche thought on time-scales of cultural change matched only by evolutionary biologists, and as a result, I believe he mistook the replacement of Christianity by communism for a transformation of Christianity into communism, no doubt aided by the propaganda used by Communists which, by geographic necessity, had to cater to the value biases of the Christian community they were taking root within.
More research will be required on my part to further develop this hypothesis into something worthy of publication, but sharper minds than mine have found synthesis between Nietzsche and Christianity. Pending further criticism, exploration, and refinement, I take it to be a philosophically and theologically interesting assertion to claim that Nietzsche’s philosophy of morality and pity resolves the problem of evil, and the existence of the problem of evil resolves Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity for supposedly being a degenerating religion of pity.
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