Nietzsche and Christianity

When the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche referred to himself and the Anti-Christ, he was doing more than simply using a metaphor. A slight look at his work reveals that practically his entire philosophical system was oriented against Christianity. Most of his books, but primarily The Twilight of the Idols, The Anti-Christ, The Genealogy of Morals, contain the fiercest attack that any philosopher has ever conducted against Christianity. Nietzsche attacks both Christianity as a religious system, as well as the Christian idea of God.

The Christian conception of God –God as God of the Sick, God as spider, God as spirit – is one of the most corrupt conceptions of God arrived at on earth: perhaps it even represents the low-water mark in the descending development of God type. (Nietzsche, 2003, p. 140).

And so he goes… That quote is only a minor example of the insults Nietzsche proffers against Christian values. He does not seem to repair in the fact that Christianity has disciplined the human spirit for thousands of years; that civilization, as we know it today, owes a lot to the Judeo-Christian values and believes. But, this is precisely the problem. Nietzsche does not believe that the current status of humanity, the values that sustain it, are commendable values. Since he states over and over that man is something that must be turned into something else, this is, the overman, he also believes that, as a consequence, Christianity has done anything productive for humanity, especially when it comes to encouraging man to exercise his will to power.

Nietzsche expresses his preference for Buddhism, which he calls “the only really positivistic religion history has to show us” (2003 p. 141). However, he fails to explain in what manner would Buddhism attain what Christianity has. There is no doubt that the influence of Christianity could be evidently perceived in every realm of mother society. Political and social institutions, democracy, and in general, the concept of egalitarism, in one way or the other, are a consequence of Christian values. It is one thing to be critical of the defective concepts or practice of a given system, be it political or religious, but it is a very different thing to try to crush that entire system with a rhetorical hammer, as Nietzsche attempts to do. In his desperate discourse against Christianity, his criticism at times becomes irrational.

Nietzsche’s preference for Buddhism could be explained by his personality. He highly valued individualism, which is very emphasized by the practice of Buddhism. Nietzsche considered that both Christianity and Islam are religions of the sheep and that by their very nature deny individualism or prevent the individual from reaching his inner potential. Nietzsche’s logic states that these religions turn man into a little more than an ape, who mostly imitates but is unable to act in obedience to his own will.

Let’s remind ourselves that insulting, using degrading epithets against the adversary, does not prove anything, except the fact that the one who proffers the insults does so precisely due to a lack of valid arguments. And this is exactly what Nietzsche does when the few valid points he has made against Christianity have exhausted. Let’s pay attention to this.

Christianity also stands in opposition to all intellectual well-costitutedness – it  can use only the morbid mind as the Christian mind, it takes the side of everything idiotic, it proclaims a curse against the spirit, against the superbia of the healthy spirit. Because sickness belongs to the essence of Christianity, the typical Christian condition, faith, has to be a form of sickness…” (2003, p.181)

The use of words such as morbid, idiotic, sickness, all this insulting rhetoric, in reference to Christianity, is in the place where arguments were supposed to be.  This name-calling rhetoric must not be taken as the truth. It would be helpful to remember that while Christianity provides man with a sense of certainty, with a general explanation of the origin and current state of things, Nietzsche’s ideas, especially his ideas of the overman with energy and freedom to do as he pleases, provide no satisfying explanation, but on the contrary, a lot of questions. What Nietzsche proposes could only lead to anarchy. Even for a person who does not believe in the divine origin of Christianity, it is obvious that its values have a positive impact in society.

Nietzsche directs a substantial degree of his criticism to the main Christian believes. Concepts such as Guilt, Punishment, Bad Conscience, to which he dedicates an entire section of On the Genealogy of Morals (2006), are treated as if they were not only errors, but a conspiracy against what Nietzsche calls the natural human spirit, which according to him has been contaminated by Christianity. However, it is more than evident that it has been precisely the existence of that type of concepts and ideas what has disciplined man. It would not be exaggerated to state that ninety percent of the degree of civility with which humanity conducts itself is owed to Christianity.

The German philosopher himself recognizes that if humanity were to distance itself from the idea of God, in general, and from the believe in Christian values in particular, it would lead to nihilism; this is a state of emptiness that will lead many to self-destruction. In this regard, we arrive now to a very troubling question. Let’s assume that, as Nietzsche conjectures, the entire system of believe upon which Christianity founds itself is a total lie; that there is no God at the end of its road, and that every element that composes it is no more than a man-made fiction. Given the fact that those values have been a great positive contribution to humanity, fro what reason are we supposed to abandon all that and embrace Nietzsche message of the death of God and Christianity? Doesn’t Nietzsche himself recognize that his ideas conduct to nihilism and Christianity to a state of certainty?

Let’s go as far as assuming that Nietzsche’s conceptions in reference to the inexistence of God are true. Is it really better to hold on to this truth that leads to the self-destruction than to a fiction that leads to self-preservation? This is a very difficult question. We have no idea of where would these super-human values that Nietzsche proposes take us. This is the poetic form of Nietzsche’s explanation:

So I sank once

Out of my madness of truth,

Out of my longing of days,

Weary of day, sick from light,

-Sank downwards, eveningwards, shadowwards:

With on truth

Scorched and thirsty:

-Do you still remember, do you remember, hot heart,

How you then thirsted?-

That I am banished

From all truth,

Only fool,

Only poet!

Nietzsche’s obsession with truth, as the poem reveals, not only deviates him from truth, but also prevents him from having in mind that the truth is not necessarily a good thing at all times. This, of course, does not sound good. However, in addition to appreciating truth for what it is in itself, as reasoning beings that we are, it is extremely important that we take into consideration tat the practicality of the truth is equally important to truth.  Christian concepts such as prayer, grace, blessing, and many other concepts that according to the German philosopher do not have a clear connection with reality, provide men with a sense of inner spiritual unity, with peace of mind and heart that Nietzsche obviously sees as undesirable, but that, objectively speaking, seem to be extremely beneficial.

But in addition to the passion with which Nietzsche criticizes Christianity, he also spends sometime discussing the founder of Christianity himself: Christ. In reference to Christ, however, it most be pointed out that Nietzsche enters into an obvious contradiction. On the one hand, he uses degrading epithets against Jesus Christ, such as idiot, but on the other hand, he claims that Jesus’ way of life has been distorted by his followers, and accuses the Apostle Paul of founding a religion that is contrary to that taught by Jesus.

Nietzsche concludes that Jesus contribution was to teach others how is it that each individual must conduct himself as Jesus did during the incidents that led to his death in sacrifice. Jesus’ inaction, the fact that he did not defend himself during the events that surrounded his execution, is an example of how people should live their lives. At times, it seems as if Nietzsche refers to Jesus with certain tenderness.

The case could be made, therefore, that Nietzsche tries to save the historical image of Christ while, at the same time, he declares war against all that has been presented and the legacy of Christ, which Nietzsche sustains is no more that an invention of his disciples.

– The word Christianity is already a misunderstanding – in reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross. The Evangel Died in the Cross. What was called Evangel from this moment onwards was already the opposite of what he had lived: bad tidings’, a dysangel… The Christian, that which has been called Christian for two millennia is merely a psychological self-misunderstanding. (2003, p. 163)

However, let’s have one thing crystal clear here. Nietzsche’s criticism against actual Christians is obviously unfair if one takes into consideration that the masses of followers of the Messiah honestly try to imitate him, but are indeed surrounded by a social and political scenario that is totally different to the one in which Christ emerged. Not putting resistance to the physical attacks perpetrated against him had a particular purpose, that is, his execution by his enemies.

On the other hand, his followers do not pretend, nor are they mandated by the Christian teachings to seek an opportunity to give their lives. In other words, the word, misunderstanding, which Nietzsche insistently uses, could be applied to Nietzsche himself. He is the one who is misunderstanding what Christ was and what Christianity is supposed to be.

In his virtually fanatic criticism against Christianity Nietzsche launches a quasi-violent attack against priests. Nietzsche does not seem to recognize that priests have made any positive contribution to humanity. He adopts here a radical perspective and, according to his statements, priests are one virtually the worst type of ruling class that has ever existed. Nietzsche accuses priests of conspiring against what he calls the natural human spirit. In addition, Nietzsche accuses priests of denying men from exercising their free will when it comes to eating from ‘the Tree of Knowledge’.

The beginning of the Bible contains the entire psychology of the priest. – The priest knows only one great danger: that is science – the sound conception of cause and effect. But science flourishes in general only under happy circumstances – one must have a superfluity of time and intellect in order to ‘know’… Consequently man must be made unhappy – this has at all times been the logic of the priest. (2003, p. 177)

In general, Nietzsche uses a very insulting language when criticizing Christianity. Instead of providing well founded logical thoughts, he decides to adopt a theatrical rhetoric that proves nothing, except the fact that Nietzsche hated Christianity. But, again, let’s bear in mind that hate an insults are not good arguments. It will be enough to take a look into the following quote, in order to verify up to what point is Nietzsche mad against Christianity.

Christianity also stands in opposition to all intellectual well-constitutedness – it can use only the morbid mind as the Christian mind, it takes the side of everything idiotic, it proclaims a curse against the ‘spirit’, against the superbia of the healthy spirit. Because sickness belongs to the essence of Christianity, the typical Christian condition, ‘faith’, has to be a form of sickness. (2003, p.181)

This insulting rhetoric, the use of words such as morbid, idiotic, sickness, etc., reveals nothing about Christianity, but does reveal a lot about their author. What do they reveal? It is quite evident: that the mind that produced such insults is precisely a morbid, idiotic, and sick mind.

Works Cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich, On the Genealogy of Morals, New York, Barnes & Noble, 2006

—. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, New York, Barnes & Noble Classics, 20005

—. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, London, Penguin books, 2003