Nietzsche for Christians 3

Clifford Williams
Department of Philosophy
Wheaton College
Wheaton, Illinois 60187

Cornerstone Festival
Bushnell, Illinois
July 2, 2005

 
Friedrich Nietzsche lived in Germany from 1844 to 1900. Although he left the Christian faith that he grew up in and became vehemently anti-Christian, his books contain numerous insights useful for Christians, either because they are true or because they prompt us to probe further than we are accustomed to. Here are some from his Beyond Good and Evil (BGE) and Genealogy of Morals (GM).

Conscious thought comes from instinct: “By far the greater part of conscious thinking must still be included among instinctive activities. . . . Most of the conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly guided and forced into certain channels by his instincts” (BGE, #3).

Unconscious intentions: “We immoralists have the suspicion that the decisive value of an action lies precisely in what is unintentional in it, while everything about it that is intentional, everything about it that can be seen, known, ‘conscious,’ still belongs to its surface and skin” (BGE, #32).

Unconscious resistance: “A proper physiopsychology has to contend with unconscious resistance in the heart of the investigator, it has ‘the heart’ against it” (BGE, #23).

The motive for mercy: “This self-overcoming of justice: one knows the beautiful name it has given itself—mercy; it goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man” (GM, Second Essay, #10).

Self-sacrifice: “The feelings of devotion, self-sacrifice for one’s neighbor, the whole morality of self-denial must be questioned mercilessly and taken to court. . . . There is too much charm and sugar in these feelings of ‘for others,’ ‘not for myself,’ for us not to need to become doubly suspicious at this point and to ask: ‘are these not perhaps—seductions?’” (BGE, #33). 

“Anyone who has really made sacrifices knows that he wanted and got something in return” (BGE, #220).

Retaliation and revenge a motive for justice: “Now I can really hear what they have been saying all along: ‘We good men—we are the just’—what they desire they call, not retaliation, but ‘the triumph of justice’” (GM, First Essay, #14). 

“It causes us no surprise to see . . . attempts often made before . . . to sanctify revenge under the name of justice” (GM, Second Essay, #11).

Nietzsche’s case against Christianity: “What, in all strictness, has really conquered the Christian God? . . . Christianity as a dogma was destroyed by its own morality; in the same way Christianity as morality must now perish, too: we stand on the threshold of this event” (GM, Third Essay, #27).

Values of the church: “Break the strong, sickly o’er great hopes, cast suspicion on the joy in beauty, bend everything haughty, manly, conquering, domineering, all the instincts characteristic of the highest and best-turned-out type of ‘man,’ into unsureness, agony of conscience, self-destruction—indeed, invert all love of the earthly and of dominion over the earth into hatred of the earth and the earthly—that is the task the church posed for itself and had to pose, until in its estimation ‘becoming unworldly,’ ‘unsensual,’ and ‘higher men’ were fused into a single feeling” (BGE, #62). 

“From the start, the Christian faith is a sacrifice: a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit; at the same time, enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation” (BGE, #46).

Self-torture: “This man of the bad conscience has seized upon the presupposition of religion so as to drive his self-torture to its most gruesome pitch of severity and rigor. Guilt before God: this thought becomes an instrument of torture to him” (GM, Second Essay, #22) 

“In this psychical cruelty there resides a madness of the will which is absolutely unexampled: the will of man to find himself guilty and reprehensible to a degree that can never be atoned for” (GM, Second Essay, #23). See also GM, Second Essay, #15. 

“The suffering are one and all dreadfully eager and inventive in discovering occasions for painful affects; they enjoy being mistrustful and dwelling on nasty deeds and imaginary slights; they scour the entrails of their past and present for obscure and questionable occurrences that offer them the opportunity to revel in tormenting suspicions and to intoxicate themselves with the poison of their own malice: they tear open their oldest wounds, they bleed from long-healed scars, they make evildoers out of their friends, wives, children, and whoever else stands closest to them” (GM, Third Essay, #15). 

“I am a sick man. . . . I am a spiteful man. No, I am not a pleasant man at all” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground).

Hostility to life: “Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in ‘another’ or ‘better’ life. Hatred of ‘the world,’ condemnation of the passions, fear of beauty and sensuality, a beyond invented the better to slander this life, at bottom a craving for the nothing, for the end, for respite, for ‘the sabbath of sabbaths’—all this always struck me, no less than the unconditional will of Christianity to recognize only moral values, as the most dangerous and uncanny form of all possible forms of a ‘will to decline’ —at the very least a sign of abysmal sickness, weariness, discouragement, exhaustion, and the impoverishment of life” (Attempt at a Self-Criticism, #5).

Ascetic ideals: “The three great slogans of the ascetic ideal are familiar: poverty, humility, chastity” (GM, Third Essay, #8). 

“The ascetic treats life as a wrong road. . . . Read from a distant star . . . the earth was the distinctively ascetic planet, a nook of disgruntled, arrogant, and offensive creatures filled with a profound disgust at themselves, at the earth, at all life, who inflict as much pain on themselves as they possibly can out of pleasure in inflicting pain—which is probably their only pleasure. . . . Pleasure is felt and sought in ill-constitutedness, decay, pain, mischance, ugliness, voluntary deprivation, self-mortification, self-flagellation, self-sacrifice. All this is in the highest degree paradoxical” (GM, Third Essay, #11). 

“It will be immediately obvious that such a self-contradiction as the ascetic appears to represent, ‘life against life,’ is physiologically considered and not merely psychologically, a simple absurdity” (GM, Third Essay, Section 13). 

“The ascetic priest has ruined psychical health wherever he has come to power” (GM, Third Essay, #22).

The ideal person: “Whoever has . . . looked into, down into the most world-denying of all possible ways of thinking . . .  may just thereby . . . have opened his eyes to the opposite idea: the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being” (BGE, #56).

Gratitude and fear: “What is amazing about the religiosity of the ancient Greeks is the enormous abundance of gratitude it exudes: it is a very noble type of man that confronts nature and life in this way. Later, when the rabble gained the upper hand in Greece, fear became rampant in religion, too—and the ground was prepared for Christianity” (BGE, #49).

Virtues: “The noble type of man experiences itself as determining values; it does not need approval” (BGE, #260). 

“In the foreground there is the feeling of fullness, of power that seeks to overflow, the happiness of high tension, the consciousness of wealth that would give and bestow: the noble human being, too, helps the unfortunate, but not, almost not, from pity, but prompted more by an urge begotten by excess of power” (BGE, #260). 

“Honesty, supposing that this is our virtue from which we cannot get away, we free spirits—well, let us work on it with all our malice and love” (BGE, #227). 

“What is noble? . . . It is not the works, it is the faith that is decisive here, that determines the order of rank—to take up again an ancient religious formula in a new and more profound sense: some fundamental certainty that a noble soul has about itself, something that cannot be sought, nor found, nor perhaps lost. . . . The noble soul has reverence for itself” (BGE, # 287). 

“To live with tremendous and proud composure. . . . And to remain master of one’s four virtues: of courage, insight, sympathy, and solitude. For solitude is a virtue for us, as a sublime bent and urge for cleanliness which guesses how all contact between man and man—‘in society’—involves inevitable uncleanliness” (BGE, #284). 

“I should actually risk an order of rank among philosopher depending on the rank of their laughter—all the way up to those capable of golden laughter” (BGE, #294).
 
Quotations are from Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1995). 
 
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