Nietzsche for Christians 1

Clifford Williams
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy
Trinity College of International University
Deerfield, IL 60015

Cornerstone Festival
Bushnell, Illinois
July, 2004

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.


“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?’” (#33).

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

World-denying and world-affirming

“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” (#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” (#49).

Our basic drive

“A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength—life itself is will to power (#13).

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).

Christian faith

“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” (#46).

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” (#62).

Critique of objective reason

“Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely, the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir. . . . I do not believe that a ‘drive to knowledge’ is the father of philosophy; but rather that another drive has, here as elsewhere, employed understanding (and misunderstanding) as a mere instrument” (#6).

“Reason is merely an instrument” (#191).


“It is no more than a moral prejudice that truth is worth more than mere appearance; it is even the worst proved assumption there is in the world. . . . Indeed, what forces us at all to suppose that there is an essential opposition of ‘true’ and false’? Is it not sufficient to assume degrees of apparentness and, as it were, lighter and darker shadows and shades of appearance—different ‘values,’ to use the language of painters?” (#34).

Inner dividedness: growth versus shutting down

“That commanding something which the people call ‘the spirit’ wants to be master in and around its own house and wants to feel that it is master. . . . Its intent . . . is to incorporate new ‘experiences,’ to file new things in old files—growth, in a word—or more precisely, the feeling of growth, the feeling of increased power. “An apparently opposite drive serves this same will: a suddenly erupting decision in favor of ignorance, of deliberate exclusion, a shutting of one’s windows, an internal No to this or that thing, a refusal to let things approach” (#350).

Making moral judgments

“Moral judgments and condemnations constitute the favorite revenge of the spiritually limited against those less limited . . . malice spiritualized” (#219).

Loving one’s enemies

“Love one’s enemies? I think this has been learned well: it is done thousands of times today, in small ways and big ways. Indeed, at times something higher and more sublime is done: we learn to despise when we love, and precisely when we love best—but all of this unconsciously, without noise, without pomp, with that modesty and concealed goodness which forbids the mouth of solemn words and virtue formulas. Morality as a pose—offends our taste today” (#216).

Moral prejudice

“The power of moral prejudices has penetrated deeply into the most spiritual world, which would seem to be the coldest and most devoid of presuppositions, and has obviously operated in an injurious, inhibiting, blinding, and distorting manner. A proper physio-psychology has to contend with unconscious resistance in the heart of the investigator” (#23).

What makes Nietzsche postmodern?

His critique of objective reason (#6, #191).

His questioning the value of truth (#34).

His distinction between interpretation and text, and his claim that all is interpretation (#22).

Quotations are from Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1995).

Other Cornerstone talks on Nietzsche:

Nietzsche for Christians 2

Nietzsche for Christians 3

Nietzsche for Christians 4

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