Nietzsche for Christians 2
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy
Trinity College of Trinity International University
Deerfield, IL 60015
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 Genealogy of Morals (GM) and other books.
Strangers to ourselves
“We are unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge—and with good reason. We have never sought ourselves—how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves?” (GM, Preface, #1).
“Actions are never what they appear to us to be!” (Daybreak, #116), because “there come into play motives in part unknown to us, in part known very ill, which we can never take account of beforehand” (Daybreak, #129).
The origin of morality
“The judgment ‘good’ did not originate with those to whom ‘goodness’ was shown! Rather it was ‘the good’ themselves, that is to say, the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and established themselves and their actions as good, that is, of the first rank, in contradistinction to all the low, low-minded, common and plebeian. . . . It follows from this origin that the word ‘good’ was definitely not linked from the first and by necessity to ‘unegoistic’ actions. . . . It is, to speak in my own language, the herd instinct that through this antithesis at last gets its word (and its words) in” (GM, First Essay, #2).
“Morality is nothing other (therefore no more) than obedience to customs” (Daybreak, #9). “When man possesses the feeling of power he feels and calls himself good: and it is precisely then that the others upon whom he has to discharge his power feel and call him evil!” (Daybreak, #189).
“The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment [resentment] itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge. . . . Slave morality from the outset says No to what is ‘outside,’ what is ‘different,’ what is ‘not itself’; and this No is its creative deed” (GM, First Essay, #10).
“While the noble man lives in trust and openness with himself . . . , the man of ressentiment is neither upright nor naïve nor honest and straightforward with himself. His soul squints; his spirit loves hiding places, secret paths and back doors, everything covert entices him as his world, his security, his refreshment” (GM, First Essay #10).
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).
Retaliation and revenge as motives 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’” (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).
Enjoyment of suffering
“To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle” (GM, Second Essay, #7).
“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” (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.
Self-hate and goodness
“There are nobler uses for the invention of gods than for the self-crucifixion and self-violation of man. . . . That is fortunately revealed even by a mere glance at the Greek gods, those reflections of noble and autocratic men, in whom the animal in man felt deified and did not lacerate itself, did not rage against itself! For the longest time these Greeks used their gods precisely so as to ward off the ‘bad conscience,’ so as to be able to rejoice in their freedom of soul—the very opposite of the use to which Christianity put its God” (GM, Second Essay, #23). “Man has all too long had an ‘evil eye’ for his natural inclinations” (GM, Second Essay, #24).
“There is so much in man that is hideous!—Too long, the earth has been a madhouse!” (GM, Second Essay, #23).
Objectivity and subjectivity
“For this ‘scientific fairness’ immediately ceases and gives way to accents of deadly enmity and prejudice once it is a question of dealing with another group of affects” (GM, Second Essay, #11).
Only a perspective
“Henceforth, my dear philosophers, let us be on guard against the dangerous old conceptual fiction that posited a ‘pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject’; let us guard against the snares of such contradictory concepts as ‘pure reason,’ ‘absolute spirituality,’ ‘knowledge in itself’. . . . There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’” (GM, Third Essay, #12).
“Where does it come from, this sickliness? For man is more sick, uncertain, changeable, indeterminate than any other animal, there is no doubt of that—he is the sick animal: how has that come about?” (GM, Third Essay, #13).
“The sick are man’s greatest danger; not the evil, not the ‘beasts of prey.’ Those who are failures from the start, downtrodden, crushed—it is they, the weakest, who must undermine life among men, who call into question and poison most dangerously our trust in life, in man, and in ourselves” (GM, Third Essay, #14).
What do the sick want?
“What do they really want? At least to ‘represent’ justice, love, wisdom, superiority—that is the ambition of the ‘lowest,’ the sick. . . . They monopolize virtue, these weak, hopelessly sick people, there is no doubt of it: ‘we alone are the good and just,’ they say. . . . The will of the weak to represent some form of superiority, their instinct for devious paths to tyranny over the healthy—where can it not be discovered, this will to power of the weakest! . . . They are all men of ressentiment, physiologically unfortunate and worm-eaten, a whole tremulous realm of subterranean revenge” (GM, Third Essay, #14).
“All honor to the ascetic ideal insofar as it is honest! so long as it believes in itself and does not play tricks on us! . . . . I do not like these whited sepulchers who impersonate life” (GM, Third Essay, #26).
“The will to truth requires a critique—let us thus define our own task—the value of truth must for once be experimentally called into question” (GM, Third Essay, #24).
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” (GM, Third Essay, #27).
“I do not by any means know atheism as a result; even less as an event: it is a matter of course with me, from instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questionable, too exuberant to stand for any gross answer. God is a gross answer, an indelicacy against us thinkers—at bottom merely a gross prohibition for us: you shall not think!” (Ecce Homo, “Why I Am so Clever,” #1).
Quotations are from Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1995).
Other Cornerstone talks on Nietzsche: