Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 3)​

Nietzsche’s Critique: Christianity is Nihilistic
Nihilism,[1] for Nietzsche, is something that happens when “slave morality”[2] is followed. It seems like Nietzsche is saying that when you follow the Christian teaching then you no longer care about yourself, you put your hope in “pie in the sky,” and you become nothing. Ironically, as we will see, Nietzsche’s philosophy is the ultimate view that leads to nothingness. In his system, there is no ultimate reason for meaning or morality. Thus, what he criticized Christians for is most fully realized in his own position.

Nietzsche is not intending to promote nihilism but sees himself as fighting against it.[3] Nietzsche clearly sees Christianity as nihilistic. He promotes the animal instinct of the will to life, of fighting tooth and nail to exploit whatever can be exploited. In reading Nietzsche, it seems like the ideal world for him would be one in which we live like animals. Nietzsche’s ideal world seems to be a rough and wild animal kingdom where the powerful rule.[4]

Nietzsche concludes that Christianity is nihilistic and believes that the Übermensch who is anti-nihilistic will one day come to save the world.[5] He over and over again, bemoans weak and wicked, guilt ridden, Christianity.[6] He awaits the dawn of the superior man of the future that will deliver the world from its nauseating and nonsensical fascination with compassion and grace.[7]

In On the Genealogy of Morality,[8] Nietzsche says that large birds of prey do nothing wrong in eating and attacking lambs, they are only doing what comes natural to them. The lambs might say that the birds of prey are bad and that whoever is least like them, like a lamb, is good. However, it seems like Nietzsche is saying that that reasoning does not make sense. The lambs are not any better, any more “good,” than the birds of prey. Their criterion of “good” is subjective and they are merely trying to protect themselves by defining “good” as they themselves already are.[9] Within the paragraph Nietzsche says, “a good person is anyone who does not rape, does not harm anyone, who does not attack, does not retaliate, who leaves the taking of revenge to God,… avoids all evil and asks little from life in general.”

It seems like for Nietzsche the “good person,”[10] who does not do bad things, corresponds to the lamb; and the “bad person,” who does bad things like rape and attack, corresponds to the bird of prey. Therefore, Nietzsche seems to be making the point that the “bird of prey,” the so-called “bad person” that rapes, harms, and attacks is really not evil because “evil” after all is something that the “lamb,” the so-called “good person,” made up. Therefore, we see that in a world where God is dead and morality is subjective[11] then there is nothing ultimately wrong with raping, harming, and attacking others.[12] Actually, Nietzsche basically says that the “lambs,” i.e. the early Christians and Jews, made up their morality to get back at the “birds of prey,” the masters that treated them badly.[13]

Plantinga concurs with my observation. He says,

Nietzsche’s… complaint: that religion originates in slave morality, in the ressentment [sic] of the oppressed. As Nietzsche sees it, Christianity both fosters and arises from a sort of sniveling, cowardly, servile, evasive, duplicitous, and all-around contemptible sort of character, which is at the same time envious, self-righteous, and full of hate disguised as charitable kindness. (Not a pretty picture).[14]

Nietzsche said, “I expressly want to place on record that at the time when mankind felt no shame towards its cruelty, life on earth was more cheerful than it is today,… The heavens darkened over man in direct proportion to the increase in his feeling shame at being man.[15] He is saying that man should not feel shame at “being man,” that is, following his animal instincts (perhaps to rape, harm, and attack like the “bird of prey”). For Nietzsche, it was sermonizing that led the animal “man” to feel ashamed of his instincts.[16]

For Nietzsche, “life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner, or at least these are its fundamental processes and it cannot be thought of without these characteristics.”[17] Thus, he seems to reason that any system or person that fails to acknowledge this and function in this way is hostile to life and attempts to assassinate the future of man, and follows a path to nothingness.[18] Nietzsche in fact says that “life itself in its essence means appropriating, injuring, overpowering those who are foreign and weaker; oppression, harshness, forcing one’s own forms on others, incorporation, and at the very least, at the very mildest, exploitation.”[19] Nietzsche even says “Perhaps I can even be allowed to admit the possibility that pleasure in cruelty does not really need to have died out.”[20]

Nietzsche said that “people everywhere are rhapsodizing, even under the guise of science, about future social conditions that will have lost their ‘exploitative character’—to my ear that sounds as if they were promising to invent a life form that would refrain from all organic functions.” This seems so apparent to Nietzsche because “the original fact of all history” is that “’Exploitation’ is not part of a decadent or imperfect, primitive society: it is part of the fundamental nature of living things.”[21] Thus, utopia, Eden, heaven, etc. will never be our home. Our nature, since the beginning has been to exploit and Nietzsche would conclude there is nothing wrong with that, it is perfectly normal and realistic.

Nietzsche believes that it is a terrible thing that “the animal ‘man’ is… taught to be ashamed of all his instincts.”[22] Man, at his core, is an animal following his will to life. Christianity, conversely, says we are not animals but that humans, male and female, are created in the image of God and thus have intrinsic worth. We also see that we do not have to follow are base sinful, not merely animalistic, instincts. Nietzsche is hitting on something. We do have instincts, but they come from Adam and the Fall, not animals. Nietzsche’s solution to the inner problem that we all face is wrong as well. The solution is not to give in and forget guilt. The answer is to become a new creation in the better Adam.

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[1] The word “nihilism” comes from the Latin word nihil, which means “nothing.” Nietzsche basically says that nihilism is the predilection for and overvaluation of compassion (see par. 5 in the Preface of On the Genealogy of Morality cf. the end of par. 12 in the First Essay par. 24 in the Second Essay). As Clare Carlisle says, “Although Nietzsche’s philosophy is sometimes mistakenly described as ‘nihilistic’, the opposite is in fact the case, for the purpose of his writing was to halt and to reverse this process of decline” (Clare Carlisle, “Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: ‘Why insist on the truth?’” in Richmond Journal of Philosophy 4 (Summer 2003). It does seem ironic that Nietzsche’s own philosophy would later be termed nihilistic, which I think is accurate. Nietzsche’s philosophy does lead us to conclude that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known; thus leading us to nihilism. So, although Nietzsche said Christianity was nihilistic, in the final analysis it is his own thought that is. Nietzsche says that Christians have “an imaginary teleology (the “kingdom of God,” “the last judgment,” “eternal life” (The Antichrist, par. 15) and yet Nietzsche has no teleology, Nietzsche is left with nothing—nihilism.

[2] In a sense, so-called “slavery morality” comes from Christ Himself and can be traced all the way back to God the Father. God had pity on Adam and Eve, Israel in Egypt, and on the hopeless state of humanity. Nietzsche is essentially damning humanities only hope of redemption. In fact, the rescue mission included Jesus becoming a man and taking the form of a slave, and dying, dying on a roman cross. Nietzsche who seemed to respect Jesus in many ways hated what Jesus was actually doing. Christ emptied Himself, Christ had pity.

[3] “Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect. Mankind has ventured to call pity a virtue (—in every superior moral system it appears as a weakness—); going still further, it has been called the virtue, the source and foundation of all other virtues—but let us always bear in mind that this was from the standpoint of a philosophy that was nihilistic, and upon whose shield the denial of life was inscribed. Schopenhauer was right in this: that by means of pity life is denied, and made worthy of denial—pity is the technic of nihilism. Let me repeat: this depressing and contagious instinct stands against all those instincts which work for the preservation and enhancement of life: in the rôle of protector of the miserable, it is a prime agent in the promotion of décadence—pity persuades to extinction… Of course, one doesn’t say “extinction”: one says “the other world,” or “God” (Nietzsche, The Antichrist, par. 7). One translation says, “pity is the practice of nihilism” (par. 7).

[4] “There is no place in Nietzsche’s picture of the ideal man for pity: pity is nothing more than a morbid fascination with failure. It is the great weakener of the will, and forms the bond between slaves, which perpetuates their slavery” (Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey [New York: Penguin Books, 1994], 297).

[5] See par. 24 of the Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality.

[6] “I condemn Christianity; I bring against the Christian church the most terrible of all the accusations that an accuser has ever had in his mouth. It is, to me, the greatest of all imaginable corruptions; it seeks to work the ultimate corruption, the worst possible corruption. The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its depravity; it has turned every value into worthlessness, and every truth into a lie, and every integrity into baseness of soul. Let any one dare to speak to me of its “humanitarian” blessings! Its deepest necessities range it against any effort to abolish distress; it lives by distress; it creates distress to make itself immortal… For example, the worm of sin: it was the church that first enriched mankind with this misery!—The “equality of souls before God”—this fraud, this pretext for the rancunes of all the base-minded—this explosive concept, ending in revolution, the modern idea, and the notion of overthrowing the whole social order —this is Christian dynamite… The “humanitarian” blessings of Christianity forsooth! To breed out of humanitas a self-contradiction, an art of self-pollution, a will to lie at any price, an aversion and contempt for all good and honest instincts! All this, to me, is the “humanitarianism” of Christianity!—Parasitism as the only practice of the church; with its anæmic and “holy” ideals, sucking all the blood, all the love, all the hope out of life; the beyond as the will to deny all reality; the cross as the distinguishing mark of the most subterranean conspiracy ever heard of,—against health, beauty, well-being, intellect, kindness of soul—against life itself… .

This eternal accusation against Christianity I shall write upon all walls, wherever walls are to be found—I have letters that even the blind will be able to see… I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are venomous enough or secret, subterranean and small enough,—I call it the one immortal blemish upon the human race… The transvaluation of all values!…” (Nietzsche, The Antichrist, par. 62).

[7] “Love and compassion, for instance, especially for the weak and sick, was in Nietzsche’s view, contrary to the “life-affirming” philosophy of the Overman” (Richard Weikart, The Death of Humanity: and the Case for Life [Regnery Publishing, 2016], Kindle Locations 3353-3354).

[8] Par.13. Diogenes makes the interesting observation that “Nietzschean genealogy is effective at undermining master narratives precisely because it provides a counternarrative” (Allen Diogenes, Philosophy for Understanding Theology [Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985], 236-37). David F. Wells believes that Nietzsche’s writing on “slave morality” has had a very large impact. He said that perhaps what laid the groundwork for Nietzsche “becoming the godfather to our morally collapsing world was his contrast between master and slave moralities” (Wells, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision, 151).

[9] So the “lamb” (i.e. the Christian and Jew) says, “’Only those who suffer are good, only the poor, the powerless, the lowly are good; the suffering, the deprived, the sick, the ugly, are the only pious people, the only ones saved, salvation is for them alone, whereas you rich, thenoble, and powerful, you are eternally wicked, cruel, lustful, insatiate, godless, you will also be eternally wretched, cursed and damned!’” (Par. 7 in the First Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality). Adolf Hitler said in Mein Kompf that “the Jew knew that by an able and persistent use of propaganda heaven itself can be presented to the people as if it were hell and, vice versa, the most miserable kind of life can be presented as if it were paradise. The Jew knew this and acted accordingly.”

[10] Nietzsche seems to believe that a regressive trait lurks in the “good person.” Morality itself is to blame for man not reaching its highest potential of power and splendor. Morality itself is the danger of dangers (see par. 6 in the Preface of On the Genealogy of Morality).

[11] Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There is this in common between art and morality, that in both we have to do with creation and invention. We cannot decide a priori what it is that should be done” (Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism”). We are “free” to believe and do whatever it is our hands find to do. There is no plum line by which to measure what is morally right and morally wrong and thus, it seems in this view, all things should be permitted. The Lord is dead, in Nietzsche’s thought, so we are lords of our own lives. We decide what is right and we take that path not matter where it leads and no matter what the world says about it.

[12] Yes, it remains true that the “bird of prey” may inconvenience others by his actions and may even reap consequences from his actions but in the final analysis what he did was not evil and thus not really wrong. It should be noted that the bird of prey’s actions will more likely occur when birds of prey are more numerous than lambs; in a system where birds of prey hold sway. This is because the bird of prey will be less likely to have their actions checked by penalties. Benjamin Wiker explains a similar reasoning: “Since the universe is purely material result of chance, it is amoral, a conclusion ultimately drawn from the belief that the universe is not designed (and therefore has no intrinsic moral order) and has no designer (And therefore no extrinsic moral orderer). Given such a universe, it is not difficult to see that the most we could hope for is the maximization of our desire and the minimization of pain” (Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Moral Hedonists [Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002], 166). Further, it seems in societies where it is believed that there is no true evil, “bird of prey” actions would be expected as the norm.

[13] Nietzsche said that “Jesus of Nazareth, as the embodiment of the gospel of love, this ‘redeemer’ bringing salvation and victory to the poor, the sick, to sinners—was he not seduction in its most sinister and irresistible form…?” Nietzsche goes on: “Did Israel not reach the pinnacle of her sublime vengefulness via this very ‘redeemer’, this apparent opponent of and disperser of Israel? Is it not part of a secret black art of a truly grand politics of revenge, a far-sighted, subterranean revenge, slow to grip and calculating, that Israel had to denounce her actual instrument of revenge before all the world as a mortal enemy and nail him to the cross so that ‘all the world’, namely all Israel’s enemies, could safely nibble at this bait? And could anyone, on the other hand, using all the ingenuity of his intellect, think up a more dangerous bait?… Israel, with its revenge and revaluation of all former values, has triumphed repeatedly over all other ideals, all nobler ideals.” (Par. 8 in the First Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality cf. par. 9). Later he says that “the Jews were a priestly nation of resentment par excellence” (Ibid., par. 16). See also Nietzsche, The Antichrist, par. 24.

[14] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 136.

[15] See par. 7 of the Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality.

[16] Nietzsche, Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality, Par. 7.

[17] Nietzsche, Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality, Par. 11.

[18] Cf. par. 11 in Ibid.

[19] Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.

[20] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, par. 7.

[21] Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.

[22] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, par. 7.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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