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Sunday, November 27, 2011

References to Nietzche

In two earlier posts I refer to Nietzche, as in the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, arguably Christianity's most serious intellectual opponent.  Nietzche understood Christianity better than most Christians seem to understand it, and he despised it as an enemy of humankind.  Here is the sort of thing that set him off.

In Christian thought, we are quite right to say that every person's contribution to and participation in the life of a worship service is just as profound as anyone else's, whether than person has disabilities of some kind, is frail, sings off key, has dementia, is the greatest preacher, the finest worship leader, or has the richest voice in the choir.  Indeed, as Christians we would be quite right to say that the most profound proclamation of Christian truth we are likely to hear here at CMC this advent came when the Shalom Ringers rang out with O come, O come Immanuel this morning.

Nietzche would call this worse than hogwash, a threat to humanity.  We worship a victim, an enigmatic rabble-rouser, a loser in today's common speech, an anti-hero who accomplished little in his life, and died in shame and dishonor, unable to save himself or his people.  The virtues he passed on, such as compassion, humility, patience, respect for the weak and suffering, drain society of the necessary vital virtues feeding strength and power which sustain humankind, and which Nietzche ascribed admiringly to pagan antiquity.

David Bentley Hart sums up Nietzche's critique, "It [Christianity] is irreconcilably subversive of all the values of antique virtue and public philosophy, whether guarded by Apollo or Dionysus; it makes every claim to power and to rights not only provisional, not only false, but quite simply absurd.  Christians claim that the beauty that appears in Christ, contrary to all judicious taste, abides with and in the poor, the godforsaken, and the lowly, not simply as a sweetening of their lot with bootless sentimentality, or because Christianity cherishes life only when it is weak, perishing, uncomely, but because Christ--who is the truth of being--in dwelling  among and embracing these 'slave,' shows them to be luminously beautiful."

In other words, rather than teaching us to celebrate the heroic, the strong, the powerful, the brilliant, the beautiful, the best in humankind, Christianity teaches us to honor the weak, the poor, the powerless, the less than beautiful.  It is in this light Nietzche understood Christian faith as a threat to humanity, undermining what is best and promising about humanity, elevating the self-defeating.  Nietzche was right about Christianity in the sense that he understands our virtues and values, and their source, better than most Christians do.

Nietzche understood the revolution that is Christian (and Jewish) thought and practice.  Do we?


Stuart Showalter said...

Thanks, Phil, for sharing this excellent comment and challenge.