Nietzsche and Christianity

*Posted by Barry Creamer

Nietzsche is a bad man. Of course, he is dead now. But his writings, his aphorisms and rhetoric, stand opposed to the measure of good: Christ and Christianity.

Christians used to agree on such a simple proposition. But some of the past few decades avant-garde Christian theologians and philosophers have declared confidently that such a judgment actually stems from a misunderstanding of Nietzschethat in reality, those who have the mental capacity to understand it should know that Nietzsche doesnt think God is dead, doesnt hate Christ, doesnt hate everything Christ endorses and endorse everything Christ hates, and doesnt think Christianity is only for the ignorant and foolish. In their terms, Nietzsche only laments what Enlightenment and post-Plato Western Civilization did to the concept of God.

Mens motives are a mystery. It could be that these thinkers have not read much of Nietzsche themselves, and so end up relying on little out-of-context snippets from early commentators on Nietzsche, like H.L. Mencken. It could be that they know better but are simply counting on the fact that most people have not read much of Nietzsche and therefore wont know any better. But more likely, they are enamored with Nietzsches intelligent, innovative, and provocative prose and want to baptize his creative corpus for the current generation of postmodernsa bad idea.

So it seems appropriate on occasion to submit a reminder that Nietzsche has only as much to offer Christianity as, say, Pontius Pilate.

The following statements come from parts 46 and 47 of Nietzsches The Antichrist. They precede his claims about why all knowledge is the enemy of God, not based on the reinterpretation of God through the Enlightenment, but based on the his own interpretation of the Genesis account of mans fall.

To reiterate: it will not suffice to pass off Nietzsches criticism as of the Enlightenments construct of God. He is very clear in this immediate context to reject the faith and practice of the first Christians and the teachings of the New Testament records themselves. For those willing to shower afterwards, here are his own words:

46. What follows, then? That one had better put on gloves before reading the New Testament. The presence of so much filth makes it very advisable. One would as little choose early Christians for companions as Polish Jews: not that one need seek out an objection to them. Neither has a pleasant smell.I have searched the New Testament in vain for a single sympathetic touch; nothing is there that is free, kindly, open-hearted or upright. In it humanity does not even make the first step upwardthe instinct for cleanliness is lacking. Only evil instincts are there, and there is not even the courage of these evil instincts. It is all cowardice; it is all a shutting of the eyes, a self-deception. Every other book becomes clean, once one has read the New Testament: These petty bigots make a capital miscalculation. They attack, but everything they attack is thereby distinguished. Whoever is attacked by an earl Christian is surely not befouled. On the contrary, it is an honour to have an early Christian as an opponent. One cannot read the New Testament without acquired admiration for whatever it abusesnot to speak of the wisdom of this world, which an impudent wind-bag tries to dispose of by the foolishness of preaching. Even the scribes and pharisees are benefited by such opposition: they must certainly have been worth something to have been hated in such an indecent manner. Hypocrisyas if this were a charge that the early Christians dared to make!After all, they were the privileged, and that was enough: the hatred of the Chandala needed no other excuse. The early Christianand also, I fear, the last Christian, whom I may perhaps live to seeis a rebel against all privilege by profound instincthe lives and makes war for ever for equal rights. Strictly speaking, he has no alternative. When a man proposes to represent, in his own person, the chosen of Godor to be a temple of God, or a judge of the angelsthen every other criterion, whether based upon honesty, upon intellect, upon manliness and pride, or upon beauty and freedom of the heart, becomes simply worldlyevil in itself. Moral: every word that comes from the lips of an early Christian is a lie, and his every act is instinctively dishonestall his values, all his aims are noxious, but
whoever he hates, whatever he hates, has real value. The Christian, and particularly the Christian priest, is thus a criterion of values. Must I add that, in the whole New Testament, there appears but a solitary figure worthy of honour? Pilate, the Roman viceroy. To regard a Jewish imbroglio seriouslythat was quite beyond him. One Jew more or lesswhat did it matter? The noble scorn of a Roman, before whom the word truth was shamelessly mishandled, enriched the New Testament with the only saying that has any valueand that is at once its criticism and its destruction: What is truth?

47. The thing that sets us apart is not that we are unable to find God, either in history, or in nature, or behind nature but that we regard what has been honoured as God, not as divine, but as pitiable, as absurd, as injurious; not as a mere error, but as a crime against life. We deny that God is God. If any one were to show us this Christian God, wed be still less inclined to believe in him.In a formula: deus, qualem Paulus creavit, dei negatio.Such a religion as Christianity, which does not touch reality at a single point and which goes to pieces the moment reality asserts its rights at any point, must be inevitably the deadly enemy of the wisdom of this world, which is to say, of scienceand it will give the name of good to whatever means serve to poison, calumniate and cry down all intellectual discipline, all lucidity and strictness in matters of intellectual conscience, and all noble coolness and freedom of the mind. Faith, as an imperative, vetoes sciencein praxi, lying at any price. Paul well knew that lyingthat faithwas necessary; later on the church borrowed the fact from Paul.The God that Paul invented for himself, a God who reduced to absurdity the wisdom of this world (especially the two great enemies of superstition, philology and medicine), is in truth only an indication of Pauls resolute determination to accomplish that very thing himself: to give ones own will the name of God, thorathat is essentially Jewish. Paul wants to dispose of the wisdom of this world: his enemies are the good philologians and physicians of the Alexandrine schoolon them he makes his war. As a matter of fact no man can be a philologian or a physician without being also Antichrist. That is to say, as a philologian a man sees behind the holy books, and as a physician he sees behind the physiological degeneration of the typical Christian. The physician says incurable; the philologian says fraud.

(By the way, it is not Nietzsches point that the Christian God is pitiable but that there is some other God who would not be so despicable. It is Nietzsches point that there is no God, but that even if fools are allowed to worship a God it shouldnt be the Christian one.)

Its not really that complicated. Nietzsche is smart. Nietzsche is innovative. Nietzsche is challenging. Fine. Fine. Fine.

But one more thing is also true, and since his death over a hundred years ago, always will be.

Nietzsche is a bad man.

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