I once again find myself in the position of apologizing after being absent from the blogosphere for nearly a month. I can’t claim Jeopardy as an excuse this time. Instead, I will blame it on my unwavering commitment to devote the best of my energies towards educating the young minds of today into the future leaders of tomorrow. I can actually see the sarcasm dripping from the computer screen as I read the previous sentence. To be perfectly honest, I just needed a break. I have been busy with teaching and taking students to debate tournaments, but that is true for most of the year. For the past few weeks I deliberately took a step back from reading and did a bit of vegetating. That came to an end over the past weekend, when I completed The Antichrist by Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche wasn’t overly concerned with making friends with his philosophical writings, and The Antichrist is a prime example of that alienating tendency. It should be noted that the title has a dual meaning, with Antichrist in German meaning both Antichrist in the personified sense and Antichristian. In this book, Nietzsche establishes himself as a sort of Antichrist by developing a directly Antichristian line of philosophical thought. Nietzsche’s disdain for Christianity goes beyond the merely intellectual into the realm of personal antipathy. His delight in tormenting the Christian world is palpable as you turn the pages. He really, really does not like the Christian Church. As someone who comes from a Christian background, I was hesitant to read a book that I knew would be so challenging to the belief system that has surrounded me since birth.
Nietzsche’s criticisms are based on the notion that the early Christian church distorted the teachings of Jesus in an effort to empower the weak and suppressed elements throughout the Roman Empire. Nietzsche argues that Jesus never spoke of sin and punishment or of a denial of the material world. Instead, he believes that Jesus was a psychological type known as the redeemer. The redeemer displays an absolute intolerance for pain. Resistance leads to pain, and the redeemer therefore avoids resistance at all costs. This avoidance leads to a willing acceptance of the world as it is, including the powerlessness of the redeemer. This inspires a feeling of peace and happiness that constitutes “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Nietzsche thinks this redeemer is an imperfect type, but prefers it to the image of Christ developed by the church.
According to Nietzsche, it was the early church fathers (particularly St. Paul) who distorted this simple message in an effort to exert power from a position of weakness. This is an extension of the philosophy or religion of resentment (of which Judaism is the prime example) that Nietzsche had previously discussed in On the Genealogy of Morals. These early fathers used the idea of an afterlife (not mentioned by Jesus according to Nietzsche) to force adherents to follow a strict set of rules (also not mentioned by Jesus) that center around denying the urges and instincts of the body. This denial of the body stems from weakness. The early Christians lacked bodily strength and worldly power, so they established the possession of such power as proof of a sinful way of life. Ultimately, this denial is the root of the nihilism that Nietzsche thought was omnipresent in the Europe of his day. These arguments are all made with a great deal of vitriol.
It has been the tendency of many Christian writers since Nietzsche to dismiss him as a heretic or atheist and condemn his arguments altogether. I think this is a logical fallacy. To argue that because Nietzsche is wrong in his disbelief of God he must also be wrong about everything else is a hasty generalization. A thinker of Nietzsche’s influence and intellectual ability deserves a reasonable consideration. I don’t intend to take on the role of Nietzschean apologist, but I will admit that I like the man. His writings are entertaining and thought-provoking, even if not always right. In the case of The Antichrist, I agree with some of Nietzsche’s arguments but oppose his general condemnation. His chief concern throughout most of his works is to combat the denial of the body and its natural senses and instincts. This has always been one of my concerns with religion. I have never understood why so many Christian theologians throughout history have been so diametrically opposed to the body. The idea that we were all hopelessly corrupted by original sin has always troubled me. I cannot believe that an omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator would condemn his entire creation to a lifetime of depravity based on the mistakes of the original man. I do not, however, think that condemns Christianity as a whole. I think it is possible to embrace the Christian ideals of love and kindness without denying that there is a natural value and worth in our physical world and our natural urges. These urges can become corrupt and overpowering, but should not be condemned outright. Happily, I think there has been a tendency in some circles of Christian thought to place less emphasis on sin and condemnation and focus instead on living out the generous ideals that constitute the real foundation of the faith. This is a very abbreviated discussion of the issues raised by Nietzsche and my responses to them, but I think this post has gone on long enough.
The Current Count:
17 Read, 83 To Go