Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nietzsche on Christianity

As we’ve progressed to modern philosophers in our search for values, we’ve been confronted with several critiques attacking Christianity. After reading Sartre, who denies the existence of God altogether but offers no evidence for his claim, Nietzsche’s argument against the “anonymous, passionless, self-righteous, and hypocritical” (Solomon 112) Christianity serves as a more convincing analysis against this modern religion.

First, Nietzsche welcomes the “Death of God” because he thinks Christianity has encouraged weakness. He says Christianity serves as a crutch to the feeble-minded masses and rejects the values necessary for a man to live a self-actualized life. Instead of conforming to these harmful values, Nietzsche claims that there is a god waiting to be born inside of everyone that brings forth something creative and new to the world. With the “Death of God”, Nietzsche gives the power back to the individuals to decide their own values and courses of action.

Next, Nietzsche suggests that Christianity advocates slave moralities- doing what is most useful for the whole community (the herd), and not the strong. This belief prompts the weak to gain power over the strong because they make the strong believe that there are certain evils that they should avoid and certain values that they should uphold. Thus, humility, charity, sympathy and the like are the result of universalizing the values of the weak to bring others down. To Nietzsche, this mentality is flawed: great things should be for the great, while what is common should have little value to the great.

In response to slave moralities, Nietzsche outlines master moralities, which are based on individual excellence instead of obedience and conformity to a set of universalized values. Because this morality is for superior people who look beyond the emphasis of good and evil, they strive for values such as pride, honor, and nobility.

Finally, Nietzsche says that Christianity generates negative thinking. Because it is based on refraining from certain practices, especially those that seem instinctual, Christianity denies natural emotions and behaviors.

Nietzsche’s attack, originating from his disdain for universalized values and conformity, offers a sound case against Christianity. By emphasizing Christianity’s rejection of our instincts and creative capacities, Nietzsche argues that this religion denies the affirmative expression of our life.


Shannon said...

You’re right, Jesse. Nietzsche does make a more convincing argument against Christianity than Sartre. However, it is not Sartre’s purpose to disprove the existence of God since “nothing can save [man] from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God” (Sartre 54). Nor does he welcome the ‘Death of God’ like Nietzsche. Sartre says that he is strongly “opposed to a certain type of secular morality that seeks to eliminate God as painlessly as possible” since he “find[s] it extremely disturbing that God no longer exists” (Sartre 28).

claire said...

I tend to agree with Nietzsche (about Christianity, if not the rejection of charity and sympathy), though the feeble-minded masses bit rubs me the wrong way.

I think of Christianity (here I speak only of the hateful ignorance I was raised to believe, not the more moderate varieties) as a prison rather than a crutch. I personally have no use for either.

Colin said...

I enjoy Nietzsche. Thanks for this post. How do you think Nietzsche would view someone like Jesus then? Even though he is the progenitor of Christianity, he is far from life-denying and in fact does whatever he pleases, completely unconcerned with what he can not do (personally).

Omair Khattak said...

I recently watched the film Quills about the French nobleman and erotic novelist Marquis de Salle and in a few scenes the chaplain of the institution that the Marquis has been imprisoned in attempts to push Christianity onto him, an act for which the chaplain is sharply rebuked. In one particular scene, the Marquis exclaims, "Why should I love God? He strung up his only son like a side of veal. I shudder to think what he'd do to me." And this got me thinking, so true, because not only did God string his only son, he places all of us, his creation, in his eternal debt, and sends forth the message that we are to dedicate our lives to his supplication, all while practicing restraint in the face of worldly pleasures for a better life that is yet to come.

So I read up on the Marquis shortly afterwards and was astonished at what i'd found. He'd been in and out of prisons and insane asylums for nearly 32 years, developed the concept of Sadism, and, and this is where it gets interesting, deeply loathes the inhibition of human spirit. He states:

"Are not laws dangerous which inhibit the passions? Compare the centuries of anarchy with those of the strongest legalism in any country you like and you will see that it is only when the laws are silent that the greatest actions appear."

And I feel that to a great extent this is true in that revolutionary ideas inherently conflict a societal convention. Sophocles, Galileo, Descartes, Darwin--all men who further advanced their respective fields of study (and, consequentially, Western society), while simultaneously falling into due contradiction with the respective powers that be, if not taking precautionary measures to avoid such altercations. I think the same can be spoken of the fine arts, as was the case with the Marquis.

Restraint inhibits while a lack of inhibition leaves people to the faculties of their eager spirits. Cool.

Omair Khattak said...

Also, as a side, you'll notice that i the notable historical figures i've left are all male. Though not necessarily applicable to the aforementioned people, i thought this particular quote would shed some light as to why I had a tough time coming up with members of the opposite sex.*

"Can you imagine how dispiriting it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude? Have you never wondered why there aren't more women historians on TV?... History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind. With a bucket."
--Mrs. Lintott, The History Boys

*or maybe I'm providing this to make up for my ignorance. sorry team.

JonSchwartz said...

I recently went to a Sunday service at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. Because I am Jewish I have little understanding or experience with Christianity but I have learned a lot. First off, Nietzsche's evaluation of Christianity as a "crutch to the feeble-minded masses and rejects the values necessary for a man to live a self-actualized life" I believe it helps create the opposite. The servants of this church were focused not being feeble-minded, they spoke of how they could try and be strong willed people who would give back to society instead of simply taking from the world. They also pushed trying to lessen the commercialization of Christmas and replace gifts with rebuilding the poorer parts of our world. Furthermore, Christianity allows for some self-actualized because it preaches the ideal that we can all try to emulate the ways of God and Jesus because we were made in their image. Thus the potential of a christian can be mental greater as a person who has been given a chance to live a life in the ideals of God.

Emily Sellers said...

First, I think the slave morality discussion of Christianity is not really important today. I don't really see it as holding anyone back from trying to be the best. The only time the influence of slave morality creeps up is in what is considered politically correct.

Second, I agree with John that Nietzsche generalizes about Christians. While is true that some Christianity can be "crutch to the feeble-minded masses and rejects the values necessary for a man to live a self-actualized life" it is the choice of the masses. As Sartre says, “man is nothing other than what he makes of himself” (Sartre 22). So, in the aforementioned case those people are choosing to be sheep and not true Christians.

So, what I think Nietzche is really is talking is just about people who choose to be sheep . . . and they can come in any shape and size.

Octo-hobo said...

I also find Nietzsche's argument to be more against Christianity than against God himself. And yes, the feeble-minded masses part I find to be an extreme. Maybe back in Nietzche's day all Christians were nuts, but now there are indeed some moderate and progressive groups. I'm a Buddhist, so my view may be a bit skewed, but my experiences with Christians has not generally been that they are "reject[ing] the values necessary for a man to live a self-actualized life" as opposed to just having different values period.

Besides, quite a fair population of Rhodes is rich, white, Christian folk that very well rejects his universalization of values. That, again, could potentially be the skew coming from me not being rich, white, or Christian.