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Review: The Antichrist

February 15, 2017

In keeping with the spirit of alternating between the practical and the abstract, February's book of the month comes from one of the most complex philosophers ever to come out of the Western tradition:

 

Friederich Nietzsche.

 

The Antichrist is, in my estimation, one of the hardest criticisms of Christianity, and also one of the most ignored. It is ignored because the vast majority of Christians are themselves not at the spiritual depth necessary to understand deeper interpretations of their own faith, and so Nietzsche's criticism seems to completely miss the mark. Of course, their own more basic models of Christianity are based on a more sophisticated and complex theology, in the same way that a supply/demand curve is a simplified model of market interactions in a complex economy. This more sophisticated model is subject to Nietzsche's attack. He cannot be so easily ignored.

Nietzsche's thought is the culmination of many books, including Twilight of the Idols, Human, All Too Human, and Genealogy of Morals. In these books, he had put his philological (the study of language; something between linguistics, history, and textual interpretation) skill to work in understanding where morality originates from. His conclusion: that "good" refers to essentially to qualities of the nobility and aristocracy; what is "bad" refers to what is low, what is weak, what is resentful, and what is contrary to life. But there was a reaction to these interpretation of "good" and "bad," which were, in their origins, mere generalized descriptions of what was "high" and "low."

Religion has always existed, for all peoples, and contrary to his reputation, Nietzsche was not an atheist (by his own description, he was a Dionysian). Historically, however, national religions guided people in order to live better lives in the here and now, with metaphorical stories told as models of "higher truths" to guide their adherents lives in this world.

Christianity--unique among other religions--established this "other world" not as a representation of this one, inextricably bound up with it, but as a higher and a superior world. In its elevation of "truth" as a virtue, above other religions, it literalized the world of the spirit, and spiritualized the literal, actual world, declaring it to be a temporary, passing, and unimportant place.

With this metaphysical basis, it channeled the resentment of the low--the "bad"--against the noble and the aristocratic. The origin of "good and evil," rather than "good and bad," was the relabeling of all that was previously good and noble to be "evil," by the standards of the spirit, and all that had been weak and low to be holy and "good."

Nietzsche harbored very little ill-will towards Jesus himself, who he felt to be something of a kindred spirit--a free man, seeking the Kingdom of Heaven here, in the present moment. Nietzsche compares the teachings of Jesus, as he interprets them, to be similar to the Buddhists: ultimately nihilistic, and therefore dangerous, but not without their merits.

It was Saint Paul, he believed, who corrupted the teachings of Christ. Paul, the resentful Jew, channeling against the Romans the resentment of the Jews, whose insidious power of hatred exceeded all other peoples in all of human history.

The Jews were the most interesting people in the world to Nietzsche. Here was a race that had suffered more than any other peoples, and had survived. When asked Hamlet's question, "to be or not to be," the Jews decided their answer was to be, at any price. And what a price they paid! Like any other peoples, suffering and persecution had given them a survival strategy, but in their case, one unlike any other nations. They learned the power of words, how to use them and manipulate them to extraordinary effect. With this power, they were able to survive even the most hostile environments, learning how to pass themselves off as unassuming, as harmless. As "good." The effects of this inversion are not merely psychological and cultural, but physiological, as those of the weaker, lower, more priestly nature were rewarded with offspring. As seen by the natural acceptance of once radical inversions of preference, Nietzsche believed we were beginning to see the tragic, gradual culmination of a physical decline in humanity.

It was this fundamentally Jewish quality that Paul injected into the teachings of Jesus. Through this mystic's life-story, Paul spread the Jewish inversion of values through Christianity--"Judeo-Christian" values. These values formed the foundation for modern social justice, communism, and the corruption of human life through the use of language. Now that Christianity has undermined itself--"God is dead," as Nietzsche said in The Gay Science--it is time to do away with Christian morality, before these Judeo-Christian values undermine, and ultimately destroy, life.

As a Christian (of sorts) myself, I do not believe these arguments to be unanswerable. But they are serious, and require answering. Regardless of which faith you find your home in, if any, The Antichrist plumbs the depths of the nature and purpose of morality more courageously, more insightfully, and more impressively, than nearly any other work, and does so in an amazingly concise span of pages. It is a must-read for anyone courageous enough to explore the heart and brain of their own faith, and willing to try their loyalties by one of the hottest philosophical fires ever to burn.

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