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11:20 p.m. - 2007-10-21
Nietzsche & Christianity
by Andreas Saugstad

June 20, 2000

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is considered as being one of the most important and original thinkers in the history of Western thought. He grew up as the son of a Lutheran pastor, and attended some of the best schools in Germany at that time. Only 25 years old, he was appointed professor in philology at the University of Basel. At the age of twenty, he wrote a poem to "the unknown God:" "I want to know you -- even to serve you."

"God is dead"
But Nietzsche turned his back on the unknown one. He became one of the most significant critics of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Nietzsche is famous for having invented the phrase "God is dead." In a parable in The Happy Science, Nietzsche lets the "madman" say: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him!" Now if God is dead, he must have been alive once.

Nietzsche's famous slogan may therefore be interpreted as an attempt to say that God as an object for human faith is dead. Scholars have thought that Nietzsche was describing Europe in the 19th century where people no longer believe in God, where faith in God did not easily fit in to life anymore. But "God is dead" also seems to imply not only that it is impossible to believe in God, but that there is no God. As G.E. Morgan writes: "Beyond question, the major premise in Nietzsche's philosophy is atheism." Nietzsche is what we may call a "naturalist," i.e. he believes that nothing more than nature exists and than human beings are advanced animals.

When God is dead, we lack something to hold on to in life. All absolutes disappear from human life, if God is dead. As one Nietzsche scholar, Alistair Kee, writes, this leads to existential terror. Nietzsche was painfully aware of the fact that as human beings we are in search for meaning, and that we want to answer the many questions we have, and understand the sufferings we go through in life. But when God is dead we don't have any absolutes, what regulates us in immanent life are the thoughts and perspectives we manage to produce. This godless universe is a scene where humans must project their own meanings into the act, but, as Nietzsche says, there are eternally many perspectives on reality and every human being may with the help of will and motives produce his or her own perspective on reality.

The criticism of empathy and love Nietzsche challenged some of the main thoughts within Christianity in a very concrete way. Sometimes he seems to admire Jesus, and claims that the church made a picture of Jesus which is not veridical. He is skeptical to the church and its ideology, and claimed that the existential perversion which, according to him, Christianity represents, does not stem from Jesus himself, but from the church. According to Nietzsche there has only been one Christian, and he died on the cross. Nevertheless the teachings of Jesus that we find in the Gospels, are attacked by Nietzsche.

The Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, claimed that pity was the essence of Christianity. In Matthew we read about Jesus that "When he saw the multitudes, he was moved by compassion for them." (Matt 9:36) Nietzsche was critical to the ideal of compassion in Christianity. In Anti-Christ he wrote that "Christianity is the religion of pity." The German thinker, claimed that pity had a depressive effect, and that this quality is opposed to those emotions and attitudes which lead to the promotion of life.

Contin˙a...

 

 

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