Saturday, 2 May 2015

Nietzsche becomes a Christian? The assumption that faith is passive obedience may be a significant obstacle to the Christian conversion of creative people

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My impression is that one reason why Christianity is often rejected, almost axiomatically, by creative people who are deeply interested by personal development, spirituality, philosophy, higher needs... is their perception that to become a Christian is essentially a matter of passive obedience to a great mass of dogma, doctrine, theology and what-not.

So the convert goes to someone, gets some books, attends some sessions and gets instructed in all the stuff they now need to know, to affirm, to live by; and is supposed to accept this lock-stock-and-barrel! The irritating inconsistent gadfly is supposed to become a steady, solid ox.

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This person, for whom life has been a spiritual struggle to discover-for-themselves, creatively-to-appropriate, is (or at least feels they will be) catapulted into a world where they must adopt a passive and receptive attitude, and where their main life effort is to align with a predetermined set of demands.

It would be hard to exaggerate the alien-ness with which this strikes a spiritually-seeking, creative, habitually striving kind of person - a person of broadly the same kind as Nietzsche, for instance - and the visceral revulsion which may be elicited (which of course Nietzsche expressed vigorously!).

This is, indeed, one of the Good (i.e. not covertly sinful) reasons for the 'anything-but Christianity' view which has dominated high-level intellectual life for about 250 years in the West.

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Of course, there are also those who find the idea of setting-aside striving, seeking, grappling to be a most welcome idea - they want to get-on-with living, and are grateful for a framework within which to do this. They are grateful for the systemic nature of theology, for the distilled traditional wisdom of life-rules, demands, prohibitions...

But I am not talking about these people; I am talking about the people who are repelled by what they perceive to be the demand of 'organized religion' for passive obedience as the primary requirement.

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Is this repulsion based on reality? Yes, to some considerable extent - this is the way the world is, mostly - because religions cannot effectively be organized around the needs of a small minority; and a structure of rituals, rules, knowledge etc is exactly what is needed-for, and what is best-for, most people most of the time.

But since Christianity is true, then there cannot be any ultimate contradiction between the human nature of the spiritually striving and seeking creative individual and Christianity. There is no reason why the seeker cannot bring his seeking into Christianity. No reason why, say, someone like Nietzsche, could not become a Christian in a complete sense; and every reason why they should become Christian - even if they are then at-odds with the mainstream of The Church, as they always have been at odds with the mainstream of Society.

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If Nietzsche became a Christian, while remaining the essential Nietzsche, then he would-not and could-not (and, in a sense should-not) be expecting or expected to become a passively obedient, well-adjusted, model citizen. Christianity should be trouble and struggle for Nietzsche; and the Church should expect trouble and struggle from converting someone like Nietzsche.

I don't mean that this trouble and struggle should take the form of public conflict - a clash of will, each trying to change the other. That is an intolerable situation for any effective Church, and it is a kind of suicide for a Church to tolerate members to act to erode or dismantle it from within. A Christian-convert Nietzsche would have to forgo completely any polemics against the Church, forgo any attacks-on or undermining-of the complacency and passivity of the majority of the faithful!

But at the psychological level it should be accepted on both sides that a Nietzsche-type will probably always be struggling with something. That kind of person must and will always (or mostly) grappling-with, exploring, dismantling and reassembling, adding-to and subtracting-from, trying to live-by, expressing and extrapolating in various forms...

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The fact is that Christianity (being true, being everything) naturally does have a place for someone of the striving, seeking, creative, discontented Nietzschian type; and if any specific Christian denomination cannot not, or will not, tolerate such a person; then there may be others who will, and there is the possibility of a non-Church-Christian life.

Nietzsche was, to put it mildly, 'not a joiner' of human society - and as a Christian it would be unsurprising if he still was 'not a joiner'.

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The Nietzschian-type will, usually, be told that he needs to change first, before he becomes a Christian - that his job is to conform himself to the demands of the church and to affirm the check-list; but this demand must not be believed, must not be taken to express the necessary essence of Christianity, must be subjected to the same kind of critique that the Nietzschian would apply in other domains and situations.

(Just because somebody says a thing, just because they believe it, just because many people say and believe it - does not prevent them being mistaken. Maybe they haven't considered it deeply enough? The Nietzschian needs, viscerally needs, to find-out for himself, experience for himself, in his own way.)

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In sum, the Nietzschian must simply remain what he is, and have faith that because Christ is for everyone Christianity is also for him; and stubbornly but immovably refuse to be put-off or deterred by those who try to insist that he check-in his turbulent, tormented, questing intellect as a condition of conversion, before he becomes a Christian.

Nonsense! Nietzsche should be, should declare himself to be, a Christian now: exactly as he is - let come what may!

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