Wednesday 7 July 2021

Nietzsche's The Antichrist - the argument extended

Frederick Nietzche is generally known as one of the most vehement and radical foes of 'Christianity' - certainly he described himself as such in his last main book The Antichrist

Yet as I read Nietzsche's argument in The Antichrist now; it seems to be directed against mainstream, modern, Establishment materialist Leftism - against 2020 systemic totalitarianism triumphant - rather than against Christianity as I understand it.

Indeed, read this way, The Antichrist is a brilliant exposition of the dominant reductionist and secular negative- ideology that has infiltrated, subverted, inverted and (since the global church closures of least year) all-but destroyed institutional Christianity. 

Nietzsche's criticism's of Christianity are characteristic of modern, mainstream, secular, bureaucratic Leftism: The morality based on resentment; the incoherence of equality; that mass inculcation of 'pity' which is designed to paralyze with guilt; and to induce self-hatred, nihilism, despair and the desire for death (eg. abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide).  

Nietzsche's assumption was that there was only 'this world' and he failed to recognize that, if true, this negated all possible justifications for Life of the kind he sought. His diagnosis of Ahrimanic evil was exact and prescient. 

But - at the time of his final dementia and mutism - he had not recognized that his alternative of a morality of Life (by which he meant individual spontaneous instinct) was subhuman, selfish, destructively short-termist - and by nature and merely atavistic, regressive and Luciferic. 

In other words, Nietzsche had not got beyond a negative critique based upon unexamined assumptions. The development of human consciousness means that the Luciferic is unattainable (even if it were desirable) and the Ahrimanic inevitably defeats it. Thus the German National Socialists (who revered Nietzsche, and issued Zarathustra as a Bible-equivalent) began with a philosophy of Life; but inevitably ended with escalating bureaucracy. 

This failure of the Luciferic is why the actual effect of Nietzsche on the atheistic anti-Christian culture which followed, has been to lead towards the Sorathic world of spiteful destruction - a program of civilizational/ national/ personal annihilation - instead of his hoped-for fantasy of pagan strength, courage and dominance.   

What Nietzsche should have done (and perhaps would have done - given more time; and an intuitive recognition of such realities as God, creation and life beyond mortality) was to move on from his negative critique of historical-actual church-dominated Christianity, to apply his creative insights - his direct-knowing - to remaking Christianity instead of trying to destroy it. 

As things stood; Nietzsche was using a double-standard - applying his 'methods' only against Christianity; and not against the assumptions from-which he critiqued Christianity. 

Nietzsche's own method, if thoroughly applied, would have led him back to Christianity - but Christianity of a very different nature than the one from which he began. 

Also, as I have said before, I think it likely that Nietzsche was himself 'saved' - i.e. that after death he chose to follow Jesus Christ to resurrected eternal life in Heaven. 

Why? How? Well, in a nutshell, what Nietzsche had against Christianity was that he believed it was not true

If when, after death, Nietzsche discovered that Christianity was true; then a Man of his creativity and honesty - and with his passionate human motivations - would likely have chosen active, eternal, interpersonal Life in Heaven; rather than the anti-Life lies, ugliness and sordid sins of Hell; or the living-death, un-conscious, blissed-out passivity of Nirvana.  


Francis Berger said...

Fascinating post. I believe you are on to something here. Nietzsche sensed and foresaw the nihilism the death of God in Western consciousness was leaving in its wake, and he sought to fill this inevitable void with spirit because he knew that without spirit, man was doomed. This firm anti-nihilistic stance would have inevitably led him to Christian Truth had he had the time to follow his own Will to Power philosophy to its conclusion because the Will to Power inevitably leads to the very thing Nietzsche was trying to avoid.

Your point about Nietzsche's misapplied disdain for Christianity is spot on - his criticisms of Christianity do not really strike at the heart of Christian Truth, but rather at the late nineteenth-century leftist, bourgeoisie society in which this Truth had all but dissolved.

In his short book "Ressentiment", Max Scheler, a now obscure German philosopher, re-examined Nietzsche's conflation of Christian values with resentment. The introduction reads:

"We believe that the Christian values can very easily be perverted into ressentiment values
and have often been thus conceived. But the core of Christian ethics has not grown on the soil of ressentiment. On the other hand, we believe that the core of bourgeois morality,
which gradually replaced Christian morality ever since the 13th century and culminated in the French Revolution, is rooted in ressentiment. In the modern social movement, ressentiment has become an important determinant and has increasingly modified established morality."

Scheler makes his arguments from a primarily Roman Catholic perspective, which leaves room for contention here and there, but his overarching insights into Nietzsche's misguided conflation of Christian values with ressentiment is quite sound. Scheler's defense of Christian love is also insightful.

If you don't mind, I'll leave a link to Scheler's book for those who may be interested in having a look:

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - I suppose one could say that history has *decisively* refuted Nietzsche's contention that if Christianity were got rid of, then resentment, equality, pity etc. would follow. Modern politics is little else.

So, it is reasonable to do as we do - which is assume that, for all its insightful power, there must be something fundamentally wrong with Nietzsche's argument; and that N. himself would be the first to acknowledge the fact.

I came back to this from your recent blog post, and reading about Steiner's early years, and re-reading some of his early book about Nietzsche.

I wonder whether there may also be some bias in the English translations of Nietzsche - since so many have been written by 'militant atheists' of one sort or another - the only I linked was by Mencken.

One thing I can never appreciate for myself is that - by the accounts of those I trust - Nietzsche was a truly great prose stylist - perhaps the German language's greatest. No doubt, this brings a whole other dimension that is 'lost in translation'.

captOBV said...

The ressentiment aspect of Christianity is Paul's ressentment that he had been unrighteous before he found Christianity or rather before he submitted to it (i.e. he ressented that he had persecuted Christians) and his ressentment againat himself turned into trssentment of those who had never lived as wickedly as himself, which fueled the creation of a sytem of theology that is a spiritual Welfare State: No need to work, God will send you a spiritual check in the mail each month, and this is called "grace." Those who buy into this spiritual Welfare State are ressentful of those who actually live righteously and call them "evil Pelagians." Meanwhile those "evil Pelagians" base their Christianity more around the gospels than Paul and cannot understand what is wrong with those "faith alonists" who trust in receiving welfare payments from God rather than putting in the work.

Anonymous said...

I read the book version of George P. Grant's Time as History, which is in good part concerned with Nietzsche, with interest a number of years ago, and now I see that the broadcast lectures upon which it is based are available on YouTube on two channels: Thamster (which has 1 & 2) and Zinderneuf (which has 3, 4, & 5).* Grant was, among other things, an Inklings lover, and delighted to attend The Socratic Club meetings chaired by C.S. Lewis when he was studying in Oxford.

David Llewellyn Dodds

*The were originally broadcast on the CBC, but I have had trouble finding them on the CBC website in the past. Checking just now, however, and searching for Massey Lectures George Grant I found all of them there, too.

Bruce Charlton said...

cO - The resentment aspect of Christianity is probably an evil generic to certain types of institution and state (not to any religion, specifically) - a generalization of the divide-and-rule principle, or the sin of pride.

Resentment is a (demonic) way of controlling people and/or increasing chaos by encouraging sin. Leftism is the ideology of resentment; and leftism is anti-Christ - root and branch. Nietzsche got causality reversed, and misinterpreted the corruption/ destruction of Christianity as its essence.

Resentment seems absent from the core Fourth Gospel teaching - because that Gospel is personal and familial, and does not equate 'following Jesus' with establishing an abstract, formal institution (church) or priesthood as mechanism or intermediary.

Jack said...

Nietzsche's life was truly tragic. He grew up a very pious son of a Lutheran pastor, but lost his father at an early age, a loss that impacted him profoundly. Still in his early adolescence he was a pious Christian and I think you can find online a letter of his at age 15 where he describes his desire to live wholly for Christ. I gather his life began a darker turn at university under Atheist professors and intellectuals, but I don't know what went on precisely. The reason I say his life was tragic is that he undoubtedly would have made a great pastor, following in his father's footsteps, and given his intellect probably a profound preacher and theologian as well; despite his √úbermensch doctrine, by temperament he was a deeply sensitive man. The tragedy is that God allowed him to suffer profound illness that cut short his brilliant University career (professor by age 25, practically unprecedented in that era) and instead of humbling himself under God (like Beethoven seems to have done in his illness), Nietzsche chose instead a romantic, "heroic" attitude of rebellion and self-will, inspired by the early art of Wagner. Essentially he chose the Satanic spirit in its attractive 19th century guise, and pushed it further than any of his predecessors. There must have been a moment in particular where he definitely turned his back on God, and knew it. Certainly when Wagner turned towards Christianity he was appalled and set off on a new lonesome direction in his career, being until that moment a devout Wagnerite. I find the final moment of his life before he collapsed into insanity (living on for another ten years, but non compos mentis) so pregnant with meaning: despite preaching the will to power and the crushing of all pity for the weak, the last thing he did before he went insane was throw himself in pity around a poor horse that was being abused by his master. Given this and the fact that in his post-insanity rambling letters he would sometimes sign himself off as "the Crucified One", I wonder about his possible salvation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack - Nietzsche's final decade was a foreshadowing of the way that many modern people end their lives - a demented twilight. I have speculated that this kind of illness may be an experience of simplification; one that may enable some individuals to become clearer about their spiritual choices as death approaches. It is certainly possible that in those last years as eternity approached; Nietzsche may have set aside his pride and spitefulness; repented; and recognized what he really wanted. Personally, I believe (intuitively - no evidence) that something like this was indeed what happened.

Jack said...

I concur with his last 10 years being a kind of allegory for the modern world and modern philosophy. I think it was a providential occurrence and prophetic sign, of which one would have to be wilfully blind to not see the significance. Certainly Nietzsche himself would not have misinterpreted it, since he (perhaps egotistically) considered himself as having a personal fate of world-importance.
There was a moment in my life, in late adolescence, where I felt I had to choose between Christianity and a kind of Nietzschean (neo-)paganism. I was reading both Nietzsche and Plato and found them equally compelling, although they are in many ways opposites and Nietzsche despised Plato for being a kind of pre-Christian. The other great 19th century existentialist, Kierkegaard, was also an influence on me. I remember "tasting" these spiritual paths, and while Nietzsche's "paganism" made me feel proud and lofty, it had an aftertaste of misery and despair; whereas Christianity had a taste of being humble, but an aftertaste of hope and joy. I remember thinking to myself, "well I know which I'll have to choose if I want to be happy." There's a great, albeit somewhat hidden behest the surface, aspect of spite and self-loathing in Nietzsche's philosophy of overcoming, in that one can't countenance pity or one's own weakness at all. I think this is his philosophy's, and his own personal, greatest flaw: he absolutely refused to confront the reality of his own human frailty and accept it, but chose instead a kind of desperate heroism. There's a lot of exuberance and celebration in Nietzsche's crude pantheistic ("life-affirming") attitude, but it totally lacks what might be Christianity'a greatest merit, which it totally surpasses any other religion or philosophy in: a serious confrontation of the problem of evil and suffering. For all his theatrical bravery and appreciation of the tragic aspect of life, Nietzsche, without the cross of Christ which he abandoned, couldn't square up to the suffering of the world. I think someone said that he was ultimately jealous of Christ and wished he could replace Him. They did share a similar fate in that they both entered into the deep misery and suffering of this world, but Jesus did it in a self-sacrificing spirit and Nietzsche in a self-aggrandising one, and it's obvious who conquered the world and who was conquered by it.