Nietzsche + Jesus + Values
All quotations below are from From “The Antichrist” by F. W. Nietsche Translated by H. L. Mencken. References are to sections. I have bolded each direct quotation.
This page will seek to build over time a general thesis regarding Nietzsche, Jesus and values. These three words belong together. Let me say why.
1. Nietzsche clearly and unequivocally placed Christianity at the center of the things that had to be criticized if we were to have, if I may intrude an ironical phrase, change we can believe in.
2. Nietzsche correctly understood that the center of the change involved what he called the revaluation of values. His last work prior to his final years of withdrawal was the first of four efforts to move toward this revaluation.
My thesis is that Nietzsche’s madness relates to some extent to the contradiction that exists between his understanding of the “decadent” Jesus in “The Antichrist” and his bias toward values are hardly redolent of a change that he, or anyone else, might see as a real revaluation. See also. And also.
I think Nietzsche saw in the values he attributed to Jesus a truth that went against his own instincts. But they were values he might have embraced in a genuine revaluation. But he could not bring himself to this leap. Nonetheless, Nietzsche’s beloved amor fati may not be that far from the state of mind he finds in his declension of the Redeemer. Nietzsche’s life work makes him, I suggest, the actual father of religionless Christianity.
If there is any text for this within “The Antichrist”, it’s the following
This “bearer of glad tidings” died as he lived and _taught_–_not_ to “save mankind,” but to show mankind how to live. It was a _way of life_ that he bequeathed to man: his demeanour before the judges, before the officers, before his accusers–his demeanour on the _cross_. He does not resist; he does not defend his rights; he makes no effort to ward off the most extreme penalty–more, _he invites it_…. And he prays, suffers and loves _with_ those, _in_ those, who do him evil…. _Not_ to defend one’s self, _not_ to show anger, _not_ to lay blames…. On the contrary, to submit even to the Evil One–to _love_ him…. [Section 35]
Nietzsche goes on:
–We free spirits–we are the first to have the necessary prerequisite to understanding what nineteen centuries have misunderstood–that instinct and passion for integrity which makes war upon the “holy lie” even more than upon all other lies…. Mankind was unspeakably far from our benevolent and cautious neutrality, from that discipline of the spirit which alone makes possible the solution of such strange and subtle things: what men always sought, with shameless egoism, was their _own_ advantage therein; they created the _church_ out of denial of the Gospels….
Whoever sought for signs of an ironical divinity’s hand in the great drama of existence would find no small indication thereof in the _stupendous question-mark_ that is called Christianity. That mankind should be on its knees before the very antithesis of what was the origin, the meaning and the _law_ of the Gospels–that in the concept of the “church” the very things should be pronounced holy that the “bearer of glad tidings” regards as _beneath_ him and _behind_ him–it would be impossible to surpass this as a grand example of _world-historical irony_– [Section 37]
Nietszche tends to make the “Gospels” synonymous with his sense of Jesus or the Redeemer who is antithetical to what the churches have generally made of him. Here he suggests that the very heart of the gospels is precisely what the churches have avoided for 2000 years. Perhaps that can change?
What the Gospels make instinctive is precisely the reverse of all heroic struggle, of all taste for conflict: the very incapacity for resistance is here converted into something moral: (“resist not evil!”–the most profound sentence in the Gospels, perhaps the true key to them), to wit, the blessedness of peace, of gentleness, the _inability_ to be an enemy. [section 29]
What Nietzsche does is also to make immanence fully tangible. This accords with the place he gives to science, That is to say, it opens the door to an understanding that is closer to experience than propositions regarding the beyond. Indeed he locates the true life in us, not outside. And even in a few words his description of this reality is evocative. And, of course, this enables us to see the fissure between Nietzsche’s stated values, which drive a wedge between herd and aristocracy, and the principles which he attributes to Jesus. This fissure is, I believe, a source of Nietzsche’s final retreat from his project, of which “The Antichrist” as the first (and only) salvo.
What is the meaning of “glad tidings”?–The true life, the life eternal has been found–it is not merely promised, it is here, it is in _you_; it is the life that lies in love free from all retreats and exclusions, from all keeping of distances. Every one is the child of God–Jesus claims nothing for himself alone–as the child of God each man is the equal of every other man…. [Section 29]
For Nietzsche Jesus has a specific character that leads him to the conclusion that there may have been only one real Christian — Jesus himself. As he notes in a section above, however, he believes that free spirits today can also be as he was. Clearly this avenue leads us far from the precincts of creedal religion. Indeed it is characterized by
a flight into the “intangible,” into the “incomprehensible”; a distaste for all formulae, for all conceptions of time and space, for everything established–customs, institutions, the church–; a feeling of being at home in a world in which no sort of reality survives, a merely “inner” world, a “true” world, an “eternal” world…. “The Kingdom of God is within _you_”…. [Section 29]
APPENDIX (The following raw quotations from “The Antichrist” will be integrated into this thesis as time permits.):
Here are other quotations from “The Antichrist” relevant to the subject:
With a little freedom in the use of words, one might actually call Jesus a “free spirit”–he cares nothing for what is established: the word _killeth_, whatever is established _killeth_. The idea of “life” as an _experience_, as he alone conceives it, stands opposed to his mind to every sort of word, formula, law, belief and dogma. He speaks only of inner things: “life” or “truth” or “light” is his word for the innermost–in his sight everything else, the whole of reality, all nature, even language, has significance only as sign, as allegory.–Here it is of paramount importance to be led into no error by the temptations lying in Christian, or rather _ecclesiastical_ prejudices: such a symbolism _par excellence_ stands outside all religion, all notions of worship, all history, all natural science, all worldly experience, all knowledge, all politics, all psychology, all books, all art–his “wisdom” is precisely a _pure ignorance_ of all such things. He has never heard of _culture_; he doesn’t have to make war on it–he doesn’t even deny it…. The same thing may be said of the _state_, of the whole bourgeoise social order, of labour, of war–he has no ground for denying “the world,” for he knows nothing of the ecclesiastical concept of “the world”…. _Denial_ is precisely the thing that is impossible to him.–In the same way he lacks argumentative capacity, and has no belief that an article of faith, a “truth,” may be established by proofs (–_his_ proofs are inner “lights,” subjective sensations of happiness and self-approval, simple “proofs of power”–). Such a doctrine _cannot_ contradict: it doesn’t know that other doctrines exist, or _can_ exist, and is wholly incapable of imagining anything opposed to it…. If anything of the sort is ever encountered, it laments the “blindness” with sincere sympathy–for it alone has “light”–but it does not offer objections….
On the other hand, the savage veneration of these completely unbalanced souls could no longer endure the Gospel doctrine, taught by Jesus, of the equal right of all men to be children of God:
Obviously, the little community had _not_ understood what was precisely the most important thing of all: the example offered by this way of dying, the freedom from and superiority to every feeling of _ressentiment_–a plain indication of how little he was understood at all!
Jesus himself had done away with the very concept of “guilt,” he denied that there was any gulf fixed between God and man; he _lived_ this unity between God and man, and that was precisely _his_ “glad tidings”…. And _not_ as a mere privilege!–From this time forward the type of the Saviour was corrupted, bit by bit, by the doctrine of judgment and of the second coming, the doctrine of death as a sacrifice, the doctrine of the _resurrection_, by means of which the entire concept of “blessedness,” the whole and only reality of the gospels, is juggled away–in favour of a state of existence _after_ death!… St. Paul, with that rabbinical impudence which shows itself in all his doings, gave a logical quality to that conception, that _indecent_ conception, in this way: “_If_ Christ did not rise from the dead, then all our faith is in vain!”–And at once there sprang from the Gospels the most contemptible of all unfulfillable promises, the _shameless_ doctrine of personal immortality…. Paul even preached it as a _reward_….