Friederich Nietzsche’s evaluation of the world religions varied from one another. Through his “trans-valuations” of the religions and philosophies of his heyday, he created his own Spartan-like doctrines that emphasized the joy, vitality and strength of existence. The worst offenders of his animus belonged to the “decadence” and “immortal blemish of mankind” that was contained in 19th century, European Christianity. However, his estimation of the eastern doctrines of Buddhism and Hindu mysticism were held in a more favorable light. Yet further still, the doctrine of the Buddha had still belonged to what he loathingly referred to as “passive nihilism” (which will be discussed further on in Part II of this essay). Certain aspects of Greek philosophy and even Hinduism however held a much loftier place in Nietzsche’s heart thanks to a colleague by the name of Paul Deussen. Even a cursory reading of Nietzsche’s seminal Thus Spake Zarathustra seems to echo streams of both Greek and Hindu thought. Is it probable that even the sublime basis of Nietzsche’s philosophy was in fact centered in Greek, Hindu and other esoteric doctrines?
It is by in large nearly impossible to draw a sharp line on Nietzsche’s frame of thought and philosophy. His published works such as Beyond Good and Evil, Will to Power and Thus Spake Zarathustra, however gives us a clear insight into his frame of thought and even religiosity as expressed in the later. His most famous literary work, Thus Spake Zarathustra in which Nietzsche’s philosophy is expressed poetically and symbolically through the affirmative voice of the Persian religious teacher Zoroaster. Nietzsche’s search for meaning was carried out by pointing with a silver-tongue and sharp vigor the equalitarianism of conformity through the “herd”, the stiff sobriety of society over the submerged, chthonic creative forces as symbolized through Apollo and Dionysus, the resentment of the gifted and the increasing nihilism of his fellow man. Rising above this dark mire was his “Ubermensch”, the “Superman” or the “Overman” that was in essence the master of himself and his chaotic passions, the animal nature within. He is an untamable, contrarian revolutionary that rejects societal conformity and religious delusion that draws the person away from the “here and now” of the present world and into escapism of other-worldly hopes found in many religions, in especially Christianity. Nietzsche’s contemptuous and hostile treatment of Christianity no doubt earned him considerable attention through works such as The Anti-Christ.
Of central importance to Nietzsche’s philosophy was the “Will to Power”, which describes the main driving force or “inner dynamo” of man into achieving ambition to achieve the highest possible position life which is essentially life-affirming rather than life-denying inherent in more ascetic, religious paths. Achieving one’s true will is in essence the “Will to Power”, the advancement or expansion of one’s life and surroundings in the greater present. This worldview is expressed succinctly in The Birth of Tragedy:
For a short time we really are the primordial essence itself and feel its unbridled lust for and joy in existence; the struggle, the torment, the destruction of appearances now seem to us necessary, on account of the excess of innumerable forms of existence pressing and punching themselves into life and of the exuberant fecundity of the world will. We are transfixed by the raging barbs of this torment in the very moment when we become, as it were, one with the immeasurable primordial delight in existence and when, in Dionysian rapture, we sense the indestructible and eternal nature of this joy. In spite of fear and pity, we are fortunate vital beings, not as individuals, but as the one living being, with whose procreative joy we have been fused.
This also includes one’s own consciousness. According to this concept everything in this universe whether living or non-living struggles to expand its power and influence. From this vantage point for discharging expansive energy, religiously oriented morality becomes insignificant and moot. This point is emphasized in The Will To Power:
There is no struggle for existence between ideas and perceptions but a struggle for dominion: the idea that is overcome is not annihilated, only driven back or subordinated. There is no annihilation in the sphere of spirit. (323)
For the noble, “strong-willed”, the “good morality” consists of strength, valor and power whereas the “bad” is defined as weakly, cowardly, timid and petty, “Fear is the mother of morality.” (Beyond Good and Evil) This kind of morality to Nietzsche was the morality of “slaves”. It is this “slave” morality that denies life’s most basic and vital impulses to promulgate its self-interests such as love and passion. The morality of “masters,” the autocrats and kings was this Will to Power an unwavering, passionate fire for dominance and authority over the flaccid. Yet more importantly, this doctrine was central to the idea of self-overcoming that is the weaknesses and short-comings within as opposed to the dominance of others. Common religion, to Nietzsche was seen as a crutch that man uses to abrogate responsibly for this life. Rather than assigning the fortunes and misfortunes to some vague notion of “God’s will” or even “fate”, he would rather his fellow man accept the responsibility of their actions and consequences they reap. It is not “God’s will” that Jack graduates from law school but rather through Jack’s “Will to Power” that he achieves this feat.
Of course, this does not mean that man is responsible for everything that happens to him (for example: being laid-off during a recession). Rather, it’s entirely up to each individual on how they would react to such circumstances (i.e. being the victim or overcoming the obstacle). Yet, no one can deny Nietzsche had his share of bad luck during his life time relating from health to relationships with women and financial hardships. Throughout Nietzsche’s life, he was plagued with health problems relating to congenital disease which induced spells of intense head-aches, poor eye-sight and prolonged periods of exhaustion (not to mention contracting syphilis at a German brothel) which added to his several bouts of depression. From his long phases of self-reflection, his views on politics (socialism and democracy especially), religion, philosophy, war, pacifism and even sexuality were realized. Yet, he never really complained of these hardships. In fact, he reveled in them—viewing such painful experiences as a fiery mallet wielded by a blacksmith while the self as the malleable steel being forged into a sword of triumph. From these newly acquired perception and Will to Power, the search for truth and the “meaning of life” becomes a sojourn for self-reinvention and life-affirmation in which is required the full resources of his genius to solve.
A doctrine is needed powerful enough to work as a breeding agent: strengthening the strong, paralyzing and destructive for the world-weary. (Nietzsche, Will To Power. Pg. 106)
Eventually, it becomes apparent by reading Nietzche’s writing that it employs insidious language that lures the reader into his philosophies and beliefs that one can find that one isn’t being critical of what he’s proclaiming as truth. Perhaps it’s this persuasive and confrontational manner that shakes the conformist of the herd from the “decadent bubble”. “I’ll lead you to the water, but you have to drink!” This is but one of many impressions I have garnered from his works. In essence, this is the “feeling” that pervades many of his writings. However, this tactic seems to be missing in Thus Spake Zarathustra. In the same text, the Ubermensch is represented as the religious figure of Zoroaster (Greek/Latin) or Zarathustra (Persian).
The name Zarathustra carries many meanings including “ferocious” and “undulated light”. Of course, Zarathustra is also the founder of Avestan (Iranian) religion of Zoroastrianism. It is often suggested that both western religion (including Greek, Jewish, Christian, Manichean and Muslim thought) and philosophy owes much of its inspiration from Zarathustra himself. Radical dualism also finds its origins in Zarathustra’s religious ideas concerning two opposing, independent principles of light versus darkness (the two worlds) embodied in Ahura Mazda, the Creator of Goodness and Anro Mainyus (Ahriman), the Evil Spirit. This type of radical dualism later resurfaces within Manichean doctrine that would eventually include many other religious figures such as Zarathustra, Jesus Christ and even the Buddha into their pantheon of avatars of light battling against the denizens of darkness. (For a more precise summary of the Manichean religion and its Zoroastrian influences see The Gnostic Religion by Hans Jonas.)
Nietzsche however employs Zarathustra as a protagonist for his philosophy which inevitably turns the tables of the world-denying tendencies of religious faith and dualistic heresies of the ancient world. The irony in that Nietzsche would use the founder of religion and by extension Judeo-Christianity and metaphysical morality becomes apparent, thus completely reversing or “correcting” this particular religiosity once conjured up by Zarathustra. It was Nietzsche’s adoption of Zarathustra’s name that made the ancient philosopher well known to the people of the modern world, whose name and doctrine was lost since Arab invasion in 7th century AD. Nietzsche, like Zarathustra also used battling dualities in his work to express his philosophy. In Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, the German philosopher pits the qualities of the Greek gods viz. Apollonian solar deity’s virtues, beauty and laws against Dionysus’ savage, atavistic and chthonic primal energy. Dionysus is the energy of the Bacchic revel which renders the false idol or the egoic-self into pieces. It is this terrible reveling archetype that poses a threat against materialist culture that struggles in fear to keep the lid on this explosive energy. It is this heathen-like, defiant spirituality in which Nietzsche based his doctrine upon. Nietzsche reveled in the wild, the atavistic, the fierce and erotic and the totally unapologetic.
Apollo is inevitably a materialist in this context, clinging to the solid, day to day world of the mundane, the visible, and the stable. Greek Mythology also revolved around the rivalries between gods and men, wherein in the end men gained victory over the gods. Here also he proclaims the death of God and hence a need for a “superman”, a man who overpowered God or the “gods”, a being who would bring a new order, a new morality of vitality. This eternal and dualistic dichotomy appears again and again in mythological tropes, stories across the world over. The unrestrained Dionysus rises up to tear the totalitarian system of controls that have bred the greatest evils in cool, orderly and iced intellect of the worst murderers of history, including the Nazi’s who would come to twist and pervert Nietzsche’s words in order to fit their reprehensible and ugly agendas.
Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote in regards to the sinful nature of man that would add to the doctrine of pre-determinism (a Manichaean doctrine as well), a view that would be later shared, utilized and taken advantaged of by the likes of later Christian Theologians from John Calvin to Jonathan Edwards:
Adam and Eve in punishment for their sin “became a natural consequence in all their descendants”. Moreover, it is not just a corrupted physical nature that we have inherited from Adam, but our… ” human nature was so changed and vitiated that it suffers from the recalcitrance of a rebellious concupiscence…. –City of God, xiii. pg. 3
John Calvin repeats this same sentiment:
For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. Those who term it concupiscence use a word not very inappropriate, provided it were added, (this, however, many will by no means concede,) that everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, is defiled and pervaded with this concupiscence; or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence. (Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 1, Section 8.)
Of course, this teaching flies in the face of many, much earlier Christian theologians that recognized the closer doctrine to actual Biblical theology of free-will as evidenced with Irenaeus in Against Heresies XXXVII:
This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will (toward us) is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves . . .
Yet it is Augustine’s assertion as well as parts of the New Testament, specifically in Romans 8:7-8 that the good works of men are but filthy rags in the eyes of God and that mankind is unable to save himself from the fatal illness that has infected is being from birth to death (due to the original sin), and into the flaming pits of eternal damnation. It is this conception of Original Sin that posits that man was innately and totally depraved due to the “fall of man” which was conceived by his ancient parents of Adam and Eve by the ingestion of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. This is the doctrine of the ancestral inheritance of sin and it is an article of faith that is not even found in either the Old or New Testaments and simply a result of misreading scripture. Adam and Eve was merely an archaic explanation of this as to how evil must have came to exist within God’s perfect creation, not necessarily something that, in this day and age, should be taken as fact or anything other than allegorical. This is of course, something Nietzsche more than likely recognized.
In Isaiah 53, it reads the greatest Old Testament description of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death. That chapter emphasizes the Biblical God’s activity in the events surrounding the crucifixion. It was, the Jewish deity, Jehovah who laid on Jesus the sins of all of mankind. In Isaiah 52:10, it plainly states that this deity was pleased to crush his own Son as a blood-sacrifice in order that salvation might come to a spiritually sick world. The Anti-Christ takes special note of this ridiculous and ironic doctrine of death and lunacy:
God himself sacrifices himself for the guilt of mankind, God himself makes payment to himself, God as the only being who can redeem man from what has become unredeemable for man himselfCthe creditor sacrifices himself for his debtor, out of love (one can credit that?), out of love for his debtor!
It is these notions of sin and redemption that makes up the slave-morality paradigm that Nietzsche completely rejects and eviscerates in The Anti-Christ. Christian morality to Nietzsche relegates self-affirmation as evil, and blesses the meek, the yielding, and the pitying—in short, the slaves and the herd. The mind-set of the “wretched, unsaved sinner” is a vice and anathema for kings! In place of this “slave morality” Nietzsche suggested a Greek morality, a pagan, life-affirming, and rejecting the contrast between good and evil and in favor that is between and above good and evil — the Ubermensch. It is this ideal man that Nietzsche recognizes as a healthy, flourishing and potent archetype who embraces the virtues of pride, courage and the Will to Power. Love your neighbor as yourself is all fine: but make sure first that you love yourself. The true sin isn’t disobedience to the Biblical God’s will; it is disobedience to your own!
In The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche responds to the Christian religion’s incessant proclamation that man is born in sin from the get-go, is unsaved, pitiful and above all, eternally hell-bound. He shows the decadent ideal no mercy in his evisceration of it:
Christianity finds sickness necessary, just as the Greek spirit had need of a superabundance of health — the actual ulterior purpose of the whole system of salvation of the church is to make people ill. And the church itself — doesn’t it set up a Catholic lunatic asylum as the ultimate ideal? — The whole earth as a madhouse? — The sort of religious man that the church wants is a typical decadent; the moment at which a religious crisis dominates a people is always marked by epidemics of nervous disorder; the “inner world” of the religious man is so much like the “inner world” of the overstrung and exhausted that it is difficult to distinguish between them; the “highest” states of mind, held up before mankind by Christianity as of supreme worth, are actually epileptoid in form — the church has granted the name of holy only to lunatics or to gigantic frauds in majorem dei honorem….
Furthermore, Nietzsche in the Anti-Christ also minces no words in regards to the stagnant anti-intellectualism of the Christian churches in his day (and arguably today’s Mega-Churches and even modern society at large):
We should not deck out and embellish Christianity: it has waged a war to the death against this higher type of man, it has put all the deepest instincts of this type under its ban, it has developed its concept of evil, of the Evil One himself, out of these instincts — the strong man as the typical reprobate, the “outcast among men.” Christianity has taken the part of all the weak, the low, the botched; it has made an ideal out of antagonism to all the self-preservative instincts of sound life; it has corrupted even the faculties of those natures that are intellectually most vigorous, by representing the highest intellectual values as sinful, as misleading, as full of temptation. The most lamentable example: the corruption of Pascal, who believed that his intellect had been destroyed by original sin, whereas it was actually destroyed by Christianity!
Not only is Christianity reviled in the strongest terms, Nietzsche spares no punches in his trans-valuation of the Christian God as evidenced in The Anti-Christ:
The Christian concept of a god — the god as the patron of the sick, the god as a spinner of cobwebs, the god as a spirit — is one of the most corrupt concepts that has ever been set up in the world: it probably touches low-water mark in the ebbing evolution of the god-type. God degenerated into the contradiction of life. Instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yea! In him war is declared on life, on nature, on the will to live! God becomes the formula for every slander upon the “here and now,” and for every lie about the “beyond”! In him nothingness is deified, and the will to nothingness is made holy! …
Calvinism, a subsidiary Protestant doctrine sort of promotes this same worship of a malicious tyrant of death. It is the Ubermensch that plunges forth his sword of truth against these doctrines of decadence and falsehood. Thus, the Ubermensch is realized and rises like a fiery phoenix over the profane masses and the “great nausea” that is associated with both the Judeo-Christian doctrines and all its schisms as well as nihilism. It is important to note that the Ubermensch is a journey towards self-mastery rather than an end-result in itself.
God is dead. God remains dead. And we killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (Nietzsche, the Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufman).
These ideas represent three stages interconnected and one leading to the other. This highly provocative statement is actually a stark observation of Nietzsche concerning Christianity and European society of his time. In Nietzsche’s view, recent developments in modern science and the increasing secularization of European society had effectively “killed” the Christian God, who had served as the basis for meaning and value in the West for a thousand and plus years.
The idea of man (or more accurately) the Roman Catholic Church had effectively killed the concept of God by having a parasitic priest class convening over the congregation through their abuse of power and control throughout ecclesiastical history. Interestingly enough, the Apocalypse of Peter found in the Nag Hammadi Library had also said the same thing nearly 1,800 years ago!
And they will cleave to the name of a dead man, thinking that they will become pure. But they will become greatly defiled and they will fall into a name of error, and into the hand of an evil, cunning man and a manifold dogma, and they will be ruled without law.
Nietzsche claimed the death of God would eventually lead to the loss of any coherent sense of meaning in life. In essence, secularism would breed nihilism. Nihilism, according to Nietzsche was one of the unfortunate “side-effects” for an existential quest for meaning; a void that was felt when Christianity was experienced as a disillusionment and ultimately rejected. Nihilism in a nutshell: Life is a big nothing.
Nihilism according to Nietzsche was sort of a vacuous hole left in man’s existential yearnings since his fellow countryman had abandoned Christian virtues and was left to their own vices. In Will To Power, Nietzsche explains Nihilism in psychological terms:
Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a “meaning” in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the “in vain,” insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure–being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long. (4)
This was a great opportunity to reevaluate societal values into something “new” as explained in Will To Power:
Because the values we have had hitherto thus draw their final consequence; because nihilism represents the ultimate logical conclusion of our great values and ideals—because we must experience nihilism before we can find out what value these “values” really had.—We require, sometime, new values. (51)
As Martin Heidegger wrote in The Word of Nietzsche: God is Dead:
If God as the supra-sensory ground and goal of all reality is dead, if the supra-sensory would of the Ideas has suffered the loss of its obligatory and above it its vitalizing and upbuilding power, then nothing more remains to which man can cling and by which he can orient himself. (67)
In response to the loss of values in face of the cold winds of nihilism, Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, therein introducing the concept of a value-creating “Ubermensch.” Life isn’t about nothing, nor is it about self-gratifying happiness or worshiping a petty, cosmic tyrant in an sadomasochistic like manner (love and fear God at the same time). Life is about power. Nietzsche’s complaints of Judeo-Christian religion were chiefly centered on the ethical dilemmas and the implications of its metaphysics. He never attacks religion from a materialist or secular standpoint; in fact he often complained of the spread of secularism in which he saw as a breeding ground of nihilism as mentioned before. His usage of myth and symbolism in works such as Thus Spake Zarathustra is illustration of his advocating of such devices. The slave-religion of Christianity was so despised by Nietzsche since in many ways had risen up the emasculated morality of the lower classes of the “God fearing sinners” (blessed are the poor in spirit) which undermined the masculine master-class morality.
It should be noted that Nietzsche didn’t hate everything about the Christian religion per se (in fact he held Jesus Christ in very high esteem while holding the founder of Christianity, St. Paul in utter contempt), what he hated was the conventional Christian personality as the soft and effeminate, the “meek and mild”. Indeed, one of his descriptions of the Ubermensch was “the Roman Caesar with Christ’s soul” in the Will To Power. His rejection of Christian concepts in favor for Greek ones is obvious. In The Antichrist, of all books, he gives a great summary of Jesus’ teachings, an almost Gnostic examination of Christianity, abolishing the churches’ authority or “orthodoxy” over spirituality because the Kingdom of God resides in every man in the deepest recesses of the inner core, the formless Atman and autonomous spiritual seed.
Part II forthcoming…