Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jesus Christ Superman?

To demand from strength that it does not express itself as strength, that it does not consist of a will to overpower, a will to throw down, a will to rule, a thirst for enemies and opposition and triumph, is just as unreasonable as to demand from weakness that it express itself as strength.
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay

According to Nietzsche, Christianity is an attempt by the weak and powerless to control the strong and powerful.

The original morality was the morality of the noble. These are the elite people, the people who naturally rose to the top in society. They were powerful, courageous, happy, energetic, optimistic and confident. They considered everyone like them to be "good." The others, they viewed as "bad."

These people were "bad" because they were weak, timid, fearful, pessimistic, and resentful. They saw themselves as victims.

Because there were more of the weak people than the strong, the weak banded together to promote a new "slave morality."

This was their attempt to make life better for those who suffer. And it also served as leverage against the powerful.

The weak defined themselves as the "good." The powerful now became "evil."

The virtues of this new morality became
  • Patience
  • Humility
  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Compassion
  • Equality
  • Submissiveness

This morality is used to keep the powerful in check:
The practice of judging and condemning morally, is the favorite revenge of the intellectually shallow on those who are less so, it is also a kind of indemnity for their being badly endowed by nature, and finally, it is an opportunity for acquiring spirit and becoming subtle—malice spiritualizes. They are glad in their inmost heart that there is a standard according to which those who are over-endowed with intellectual goods and privileges, are equal to them, they contend for the "equality of all before God," and almost need the belief in God for this purpose.

But this morality is against nature. It becomes the enemy of life. It focuses on an "afterworld" and resigns itself to suffering, to trying to make the best of a bad situation.

According to Nietzsche, egoism is the very essence of a noble soul.

The hope for mankind is to be found in the √úbermensch, the Overman or Superman.

The Overman lives for the earth, not some future life that may or may not arrive. He makes himself, not depending upon anyone or anything. He is confident, optimistic and strong-willed. He is not afraid to take risks. He creates his own values, not submitting to the mores of society.

Nietzsche sees Jesus as someone who came close to becoming an Overman. He was his own person. He did not bow to the current cultural norms. He was confident and self-directed.

But he had a serious flaw.

He depended upon God—and called for others to do the same. He talked about love, forgiveness and humility. He sacrificed himself for the "kingdom of God."

According to Nietzsche, the weak deserve what they get. The strong have an obligation to take over. The future of the earth depends upon the success of the elite. (Think Hitler.)

The morality of Nietzsche has more influence in modern culture than people generally recognize.
  • Donald Trump embodies the attitude of the Overman and has encouraged a "take no prisoners" approach to business.
  • We applaud sports figures who use subterfuge and deception in the name of "doing what it takes" to secure victory.
  • We admire celebrities who Did It [Their] Way.

Even in the Church, we covet power, wealth and influence. In fact, Nietzsche considered the church of his day to be a parody of itself. It preached the "slave morality" but lived by the "master morality."

Nietzsche was right in his assessment of the Church. Far too often the institutional church has failed to live by the very principles it expects its members to practice. And he is partially correct in his distinction between slave morality and master morality.

But he is wrong in at least two particulars.
  • The morality of God (not necessarily that of religion) is life affirming and optimistic. It is the selfish morality that in the end is deadening and pessimistic.
  • The way of Jesus (the way of the cross) is the way only of apparent weakness and apparent defeat. It is through his "weakness" and "defeat" that Jesus Christ overcame the powers of evil and oppression.

So here's the question: Are we going to follow the teachings of Jesus or the teachings of Nietzsche?

Jesus said, "Bless those who curse you."
Nietzsche said, "It is inhumane to bless when one is being cursed."

Nietzsche writes:
What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome (The Antichrist).

Jesus said:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25–28).

What do you think?

Here are some questions you might wish to answer:
  • What are some examples of a "morality" of resentment?
  • In what ways do the presidential campaigns appeal to "slave morality"? To "master morality"?
  • How has the institutional church denied the teachings of its founder?
  • What positive insight can the followers of Jesus Christ take from the criticisms of Nietzsche?
  • In what ways are the teachings of Jesus life affirming?

Pastor Rod
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


Anthony Bondon said...

What are some examples of a "morality" of resentment?
Three examples of a "morality" of resentment come to mind.
(1) The moral resentment the Jewish culture could have as a result of the Holocaust.
(2) The moral resentment that African-Americans could have as a result of slavery and oppression.
(3) The moral resentment that Christians could have as a result of the death of Christ.

In what ways do the presidential campaigns appeal to "slave morality"? To "master morality"?
The presidential campaign appeals to the slave morality in its appeal by the candidates, to the masses. Elect me as your leader and I will lead you to a better situation.
The campaign appeals to the master morality in that each candidate considers himself/herself to be the elite, the most noble while the other is portrayed as bad in every which way.

Posted by Anthony Bondon

Aesthetic Anamalis said...

This is a very misguided representation of Nietzsche's notion of the overman - specifically you are trying to assimilate his view with moral ways of thinking. Just because something is no longer wrong, does not mean is is now right, and moreover sublime. It is about thinking beyond good and evil (right and wrong). That does not mean to say bullying is the most Gay and affirmative way of being with the Other. Jw