What do Christians think of Nietzsche? (5 of 6)
|March 21, 2015||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Returning to the subject of Christianity, Nietzsche’s rhetoric against Christians makes him sound as if he were a man filled with unhappiness, bitterness and hatred. He describes Christians as poisonous . . . vampires . . . leeches . . . parasites . . . cowardly . . . effeminate . . . filthy and bad smelling . . . lunatics . . . refuse . . . offal . . . wretched. These and many other hate-filled expressions are found in The Antichrist. They reveal more about Nietzsche than they do about Christianity – and, we should remember that Nietzsche saw Christianity as being essentially Jewish.
A few examples of his understanding of Christianity’s obvious Jewish origins and nature are (with section numbers from The Antichrist) : . . . the Christian church, put beside the ‘people of God,’ shows a complete lack of any claim to originality (24); . . . the small insurrectionary movement which took the name of Jesus of Nazareth is simply the Jewish instinct redivivus (27); in primitive Christianity one finds only concepts of a Judaeo–Semitic character (32); One would as little choose “early Christians” for companions as Polish Jews: not that one need seek out an objection to them . . . Neither has a pleasant smell (46). Nietzsche saw Christians as “little super-Jews, ripe for some sort of madhouse . . . The Christian is simply a Jew of the ‘reformed’ confession” (44).
If a Christian were to attack Nietzsche so violently it would be said that he was upset by the truth of Nietzsche’s criticisms. It would be uncharitable and counterproductive to respond to Nietzsche on that level, yet it is possible to make a case for the following: that Nietzsche was a brilliant and gifted neurotic with serious mental health issues long before his final breakdown . . . a proto-fascist who hated democracy and called for the elite few (like himself) to rule over the lower common people . . . a deeply angry man who extolled cruelty and brutality and wanted the sick and the weak to be exterminated (The Antichrist, section 2). . . who doted on the Roman Empire because he loved its naked exercise of power . . . a sick, lonely, and unhappy man who said so many negative things about women because he never had a satisfactory relationship with one and didn’t understand them . . . who wrote about health, which he lacked and nobility, which he lacked . . . whose theory of eternal recurrence was merely a bizarre fantasy which (like many of his other ideas) had no substance or support whatever apart from Nietzsche’s intuition.
Foaming tirades based merely on his own unhappy feelings and confused instincts (in which he had complete confidence) was a method of argumentation that Nietzsche applied to other people as well. For example, also in The Antichrist, he called Kant a “catastrophic spider.” Bryan Magee wrote in his detailed study of Wagner’s thought and music that when Nietzsche turned from the highest praise for Wagner to angry contempt, “his invective was characteristically savage” . Magee is deeply respectful of Nietzsche, and calls him “one of the greatest figures in the entire history of Western philosophy” (p. 81), a writer of “incandescent prose” whose books “are now among the classics of philosophy” (pp. 314, 313), but Magee also makes some comments about Nietzsche’s emotional assault on Wagner that (in my view at any rate) apply also to Nietzsche’s furious attacks on Christianity. This is my own assertion, not Magee’s (he does not write from a Christian perspective).
Here are some of Magee’s comments on Nietzsche’s failure to understand Wagner. I take all of these comments to apply equally to Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity. We read of Nietzsche’s “angry asseveration of personal tastes and preferences as if they were facts,” as well as “bigotry, insult, fantasy” (p. 313). “Obviously there was a world of bottled up aggression in him” (p. 301).
Nietzsche called Wagner, whom he formerly praised extravagantly, as “a clever rattlesnake” (p. 324) and asked “Is Wagner a human being at all? Isn’t he rather a sickness?” (p. 328). Magee calls this “almost incredible public abuse . . . representative of dozens of such to be found in his public writings” (p. 328). Nietzsche referred to Kant as a deformed cripple, Socrates was rabble, Dante was a hyena (after all he believed in God) (p. 328). Magee refers to Nietzsche’s virtues as a thinker, but states that when Nietzsche gets to the subject of Wagner he “starts lashing and slashing about in a blind fury, as if anger and pain are preventing him from seeing straight, contradicting himself in all directions” (330).
Magee gives clear evidence – referred to by other biographers of Nietzsche – that one of the reasons for Nietzsche’s hostility to Wagner was a sense of deep hurt and insult after some of Wagner’s negative comments got back to him (pp. 334-338). It is for this reason (and other reasons as well) that Magee suggests that “the fundamental reasons for Nietzsche’s hostility to Wagner were not those he put forward” (p. 330). There were hidden motivations, not reason, logic, and facts, behind Nietzsche’s attacks on Wagner.
Referring to Nietzsche’s “extensive criticisms of Wagner” Magee writes that “he bangs away at the same points so obsessively, they become tedious” (p. 324). Nietzsche’s criticisms of Wagner were in Magee’s view “inauthentic” and revealed “a fundamental non-comprehension of what art is” (p. 320). Nietzsche’s criticisms of Wagner “simply do not make contact with the works, and are thus in a very deep way inapplicable, invalid” (p. 326). Referring specifically to Wagner’s opera Parsifal, Magee states that Nietzsche attacked it without even understanding it, and that Nietzsche’s claim that Wagner had surrendered to Christianity was “to put it charitably, nonsense” (p. 329).
I believe that all of this can be said of Nietzsche’s critiques of Christianity as found in The Antichrist and in The Genealogy of Morals. Nietzsche did not understand Christians or Christianity, but lashed out with irrational and irrelevant comments that came more out of his personal hurts and resentments than from sustained analysis and sober consideration of fact. Nietzsche’s bitterness shows him to have been a deeply unhappy man, riddled with insecurity (as is easily inferred from his constant lavish praise of himself, and his hatred and contempt for many others – not the only personal characteristic he shared with Hitler).
Some of Nietzsche’s comments about the Greeks are incoherent, contradictory, and even simply ridiculous. For example, in the Twilight of the Idols, we read “This is why the Greeks remain the supreme cultural event of history” – that is, because of their emphasis on “the body, demeanour, diet, physiology,” from which all else followed . He goes on to say that “One does not learn from the Greeks – their manner is too strange, it is also to fluid to produce an imperative, a ‘classical’ effect” (p. 106). Maybe Nietzsche was incapable of learning from the Greeks, but many have thought otherwise.
He finds Plato “childish” and “boring” (p. 106), and claims the real essence of the Greeks (which he divined while everyone else missed it) was their will to power (p. 107). They used festivals and arts for no other reason than to make themselves dominant (p. 108), but when they lost their primitive will to power the Greeks became “excitable, timid, fickle comedians every one” (p. 108). Nietzsche liked the fact that in Homer’s Odyssey people could assault and pillage with a clear conscience, but he failed to notice the fact that long before Socrates there was a profound awareness of higher spiritual powers that we must obey. This is why at the end of the Odyssey Odysseus ceased fighting, and did not go on to slaughter all of his opponents and their families.
Many of Nietzsche’s comments about the Greeks are pure rubbish by someone who was completely incapable of understanding them. “It is only in the Dionysian mysteries . . . that the fundamental fact of the Hellenic instinct expresses itself – its ‘will to life’” (p. 109). This means that Socrates and Plato were not even really Greeks at all – they were “pseudo-Greek . . . anti-Greek” (p. 29). Socrates came from the rabble, from the lowest orders (unlike the lofty and superior aristocrat Nietzsche) – was Socrates even a Greek at all? (p. 30). Socrates was a buffoon who was mistaken to claim that happiness required reason and virtue (p. 31)?
As a Christian I have much to disagree with in Greek philosophy, but find Nietzsche’s mischaracterizations here to be the mark only of ignorance. He said Greek moralism from Plato downwards was “pathologically conditioned” (p. 33). I believe it was Nietzsche’s thought that was pathologically conditioned, the product not of calm rationality but of deep emotional instability, anger, resentment, insecurity, loneliness, fear of life, and lack of love.
This is what Nietzsche had to say about Shakespeare in Beyond Good and Evil: “It is no different with Shakespeare, that astonishing Spanish-Moorish-Saxon synthesis of tastes over which an ancient Athenian of the circle of Aeschylus would have half-killed himself with laughter or annoyance: but we [the decadent modern Europeans] – we accept precisely this confusion of colours, this medley of the most delicate, the coarsest, and the most artificial . . . and allow ourselves to be as little disturbed by the repellent fumes and the proximity of the English rabble in which Shakespeare’s art and taste live . . . we go our way enchanted and willing with all our sense alert, however much the sewers of the plebeian quarters may fill the air” .
I personally am not a great admirer of Shakespeare, though I was years ago, but do not think that Nietzsche the master psychologist analyzed Shakespeare very well. Nietzsche’s fans are skilled at obfuscation, and have a special talent for explaining away Nietzsche’s many ridiculous, false, and even cruel and sinister statements, but I think anyone who reads this passage objectively will see that Nietzsche saw Shakespeare as full of the smell of plebeian English sewers, a poet of the rabble whom the aristocratic Nietzsche despised from the lofty heights of his superiority.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, trans. Anthony M. Ludovici (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books). Since the numbered sections are short, quotes can easily be located without reference to page numbers.
 Bryan Magee, Wagner and Philosophy (London: Penguin Books 2001), p. 286.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Classics 1968), p. 101 (italics here and elsewhere are Nietzsche’s).
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books 2003), pp. 153-154.