Is Your God Dead?

“God is Dead.” These words, made infamous by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche years ago in his classic work “The Gay Science”, shoots a stinging arrow into the hearts of religious believers of all varieties. As a Christian, my lifelong attitude towards this statement was “meh”. I mean, God, by definition, can’t just die. I brushed it off as nonsense. But as a student of philosophy, I had to take a deeper look into what he actually meant when he made this rather epic claim and understand where that puts us as Believers.

Before I dive into Nietzsche’s dialectic (the study of truth and reasoning about beliefs and opinions), I feel a little background might be needed. Nietzsche was raised in a strict Lutheran home. His father was actually a pastor, which made Nietzsche a “P.K.”(that’s church slang for “pastors kid”, by the way), and boy, did he turn out to be a bad one. But what was it that Nietzsche was objecting to with such force? Was it God? Not necessarily. What he meant was that the concept of God was no longer needed for valuable insight into truth and that it was actually a mortal enemy of every minute that you have alive. But what was it in this concept of God that was so flawed?

In order to elaborate on that last statement, let me make clear what Nietzsche’s positions were based upon. Obviously, Nietzsche was an atheist. A hard-boiled one, in fact. We’re talking Richard Dawkins on meth atheist. He hated the very concept of God. He viewed every Christian virtue as a weakness. Take every Christian principle and envision the polar opposite. This would be his advice for how you should live your life. But why? How could “love thy neighbor” or “pray for those who persecute you” be such awful commandments? I remember an incorrigible urge to find out. I searched for meaning in what he was getting at and it came down to, at least in my estimation, one thing: the attitude from which these demands become so compelling to us as religious believers.

Nietzsche’s writings are notoriously tough to digest. I still cannot find a consistent consensus among scholars regarding a clear understanding of some of his arguments (I’m  willing to bet that almost every atheistic criticism of this article would come from ten different directions), but what we do know that one of his major ideas was something he called Ressentiment. Ressentiment is the feeling of resentment towards those that one perceives as their antagonist.

 Not even Socrates was free of this condition. Socrates openly admitted to being an aesthetically challenged individual. Nietzsche mocks Socrates for using his intelligence to confuse his opponents and, therefore, compensate for his ugliness. This was supposedly  retribution against his contemporaries who mocked him for this deficiency. In The Twilight of the Idols, he writes, “Is Socrates irony an expression of revolt? Of the rabble’s ressentiment? Does he, as one of the oppressed, relish his own ferocity in the knife thrusts of the syllogism? . . . He infuriates, and at the same time paralyzes. The dialectician disempowers the intellect of his opponent. –What? Is dialectic just a form of revenge in Socrates?”[1] Basically, poor ugly Socrates is “getting back” at all those mean Athenians by smarting his way out (or into) trouble, thereby earning approval of others.

But here’s how this principle is relevant to religious belief: Nietzsche thought Christians were essentially doing the same thing. And you know what? I think he was (mostly) right. We hold our Ressentiment inside us. We tell ourselves “Don’t return evil with evil because God will pay them back”. Now, this is true, but what Nietzsche was attacking (as far as this blog is concerned) is that the hate that we ignore is not only still inside of us but has also become a twisted center of our relationship with Christ. The evil stays inside us all along. We can be spit on, beat up and patronized and instead of standing up for Christ by standing down to our antagonist for their own sake, we stand against others in the name of Christ for our own self-interest. Does this hit a nerve? It does with me. I often want God’s vengeance, not his reconciliation.

“God” became a way in which one not only accepted his own personal failings, but God made those failings virtuous. It became a way for one to hand over his strength to others. “Love thy enemy” became a glorification of cowardice and not only allowed the assertive to establish dominance over groups, but it also halted the individual from becoming all that he could be. Nietzsche’s Christian naturally becomes the same as the unbeliever: both are working from resentment towards a personal victory at the expense of others. Many Christians, if they are truly honest with themselves, can and should see this in themselves.

 Another main idea in Nietzsche’s philosophy was what he called Will to Power, which is man’s ability to master his own drive and ambitions in life’s environments. But this also became his capacity to become master over others. Man’s Will to Power is pretty much a sociological survival of the fittest. Sadly, Christians throughout history have made it their “Gospel” message to not only survive and then thrive, but to dominate (moral majority, anyone?). Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols, nails it perfectly, “Even the body within which individuals treat each other as equals . . . will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant – not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power.”

But as I dug into Nietzsche’s works, whether The Antichrist, Twilight of the Idols or Beyond Good and Evil, it hit me like a right-hook from Ali himself: he (unknowingly) wasn’t bashing God, but the legalism that is common to virtually every religious system. If we’re obedient, God will avenge us. If we enforce Christian morality, God will reward us with power. If you love the former statement, you are a slave to this world, not Christ. If the latter, you’re the slave owner. Neither can rightfully claim the term “Christian”.

So here is where I add substance to my stylized blog title.  Why do you serve Jesus? Is  it based upon anything similar to Ressentiment? How do you think the Gospel should be spread? If it looks like forcing it onto others, then it is merely Will to Power. If you serve Jesus in any of these ways, Nietzsche was right. Your God is dead.

Jesus tells us in John 8:36 that if He “sets us free, we are free indeed” and in Galatians 5:1 Paul tells us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Slavery to Christ is freedom from ourselves in the most positive sense, not the most negative. This means that when we freely put our trust in Christ, we are able to become liberated in a way that grants optimal liberty not by what we can’t do in Christ, but by what we can do in Him, namely, experiencing God in His fullness. This freedom becomes godly when the good we do for God is done for His own sake. It’s a heart problem. This is what makes Christ’s message so unique, but we’ve polluted it to the point that Nietzsche’s idea of God resembles ours more than it does Jesus’.

This is why I, as a Christian, LOVE Nietzsche. He constantly shows us not what Christianity is, but what it actually isn’t. 1 Peter tells, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil.” In other words, no more Ressentiment. Galatians 2:4  (which is, when put in context, a refutation of legalism) says, “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom of Christ and to make us slaves”. In other words, no more Will to Power.

All this being said, Nietzsche would (expletive) hate me. We would debate “God” until he finally gave up milk for liquor. He would surely argue the word freedom until his mustache shook, but I don’t care. His God is dead. IS YOURS??

[1] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, 1966. Pg. 1230. Print.

[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, 1966. Pg. 260. Print.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Is Your God Dead?

  1. One thing I am sure about Nietzsche, and it is his eternal disgust against Christians.

    Christianity is just like Communism – works well just on paper. People try to bend their nature, but will eventually fail, because why try to deter what you really wanted to do? Be a man and live as a man – that will lead you to Nietzsche’s ubermensch

    A man can imitate a bleating sheep but will never be a sheep. He is still man who imitates sheep.

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  2. I haven’t read Nietzsche in a while but your thoughts on the matter are refreshingly illuminating. I certainly agree with your conclusions about human motivations and how as Christians we’re often guilty of using flowery rhetoric and God’s good will as weapon in service of our own ambition and pride. However, I’m not sure if Nietzsche actually had the same problem with legalism in Christianity. He praises the will to power and deconstructs everything down to it — in short there simply can’t be any hope of restitution or good will in mankind because we’re all born vicious and wild, obstructed by the false piety of civilization which tries to temper our nature only to give us more subtle means of hiding our true motives, which are always to dominate others.

    There is much truth to his observation and deconstruction of human motive, and if our eyes are open we can readily see this sort of behavior among Christians who preach Jesus meek and mild but who do so with a pretense to their own superiority — placing themselves at the center or fostering environments of tribal loyalty around them — and whereas these are the true wolf amid the sheep; nevertheless, one can’t help notice that for Nietzsche everything gets grossly reduced to will-power in the same way as for Freud everything gets reduced to libido. It seems to me that his call to power is a naturalized, uncivilized, version of the Platonic call to spirit except that in Plato the spirit (or will power) serves to subsume our Dionysian appetites to the restraints of our Apollonian reason: Something Nietzsche would’ve considered a tragedy. It is no coincidence that in his scheme of a-morality the Will to Power becomes the all encompassing reality which supplants the Holy Spirit as the guide for human conscience and destiny.

    “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1st Corinthians 2:11)

    Given his Lutheran upbringing, it seems Nietzsche could never get away from the idea of a severely chastising and punishing God — the father whose wrath could never be assuaged except through a crimson and gruesome propitiation of vicarious atonement.

    Nietzsche’s doctrine is perfectly Calvinist and perfectly Augustinian. Or in the wretched words of R.C. Sproul: “We’re not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” This IS the worldview of Nietzsche and even as an atheist he still serves the God of terror who creates man in his terrible image.

    The God that Nietzsche hated surely deserves to die; that is, if our life in him comes from our belief in vicarious atonement through blood then by rejecting in belief the necessity of any such act we bring about the death of this God. Nietzsche was wrong, and God is not dead. It’s just that the God of Christianity he so dreaded and resented never existed save in the all too German mind of the orphaned son of a Lutheran pastor.

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