Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the atheists who has most fascinated and influenced me, ever since I read his “The Genealogy of Morals.” One of the fascinating features of his whole philosophy is how he seems to turn love, altruism, and justice upside down and suggest that these are born of the most malicious hatred; a hatred born from fear. This hatred, he suggests, was imposed on the Roman world by none other than the Jews, and this Jewish hatred destroyed everything good and noble in the world. The priestly trans-valuation of values was what the Jews introduced into the world, and this whole concept is born of a hatred for one’s fellow man at the deepest level. This hatred is both subtle and profound, so that Nietzsche was able to say that nobody ever hated more perfectly than Christ on the cross praying for his persecutors. Getting one’s head around this backwards concept may take some time for people who have never heard the idea before. Consider his analogy: supposing that sheep are asked what they think about lions. They likely hate lions, and think them evil for killing so many sheep. They would rather the Lions behaved decently and acted in a way that reflected a concern for the common good of their fellow animals. However, Lions, for their part, do not hate sheep – they do not kill them out of hatred, but out of love. They do terribly love sheep – there is nothing better in the whole world than a sheep as far as the lions are concerned. Nietzsche imagines that the weaker party will fail to understand this form of ‘love’ and thus will react with hatred. Thus, the Jews, being the weaker party, placed their values in the trascendent realm and imposed them maliciously on the stronger party, making the strong feel ashamed for being so. Those who could seduce another man’s wife easily, should be ashamed to do so. Those who are strong enough to steal another mans goods altogether, should be ashamed to even think to do so et cetera. In short, the strong are subject to guilt. The suggestion is that the Jews as the weaker party represent a victory insofar as their hatred was so profound that it managed to convince even “Rome” eventually.
One of the more interesting arguments Nietzsche provides for this suggestion comes from the Judeo-Christian doctrine of hell. I will here quote Nietzsche at some length.
“I understand, I prick my ears up again (ah! ah! and I hold my nose). Now do I hear for the first time that which they have said so often: ‘We good, we are the righteous’ – what they demand they call not revenge but ‘the triumph of righteousness’; what they hate is not their enemy, no, they hate ‘unrighteousness,’ ‘godlessness’; what they believe in and hope is not the hope of revenge, the intoxication of sweet revenge (-‘sweeter than honey,’ did Home call it?), but the victory of God, of the righteous God over the ‘godless’; what is left for them to love in this world is not their brothers in hate, but their ‘brothers in love,’ as they say, all the good and righteous on the earth.”
And how do they name that which serves them as a solace against all the troubles of life – their phantasmagoria of their anticipated future blessedness?
“How? Do I hear them right? They call it ‘the last judgment,’ the advent of their kingdom, ‘the kingdom of God’ – but in the meanwhile they live ‘in faith,’ ‘in love,’ ‘in hope.'”
In the faith in what? In the love for what? In the hope of what? These weaklings! – they also, forsooth, wish to be strong some time; there is no doubt about it, some time their kingdom also must come – “the kingdom of God” is their name for it, as has been mentioned: – they are so meek in everything! Yet in order to experience that kingdom it is necessary to live long, to live beyond death, – yes, eternal life is necessary so that one can make up for ever for that earthly life “in faith,” “in love,” “in hope.” Make up for what? Make up by what? Dante, as it seems to me, made a crass mistake when with awe-inspiring ingenuity he placed that inscription over the gate of his hell, “Me too made eternal love [i.e., Eternal Love also created me]”: at any rate the following inscription would have a much better right to stand over the gate of the Christian Paradise and its “eternal blessedness” -“Me too made eternal hate” – granted of course that a truth may rightly stand over the gate to a lie! For what is the blessedness of that paradise? Possibly we could quickly sumise it; but it is better that it should be explicitly attested by an authority who in such matters isnot to be disparaged, Thomas of Aquinas, the great teacher and saint. “Beati in regno celesti,” says he, as gently as a lamb, “videbunt poenas damnatorum, ut beatitudo illis magis compaceat. [The blessed in the kingdom of heaven will behold the punishment of the damned so that their blessedness will please them all the more.]
Or if we wish to hear a stronger tone, a word from the mouth of a triumphant father of the Church, who warned his disciples against the cruel ecstasies of the public spectacles -But why? Faith offers us much more, – says he, de spectac., c. 29 ss., – Something much stronger; thanks to the redemption, joys of quite another kind stand at our disposal; instead of athletes we have our martyrs; we wish for blood, well, we have the blood of Christ – but what then awaits us on the day of his return, of his triumph? And then does he proceed, does this enraptured visionary:
[English trans of the Latin, Tertullian]: “Yes, and there are other sights: that day of judgment, with its everlasting issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? what my derision? Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation? – as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great jove himself, and those too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ. What world’s wise men besides, the very philosophers in fact, who taught their followers that God had no concern in ought that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgment-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more ‘dissolute’ in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, and all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows; unless even then I shall not care to attend to such ministers of sin, in my eager wish rather to fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself against the Lord. ‘This,’ I shall say, ‘this is that carpenter’s or hireling’s son, that Sabbath-breaker, that Samaritan and devil-possessed! This is He whom you purchased from Judas! This is He whom you struck with reed and fist, whom you contemptuously spat upon, to whom you gave gall and vinegar to drink! This is He whom his disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said He had risen again, or the gardener abstracted, that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants!’ What quaestor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favour of seeing and exulting in such things as these? And yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination. But what are the things which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and which have not so much as dimly dawned upon the human heart? Whatever they are, they are nobler, I believe, than circus, and both theatres, and every race-course.”
So stands it written.
[He goes on to say, a little further down]: The symbol of this fight, written in a writing which has remained worthy of perusal throughout the course of history up to the present time, is called “Rome against Judaea, Judaea against Rome.” Hitherto there has been no greater event than that fight, the putting of that question, that deadly antagonism. Rome found in the Jew the incarnation of the unnatural, as though it were its diametrically opposed monstrosity, and in Rome the Jew was held to be convicted of hatred of the whole human race: and rightly so, in so far as it is right to link the well-being and the future of the human race to the unconditional mastery of the aristocratic values, of the Roman values, what, conversely, did the Jews feel against Rome? One can surmise it from a thousand symptoms, but it is sufficient to carry one’s mind back to the Johannian Apocalypse, that most obscene of all the written outbursts, which has revenge on its conscience. (One should also appraise at is full value the profound logic of the Christian instinct, when over this very book of hate it wrote the name of the Disciple of Love, that self-same disciple to whom it attributed that impassioned and ecstatic Gospel – therein lurks a portion of truth, however much literary forging may have been necessary for this purpose.)
This suggests that the doctrine of Hell is a symptom of this psychological approach to religion which inculcates a deep hatred for the stronger man. Nietzsche’s whole system suggests instead that the “Will to Power” is an ultimate value. I have been endlessly fascinated with him, and upon reflection it seems to me that he has some profound insights. I would say the one thing Nietzsche is lacking in his philosophy is any insight into agape love.
Instead of trying to pick Nietzsche’s arguments apart directly, I think it may be more useful to take a different approach. Since Nietzsche doesn’t offer us a set of arguments to consider, but rather is trying to paint a persuasive picture of the world, and inviting us to re-evaluate morals and destroy the transcendental feature of morality, I would suggest painting another picture of the world which is even more plausible than the picture Nietzsche is painting; namely, a theistic one on which Kenosis explains creation itself (and perhaps where something like Hell is logically inevitable). One could rightly start by asking something like this: “If Christ was indeed God, would it then have been hatred for him to pray for his persecutors?” – “How then would it stand?”
Beyond this, I think it is only when a strong, powerful and beautiful person, lacking in nothing, becomes a living saint, that they stand as a living contradiction to Nietzsche. Just as much as an attractive and chaste religious person would have stood as a contradiction for Freud. Freud understood religion to be something like a replacement for sex. Of course, if this were true, we would see that the more people had sex, the less religious they would become or else the less chance they would have of becoming religious – but there’s no actual correlation. Similarly, somebody lacking in no self-esteem, able to assert their will to power, being loving in the Christian sense, would stand as a contradiction to Nietzsche.
A saint is always a more powerful argument than a syllogism.