Thursday, April 23, 2009
Nietzsche in a Nutshell
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of those sexy philosophers that young people love to quote--and is one of the trendiest philosophers of late.
Nietzsche was a writer and a poet and used his artistic skill and literary style to persuasively craft his philosophical message. Ideas marketed well spread faster and more broadly. Hence, even if you've never read a lick of Nietzsche, you have most probably heard of him and his famous phrase: God is dead. Or a friend in college might have bought you a copy of Beyond Good and Evil with the intention of enlightening you. I actually like it when people do that--it means they care.
I've learned that when the Germans do it right, they really do it right (Pieper, Ratzinger, etc.). When Germans do it wrong, they really do it wrong. (Luther, Kant, Marx, etc.)
Dear Freddie is another rebellious ex-Lutheran "PK" (Pastor's Kid). I went to a "Lutheran" university and encountered lots of "ex-PKs" who lost their faith...at a Lutheran school. Many of them might not have lost their faith had they gone to a public university I believe.
Nietzsche did not merely lose his faith--he adopted materialism, atheism, nihilism, and had a deep hatred for Christianity. What a meanie!
Actually, if one disbelieves the Christian proposal, it makes sense to hate it. Either Jesus Christ is the Son of God or he is a liar and a lunatic. It's one or the other.
Nietzsche chose the latter, that belief in God's existence is a lie. God lives only in the human mind as the most pervasive of lies. He explains the "God delusion" away through psychological and historical explanations. (I guess he didn't have time to take on St. Thomas Aquinas' philosophical proofs for God's existence!)
Psychologically speaking, Nietzsche believed that man "invented" God out of fear and laziness. He believed that man is afraid of his greatness and/or he is too lazy to live up to his greatness. Thus, man "invents" God (who is really his alter ego) in order to be lazy and "ask for things" he wants or for the things he wants to happen in his life. God as Santa Clause if you will. Praying then, is the lazy man's way of asking God for things instead of "being a man" and making it happen for himself.
God Is Dead.
Nietzsche's phrase "God is dead," is his gripping way of saying "Welcome to adulthood." Basically, man needs to end this false attachment to God (this idea that just coincidentally won't go away...), and be unafraid to conquer himself and the world without God.
Interestingly, the Christian Faith also repeatedly preaches to man to fear not. Scripture is filled with exhortations to not be afraid. John Paul II began his pontificate with the memorable words, "Be not afraid."
Nietzsche's phrase "God is dead," is an affirmation of his adoption of nihilism. (Nihil comes from the Latin word meaning nothing.)For Nietzsche there is no meaning to life, no after life, and there is nothing beyond the material world. There is nothing but the world of sense, of "stuff." There is no truth, no law, and no ideals and ideas.
Man is now God.
The phrase "God is dead," therefore has more to do with man than God. According to Nietzsche, man can now be free of this fictional, "tyrannical" God. It has been said that "God is dead," is the single most important event in the course of Western culture. Perhaps. Regardless, modernity is suffering the consequences of Nietzsche's thought.
Nietzsche emphasized the will over the intellect. He believed that man must choose to confess that God is dead. Man must choose "this truth." This is a very different approach than say, a man coming to not choose truth (how can truth be chosen?), but to discover truth. For him, man's liberation comes from choosing "God is dead." However, once the choice is made, man must live up to this new found freedom. (I want to ask Nietzsche how he can believe in freedom, since freedom is not something material.)
Nietzsche's thought becomes interesting in his insight that many atheists still believe. Isn't that the truth? There are so many people today who claim to be atheists but who live like believers. Nietzsche is critical of these people and claims they are not really free. He notices that man actually wants to believe in something. (I wonder why...)
I guess God isn't really dead--he keeps coming up--especially from atheists. For example, the American Humanist Association has all sorts of anti-God propaganda. During Christmas time, they have a button you can sport that says "O Come Let Us Ignore Him." How can you let me ignore him? You keep bringing him up! It is telling to me that the method by which they propose to ignore God is by wearing a button about ignoring him. Someone who actually does not believe in God does not wear buttons about his non-existence. As I say over and over again, "If you don't believe in God, why do you keep bringing him up?"
Nietzsche also said that man should not believe in anything. (Except you should believe his philosophy, of course. His philosophy that ultimately has no meaning, because there is no such thing as meaning.)
Will to Power.
Nietzsche believed that man must ascend to Super-man. He believed that man must overcome himself and become a new man. Nietzsche also believed in the "transvaluation of values." Basically that man must create his own, new values. The old values of the Christian reduce man to the state of a beggar. The traditional Christian values such as humility and patience, for example, are "slave values."
Nietzsche also did not value peace. The perfect state of the world is rather war. Nietzsche explained that for a Christian to have pity on another human being is harmful since that kind of behavior encourages people to be weak. The good is not to help people, but that which heightens the feeling of power in man. (Sounds like tyranny to me.) So if there was a man drowning in the ocean, the truest way to love him would not be to save his life, but to let him die.
It's a good thing for Nietzsche that his mother and sister were not adherents to his philosophy--otherwise, they would have let him die alone in his insanity instead of caring for him until his death in 1900.
My question to Nietzsche would be: Why should I do this? If there is no meaning in life, if suffering is not redemptive, if there is no purpose or goal to which we are moving toward or for which we were created, then what's the point? If nihilism is true, then everything--including Nietzsche's philosophy--is nothing. If he really believes this then why does he even bother discussing it? If nothing but the material is real, then his ideas don't even exist.
If man can choose what is true and man "chooses" to believe in God, why does Nietzsche have a problem with it? If life is but a power-race, why would Nietzsche care? Let him be the Super-man. Wouldn't that make him the most powerful? Isn't that precisely his goal?
In Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit, he writes, "Hell is other people."
For the nihilist, this must be true. Especially if life is but a power-struggle and a rat-race.
Benedict XVI explains the consequences of Nietzsche's influence in modernity well:
"And the deep darkness and alienation of our times is shown in the fact that we have powers and abilities but do not know what they are for; we have so much knowledge that we are no longer able to believe and see truth; we are no longer able to embrace the totality. Our philosophy is that of Pilate: "What is truth?" If man has no truth, only abilities, he is fundamentally alienated, and "participation" is only empty play-acting in the dark, deluding man with the notion of freedom and hurting him deeply. There is nothing fortuitous about the strident protests against such empty freedom: man, deprived of truth, has been dishonored."
Nietzsche failed to realize that man is not self-created. He was also unreasonable in expounding that man is or even can be entirely self-sufficient. The historical fact that we live in community (whether it be a village, tribe, town, city, state, country, etc.) should be a clue that we were not meant to be alone and that we are not alone in the universe. Further, Nietzsche was unreasonable because he attempted, in his philosophy, to start from scratch, to throw out the past. Truth (somehow!) began with him. But this is untrue. He was born into a history, a culture and a context. He even used faith as an indirect method of knowledge for which the functioning of life would be impossible. Everyone lives like this but many do not realize it. For example, most people have probably never been to Siberia, but they still believe in its existence. People buy bread at the market everyday having faith it will not be poisoned and this is a reasonable thing to do. As Thomas Merton said, "No man is an island."
Nietzsche also greatly misunderstood the Christian Faith. He was raised a Lutheran, which is a corrupted version of the Faith, but even so he did not have a sense of paradox and mystery. Regarding the paradox of the slave versus free man, Benedict XVI responds well, "Christ overturns the worldview of modern times, it is not evolution or the laws of matter or the "universe" who has the last word but a person! If we know this person and he knows us then we are no longer slaves of the universe and its laws, but free!"
Nietzsche is ultimately unreasonable because he failed to recognize that in his and in each man's heart is the desire for truth, beauty, goodness, and freedom. This is what man was made for. With Nietzsche and with all these "modern philosophers" it truly does come down to a negativity versus a positivity:
Luigi Giussani tells the story about how a young man without faith was forced by his mother to go to confession to him. During the confession, the young man laughed at him and said, "Listen, all that you are trying so forcefully to tell me is not worth as much as what I am about to tell you. You cannot deny that the true grandeur of man is represented by Dante's Capaneus, that giant chained by God to Hell, yet who cries to God, 'I cannot free myself from these chains because you bind me here. You cannot, however, prevent me from blaspheming you, and so I blaspheme you.' This is the true grandeur of man." Father Giussani answered him, "But isn't it even greater to love the infinite?"
Christians: We are at least half the reason why there are atheists in the world. We are the ones being apathetic. Instead of disregarding the neighborhood nihilist, engage him by making a different proposal for his life. Nietzsche said some pretty right on things. But as Hilaire Belloc said, "Heresies are maintained by the truths they retain." So think critically, make the distinctions, don't fight to win but fight for clarity. And then (maybe) the Christian proposal will be accepted--then maybe, as Benedict XVI said, "all men will realize the truth that man is not redeemed by science, but by love and that redemption will cause liberation of all, for God wills that all be saved," in other words, that all men be happy.