A Note on Nietzsche
and Protestant Christianity
and Protestant Christianity
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has had over the years a up and down reputation. That his philosophy contains many dangerous and questionable elements is obvious.1 However a couple of things are usually forgotten or not noticed in his writings. I will deal with here an aspect of Nietzsche's philosophy.
The first is the Christian or more particularly Protestant elements in Nietzsche's philosophy.
Nietzsche believed that life was both fated and divine. He said:
We no longer have any sympathy today with the concept of 'free will'... 2
Thus Nietzsche rejected the notion of "free will" in exchange for the idea that everything was for ordained and the notion that humans had "free will" or "choice" as a myth designed to create guilt in people. Whereas the "noble" spirit overcame the alleged despairing implications of this doctrine and affirmed life despite the lack of "free will".
In many respects this idea bears a more than passing resemblance to Protestant / Lutheran notions of the bondage of the will and predestination which instead of causing despair could engender into the person a life affirming notion to get beyond the idea that life is "pointless" and give meaning to their lives.
Nietzsche's notion of Eternal Recurrence is of course obviously rather similar to the Protestant notion of Predestination. Thus in Nietzsche's cosmology everything that happens will happen again and again for all eternity. Thus everything is in effect predestined to happen.
Instead of giving tin to despair at the thought Nietzsche writes:
Oh how should I not lust for eternity and for the wedding ring of rings - the Ring of Recurrence!
Never yet did I find the woman by whom I wanted children, unless it be this woman, whom I love: for I love you, O Eternity!
For I love you, O Eternity!3
In Protestant theology there is the idea of divine grace. In this notion man is incapable of overcoming his debased and sinful nature but that with God's grace man can be redeemed. In the case of Nietzsche divine grace is replaced by the will to power. In Nietzsche's thought man is a animal and naturally so. However through the will to power man can overcome his animal nature and become more than a man, he can overcome himself and transcend his animal nature and become the "Superman". This will to power is an innate drive within nature and man that gives man the potential to overcome himself and become something greater. Thus Nietzsche says:
And life itself told me this secret: 'Behold,' it said, 'I am that which must overcome itself again and again.
'To be be sure, you call it will to procreate or impulse towards a goal, towards the higher, more distant, more manifold: but all this is one and one secret.
'I would rather perish than renounce this one thing; and truly, where there is perishing and the falling of leaves, behold, there life sacrifices itself - for the sake of power!'4
One can add that Nietzsche called on people to stop living the easy life and to live dangerously and daringly. Just like Christ's commands to follow him and avoid the easy passage through life. This is strongly similar to the Christian ideal of the Saint who renounces the world in order to follow God and who views the easy life with contempt.
Thus Nietzsche says:
I love those who do not first seek beyond the stars for reasons to go down and to be sacrifices: but who sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth may one day belong to the Superman.5
Nietzsche even has a sort of judgment day with his notion of a Great Noontide in which a sort of sorting out of humanity will take place.
Thus Nietzsche says:
When will you drink this drop of dew that as fallen upon all earthy things - when will you drink this strange soul - when, well of eternity! serene and terrible noontide abyss! when will you drink my soul back into yourself?6
And of course Nietzsche's conception of the Superman is both a conception of a "God" and the notion of a small elect that will alone be "saved". In Nietzsche's conception the overwhelming majority of mankind is doomed to remain little more than a higher ape only a very few will be able to transcend being "mere" animals and become the "elect", i.e., Supermen". Thus as in conventional Protestant theology the "elect" is small and is scattered throughout humanity. There are many but only a few are called to be saved so to speak. Only a few humans will be more than their animal origins and they will in Nietzsche's eyes be more different from other humans then those humans are from other animals.
Like the elect looking down on the damned the chasm between them is immense.
I teach you the Superman. Man is something that should be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
All creatures hitherto have created something beyond themselves and do you want to be the ebb of this great tide and return to the animals rather than overcome man?
Behold I teach you the Superman.
The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman shall be the meaning of the earth!7
It is ironic that Nietzsche who so vehemently rejected his Protestant Christian upbringing replicated in his philosophy some of the tropes of his lost faith.
1. For example his contempt for the vast majority of human beings and his exaltation at times of mass death. I should point out Nietzsche also contradicted himself with a fair degree of frequency and seemed to be carried away by his own words. The best introduction to Nietzsche's thought is still Kaufmann, Walter, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist , AntiChrist, Fourth Edition, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1974.
2. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Twilight of the Idols / The Anti-Christ, Penguin Books, London, 1968, p. 53, (Twilight of the Idols, Four Great Errors, s. 7). For a very brief overview of Christian / Protestant elements in Nietzsche's writings see Hollingdale, R. J., Introduction, in Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Penguin Books, London, 1961, pp. 11-35, at pp. 28-29.
3. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, pp. 244-245, (Book 3, The Seven Seals, s. 1)
4. IBID, p. 138, (Book 1, Of Self Overcoming).
5. IBID, p. 44, (Book 1, Zarathustra's Prologue)
6. IBID, p. 289, (Book 4, At Noontide)
7. IBID, pp. 41-42, (Book 1, Zarathustra's Prologue)