This is a repost of an excellent article written by A Joubert, at Apologetics Canada.
Nietzsche has had a vast influence on philosophy and I believe the modern Christian should at least have an awareness of his work.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was one of those enigmatic, eccentric philosophers who inevitably become the loci of myth-making. He is (at least for the first few minutes) fun to read because of his lyrical, sort of “stream of consciousness” philosophy. As one commentator puts it, Nietzsche’s writings are understood by some as “the disturbing documents of the creative process of someone who was on the verge of madness.”[i] This is probably part of his charm. His boisterous, “you’re-all-idiots” style is nothing if not entertaining. And his choleric writing style and open contempt for Christianity marks him out as a proto-new-atheist. He is best known in popular culture for his wayward facial hair and for saying “God is dead.” Even though it has even given rise to the title of a Christian movie with an apologetics motif (God’s Not Dead), I’d bet that few people know the context of that well-worn quote. It occurs in one of the aphorisms of The Gay Science. Nietzsche describes a madman who ran into the market place and started yelling, “I seek God!” People around him start laughing and try to figure out what he’s going on about. The madman responds ““Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers.” The madman then goes on to ask a series of striking questions, among them: “What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?… Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?” And then finally, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”[ii]
What is most captivating about this passage is its visceral depiction of the nihilism that results from the absence of God: “Is there still any up or down?…Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?” This is where Nietzsche differs importantly from many modern atheist apologists—he does not balk at biting the bullet of nihilism. The atheists of the 19th and 20th century, “old school” atheists, like J. L. Mackie, A. J. Ayer, Max Stirner, Michael Ruse, Alex Rosenberg even Richard Dawkins, all think (thought) that atheism results in nihilism. But younger atheists and secular humanist organizations today definitely seem to want to retain objective morality. However, like most other proponents of atheistic nihilism, they never can quite stop making moral judgments. In Nietzsche’s case, these moral judgments were notoriously… well, questionable. His criticism of Christianity seems to occur very often (perhaps most often) from a “moral” perspective. While Nietzsche jabs at Christianity in many of his works, his most explicitly anti-Christian work is the aptly titled The Antichrist. While his contempt for Christian morality seems a little more veiled and indirect in works like Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals, The Antichrist pulls out all stops. Take this quote from the beginning pages: “What is good?—Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man. What is evil?—Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness?—The feeling that power increases—that resistance is overcome. Not contentment, but more power, not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but efficiency…The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it. What is more harmful than any vice? – Practical sympathy for the botched and the weak—Christianity…”[iii]
The weak shall perish and we should help it happen? Practical sympathy is more harmful than any vice? It gets worse:
“Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands in opposition to all the tonic passions that augment the energy of the feeling of aliveness: it is a depressant…”[iv] One may hear the response that there is a distinction between pity and compassion, and that pity is a dehumanizing or perverted form of compassion, and is really condescension. However, as Nietzsche goes on, what he describes as pity becomes indistinguishable from compassion, regardless of what word is used to denote it.“…Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life its gloomy and dubious aspect… Schopenhauer was hostile to life: that is why pity appeared to him as a virtue.”[v] Pity “fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life.” What Nietzsche is describing is compassion, or the Christian virtue of mercy, in its most inspiring form… and he is condemning it very contemptuously as the “technic of nihilism”. “This depressing and contagious instinct stands against all those instincts which work for the preservation and enhancement of life…”