Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why I love Nietzsche

Ben Myers over at Faith and Theology has been conducting a series of guests posts called For the love of God: why I love... in which a variety of his friends and enemies have been sharing autobiographically about formative theological influences: theologians who float one's boat. Ben very kindly invited me to post on Augustine, since I'm working on a project on his eschatology and politics (at least in theory: the lack of work indicated by lack of posts on the wonderful bishop of Hippo). Said lack of progress prompted me to reach back a little to an earlier theological influence: Friedrich Nietzsche, aka 'The Antichrist'. Here is my attenpt...

‘Is not every unbeliever who has a reason for his atheism and his decision not to believe a theologian too? Atheists who have something against God and against faith in God usually know very well whom and what they are rejecting, and have their reasons. Nietzsche’s book The Antichrist has a lot to teach us about true Christianity.’
-Jürgen Moltmann, Godless Theology.

My early years as a Christian were spent in a fairly dualistic Christian culture. Creation and redemption were frequently opposed: salvation meant redemption from the world, from worldliness, from distractions and secondary things. Explicitly and implicitly I received the message that anything not a gospel-matter didn’t matter.

Friedrich Nietzsche awoke me from my Platonic slumber. I began with Beyond Good and Evil: ‘Christianity is Platonism for “the people”’. Nietzsche’s humorous, vigorous, irreverent and megalomanic take on Western culture and thought helped me to see the world-denying resentment behind much that passed for Christian thought. Reading Zarathustra and the Bible, I rediscovered a world-affirming faith. Not a naïve optimism, nor Nietzsche’s heroic Übermensch, but a realisation that the author of salvation is none other than the creator who declared everything ‘good, very good’. The God who raises the dead brings not redemption from the world, but the redemption of the world.

Nietzsche seeks to vanquish the shadows of god that linger on in Western culture after it has rejected Christianity. The god he banishes is one to whom I’d also like to bid good-riddance. Nieztsche, a self-styled anti-Christ(ian), does Christians a great service through his iconoclasm. Although usually pegged as a philosopher (he briefly held a university position as a philologist), he is also able to ‘theologize with a hammer’, sounding out the hollow idols and ideals of the Western tradition. This task is integral to any Christian theology worthy of the name.

‘I beseech you my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go.’

- Nieztsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, §3.

Image in public domain.


Anonymous said...

Great post Byron. Very close to some of the work that I'm currently writing on Nietzsche and Ibsen. Do you have the reference to that opening quote of Moltmann's? It's a ripper.

byron smith said...

Thanks Jason, here is the short Moltmann piece called Godless Theology. Love to hear more about your Ibsen/Niet work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks mate. I'll send you a copy of a paper that I'm putting together for the FEET conference.

byron smith said...

That would be great - thanks!

Christopher said...

Interesting post Byron. I haven't had the pleasure of reading any of Nieztche's works, only bits and pieces or odd lectures here and there, but I recently purchased Thus Spoke Zarathustra and I am looking forward to it.

Like Derrida, Nieztche's reputation of being the anti-Christ proceeds him, but when you read his stuff there is actually a lot that Christians should pay attention to.

Did you do a thesis on Nieztche?

byron smith said...

Christopher - I realise this is more than two years late, but yes, I did do a thesis on Nietzsche, titled: "Vile Bodies: Nietzsche, Christianity and the body". An embarrassing piece of work in many ways (especially when parts of it were published in Kategoria), but the basic point I still hold (that N's attack on Christians who despise the body is a necessary corrective to an overly Platonic Christianity).

Christopher said...

Hi Byron,

Thanks for the reply :)

I just checked this post for the first time probably since making my comment.

The reason for my checking is that I am about to take my "Nietzschean turn". To do a thesis on Foucault and not be well acquainted with Nietzsche would be naive to say the least.

Anyway the summer holidays on will be spent on the beach reading Nietzsche - what better place.

Over the years - knowing this time would come - I have accumulated most of his popular works, but how would you suggest tackling FN - chronologically or through his more lucid works which I understand are Beyond Good and Evil/Genealogy of Morals.

Also your thesis sounds interesting and related to what I am wanting out of Nietzsche. I read a book discussing "Nietzschean biopolitics" looking at ideas of life, health and the body. I would be interested to read your thesis if you were comfortable with that. If not I understand.

Anyway - I just noticed that I couldn't spell Nietzsche two years ago so things are looking up.

byron smith said...

Yep - I'd start with BGE and GM, then perhaps Twilight of the idols. Hard to entirely avoid some familiarity with Zarathustra, but leave it until you've got three or four under your belt because it will then make a lot more sense.

I'd be happy for you to read my thesis, though there are a few parts that I'm a little embarrassed about, since I made some fairly basic mistakes and set up some fairly unfortunate dichotomies. Nonetheless, I'd still go with the basic thrust of it. Drop me an email to confirm yours and I'll send it through.

byron smith said...

Oh, my non-chronological reading plan probably reflects both my own introduction to N and my bias towards his later thought.

Christopher said...

Thanks - I will send you an email.

I am happy to be influenced by your biases, at least then I can have a position already outlined for me.

byron smith said...

Giles Fraser: Nietzsche's passionate atheism was the making of me.