The Prophet Nietzsche

A main component of Friedrich Nietzsche’s thinking was the notion of a master-slave morality. He asserts that in society there are people with power, aka masters, and people without power, aka slaves. I think we can all agree with that idea. We may not agree with the terms, master and slave, but we agree that there are people with power and without it. He also asserts that masters make decisions that keep them in control, for they value strength and tradition. Slaves, on the other hand, value kindness and humility; but their morality is in a sense, a way to villainize their oppressor. They want to overthrow the oppressor, but they can’t. Nietzsche asserts that Christianity is a slave morality. He says these things in an effort to get beyond good and evil, to critique the foundational assumptions of morality. 

So I wonder, was Nietzsche right about Christianity being a slave morality? Is the master-slave relationship between man and man, each having their own sets of morality? Or is there a sense in which there is God’s morality and our morality? Is God the master and we are the slaves? Does Christianity want to make all people slaves? Does Jesus? I don’t know. I just wonder. This is where I want to hear your feedback and your answers.

As for Nietzsche’s most famous phrase, “God is dead,” it has one wrong word—dead.

Note: This is a preliminary musing. I haven’t read all of Nietzsche’s work. I know there is still much to learn. I’m sure my interpretation of Nietzsche could be given more nuance as well. My purpose here is to have us think, “Is it possible to see truth in Nietzsche? Can we learn from him?”

Please offer challenges and critiques. Fill in the holes. Continue the discussion. If you need a good summary of his life and work, scan read this: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/

Published by omerdylanredden

I write.

9 thoughts on “The Prophet Nietzsche

  1. I thought this was a key sentence in your post: “They (the slaves) want to overthrow the oppressor, but they can’t.”

    Nietzsche assumes (as we all generally do) that other people think the way he does. Thus, he assumes that slaves are slaves simply because they are unable to be masters. Christianity, on the other hand, is a religion of voluntary slavery. Jesus is the ultimate example of voluntary slavery, of course; one way to interpret the kenosis passage in Philippians is that Jesus forfeited the exercise of some aspects of his divinity, enslaving himself to the human form in order to win us over.

    Jesus too assumes that we, in our fallen state, desire to be masters. He tells his disciples: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35). Obviously, he understands that we genuinely do desire to be first. But,I think, when we’re a new creation we no longer desire to be first. We truly long to put others first and to serve rather than being served.

    Dumbledore tells Harry in one of the Harry Potter books that youth cannot know how age feels but age does indeed know what it feels like to be young. I think Nietzsche could not and did not understand what it is like to be a new creation in Christ. But we can and do understand what it was like before we were saved so we can understand why Nietzsche was so incredulous about the claims of Christianity. But he was incredulous and he was also wrong.

    Christianity doesn’t want to make everyone slaves, in my understanding. God wants to make us his adopted sons and daughters. Jesus already calls us his friends and his Body. And he wants to make us his Bride. We are deeply truly and purely loved by God.

    1. I had to read your comment three or four times before I finally felt like I could adequately respond. Deep things indeed.

      My questions revolve around your comment, “I think Nietzsche could not and did not understand what it is like to be a new creation in Christ…But he was incredulous and he was also wrong.” Now I don’t know where Nietzsche stood in terms of being a new creation in Christ, but I do know that he studied theology and philology at the university level. According to the Stanford encyclopedia, back in those days, philology was the study of the interpretation of classical and biblical texts. Nietzsche also had relatives who were ministers and theologians. All of that to ask, is it possible that he understood what it meant to be a new creation in Christ and he chose not to? Or maybe he was such at one time and then he turned his back on Christ and headed in the opposite direction? Were you using “incredulous” in the true-to-the-dictionary sense that he was unwilling to believe? And finally, what was he wrong about (claims of Christianity, being a new creation, wanting to overthrow the oppressor)?

  2. I would actually say that yes, Christianity could be considered a “slavery” of sorts, but not in the way that we would typically think of slavery. Paul used the metaphor of slaves and masters in Romans 6 to describe our lives before and after Christ. “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16) Paul was using a metaphor that his audience would understand, as slavery was a very common practice in Rome of that day. Here however is where we need to understand what this “slavery” to righteousness really is. When we think of the term “slave” as 21st century Westerners we automatically think of oppression, injustice, evil, sin, bigotry, racism, etc. And rightfully so! As that is what slavery means to a fallen world, infected by sin. However, the relationship between a master and a servant (aka slave) need not be an oppressive one if God is the Master. Nor could it ever be oppressive, for God has given us free will and has paid the great price of His Son’s blood for our souls. He seeks to have relationship with us through any means necessary, outside of forcing our hearts to conform to him.

    Thus I believe our relationship with Him could be seen as voluntary servitude (or “slavery” if you want to use that term). Paul continues his metaphor along these lines: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart… and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves to righteousness.” (Rom. 6:17-18) We have gone from our old abusive master named Sin, into the hands of an eternally loving Master who lavishes upon us gifts like grace, salvation, righteousness, etc.

    I think if we have a problem with Nietzsche’s concept of Christianity as slavery it would go back to our problem with human slavery, which goes to our basic human right to freedom from anyone else’s control. No one has the right to control another! Right? Well isn’t that the problem of sin in the first place? Isn’t “sin” a rebellion against what we see as God’s “unlawful” control of our lives through his commandments? If so then our salvation would be ceasing our rebellion against our true Master, and returning to His guidance for our lives. The difference is that this Master will not “control” us. He gives us the choice to follow Him or follow the plethora of twisted masters vying for our attention. Ultimately our lives as humans are a series of choices between masters: self, sin, or God.

    This doesn’t negate our identities as sons and daughters of God either; or how Jesus called his disciples not just servants but friends. Just as God has many roles in our relationship with Him, we can maintain several different aspects of identity in the relationship. Somehow in the Kingdom of God we can be bondservant, son/daughter, and friend of God all at the same time.

    1. Well thought overall. I specifically liked the demarcation of our “21st century Western” views of slavery and slaves.

      Throughout the response, I noticed an emphasis on choice and I wondered if you’ve ever felt as though your choices were infringed upon by God’s guidance as your “Lord” or “Master.” Have you ever had an experience similar to Paul in Acts where he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go to a certain place? Do you think that has any influence on him using this metaphor of slavery here and elsewhere? He could have easily written that God set us free from sin and left it at that, but he didn’t. What are your thoughts?

      I’ve been pondering the last sentence of the third paragraph for a couple days. Is that what life is about in the end, aka ultimately? And I’ve also been pondering the last paragraph as a whole. These are just a few of the metaphors used to describe our relationship with Him. And each of them are precisely that–metaphors.

  3. Well before I dive into Nietzche’s concept of Christianity, I would like to talk about Aristotle’s view of slavery. Aristotle believed that slavery was necessary and a perfectly acceptable practice. He believed that some people were better off as being slaves rather than free. He came to this conclusion by looking at two main characteristics that he believed every “free” man should possess in order to live the “good life.” These two characteristics were the “ability to reason” and the “ability to obey reason.” Aristotle believed that if a man possessed both of these than he should not only be free, but also be active in government and politics (but this is beside the point). Aristotle believed that there were two main “groups” that did not have the ability to possess these characteristics: women and slaves. Now let me say that I don’t agree with Aristotle that woman do not have the ability to possess these two characteristics. We just have to put ourselves back in his day, when women and slaves were not seen as equal and did not have near the same rights as men. Aristotle believed that women and slaves could possibly have one, but not both of these characteristics. He felt that for the most part, women and slaves had the “ability to obey reason,” but not the “ability to reason.”

    Aristotle also believed a person should be a slave only if he/she was a “natural slave.” He didn’t agree that a person should be a slave because they were born into it through parents whom were slaves or because they were captured in war and forced to become a slave (these were bold statements because in his “polis” at the time, nearly all slaves were either born into slavery or a result of being a prisoner of war). Aristotle concludes that a “natural slave” is a person who does not have the ability to reason and therefore really won’t be able to succeed in the “good life” on his own. So he says that people like this should be slaves, and should choose this life for themselves, not be forced to become a slave. He says that if force is being used to constrict a slave, then he/she probably is not an example of a “natural slave,” and he feels that he/she should have the chance to live a free life.

    So Aristotle has this idea of “natural” slavery. I feel like this is the bubble in which Christianity could possibly fall into. A person must come to the realization that he or she can’t reach the “good life” without Jesus, and therefore makes himself a slave to God. As you can see it still comes down to choice. A person could fool themselves into thinking that they can have the “good life,” or earn salvation, on their own. However, I feel that they will only perish in the end. Christianity could be called considered a “slavery,” but its a voluntary slavery. Which makes me ask, is that even “slavery” at all? I feel that Christianity has offered us the choice to live in obedience to Christ, or in opposition to him. Righteousness vs. Sin. I feel that its more about us becoming “bondservants” to a Holy, loving God. And when said like this, it doesn’t feel like “slavery” is the right word for Christianity, but then again it is just a word. Its the concept that really matters. JESUS SAVES!!!!!!

    1. Let this principle be established: May we be charitable in spirit, critical in mind, and creative in engagement. (Can I get an Amen from PLM fans?)

      That said, Tay Dog, I like the first two paragraphs, but not the third. What do you mean when you say the “good life?” Are you using Aristotle’s ideal or your own? Either way, could you provide us with a working definition? Also, the closing remark, “JESUS SAVES!!!!!!” Jesus saves us from what? To what?

      Is he saving us from frustrated, vain, sinful lives? If yes, what is he taking us to? More frustrated, more vain, more sinful lives? Now we know what to do and we don’t do it. Now we focus on ourselves and our progressive santification like we never did before. Now we know what sin is and we keep falling into it. Is that what Jesus saves us to? I’m curious because I struggle with these questions myself.

      Maybe this is tangential or maybe its central: I think it is easy for us to critique a prosperity gospel and say of course Jesus didn’t come to make us healthy and wealthy (the stereotypical good life for Americans). But maybe we think instead that Jesus came to make us influential. Or he came to make us important and significant. I fall into these traps. Do you? Do we?

      1. The “good life” I am referring to is what Aristotle believes is the good life. Aristotle believes “the good life for a human is the active life of exercising the rational capacity.” You can read more about Aristotle’s views his “Nicomachean Ethics” at: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html Here is another good summary of his ideas: http://personal.bellevuecollege.edu/wpayne/aristotle.htm

        The “JESUS SAVES!!!!!” saves part I just threw on at the end cause I was excited about gettin’ some Jesus. But since you asked, I will do my best to answer your questions. I will try to do some using as little “christianese” as possible. For as I was reading your questions, I could foresee my answers containing nothing but the generic Christian lingo.

        “What is Jesus saving us from?” Well I would say that Jesus is saving us from our “frustrated, vain, sinful lives.” Now what is he taking us to you ask? You had suggested the idea that Jesus may be taking us to more “frustrated, more vain, and more sinful lives.” I am wondering if you mean “more” in the sense of quantity, which I feel that by no means Jesus is taking us into lives of more (quantity) sin, maybe just lives in which we know what sin is and that we should resist it. So if we have frustrating, vain sin in our lives before Jesus and the same after Him, then I would say that I would much rather have this sin and be able to fight and resist it with Jesus and my side.

        You had said “Now we know what to do and we don’t do it. Now we focus on ourselves and our progressive sanctification like we never did before. Now we know what sin is and we keep falling into it.” Yes, I can see how this could possibly viewed as a “curse.” However, I feel the bigger curse would be remaining blind to these things. I feel that lives of frustrating, vain sin is present in everyones lives. However, they may not know how to handle it or the reason for it. I feel that Christianity, or by connection, Jesus, gives the best worldview to these questions of sin, hurt and struggle.

        I wanted to touch on your last sentence from that section I addressed above: “Now we know what sin is and we keep falling into it.” I do believe that once Jesus does enter our hearts, then we do see sin, and yes, it seems like we always continue to fall into it. However, I would say the same is true before our lives with Christ. I think back into my past and see that I still knew what was right and what was wrong. Or I could phrase it by saying that I still knew what sin was. However, I did not see any reason to resist it. It felt good or I liked it, so what was the reason to stop? Know that we have Jesus, the sin is still there but I feel that I have a much better grasp on it. Not that I am never tempted, or even that I never fall back into my sin. I do. But I can honestly say that I now know why it is unwise, or even wrong, to give into these sins. That is why I resist. I don’t always succeed but I sure as hell try. And when I fail, that is where Jesus’ grace comes onto play.

        Well, I should probably start paying attention to to my professor. I am actually writing this while in Ethics class (P-120) talking about Aristotle. Don’t tell my instructor. haha

  4. Ouch, I should apologize for not proof-reading before I posted this. Sorry for the typos.

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