Sunday, 17 December 2017 19:55

Nietzsche vs Jesus Christ

Written by Dallas Willard

The following material is a brief of a lecture by Dallas Willard published and copyrighted by the Veritas Forum. The material is published with the consent of the Veritas Forum and if you want to see the original video -lecture it is here.

It’s not easy to think about Nietzsche and it’s not easy to think about Jesus Christ. It’s amazing how names and personalities and concepts become incrusted, so that sometimes the very thing that they are concerned to get out is lost. But here we are going to try to put a sympathetic face on both Nietzsche and Christ and try to hear what they had to say.

So let’s begin with Nietzsche – he has become very important in the campus and in the culture today, because he came to stand for something that was coming to ahead in his own day. Though he himself did not see much of the success that was to come to him later. Really he has become successful in the culture generally only after the Second World War. 

The views that Nietzsche expresses are not particularly his own. He was not a driving force in culture and is not a driving force in culture today, but a symbol of something much deeper.

Nietzsche we might say in Californian language, caught a wave, and that wave was reaction of the World of art and intellect, something that we can only loosely call Christian culture.

Nietzsche experienced deeply that what was happening at that time was that there was a great wave of reaction against the power of a Christian ideology that was without real spiritual vitality.

Everyone said, as we say on our coins today – “In God we trust”, but it was clear that they did not trust in God. They trusted n their own abilities, and their capacity to form clicks and power-groups and move in ways that they wanted to, often about very trivial matters. And Nietzsche saw that. It is very hard to us to recapture the extent of the discourse of the society that was so explicitly and thoroughly Christian, but that’s the way it was. And Nietzsche looked at it and saw the irrelevance of God, to what was actually being done to knowledge, to morality, to academic and cultural live. 

And it was really a revulsion against a system of hypocrisy... revulsion against a social system, that he simply could not bring himself, to be a part of.

Knowledge in this period was more and more divorced from theology, the church and God. It doesn’t sound shocking to you today, but that’s because we ´have acclimated ourselves to the idea, that you can be the best educated and the best informed person in the World and know nothing about God. But up until this period of change it was simply assumed, as the medieval said, theology is the Queen of the sciences. Now what Nietzsche does is to recognize that this has happened and people are not being honest about it.

And this is the meaning of his famous phrase that “God is dead”. Nietzsche was not declaring that he had killed God or proven that God was dead. He was saying rather that as far as our culture works, if God were dead it would not make any difference.

And Nietzsche stands for certain representation of academic life and knowledge that came out of that period and now in our campuses and our culture is almost automatically assumed on many sides. And that view of knowledge I shall call constructionism – that’s that the World as we know it is a construction of the human mind, of language, of social structures. And Nietzsche thought that this was an oppressive thing. The idea that the constructions that are formed are oppressive on individuals and the lines that are drown, give expression not to truth, but to power.

You lose the capacity of the mind to grasp the real World... And all there is, is appearances and how we arrange them into the direction of our will.

So for Nietzsche the will to power becomes the ultimate principle of everything, including academic, the spiritual, ecclesiastical or whatever life... I just want to read here one line from him, from the Genealogy of Morals, essay 3, section 7: “Every animal, including the philosophical beast (the human), strives instinctively for the optimal conditions under which it can fulfil its power... (The path I am speaking of, does not lead to happiness, but to power)”.

Happiness is not what life is about, power is what is about.

This is what he calls the will to power. What people want is to exercise the use of their power and everything else they do, they call it by the name truth or holiness or whatever is actually an expression on this drive for power. And out of that then come the constructionism, which is merely an exercise in constructing a world that will be suited to the use of our power.

Nietzsche also expresses the way via which the Judeo-Christian ethic became dominant; it was a power play on the part of weak people, who were resentful and clever enough to daub the strong people into thinking that they were wicked, because they were strong. And so blessed are the poor, blessed are those that morn, not blessed those that are strong. So he has a theory about how these things come about, through exercise of the will to power. And the slave morality of the Bible, as he calls it, is simply a clever device of the exercise of power. The version of the mind that Nietzsche accepts is actually what we call phenomenalism – it is a way of saying that all there is, that we can grasp, consists of appearances or  Nietzsche likes to use the word prospective and all we have are prospectives. So all that is left is the perfection of the individual will.

Nietzsche is not actually a nihilist as he is often called, he had a very healthy form of values. And it was all tied to this idea, that the degree to which one succeeds in bringing the whole of the individual life under it, under the will, is the degree to which one is good healthy person. And indeed the 19th century was a period in which with the growth of science and technology, though it doesn’t compare much to what we have today, with that growth was an increasing sense of the loss of individuality. So that’s a general tendency that comes out off constructionism, which locks the mind into its own little world and leaves the will with nowhere to go, except to turn back on itself and find fulfilment in its own self-assertion. And do I need to tell you that Nietzsche won.

Remember what I’ve said when you’ve watched the commercials on TV and watch where the focus is and it will be almost 100% on the realization of self-will. Nietzsche leaves us then in a position where for example in the University setting about the only thing that we can appeal to in recommending our University is the degree of personal success, which you may have if you come and study with us. A few remarks may be made about community. Almost nothing will be said about family, but a lot will be said about individual creativity and capacity to exercise judgements that will be valued and people will pay you a lot of money to work for them.

So what we see in Nietzsche is a natural outworking of what we have come to know as modernism, which comes to stand for the rejection of the past as a guide to the present. Now once that is established that we got ride off the past, where modern philosophers try to regenerate morality not through the guides of the past but through internal truths that they can find by thinking...

And as Alister Mcentire has portrait so very well in his writings, especially in a book called “Whose justice and whose rationality” all of a sudden the basis of practical reason is shifted to the point that mere individual desire is a good enough reason for doing what you want. But that was not so, until the period comes and modern thought, where you have this artefact of the individual on their own...And then Nietzsche says, what about the earnest scholars, philosophers, scientist of the day?

And he says that these days the minds representing the aesthetic idea are they, scientists, writers, scholars, not monks and preachers, it’s not wholly books ... They are the ones, who deny themselves for the sake of truth, but these men too are a long way from being free spirits, because they still believe in truth. Interesting, but Nietzsche said they don’t actually act that way, because what they are pursuing is really their own self-will.

Well truth then becomes simply another passion. It too is no longer something that we could look at as something that comes out as a way of guiding ourselves, because it’s just an expression of our self-will.

And this I think is the deepest revelation of how thoroughly Nietzsche won the first round of this battle, between Christian teachings, Christ if you wish. I hope that you also realize that what Nietzsche came to criticize had very little to do with Christ, but at least it’s how it came to be represented. There was now no accessible body of moral knowledge, that currently factions in our culture. If someone wants to know many things in mathematics, history and so, you know where to send him,(to University)...But if someone wants to know how to be a good person, where do you send him? Would you send him to Stanford/University?...

This is where Nietzsche comes to stand in, because if there is not a universal body of moral knowledge, then all that is left is will, all that is left is impulse.

Now when I start to talk about Jesus Christ, I’d like to ask you to think about him as serious person in the area of information. That’s the burden of human life- to find an adequate basis of human action in knowledge. Now we accept that naturally in our courses, I hope we do, although I often cannot be too certain about that, because when I ask my students, do you believe what you wrote on the test, they laugh and say: “we are a culture where what is important is to know the right answers not necessarily to believe them...”.

So the heart of the issue between Nietzsche and Jesus Christ is truth and its relationship to human freedom, well-being and fulfilment...

But the reality of individual will, turns us back on ourselves and our will as the ultimate reality in our life. Freedom then means only freedom from...Descartes in his mind found that he is free from a World, but then how he gets to that World? And the declaration of freedom that we make in a mind that is closed off and lost in itself, is actually an imprisonment of a kind. And doing what we want is our only conception of human fulfilment and well being...

And here is how the prison works. Someone says – what shall I do? And we reply – do what you want. And the honest person says – I don’t know what I want. You see, that’s how Nietzsche and freedom traps us – as now we don’t know what we want. And in the structure, desire - as a reasonable capacity (for action), defaults into impulse. Because, as living beings, we have to act, and curiously enough we wind up in a world, where we desire, to desire. We have a Viagra society – what is Viagra about? It is about desiring to desire. Earnest Barker, a well known political theorist of the last century has said, that “the core of democracy is choice, not something chosen”! You see that’s how the will turns back on itself.

Well representing a different tradition than the boxed mind, I read a word of a man called Teards Green who was writing at the end of the last century, he says “when we speak of freedom we should carefully consider what we mean by it. We mean by it a (positive) power in which each man exercises to the help and security given by its fellow men and which he in turn helps to secure from them...”. That’s an entirely different conception of freedom. That’s a freedom that is appropriate to a mind that has a World, that is open to the World.

And there is another tradition about the mind that existed long before the modern theory. It is represented, in the Old Testament and New Testament and St Augustine and so all the way up to the present. And God is always already there, that’s the basic Augustinian teaching about the nature of the mind.

The inner light, the inner teacher, is God and it is interacting with the mind and enables it to reach out to a World which God and not the mind created and to submit your will to reality through truth/(God).

And that is the tradition that has developed out of the ancient world and up into the present until the theory of mind according to which your mind actually gets into way of knowing the World and makes it impossible, according to some writers, to set aside the theory of truth, which makes freedom possible. Now you need more than truth for freedom – you need community.

So human fulfilment comes through community in which people trust in truth and the will is enabled to grow so that it takes in, but it is not a part of itself.

And if you think just for a moment of Jesus not as of kind of sanctified religious person, just think of him as somebody who knew what he is talking about, you might think that this was just true of him. And so he is here with his rural community of students or disciples, and is telling them now if you live in what I say, then you really are my apprentices and you will come to know the truth, about life and of course here we are talking about the kingdom of God, the reality of the World and what community is, and what love is – all of those things. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

And go back and very simply think about freedom as the capacity to live fully in a World.

So let the winds of freedom blow, what does that mean? Give peace a chance? What’s that, right? I mean how do you do those things?

So now, this is the rematch between Jesus Christ and Nietzsche is in life. It’s in your life.

And you are the air of a Nietzschian culture, and I’m too...We are all in this, this is the world, we have a Niatzscian world. And the question is whether or not, you can find freedom in that world?

Now Jesus says – if you put my teachings into practise, then you will be my apprentices and I’ll be your teacher and you will come to know the truth about life and the World and in knowing that truth, you will find genuine fulfilment as the human beings, you are meant to be.

No-one has yet managed to find fulfilment in the way that Nietzsche recommended. Nietzsche himself did not find it. And I don’t say that to dump on Nietzsche. I’m very sympathetic on Nietzsche. In fact he is one of the people who brought me into philosophy. He didn’t know it...And it was because of the incisiveness with which he addressed real issues in life. And we need to be as incisive as he was. But we need not to be under the false assumptions of the nature of the mind and the will that he was on. And I believe, the way we can escape that is to take the teachings of Jesus about life and as critically, as sceptically as you wish – put them into practise and test them. That’s the only test. And if the test of life shows that actually Jesus wins the second round, then that’s no shame on Nietzsche, that’s our opportunity. All right, thank you very much.  

P.S. I would recommend that you listen also to the questions and answers part after the material, which on the video-lecture starts at 53:47.

Kind regards, Rosti..........

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