The influential German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1990) had his views on religion and Christianity, and was arguably the most abrupt and abrasive atheistic thinkers of his time.
In his book The Gay Science (1882), Nietzsche declared that “God is dead” which, essentially, was his way of saying that belief in the Christian conception of God had become unbelievable (1). In his work The Anti-Christ (1895), he would further write that the worst enemy of human progress is the Christian of whom he referred to as the “domestic animal, the herd animal, the sick animal” (2). Neither did Nietzsche mince his words when it came to Christianity as a religion itself:
“Christianity has taken the side of everything weak, base, failed; it has made an ideal out of whatever contradicts the preservation instincts of a strong life; it has corrupted the reason of even the most spiritual natures by teaching people to see the highest spiritual values as sinful, as deceptive, as temptations. The most pitiful example – the corruption of Pascal, who believed that his reason was corrupted by original sin when the only thing corrupting it was Christianity itself!” (3)
Christianity, its doctrines, and beliefs, Nietzsche clearly believed, rendered the human being weak. According to the journalist Henry Mencken,
“Socialism, Puritanism, Philistinism, Christianity—he saw them all as allotropic forms of democracy, as variations upon the endless struggle of quantity against quality, of the weak and timorous against the strong and enterprising, of the botched against the fit” (9).
Unsurprising it then was that Nietzsche gunned for theology,
“I wage war on this theologian instinct: I have found traces of it everywhere. Anyone with theologian blood in his veins will approach things with a warped and deceitful attitude. This gives rise to a pathos that calls itself faith: turning a blind eye to yourself once and for all, so you do not have to stomach the sight of incurable mendacity.” (4)
Nietzsche’s definition of faith was as being analogous to “turning a blind eye”, a view held by many religious skeptics today. Turning a blind eye to the way reality is is irrational. Little wonder is it that Nietzsche gunned for the Christian’s “corrupt” conception of God,
“The Christian idea of God – God as a god of the sick, God as spider, God as spirit – is one of the most corrupt conceptions of God the world has ever seen;this may even represent a new low in the declining development of the types of god. God having degenerated into a contradiction of life instead of its transfiguration and eternal yes. God as declared aversion to life, to nature, to the will to life. God as the formula for every slander against “the here and now,” for every lie about the “beyond.” God as the deification of nothingness, the canonization of the will to nothingness!” (5)
“And all the while, this pathetic God of Christian monotonotheism instead, acting as if it had any right to exist, like an ultimatum and maximum of god-creating energy, of the human creator sprititus! this hybrid creature of ruin, made from nullity, concept, and contradiction, who sanctions all the instincts of decadence, all the cowardices and exhaustions of the soul!” (6).
Nietzsche declared the need for God’s death in order for humans to find liberation in a new intellectual age. He saw Christianity as an obstacle to this liberation. Christianity was a “pathetic” faith that also supposedly produced pathetic creatures in the form of Christians. Any creature, Nietzsche believed, who would need belief in God, need prayer, and faith was essentially someone corrupted by the virus of Christianity. This person could not contribute to society and the building of a strong people (7).
Nietzsche’s thoughts propelled him to the radical philosophy of nihilism which, many would say, would not constitute a good candidate for any individual hoping to live a happy and meaningful existence. One biographer acknowledges the weight that Nietzsche’s often radical and critical thinking put on his shoulders,
“In the later part of his creative life Nietzsche suffered acutely from loneliness. Like his alter ego, Zarathustra, he found himself alone on a (Swiss) mountain top. But, intellectually at least, he accepted this condition. Since, he reasoned, a radical social critic, a ‘free spirit’ such as himself, sets himself ever more in opposition to the foundational agreements on which social life depends, he reduces the pool of possible comrades, and so of possible friends, to vanishing point” (8).
Nietzsche remains one of the most influential figures in intellectual history, and it is almost impossible to avoid him in the philosophy class. If one is to take value from Nietzsche’s thoughts, especially his views on God and religion, it would seem to suggest that atheism has some severe consequences when it comes to meaning and purpose in life.
1. Nietzsche, F. 1882. The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche quoted in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols and Other Writings, ed. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman (2005). p. 4-5.
3. Ibid. p. 5.
4. ibid. p. 5.
5. ibid. p. 15-16.
6. ibid. p. 17.
7. ibid. p. 16.
8. Young, J. 2010. Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography
9. Henry Mencken quoted in The Essential Friedrich Nietzsche Collection (2013).