Though one may disagree with Friedrich Nietzsche’ belief system there remains room to enjoy his work. He was very poignant, brashly honest, and sometimes quite profound in his writings. Nietzsche, of course, was arguably the most abrupt and abrasive of atheistic thinkers of his time. In his book The Gay Science, 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, he would further go on to write that the worst enemy of human progress is the Christian; he refers to Christians as the “domestic animal, the herd animal, the sick animal – the Christian” (2). Neither did he mince his words when it came to Christianity 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)
The journalist Henry Mencken captured this side of Nietzsche’ personality writing that “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).
So it wouldn’t prove to be much of a surprise when Nietzsche declared war on 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)
Notably, Nietzsche’s definition of faith as being analogous to “turning a blind eye” is conspicuously present in the words & works of his modern day fundamentalist counterparts. And on the Christian concept of God, Nietzsche had the following to say:
“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)
He didn’t stop there and subsequently in another of his well-known essays, he would write: “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 while Christianity, as he saw it, was a pathetic faith that produced pathetic creatures. Any creature, Nietzsche believed, who would need belief in God, and need prayer & faith was someone corrupted by the virus of Christianity. In turn, such a person could not contribute to society and the building of a strong people (7).
Nietzsche’s philosophy led to the radical, yet logical outworking, of the philosophy of nihilism. And on this note, according to biographer Young, he was a troubled and lonely man:
“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).
Today, for many, he remains one of the most celebrated figures in intellectual history. It was especially Nietzsche’s radicalism that makes him one of the most fascinating figures in modern thought. If anything, Nietzsche’s atheism serves to remind us all that atheism has consequences.
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).