Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nietzsche and Protestantism

The interesting thing about Nietzsche is that the version of Christianity which he skewers is very obviously that of Protestant Christianity as opposed to Catholicism or Orthodox Christian thought. The sort of praise of weakness and love of the least common denominator make sense if you're coming from a Protestant perspective but less sense otherwise. The problem is that pre-Reformation Christianity was a lot looser regarding what could be thought of as stereotypical Christian ethics, with the Church approving of both the wars that nobles fought against each other and the class system that put the same nobles on the top of the heap. What happened with the Reformation is that a sort of fundamentalism came to replace the admittedly mixed nature of Catholicism, where Christian practice was advanced to the breaking point of almost requiring people to become monks while still being present in the world itself. This is the Christianity that Nietzsche is opposing. His stereotypes and his extreme sorts of prescriptions are in a sense not a fair evaluation of Christianity but are instead a distorted picture of a faith that's already distorted from the source, meaning that the overall validity of it is compromised somewhat. If Christianity doesn't really embody weak willed "slave morality", then the amoral Will to Power doesn't necessarily stand as a viable alternative. Amoral cruelty becomes just the shadow perspective of fanatical Protestantism moralism.

So where does this leave us and Nietzsche? Not at the sort of dead end that folks have identified as being one of his contributions to modern philosophy, brought about by the slide into total relativism with the very concept of a moral truth being compromised. Instead, it puts us on a more complex footing, where in order to demonstrate some of the same principles contained in his philosophy we have to reckon with a worldview that recognizes both strength and weakness, egalitarianism and inequality, hypocrisy as well as a sort of armed idealism that Nietzsche would likely have admired, proto-fascist as it is. This unity within contradiction suggests that both the Nietzschean viewpoint and the viewpoint that Nietzsche was reacting to got it wrong.

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