October 5, 2009

Pillars of Unbelief - Nietzsche


Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College and has authored over forty-five books. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and an unapologetic big C Catholic. The following is an excerpt from an article in his series Pillars of Unbelief. The third article considers Friedrich Nietzsche, the self proclaimed "Anti-Christ" and outspoken critic of religious belief. The article can be read in its entirety here.)

Nietzsche - Self-Proclaimed "Anti-Christ"

Friedrich Nietzsche called himself "the Anti-Christ," and wrote a book by that title. He argued for atheism as follows: "I will now disprove the existence of all gods. If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Consequently, there are no gods."

He scorned reason as well as faith, often deliberately contradicted himself, said that "a sneer is infinitely more noble that a syllogism" and appealed to passion, rhetoric and even deliberate hatred rather than reason.

He saw love as "the greatest danger" and morality as mankind's worst weakness. He died insane, in an asylum, of syphilis-signing his last letters "the Crucified One." He was adored by the Nazis as their semi-official philosopher.

Yet he is admired as profound and wise by many of the greatest minds of our century. How can this be?

There are three schools of thought about Nietzsche. Most popular among academics is the school of the "gentle Nietzscheans," who claim that Nietzsche was, in effect, a sheep in wolf's clothing; that his attacks should not be taken literally and that he was really an ally, not an enemy, of the Western institutions and values which he denounced.

These scholars resemble theologians who interpret sayings of Jesus like: "no one can come to the Father but through me" as meaning "all religions are equally valid," and "he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" as meaning "let your divorces be creative and reasonable."

Second, there are the "awful, awful" Nietzscheans. They at least pay Nietzsche the compliment of taking him seriously. They are typified by the footnote in an old Catholic textbook on modern philosophy, which said only that Nietzsche existed, was an atheist and died insane-a fate which may well await anyone who looks too long into his books.

A third school of thought sees Nietzsche as a wolf indeed and not a sheep, but as a very important thinker because he shows to modern Western civilization its own dark heart and future. It's easy to scapegoat and point fingers at "blacksheep" like Nietzsche and Hitler, but is there not a "Hitler in ourselves" (to quote Max Picard's title)? Did not Nietzsche let the cat out of the bag? The demonic cat that was hidden in the respectable bag of secular humanism? Once "God is dead," so is man, morality, love, freedom, hope, democracy, the soul and ultimately, sanity. No one shows this more vividly than Nietzsche. He may have been responsible (quite unintentionally) for many conversions...

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