He of the mustache–Frederich Nietzsche–has much to answer for. On the one hand the poor insane philosopher opened our eyes to some aspects of religion and human psychology we had never seen before. On the other hand, he made some obvious blunders which led to incredibly awful conclusions–not only in his own sad life, but also in European history.
One of the concepts he explored was resentment–or because he didn’t have a German word for it (that is interesting in itself) he used the French term ressentiment. For clarity I’ll just capitalize the English word Resentment.
Resentment is not just being sore because you lost the ball game or Suzy got a bigger piece of cake than you did. Resentment is the regular, remembrance of a grievance–but not simply remembering it, but reliving it. I call it the Resentment Loop. You know, when you have that inner conversation along the lines of, “What I should have said was…Next time I see him I’ll give him a piece of my mind…You wait and see….I’ll get back at him…I’ll show him…”
You get the idea.
When resentment is deeply rooted in an individual or a racial, ethnic or religious tribe, it can obviously erupt into violent revolution. However, Nietzsche came up with a clever alternative to violent revolution.
He noticed that Resentment is rooted in rivalry and the weak or powerless person is most vulnerable. In their powerlessness, Nietzsche proposes that the Resentful find someone else to blame for their problems. Then, blaming this perceived “enemy” they begin to perceive themselves as martyrs. He says the “slave revolt in morality” was when the Hebrew slaves in Egypt began to see themselves as righteous for suffering slavery. They were “God’s chosen people.” Nietzsche saw this as a massive self deception, and he taught that the whole Judeo-Christian ethic of power in weakness, strength through suffering and goodness through service were the result, and that this deception glorified weakness. He considered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with its glorification of poverty of spirit and meekness to be the ultimate end point of this process.
He despised this weakness and asserted that the truly great person was the “super man” who was the master of his own destiny and the slave of no one.
We can see where that philosophy led can we not Mr Hitler?
Another German philosopher, Max Scheler, comes along and corrects Nietzsche quite brilliantly. He says pagan philosophy aspires upward to the great, the noble and the good, and that this feeds the human tendency to rivalry which leads to ambition, conflict and conquest. Christian theology turns that on its head and in Christ Jesus one lowers oneself–not to become an overlord, but to be the servant of all, and this difference in direction–the pagan upward and the Christian downward–makes all the difference.
Scheler agrees with Nietzsche that Resentment can lead to the “slave revolt in morality”. In other words, Resentment can lead to a person being “good” or even very piously religious out of the underlying Resentment and rivalry. Why? Because they are seeking to be better than everyone else, and how better to do that then to be hyper religious? The religious person motivated by Resentment will not only be scrupulous about his own observance of religion–being very careful to keep all the rules, observe all the rubrics down to the letter and maintain a seemingly flawless life, but they will also attempt to impose their fanaticism on others. This brings about the poisonously “pious” Christian who pretends to be a meek and submissive doormat, when in fact they use their “holiness” to bully and manipulate other people.
Mind you, this sort of religious person doesn’t really want the others to follow their kind of religion. They want the “apostates and sinners” to be there as a foil. Where would they be without all the bad people to attack? Without all the bad people their shining righteousness would not be so obvious!
The same Resentment can lead to a kind of “false victim” syndrome. I’ve discussed this process in this article about Jussie Smollet’s racist attack hoax. While the present protests against racism and police brutality are encouraging because we are seeing so many people stand up for what is right–they can be discouraging because it’s rather easy to mistake a protest for action and going out on a protest or putting a black box on your Instagram page can make you feel soooo good about yourself.
When religious actions are motivated by Resentment, the result is hypocritical Pharisees. Self righteous and better than everyone else. Always correct and never wrong, these religious people are motivated not by love, but by Resentment–another word for hatred. You can always spot them because even though they are religious and even though they might be the most thoroughgoing do gooder, they are not happy people. They might cover their resentment with good manners, smiles and a seemingly happy form of religion, but they are deeply unhappy and angry. Just beneath the surface of the smiles are snarls.
This is counterfeit Christianity and it is most often cloaked with a veneer of excessive piety or excessive compassion. We’ve all seen the pained look, the fake compassion and the phrase, “I’m very concerned!” or “I’ll pray for you…”
It’s fake. It’s driven by resenment, not repentance and forgiveness.
Instead of this counterfeit Christianity, Scheler says the true Christian spirit is constantly seeking to shed all forms of Resentment through repentance and faith. It is constantly seeking to delight in truth–not the deceptions engendered by Resentment. It is constantly and naturally seeking to serve and finds great joy in doing so. Scheler says Nietzsche missed the authentic spirit of Christianity and criticized the counterfeit religion instead. He was right to criticize that fake, Pharisaical counterfeit, but he was sadly wrong in missing the real thing.
How did Nietzsche miss the real spirit of Christianity when his father was a strict, upstanding Lutheran pastor?
Perhaps that’s exactly the reason.