I’m not usually one to defend the thought of Nietzsche, but in reading his Genealogy of Morality it seems that his critique of Christianity is on target.
I should say, “His critique of what he thought Christianity was.”
In his usual passionate style he bemoans what he calls the “slave revolt in morality.” This is the idea that the underclass are full of suppressed rage at their poor treatment and so they eventually flip the whole concept of morality so that the weakness, not strength becomes the virtue.
Therefore the poor, the weak, the slave, the disabled, the meek and the downtrodden become the virtuous ones and the strong, the rich, the powerful, the noble, the aristocrats automatically become the villains and the oppressors.
He says it was the Jews who cooked up this reversal and he bitterly laments the fact that humanity now praises the misfits and the weak and miserable as being the brightest and best, and he goes on to observe that the Jews went ahead and killed the most avid proponent of this perverse reversal: Jesus of Nazareth.
Well, the theory is very interesting and it doesn’t take much to see how it planted the seed of the terrible events in Nazi Germany: if the Jews were the misfits who had somehow turned the tables and risen to the top despite their “inferiority” you can see why some folks swallowed the lie and did what they did.
The good thing about Nietzsche’s theory is that he despises a Christianity that glorifies the poor, the weak, the meek and the slave. I say this is a good thing because true Christianity is NOT the religion of the weak, the poor, the disabled, the slave and the miserable loser. Any form of Christianity which teaches that we should remain miserable slaves and worms is a false religion, and there are plenty of forms of Christianity that have done this and still do.
The forms of Christianity which unhealthily perpetrate the idea that it is a good thing to be poor, downtrodden miserable worms. They do this through a kind of sick religion which oppresses people through guilt, harsh legalism, a fatalistic doctrine of predestination and a passive Quietism. Catholics have done this through Jansenism and Protestants through Calvinism. Catholics have also done it when aristocratic and privileged Catholics looked down on the poor peasants and kept them in their condition because they ennobled them with some romantic idea that poverty was a good thing. Then they continued to perpetrate the system through patronizing charity….”The rich man in his castle the poor man at his gate” – everyone keep to their places please!
Nietzsche was right to reject this form of Christianity, and like most atheists he was rejecting a distorted version of Christianity–not the real thing.
The religion of Jesus Christ does not exalt poverty, disability, subservience, slavery and inferiority. Instead it recognizes the virtues of humility, meekness, charity and service of others. Furthermore, it calls for each one of us to move from that position of weakness and “slavery” to become positive, pro-active heroes of faith.
Furthermore, when Nietzsche calls for humans to throw off the chains of submission to their fate, engage their will and embrace power he again almost gets it right. We are to do this, but Christians do this very thing as they say to God, “Thy Will be Done.” This is not so much submission of the will in total, blind subservience. Instead it is co-operation with grace. In this submission we link our will to God’s will. We plug into the Divine Power so that we can say in all confidence and strength, “With God all things are possible” or ” I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is not an abnegation of the human will, but the ultimate empowerment of the human will.
If Nietzsche had met a few more real saints he would have understood that Christianity is not for the faint hearted or pusillanimous. The Christian hero is a “slave” but he is not weak and powerless. Instead, in giving up his power in service he becomes the greatest. This is seen in the incarnation itself: “Christ who did not cling to equality with God but became in the form of a slave…” True Christianity empowers people it does not enslave them. True Christianity teaches that the Holy Spirit fills individuals with a new dynamism and power that makes them the true “supermen” and “superwomen” who rise to do extraordinary things.
They are meek, but they are not doormats. They are humble, but they are not humiliated. They are powerless, but therefore most strong. St Paul says this “When I am weak then I am most strong.”
It is amazing that Nietzsche, who was so often such a radical and creative and paradoxical thinker did not see this greater paradox. Instead he fell into what is a rather shallow trap of blaming Christians for being the greatest example of the “slave revolt” when in fact they had not only flipped the power-powerless paradigm once, but flipped it a second time–breaking it from the inside out.
I have written in this article about the contrast between Nietzsche and St Therese of Lisieux who were almost contemporaries. I would love to write a great big fat biography of Maximillian Kolbe and compare him to Nietzsche’s philosophy and show how Kolbe’s life and ministry totally proves Nietzsche and Nazism wrong–not from a position of superman strength, but from being the superman who rises out of the Christian hero.