Friday, May 22, 2009

St. Nietzsche Part One: On "the most corrupt kind of corruption"

Our conclusion from last week, that the resurrection turns the tables on the tables that keep turning in human history answers Nietzsche's uber-complaint against Christianity, that it engenders "the most corrupt kind of corruption." (The Antichrist, tr. Kaufmann, section 58.)

A fuller statement is found earlier in The Antichrist (section 18): "The Christian concept of God--God as god of the one of the most corrupt conceptions of the divine ever attained on earth. It may even represent the low-water mark in the descending development of the divine types. God degenerated into the contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes! God as the declaration of war against life, against nature, against the will to live." I contend that Nietzsche's point, when unpacked, does not threaten the Christian position, but rather makes it clear why it is needed.

Speaking entirely in the abstract, if a weaker, aggrieved party uses legal or moral sanction to overthrow a stronger, aggrieving party, though justice will presumably be served, but is it necessarily the case that good has been served in addition? Nietzsche helps us see that the presumption is false.

He, of course, opposed moral and legal sanction against the stronger party on behalf of the weaker on the grounds that it is natural for the strong to dominate the weak. That is what nature sanctions, he would say, so we should too.

But there is a much more interesting aspect of this charge that he brings against Christianity: that its transvaluation (its unnatural love of weakness instead of strength: cf "the beatitudes") is born out of envy: "'When the great man screams, the small man comes running with his tongue hanging from lasciviousness.'" (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, tr. Kaufmann, Third Part.) If Nietzsche is correct here, it is the end of a moral justification of justice: we may support justice out of social necessity, but the idea that it serves good has been burlesqued. From this perspective the Apostle Paul and Nietzsche agree: Humanity is "a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7:25--of course Nietzsche would not call it "sin.")

The tablative justice that we considered last week, then, turns on the power that the law gives to the aggrieved. But the power of the aggrieved is just another form of power, and a form that Nietzsche hates because it overturns the natural order and that Christianity critiques--or at least ought to--as spinning the wheels of justice without making any progress toward good. Nature will not be transcended in Nietzsche's view: So justice is a sham. He was correct in this, at least, a justice that does nothing more than turn the tables on the natural order without implementing a clear good in its place is, in fact, the most corrupt kind of corruption." And that is not possible without a change of heart that redefines the human nature. We ought to thank him for that crucial point and take it to heart.

To make progress toward good, it is necessary that the one who takes power does so with the intent of benefiting others with that power. That is the ostensible goal of the Christian view of Agape love. The question, of course, is whether Christianity really turns the tables on the turning of the tables. More on that next time, as we examine a related and further critique of Nietzsche's, for which we should be grateful.

As relief to the abstract point of view given here, it's worth noting that as Talk of the Nation ended yesterday (5/21/09, NPR) the parting comment following a discussion of the ongoing debate between our President and the former Vice president was that--and I paraphrase--projecting strength (Cheney) or projecting values (Obama) is a classic dilemma. If this post is on target, it is only by using strength to promote the welfare of others that the dilemma can be resolved.


Under the Eagle's Wing said...

The very esence of authority, whether exercised authority via vested, socio-economic, military or otherwise presumes that the good is being achieved regardless of the oppressive nature of the authority exercised. What comes to mind is the world's view of American Foreign Policy and I am not slighting that policy. The ability of a people to accept authority is based on their understanding of the greater good achieved in long-term and in short-term realized benefits. Most of the troubles occur when a group fails to understand or becomes aware of an abusive oppression which alienates them. "To make progress toward good, it is necessary that the one who takes power does so with the intent of benefiting others with that power."
Factions which through selfish or less than noble intents usurp authority may or may not be working in partnership with the powers that be. What I am trying to get at is this... we see to much subversion of authority cloistered by a narrow view to the effects of the decisions of those making decisions i.e. our church politics. As Christians as people it is hard to accept sacrifice at the instigation of a mandate to acheive a good not necessarily clearly understood (may be a result of lack of communication or a necessary repression of information)and as a result there is an unacceptance of the law or mandate. We must have faith in leadership however falable or human as we also have faith in God, understanding that leadership, humanly, is fraught with failure by not being able to discern the absolute inevitable consequence of every decision. We mst also be able to hold leadership accountable and in the hope that leadeship accepts that accontbilitywith the same measure as we accept their decisions. Need I say more ...

Tracy Witham said...

Hi John,

Trusting leadership to move "us" (those of us being led) toward a goal that connects us with the leaders is crucial. Your points are well taken.

But the point gets a bit sticky when we bring in Nietzsche's critique of morality based on a commitment to treating all persons with equality. Over the weekend I have realized that the point I am aiming at needs to be made clearer.

As of this post the main point would be that we don't want someone with Nietzsche's views leading a Western Democracy. But if we look to the religious source for much of that tradition and Nietzsche's antipathy to that source, to even make the point is almost a joke.

The practical point to keep in mind for wealthy, powerful Western Democracies would be that preaching a doctrine of the equality of one's citizens and then acting on an international stage as if our nation or culture should be treated preferentially is, to be kind, odd. Simple as that point is, many powerful western governments--and I have heard it from mine many times--speak as if it is axiomatic that governments look to the best interests of their people first, as though that could be their position AND they can assume a position of trusted leadership on the world stage. The doctrine of enlightened self-interest is usually trotted out at this point, as though the powerful nation, in looking to its self-interests, is thereby also looking out for the rest of the world. If one accepts that as a presumption rather than a goal to which much effort needs to be directed, well, in my grandpa's phrase, "They must think I was born yesterday."

But here's where the interesting point comes in: Taking Nietzsche's critique of morality to heart and forming a Christian response to it. That's where my thoughts were this weekend, and I'll post on it in the next few days.

Thanks for reading!