Friday, May 29, 2009

St. Nietzsche Part Two: Nietzsche and Paul on the Law's Futility

[Note to Readers: Before beginning this post I thought I'd share some self-criticism related to this blog and why my conclusion is that I should continue. There are plenty of people as bright, as informed about the Bible, philosophy, and theology, as able to form their thoughts in apt language, etc., as am I. In short, if eminence is the justification for continuing to blog, I should not. (It is a different matter that I get a lot out of the process: I could simply journal.) So why wouldn't I leave my kind readers in those many more eminent hands? The answer comes down to approach. I believe that I am modeling something that deserves--in fact needs--to catch on with religious intellectual leaders: faith that demonstrates its relevance and importance by taking on its greatest challenges. For too long a choice between conservative Christianity's anti-intellectualism and liberal Christianity's capitulation to Modernism/Post-Modernism/Whatever-Comes-Next has gutted faith of its integrity, its relevance, and its power. To those of us who see faith as the most important aspect of life--and there are different ways of framing why--that is a travesty. Anti-intellectualism or capitulation--either way Christians feed the view that faith lacks relevance, integrity and power. So what's special about my approach? It moves against the "avoid or capitulate" dynamic, because it engages the toughest questions it can find. And oddly enough, there are answers, even for a less-than-eminent thinker such as I. That's precisely what needs to be modeled, and though I'm certainly not unique in this. That's why I will continue to blog, despite the fact that I have very little time to devote to it. And who better than Nietzsche to be our friend in this important project of engaging the tough questions?]

Apparently Nietzsche thought so little--I speak literally here, though the same is certainly true figuratively--of Christian morality that he failed to see the powerful argument against it embedded in his anti-Christian stance: favoring the weak empowers them, thereby unnaturally frustrating the strong. His "overman" would see through this and have nothing to do with the herd that follows its unnatural, even sick, point of view. We looked at the argument embedded in this perspective in the last post. The argument is implicit in the quote, "When the great man screams, the small man comes running with his tongue hanging out form lasciviousness." (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, tr. Kaufmann, Third Part.)

From the Christian point of view Nietzsche's comment is potentially devastating. In essence he is saying, "By envying the strong, the herd shows that its claim to equality under the law is just a way of turning the tables on the natural order without changing it for the better: The law empowers the weak without changing the fact that it is the will to power--the desire to be the one wielding power--that is in play. He called this "...the self-deception of the moral concepts..." (The Anti-Christ, tr. Kaufmann, section 20.)

Let's frame the argument Nietzsche might have made--provisionally and informally for now:

Christians want to do good. We define "good" morally, and claim that biblical law prescribes it, at least more-or-less. But the de facto good for all people is what they in fact want, and all people want power, even if that want comes in the form of a purported desire for moral good to prevail. Therefore, the moral good is not a species apart from the will to power. Moreover, if particular goods always inform the content regulated by the moral law, the moral law does not change the nature of goodness in the sense of changing what is wanted, but only adds a regulative dimension which--when enforced--prevents the stronger individual from taking advantage of the weaker by taking a proportionately greater amount of the good. But one measure of justice and goodness is that people get what they deserve. If we then define "deserve" as a product of what a person can do, we derive the conclusion that the stronger should get the lion's share of the goods that people seek: the domination of the weak by the strong is natural. The moral law does not change the fact that the strong can get more goods by dint of their strength. Hence, it does not change the fact that it is better to be strong. But if it's better to be strong, then the moral law stultifies the good by preventing the stronger individual from taking advantage of the weaker by taking a larger proportion--even the lion's portion--of the good. From the standpoint of nature, the moral law is a self-inflicted sham, a self-deception, perpetrated on society by which the weaker individual (or nation or culture, etc.) overthrows the natural order without offering a good of its own to justify the overthrowing of the natural order, in which the strong dominate the weak.

For now it is enough to note that this argument depends on the strong and the weak both wanting the same thing--the goods of nature. And if human nature cannot be--has not been--transcended, Nietzsche's point of view, which I hope to have used fairly to construct this "argument," prevails. But a critique from a meta-Nietzschian Christian point of view will wait for another post. Today, it is the congruence of the Apostle Paul's point of view with Nietzsche's that we will observe.

For Paul, the moral law was/is "our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Gal. 3:24, KJV) or "the law was like a strict governess in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ..." (Phillips) or "...the law was a kind of tutor..." (NEB).

Paul's point is that we should have learned from our tutor and graduated to something better: "Christ set us free, to be free men. Stand firm, then, and refuse to be tied to the yoke of slavery again." (Gal. 5:1, NEB) We, as Christians, should live for something higher. In that we agree with Nietzsche and his call for the "ubermensch": " something that must be overcome." (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, tr. Kaufmann, Fourth Part.) In fact, Paul is every bit as emphatic--and that is a euphemism--as Nietzsche: "You stupid Galations!" (Gal. 3:1, NEB) Why? They were returning to the law, which could not provide authentic "life" or produce "righteousness." (Gal. 3:31)

On this level of abstraction, Paul and Nietzsche are in complete agreement. Humanity needs a higher kind of life than that made possible by the law. In fact, we would have to be stupid--Paul's words--not to see it. And it is my contention that by taking Nietzsche seriously, we get a better view of Christianity and the good that it proposes.

[A second note to Readers: I have come to see that a second monograph length essay derived from Nietzsche's criticism of Christianity is in order. The first was, for those who did not read it, "Into the World," an answer to Nietzsche's view that Pilate's famous question is the annihilation of faith. This summer I will examine facets of this challenge and prepare for a more considered response in the fall, when I have more time...]

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