Friday, June 19, 2009

St. Nietzsche V: Parting Company with St. Paul

In the last Nietzsche post (numeral IV) I agreed with the third argument, that "it is the will to power, and not the moral law, that is fundamental to human motivation." And, "Accordingly, seeking to follow the moral law does not change human nature, fundamentally." Of course, the whole idea behind morals is that they really improve us and the world. So if they are but window dressing on a perspective which, if it is looked into deeply enough, shows us that we aren't really moral, we ought to be honest enough to face the fact. I agree with Nietzsche on that, completely. It happens that Paul agrees that, if we look deeply at ourselves, we aren't really moral: To quote Paul, "...sin has made its home in my nature." (Rom. 7:17, Phillips)

In addition to that, Nietzsche has the following complaint against Christianity and the Apostle Paul, whom he called "The First Christian" (an essay from "The Dawn" with that title explains Nietzsche's view): "The Christian conception of God [is of] God as god of the sick..." (The AntiChrist, tr. Kaufmann, section 18.) By teaching us to value compassion and humility and mercy and charity, etc., Christianity betrays our natural devotion to greatness and strength. My rejoinder to Nietzsche's view is that there is no human greatness or strength without long, loving, nurturing patience with human weakness and incompetence. Nietzsche's hyperbolic disparagement of Christian values is at least as naive and misguided as he takes the object of his scorn to be. But this impasse is hardly worth arriving at.

Fortunately, the disagreement can be followed to a deeper point. Both the Apostle Paul and the Great Atheist agree on the need to transcend the moral law: Nietzsche announces the "uber-mensch" and Paul "a new creature." (Gal. 6:15 KJV) The status quo is, to be sure, an impasse that is hardly worth arriving at.

But for Nietzsche,

"When one speaks of humanity, the idea is fundamental that this is something which separates and distinguishes man from nature. In reality, however, there is no such separation..." (from "Homer's Contest" in The Portable Nietzsche, tr. Kaufmann.)

The Apostle Paul agrees that,

"we [live] on the level of our lower nature." (Rom. 7:5, NEB)

The point of absolute departure for the two is precisely where it should be: grace, as understood in its primary, theological sense: divine assistance given to humanity in its state of helplessness apart for it. "For by grace you have been saved through faith..."

Before tracing the separation, let's note the astounding unity of the Apostle Paul and the Great Atheist on this point: we are estranged from the moral law by our very human nature. We are helpless in the face of the law, and here Nietzsche's view informs faith, precisely because it is unnatural; it is not in accord with who we fundamentally are. The "third argument" makes that case persuasively, and so we should be grateful to Nietzsche.

And since we are using the Great Atheist to make the point, why not bring in another to second it. ""There is really only one entity whose point of view matters in evolution, and that entity is the selfish gene." (Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006) p. 137.) And, "Genes are selected for their ability to make the best use of the levers of power at their disposal..." (Ibid.) A better "fundamental" explanation of human nature in accord with Nietzsche's will to power would be impossible to find. Since Dawkins does not think that his view from 1976 is outmoded--see his "Introduction to the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition"--it seems that Paul's point of view prior to grace accords with Nietzsche and Dawkins. And as a matter of fact, it is not a stretch to say that it is because his view accords with Dawkins and Nietzsche that he sees the need for grace. Paul was thoroughly up to date 2,000 years ago.

Of course, at that very point their views diverge in irreconcilable ways. But all this is to set up the following point: the way to transcend the impasse is encoded in the first biblical metaphors describing the relationship of divinity to humanity. And, I will contend, the view that Christianity set up--when understood at the necessary depth--offers a view of a truth that to too big for nature of science; a truth only faith can accept; but a truth none-the-less.

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