August 1, 2001

Nietzsche on Christianity

Friedrich Nietzsche does not believe that the God of Christianity exists. Although he never gives an explicit argument against God’s existence, his atheism seems to follow from his belief that the universe is completely chaotic. If the universe is completely chaotic, then it follows that it is void of such things as order, purpose, and moral values. But if God existed, then these features would exist. For, according to Christianity, God is an orderly, purposive, and moral being, who has, therefore, given his creation an orderly structure, made it part of his grand plan, and established objective moral values. Therefore, I think we can formulate Nietzsche’s argument against the existence of the Christian God as follows: (1) If the Christian God existed, then the universe would possess such features as a order, purpose, and moral values; (2) the universe does not possess these features; therefore, (3) the Christian God does not exist.

So the fact that the world is completely chaotic proves that the Christian God does not exist. But if the Christian God does not exist then why, one may ask, are most of the world’s civilized people Christians? After all, doesn’t the fact that the majority of people believe in God offer some kind of evidence for his existence? The answer to this question, Nietzsche would emphatically state, is no. Most people are Christians, he believes, not because Christianity is true, but because most people are weak.

Before we discuss why Nietzsche believes Christianity is a religion for weak people, we need to understand three of the essential qualities that he believes constitute a weak person. First, a weak person is naturally suited, both physically and intellectually, to be at the bottom of society—to be a follower, a slave, a plebian. Second, a weak person is resentful of those who are naturally suited to be at the top of society and desires to hurt them and put himself above them. And third, a weak person is resentful of the hand nature has dealt him and, therefore, denies the true nature of reality and hates life.

Now that we understand what it means to be a weak person, we can understand why Nietzsche believes Christianity is a religion for weak people. First, he believes Christianity is a weak person’s religion because it strives to hurt strong people. According to Nietzsche, the biggest way Christianity hurts strong people is by labeling them and their values as “evil,” while labeling themselves and their own values as “good.” Christians, Nietzsche holds, inherited this practice from the Jews, who were the first group of people to make a “radical revaluation of their enemies’ values.” Many centuries before Christ, the Jews, who themselves were a weak people, executed the first “slave revolt in morality.” “[T]he wretched alone are good,” they claimed;
“the poor, impotent, lowly are good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious, alone are blessed by God, blessedness is for them alone—and you, the powerful and noble, are on the contrary the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity; and you shall be in all eternity the unblessed, accursed, and damned!” (GM I, 7).
Through revaluing their enemies’ values, Nietzsche believes that both the Jews and Christians successfully destroyed their enemies’ values. As he writes, “The ‘redemption of the human race (from ‘the masters,’ that is) is going forward; everything is visibly becoming Judaized, Christianized, mob-ized (what do the words matter!)” (GM I, 9).

Another way Christianity hurts strong people is by trying to prevent people from suffering. Strong men, Nietzsche believes, desire hardship and suffering because they know that such trials enable them to become stronger and better. The strong man knows that “[t]he discipline of suffering” has created “all enhancements in man so far” (BGE 225); and that “[p]rofound suffering makes noble” (270). Unlike strong people, Christians hold to a “religion of pity,” and “experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence” (GS 338). Through pitying and encouraging others to pity, Nietzsche believes, Christians prevent the strong from suffering and thus from becoming stronger.

Christianity also hurts strong people by espousing the doctrine of personal immortality. By claiming that “everyone as an ‘immortal soul’ has equal rank with everyone else, that in the totality of living beings the ‘salvation’ of every single individual may claim eternal significance,” Christianity began to spread “the doctrine of ‘equal rights for all’” (A 43). And this doctrine, Nietzsche holds, has led to an attack on noble individuals. For, according to Nietzsche, people are not equal; rather, some people are stronger, smarter, and better suited to be in high positions than others are. Given this fact, it follows that a good, or high culture is like a pyramid, assigning each person to his proper place—the many weak people on bottom and the few strong people on top (57). But, by persuading people that everyone is equal, Christianity has encouraged society to level-out. And, of course, the only way to level-out society was to attack the strong and bring them down to the level of the weak.

The second reason Nietzsche believes Christianity is a weak person’s religion is the fact that it denies life. Christianity denies life by refusing to acknowledge the true state of reality. Instead of acknowledging that the universe is completely chaotic and, therefore, void of such things as God, rationality, purpose, and values, Christians believe in all of these things. The world Christians believe in, Nietzsche writes, is a “world of pure fiction”: “Nothing but imaginary causes (‘God,’ ‘soul,’ ‘ego,’ ‘spirit,’ ‘free will’—for that matter, ‘unfree will’), nothing but imaginary effects (‘sin,’ ‘redemption,’ ‘grace,’ ‘punishment,’ ‘forgiveness of sins’)” (A 15).

The third reason Nietzsche believes Christianity is a weak person’s religion is the fact that it hates life. Proof that Christians’ hate life can be seen in their hope in an afterlife, as well as their condemnation of many natural things. As Nietzsche puts it in The Birth of Tragedy,
Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in “another” or “better” life. Hatred of “the world,” condemnations of the passions, fear of beauty and sensuality, a beyond invented the better to slander this life, at bottom a craving for the nothing, for the end, for respite, for “the sabbath of Sabbaths”…at the very least a sign of abysmal sickness, weariness, discouragement, exhaustion, and the impoverishment of life (Preface, 5).
If Christians loved life, then they would find joy in it and not have to invent Heaven in order to be happy. Further, if Christians loved life, then they would embrace their natural desires, and not condemn them and desire to be freed from them.

Now that we understand why Nietzsche believes Christianity is a religion for weak people, we can understand how he thinks it came about. Unlike Christians claim, Nietzsche tells us that modern-day Christianity is not the result of Jesus’ teachings. For Jesus himself was not a weak individual. Rather, Jesus was a strong man, a noble man. Instead of trying to elevate himself by making the strong weak, Jesus attacked the decadent values held by the Jewish establishment. And instead of denying and despising life, Jesus embraced it. The “kingdom of heaven,” he believed, was “a sate of the heart—not something that is to come ‘above the earth’ or ‘after death’” (A 34).

Although Jesus was a noble individual, Nietzsche tells us that his disciples misunderstood him. And when Jesus was crucified, they could not understand why God let him suffer and die as he did. As they began to ponder this question, “the deranged reason of the small community found an altogether horribly absurd answer: God gave his son for the remission of sins, as a sacrifice.” Although Jesus taught his disciples that man is not guilty before God, that there is no “cleavage between God and man,” the disciples became convinced that Jesus died for the sins of humanity. Soon, they began to distort other teachings of Jesus, and falsely claimed that he taught such things as “the doctrine of judgment and return” and “the doctrine of the resurrection” (A 41).

Although Jesus taught his followers to forgive others, early Christians began to use these distorted views of Jesus in order to execute revenge on their enemies. Paul, for example, claimed that Jesus taught the doctrine of immortality, and used this doctrine to elevate weak priests like himself above the ruling class. Paul also claimed that Jesus taught the doctrine of “judgment and return,” and used this doctrine to condemn strong people. By advancing such doctrines, Christians have been able to successfully keep strong individuals down for almost two millennia. Christianity, for example, eventually defeated the Roman Empire. And more recently, Christianity defeated the Renaissance, which made a near-successful attempt at revaluing Christian values.