An Easter Greeting for Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve been taking a Nietzsche course this semester and enjoying it immensely.  Don’t get me wrong:  Nietzsche and I are on opposite sides of the question of God’s vitality, and a few other things besides.  But it’s refreshing to have an opponent of Nietzsche’s caliber; next to him, today’s neo-atheists look like so many prattling dwarves.  An account of Christianity that can stand up to Nietzsche is a robust account indeed.

In my pre-Easter Nietzsche class we discussed the second essay of the Genealogy of Morals.  Nietzsche spends a lot of time in the essay on the notions of credit and debt and the role these concepts play in the origin of conscience, guilt, and religion.  To simplify a bit, Nietzsche sees the origin of gods in ancestor worship and the origin of ancestor worship in the sense of indebtedness we feel toward the founders of our respective tribes.

The rest of the story by now is probably familiar to you:  indebtedness becomes wrapped up in guilt and fear, and poor little man ends up cowering before the Judeo-Christian God, conscious of an infinite indebtedness he can never repay.  And then along comes Jesus to pay the debt for us, but, oh no!  What’s this?  Jesus’ attempt to repay the debt only leaves man further in the hole because, well, he just killed God.  So guilt and debt and fear abide…

As is often the case, the closer one’s opponent gets to the truth, the more dangerous he becomes, and Nietzsche has latched onto language Christians sometimes use to talk about sin and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.  We do speak of Jesus paying our infinite debt—and if the language of credit and debt were all we had to understand what happened on Good Friday, then Christianity might indeed find itself buckling under the force of Nietzsche’s onslaught.  But Nietzsche leaves out a few important things…

…like the Resurrection….

You see, Christ’s payment of our debt does not leave us with a bank account of zero.  Christ cancels our debt not just by wiping out our sins and then leaving us on our own but, rather, by inviting us into his own life.

Some of the Fathers of the Church as well as the Orthodox tradition go so far as to speak of salvation as a kind of “divinization.”  If Calvary is placed within the context of Jesus becoming man to live and die with us and for us, we can begin to understand how Christ cancels our debt.  He does so by identifying with humanity so completely that there is no longer any distance between God and us.  Christ doesn’t just void the mortgage; he makes us partners in the bank.

And this dynamic explains why the fundamental challenge of Christian life is no longer the impossible task of repaying an infinite debt.  That debt has been repaid in full.  The task of the Christian is to identify completely with Christ or, more precisely, to accept his invitation into the life of communion that is the Trinity.

So rejoice and be glad, Friedrich Nietzsche!  There’s no longer any reason to brood over interest payments.  Christ is for us and with us, and now he is risen too!  Alleluia!

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7 Responses to An Easter Greeting for Friedrich Nietzsche

  1. Qualis Rex says:

    Anthony, great post. I too have read Nietsche. And like you, it is simply to “Know thy enemy” (in the theological sense) a la Sun Tzu as opposed to any actual inclinations to his views. Unlike listening to Rush Limbaugh, Ariana Huffington et al (which I also do from time to time simply to understand what people who cannot think for themselves are saying these days), reading Nietsche absolutely does require you to think critically and analytically if you really wish to address his charges. In other words, while 99.9% of “writers” and yellow-journalists in such outfits as NCR, HufPo, NYT, WND etc can be debunked as easily as one can blow one’s nose, Nietsche is probably the prototypical adversary to God (from God?) which cannot be easily dismissed as simply uninformed or a liar/fact distorter.

    Incidentally, should Nietsche be unsuccessful in preventing you from climbing the next rung on Jacob’s ladder I would highly recommend Schopenhauer as your next read. A bit archaic in his sciences given our current knowledge, but perhaps twice as dangerous in his views on “utopia”, which arguably influenced Nietsche, Darwin, Sanger and the current EU powers that be.

    Buonissima pasqua a te e tutti i tuoi!

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Grazie, e buona pasqua, Qualis. I had lasagna with my grandparents on Sunday, and it’s Cadbury eggs for the rest of the week for me! I also remembered to pray for all of the readers of Whosoever Desires at the Easter Vigil.

      The Schopenhauer reference is interesting. Schopenhauer had a significant influence on Nietzsche and comes up a number of times in his work, though Nietzsche ultimately rejects him as not life-affirming. (And Nietzsche does think of himself as life-affirming.) I haven’t read Schopenhauer myself, but your suggestion to give him a look seems like a good one because of his influence.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I knew when I saw the title of this post on my e-mail notification that this was one of yours Tony. 🙂

    Love the juxtaposition of the pictures of Nietzche and Thumper. I’m not sure which one looks furrier. I’m thinking maybe Nietzche. It looks like he stole Thumper’s chest hair and stuck it on his upper lip as a trophy.

    Anyway, well done. I think sometimes I need reminding not to dwell on the profound, unrepayable debt as well. It is easy to get caught up in that, especially when you are as stubbornly and persistantly sinful as I am. But when I look around at all my many blessings and just marvel at the abundant love and mercy of God. Being invited into his family through Christ is defintitely cause for celebration.

    This is why, and please excuse the sweeping, judgemental generalizations, Athiests are just not as fun at parties as Catholics. They have nothing to celebrate and even when they do have something to celebrate it’s tainted with the idea that someday it will be gone and they will be worm food. Relax people. Eat some peeps and rejoice. He is risen indeed!

  3. Father Joseph LeBlanc says:

    I agree with Stephanie, eat some peeps, blue bell ice cream and rejoice. He is risen, indeed!!!!

    Excellent post. .

  4. Qualis Rex says:

    Stephanie LOL! Anthony did such a good job at subliminally de-idolizing Nietsche by putting his picture next to that photo of Thumper and the egg, that I now have to fight the urge to run up to Nietsche and give him a big hug and call him “uncle Freddy”.

  5. Qualis Rex says:

    Anthony, I’m glad you got a big “payoff” for your Lenten sacrifice! I’ve resolved to put on 7lbs by the end of the week, and the pizza, pasta, parmigiana di melanzane and lamb followed by gelato was a good start. I swear to you that I sincerely forgot what meat and dairy tasted like and was almost reticent to eat it. Even this week I feel somewhat like a released prisoner when confronted with my “normal” meals, having to ask myself “is it really OK to eat this?” So, I think the Lenten journey did the trick as I am SOOOOOO grateful to eat what I want now.

    Thanks for the prayers, and believe me when I say you are in ours as well. Tu es lux mundi!

    P.S. you are extremely lucky to have grandparents. Especially ones who will cook for you : )

  6. […] Friedrich Nietzsche, one of Christianity’s most brilliant enemies, criticizes our faith for placing too much emphasis on the life to come, thereby emptying this life of meaning and giving unhappy and unsuccessful human beings—“mutterers and nook counterfeiters”—an excuse to wallow in their own misery until they arrive in “heaven,” which in Nietzsche’s estimation seems like little more than a very long nap. […]

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