Nietzsches evaluation of Christ is quite different from his evaluatiion of Christians. Surprised?
[Sorry for the lack of the apostrophe throughout; it’s a limitation of computer technology. It should be “Nietzsche’s” of course.]
I am restricting myself here to Nietzsche’s last book, The Anti-Christ, which was written, along with Twilight of the Idols, in the last half of 1888, which was just before the mental collapse that lasted until he died. Presumably, they contain his most mature thinking.
By ‘Christ’ I am referring to the Biblical Jesus (called ‘Yeshua’ in Aramaic; ‘Yesu’ in Greek and Coptic).
Nietzsches evaluation of Christ begins with a sharp, famous distinction between Christ and Christians: “in reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross” [all translations by R. J. Hollingdale].
Nietzsche’s evaluation of Christ requires a sharp distinction between doing and believing. The Christianity of Christ, which was “genuine, primitive Christianity,” is “not a belief but a doing, above all a not-doing of many things, a different being” [Nietzsche’s emphasis here and in all other quotations].
So Nietzsches evaluation of Christ has everything to do with what Jesus did, in other words, how Jesus lived rather than what he believed.
What Nietzsche famously attacks is being a Christian, being a follower of Jesus. “To reduce being a Christian, Chirstianness, to holding something to be true, to a mere phenomenality of consciousness, means to negate Christianness. In fact there have been no Christians at all.”
In other words, if we use the word “Christian” to denote someone other than Jesus who lived as Jesus lived, the word has no referents. What are misleadingly and ordinarily called “Christians” are only people who have certain beliefs.
Nietzsche heaps scorn on those Christians, especially Paul and all those who relish Christian faith. For example, ‘Christianity also stands in opposition to all intellectual well-constitutedness.’ Nietzsche thinks of philology as “the art of reading well” and claims that all theologians are marked by “an incapacity for philology.” In brief, Christians can neither think nor read well.
What about faith? “’Faith’ means not wanting to know what is true.” It’s deliberate conceptual blindness. It’s the opposite of the probing, questioning spirit of a philosopher.
To sum up his evaluation of Christians: “Christianity has been up till now mankind’s greatest misfortune.” Christians lack “that disciplining of the intellect and self-overcoming necessary for the discovery of any truth, even the very smallest.” They live on the basis of delusional beliefs.
As the leader of the pack, you might think that Jesus would come in for the same kind of condemnation. Not at all! Nietzsche’s evaluation of Christ is very different and very interesting.
Christ was not a hypocrite: “This ‘bringer of glad tidings’ died as he lived.”
Furthermore, he lived “to demonstrate how one ought to live. What he bequeathed to mankind is his practice” and that was especially his bearing before his accusers and on the cross.
Nietzsches evaluation of Christ focuses on the critical concept, namely, the kingdom of God. Unlike many Christians, Nietzsche gets it: “The ‘kingdom of God’ is not something one waits for; it has no yesterday or tomorrow . . . it is an experience within a heart; it is everywhere, it is nowhere . . . “
Nietzsche understands that the Pauline doctrine of the immortal soul (“The great lie of personal immortality”) is a misinterpretation that “shifts the centre of gravity of life out of life . . .” (This is why, as I’ve explained in other posts, it is necessary to distinguish clearly between eternal life and immortal life.)
Writing about Jesus, Nietzsche states, “If I understand anything of this great symbolist it is that he took for realities, for ‘truths’, only inner realities – that he understood the rest, everything pertaining to nature, time, space, history, only as signs, as occasions for metaphor.” This is the bedrock of Nietzsche’s evaluation of Christ.
In a nutshell, Nietzsches evaluation of Christ was positive because he lived his inner realities. What does this mean?
Unlike many Christians, Nietzsche also understands that “Jesus . . . denied any chasm between God and man, he lived this unity of God and man as his ‘glad tidings’ . . . “
In other words, heaven, the kingdom of God, is available here and now if one dissolves the separation between the human and the divine.
Furthermore, unlike many Christians, Nietzsche understands that Jesus does not think of himself as something special, that his unity with the divine was lived “not as a special prerogative!”
This is critical for shifting “the centre of gravity of life” back into life from the “nothingness” where Christians have banished it. (It was Paul who “grasped that to disvalue ‘the world’ he needed the belief in immortality” – not Jesus.)
Nietzsches evaluation of Christ and Christians is grounded on the claim that “The Christian concept of God” is “God degenerated to the contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal yes!”
Nietzsche says “yes” to life. Since Christ also did and Christians don’t, Nietzsches evaluation of Christ is quite different from his evaluation of Christians.
If this interests you, or even shocks you, I encourage you to read Nietzsche for yourself. As an undergraduate, he was my favorite philosopher to read – and nearly half a century later I still thoroughly enjoy reading him.
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please pass it along.
Recommended resource: Friedrich Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ (Penguin Classics).