Friedrich Nietzsche: The Antichrist (part 3)

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The history of Israel is invaluable as a typical history of an attempt to denaturalize all natural values: I point to five facts which bear this out. Originally, and above all in the time of the monarchy, Israel maintained the right attitude of things, which is to say, the natural attitude. Its Yahweh [Jehovah] was an expression of its consciousness of power, its joy in itself, its hopes for itself: to him the Jews looked for victory and salvation and through him they expected nature to give them whatever was necessary to their existence -- above all, rain. Yahweh is the god of Israel, and consequently the god of justice: this is the logic of every race that has power in its hands and a good conscience in the use of it. In the religious ceremonial of the Jews both aspects of this self-approval stand revealed. The nation is grateful for the high destiny that has enabled it to obtain dominion; it is grateful for the benign procession of the seasons, and for the good fortune attending its herds and its crops. -- This view of things remained an ideal for a long while, even after it had been robbed of validity by tragic blows: anarchy within and the Assyrian without. But the people still retained, as a projection of their highest yearnings, that vision of a king who was at once a gallant warrior and an upright judge -- a vision best visualized in the typical prophet (i.e., critic and satirist of the moment), Isaiah. -- But every hope remained unfulfilled. The old god no longer could do what he used to do. He ought to have been abandoned. But what actually happened? simply this: the conception of him was changed -- the conception of him was denaturalized; this was the price that had to be paid for keeping him. -- Yahweh, the god of "justice" -- he is in accord with Israel no more, he no longer visualizes the national egoism; he is now a god only conditionally. . . The public notion of this god now becomes merely a weapon in the hands of clerical agitators, who interpret all happiness as a reward and all unhappiness as a punishment for obedience or disobedience to him, for "sin": that most fraudulent of all imaginable interpretations, whereby a "moral order of the world" is set up, and the fundamental concepts, "cause" and "effect," are stood on their heads. Once natural causation has been swept out of the world by doctrines of reward and punishment some sort of unnatural causation becomes necessary: and all other varieties of the denial of nature follow it. A god who demands -- in place of a god who helps, who gives counsel, who is at bottom merely a name for every happy inspiration of courage and self-reliance. . . Morality is no longer a reflection of the conditions which make for the sound life and development of the people; it is no longer the primary life-instinct; instead it has become abstract and in opposition to life -- a fundamental perversion of the fancy, an "evil eye" on all things. What is Jewish, what is Christian morality? Chance robbed of its innocence; unhappiness polluted with the idea of "sin"; well-being represented as a danger, as a "temptation"; a physiological disorder produced by the canker worm of conscience...


The concept of god falsified; the concept of morality falsified ; -- but even here Jewish priest craft did not stop. The whole history of Israel ceased to be of any value: out with it! -- These priests accomplished that miracle of falsification of which a great part of the Bible is the documentary evidence; with a degree of contempt unparalleled, and in the face of all tradition and all historical reality, they translated the past of their people into religious terms, which is to say, they converted it into an idiotic mechanism of salvation, whereby all offences against Yahweh were punished and all devotion to him was rewarded. We would regard this act of historical falsification as something far more shameful if familiarity with the ecclesiastical interpretation of history for thousands of years had not blunted our inclinations for integrity in historicis. And the philosophers support the church: the lie about a "moral order of the world" runs through the whole of philosophy, even the newest. What is the meaning of a "moral order of the world"? That there is a thing called the will of God which, once and for all time, determines what man ought to do and what he ought not to do; that the worth of a people, or of an individual thereof, is to he measured by the extent to which they or he obey this will of God; that the destinies of a people or of an individual are controlled by this will of God, which rewards or punishes according to the degree of obedience manifested. -- In place of all that pitiable lie reality has this to say: the priest, a parasitical variety of man who can exist only at the cost of every sound view of life, takes the name of God in vain: he calls that state of human society in which he himself determines the value of all things "the kingdom of God"; he calls the means whereby that state of affairs is attained "the will of God"; with cold-blooded cynicism he estimates all peoples, all ages and all individuals by the extent of their subservience or opposition to the power of the priestly order. One observes him at work: under the hand of the Jewish priesthood the great age of Israel became an age of decline; the Exile, with its long series of misfortunes, was transformed into a punishment for that great age -- during which the priests was as yet nothing. Out of the powerful and wholly free heroes of Israel's history they fashioned, according to their changing needs, either wretched bigots and hypocrites or men entirely "godless." They reduced every great event to the idiotic formula: "obedient or disobedient to God." -- They went a step further: the "will of God" (in other words some means necessary for preserving the power of the priests) had to be determined -- and to this end they had to have a "revelation." In plain language, a gigantic literary fraud had to be perpetrated, and "holy scriptures" had to be concocted -- and so, with the utmost hierarchical pomp, and days of penance and much lamentation over the long days of "sin" now ended, they were duly published. The "will of God," it appears, had long stood like a rock; the trouble was that mankind had neglected the "holy scriptures". . . But the ''will of God'' had already been revealed to Moses. . . . What happened? Simply this: the priest had formulated, once and for all time and with the strictest meticulousness, what tithes were to be paid to him, from the largest to the smallest (-- not forgetting the most appetizing cuts of meat, for the priest is a great consumer of beefsteaks); in brief, he let it be known just what he wanted, what "the will of God" was.... From this time forward things were so arranged that the priest became indispensable everywhere; at all the great natural events of life, at birth, at marriage, in sickness, at death, not to say at the "sacrifice" (that is, at meal-times), the holy parasite put in his appearance, and proceeded to denaturalize it -- in his own phrase, to "sanctify" it. . . . For this should be noted: that every natural habit, every natural institution (the state, the administration of justice, marriage, the care of the sick and of the poor), everything demanded by the life-instinct, in short, everything that has any value in itself, is reduced to absolute worthlessness and even made thereverse of valuable by the parasitism of priests (or, if you chose, by the "moral order of the world"). The fact requires a sanction -- a power to grant value becomes necessary, and the only way it can create such value is by denying nature. . . . The priest depreciates and desecrates nature: it is only at this price that he can exist at all. -- Disobedience to God, which actually means to the priest, to "the law," now gets the name of "sin"; the means prescribed for "reconciliation with God" are, of course, precisely the means which bring one most effectively under the thumb of the priest; he alone can "save". Psychologically considered, "sins" are indispensable to every society organized on an ecclesiastical basis; they are the only reliable weapons of power; the priest lives upon sins; it is necessary to him that there be "sinning". . . . Prime axiom: "God forgiveth him that repenteth" -- in plain language, him that submitteth to the priest.


Christianity sprang from a soil so corrupted that on it everything natural, every natural value, every reality was opposed by the deepest instincts of the ruling class -- it grew up as a sort of war to the death upon reality, and as such it has never been surpassed. The "holy people," who had adopted priestly values and priestly names for all things, and who, with a terrible logical consistency, had rejected everything of the earth as "unholy," "worldly," "sinful" -- this people put its instinct into a final formula that was logical to the point of self-annihilation: as Christianity it actually denied even the last form of reality, the "holy people," the "chosen people," Jewish reality itself. The phenomenon is of the first order of importance: the small insurrectionary movement which took the name of Jesus of Nazareth is simply the Jewish instinct redivivus -- in other words, it is the priestly instinct come to such a pass that it can no longer endure the priest as a fact; it is the discovery of a state of existence even more fantastic than any before it, of a vision of life even more unreal than that necessary to an ecclesiastical organization. Christianity actually denies the church...

I am unable to determine what was the target of the insurrection which Jesus is interpreted or misinterpreted to have led, if it was not the Jewish church -- "church" being here used in exactly the same sense that the word has today. It was an insurrection against the "good and just," against the "prophets of Israel," against the whole hierarchy of society -- not against corruption, but against caste, privilege, order, formalism. It was unbelief in "superior men," a No flung at everything that priests and theologians stood for. But the hierarchy that was called into question, if only for an instant, by this movement was the structure of piles which, above everything, was necessary to the safety of the Jewish people in the midst of the "waters" -- it represented their last possibility of survival; it was the final residuum of their independent political existence; an attack upon it was an attack upon the most profound national instinct, the most powerful national will to live, that has ever appeared on earth. This saintly anarchist, who aroused the people of the abyss, the outcasts and "sinners," the Chandala of Judaism, to rise in revolt against the established order of things -- and in language which, if the Gospels are to be credited, would get him sent to Siberia today -- this man was certainly a political criminal, at least in so far as it was possible to be one in so absurdly unpolitical a community. This is what brought him to the cross: the proof thereof is to be found in the inscription that was put upon the cross. He died for his own sins -- there is not the slightest ground for believing, no matter how often it is asserted, that he died for the sins of others. --


As to whether he himself was conscious of this contradiction -- whether, in fact, he was merely felt to be this contradiction -- that is quite another question. Here, for the first time, I touch upon the problem of the psychology of the Redeemer. -- I confess, to begin with, that there are very few books which offer me harder reading than the Gospels. My difficulties are quite different from those which enabled the learned curiosity of the German mind to achieve one of its most unforgettable triumphs. It is a long while since I, like all other young scholars, enjoyed with all the sapient laboriousness of a fastidious philologist the work of the incomparable Strauss. At that time I was twenty years old: now I am too serious for that sort of thing. What do I care for the contradictions of "tradition"? How can any one call pious legends "traditions"? The histories of saints present the most dubious variety of literature in existence; to examine them by the scientific method, in the entire absence of corroborative documents, seems to me to condemn the whole inquiry from the start -- it is simply learned idling.


What concerns me is the psychological type of the Redeemer. This type might be depicted in the Gospels, in however mutilated a form and however much overladen with extraneous characters -- that is, in spite of the Gospels; just as the figure of Francis of Assisi shows itself in his legends in spite of his legends. It is not a question of mere truthful evidence as to what he did, what he said and how he actually died; the question is, whether his type is still conceivable, whether it has been handed down to us. -- All the attempts that I know of to read the history of a "soul" in the Gospels seem to me to reveal only a lamentable psychological frivolity. M. Renan, that mountebank in psychologicis, has contributed the two most inappropriate notions to this business of explaining the type of Jesus: the notion of the genius and that of the hero. But if there is anything essentially unevangelical, it is surely the concept of the hero. What the Gospels make instinctive is precisely the reverse of all heroic struggle, of all taste for conflict: the very incapacity for resistance is here converted into something moral: ("resist not evil !" -- the most profound sentence in the Gospels, perhaps the true key to them), to wit, the blessedness of peace, of gentleness, the inability to be an enemy. What is the meaning of "glad tidings"? -- The true life, the life eternal has been found -- it is not merely promised, it is here, it is in you; it is the life that lies in love free from all retreats and exclusions, from all keeping of distances. Every one is the child of God -- Jesus definitely claims nothing for himself alone -- as the child of God each man is the equal of every other man. . . .Imagine making Jesus a hero! -- And what a tremendous misunderstanding appears in the word "genius"! Our whole conception of the "spiritual," the whole conception of our civilization, could have had no meaning in the world that Jesus lived in. In the strict sense of the physiologist, a quite different word ought to be used here. . . . We all know that there is a morbid sensibility of the tactile nerves which causes those suffering from it to recoil from every touch, and from every effort to grasp a solid object. Brought to its logical conclusion, such a physiological habitus becomes an instinctive hatred of all reality, a flight into the "intangible," into the "incomprehensible"; a distaste for all formulae, for all conceptions of time and space, for everything established -- customs, institutions, the church -- ; a feeling of being at home in a world in which no sort of reality survives, a merely "inner" world, a "true" world, an "eternal" world. . . . "The Kingdom of God is within you". . . .


The instinctive hatred of reality: the consequence of an extreme susceptibility to pain and irritation -- so great that merely to be "touched" becomes unendurable, for every sensation is too profound. The instinctive exclusion of all aversion, all hostility, all bounds and distances in feeling: the consequence of an extreme susceptibility to pain and irritation -- so great that it senses all resistance, all compulsion to resistance, as unbearable anguish (-- that is to say, as harmful, as prohibited by the instinct of self-preservation), and regards blessedness (joy) as possible only when it is no longer necessary to offer resistance to anybody or anything, however evil or dangerous -- love, as the only, as the last possibility of life. . .

These are the two physiological realities upon and out of which the doctrine of salvation has sprung. I call them a sublime super-development of hedonism upon a thoroughly unsalubrious soil. What stands most closely related to them, though with a large admixture of Greek vitality and nerve-force, is Epicureanism, the theory of salvation of paganism. Epicurus was a typical decadent: I was the first to recognize him. -- The fear of pain, even of infinitely slight pain -- the end of this can be nothing save a religion of love. . . .


I have already given my answer to the problem. The prerequisite to it is the assumption that the type of the Redeemer has reached us only in a greatly distorted form. This distortion is very probable: there are many reasons why a type of that sort should not be handed down in a pure form, complete and free of additions. The milieu in which this strange figure moved must have left marks upon him, and more must have been imprinted by the history, the destiny, of the early Christian communities; the latter indeed, must have embellished the type retrospectively with characters which can be understood only as serving the purposes of war and of propaganda. That strange and sickly world into which the Gospels lead us -- a world apparently out of a Russian novel, in which the scum of society, nervous maladies and "childish" idiocy keep a tryst -- must, in any case, have coarsened the type: the first disciples, in particular, must have been forced to translate an existence visible only in symbols and incomprehensibilities into their own crudity, in order to understand it at all -- in their sight the type could take on reality only after it had been recast in a familiar mould.... The prophet, the messiah, the future judge, the teacher of morals, the worker of wonders, John the Baptist -- all these merely presented chances to misunderstand it . . . . Finally, let us not underrate the proprium of all great, and especially all sectarian veneration: it tends to erase from the venerated objects all its original traits and idiosyncrasies, often so painfully strange -- it does not even see them. It is greatly to be regretted that no Dostoyevsky lived in the neighbourhood of this most interesting decadent -- I mean some one who would have felt the poignant charm of such a compound of the sublime, the morbid and the childish. In the last analysis, the type, as a type of the decadence, may actually have been peculiarly complex and contradictory: such a possibility is not to be lost sight of. Nevertheless, the probabilities seem to be against it, for in that case tradition would have been particularly accurate and objective, whereas we have reasons for assuming the contrary. Meanwhile, there is a contradiction between the peaceful preacher of the mount, the sea-shore and the fields, who appears like a new Buddha on a soil very unlike India's, and the aggressive fanatic, the mortal enemy of theologians and ecclesiastics, who stands glorified by Renan's malice as "le grand maitre en ironie." [“the grand master in irony”] I myself haven't any doubt that the greater part of this venom (and no less of esprit) got itself into the concept of the Master only as a result of the excited nature of Christian propaganda: we all know the unscrupulousness of sectarians when they set out to turn their leader into an apologia for themselves. When the early Christians had need of an adroit, contentious, pugnacious and maliciously subtle theologian to tackle other theologians, they created a "god" that met that need, just as they put into his mouth without hesitation certain ideas that were necessary to them but that were utterly at odds with the Gospels -- "the second coming," "the last judgment," all sorts of expectations and promises, current at the time. --


I can only repeat that I set myself against all efforts to intrude the fanatic into the figure of the Redeemer: the very word impérieux, used by Renan, is alone enough to annul the type. What the "glad tidings" tell us is simply that there are no more contradictions; the kingdom of heaven belongs to children; the faith that is voiced here is no more an embattled faith -- it is at hand, it has been from the beginning, it is a sort of recrudescent childishness of the spirit. The physiologists, at all events, are familiar with such a delayed and incomplete puberty in the living organism, the result of degeneration. A faith of this sort is not furious, it does not denounce, it does not defend itself: it does not come with "the sword" -- it does not realize how it will one day set man against man. It does not manifest itself either by miracles, or by rewards and promises, or by "scriptures": it is itself, first and last, its own miracle, its own reward, its own promise, its own "kingdom of God." This faith does not formulate itself -- it simply lives, and so guards itself against formulae. To be sure, the accident of environment, of educational background gives prominence to concepts of a certain sort: in primitive Christianity one finds only concepts of a Judaeo-Semitic character (-- that of eating and drinking at the last supper belongs to this category -- an idea which, like everything else Jewish, has been badly mauled by the church). But let us be careful not to see in all this anything more than symbolical language, semiotics, an opportunity to speak in parables. It is only on the theory that no work is to be taken literally that this anti-realist is able to speak at all. Set down among Hindus he would have made use of the concepts of Sankhya, and among Chinese he would have employed those of Lao-tzu -- and in neither case would it have made any difference to him. -- With a little freedom in the use of words, one might actually call Jesus a "free spirit" -- he cares nothing for what is established: the word killeth, whatever is established killeth. The idea of "life" as an experience, as he alone conceives it, stands opposed to his mind to every sort of word, formula, law, belief and dogma. He speaks only of inner things: "life" or "truth" or "light" is his word for the innermost -- in his sight everything else, the whole of reality, all nature, even language, has significance only as sign, as allegory. -- Here it is of paramount importance to be led into no error by the temptations lying in Christian, or rather ecclesiastical prejudices: such a symbolism par excellence stands outside all religion, all notions of worship, all history, all natural science, all worldly experience, all knowledge, all politics, all psychology, all books, all art -- his "wisdom" is precisely a pure ignorance of all such things. He has never heard of culture; he doesn't have to make war on it -- he doesn't even deny it. . . The same thing may be said of the state, of the whole bourgeois social order, of labour, of war -- he has no ground for denying "the world," for he knows nothing of the ecclesiastical concept of "the world" . . . Denial is precisely the thing that is impossible to him. -- In the same way he lacks argumentative capacity, and has no belief that an article of faith, a "truth," may be established by proofs (--his proofs are inner "lights," subjective sensations of happiness and self-approval, simple "proofs of power" --). Such a doctrine cannot contradict: it doesn't know that other doctrines exist, or can exist, and is wholly incapable of imagining anything opposed to it. . . If anything of the sort is ever encountered, it laments the "blindness" with sincere sympathy -- for it alone has "light" -- but it does not offer objections . . .

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