Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Theology's Debt to Nietzsche

I intend nothing facetious in saying Nietzsche has bequeathed Christian thought a most beautiful gift, a needed amanesis of itself -- of its strangeness. His critique is a great camera obscura that brings into vivid and concentrated focus the aesthetic scandal of Christianity's origins, the great offense this new faith gave the gods of antiquity, and everything about it pagan wisdom could neither comprehend nor abide: a God who goes about in the dust of exodus for love of a race intransigent in its particularity; who apparels himself in common human nature, in the form of a servant; who brings good news to those who suffer and victory to those who are nothing; who dies like a slave and outcast without resistance; who penetrates to the very depths of hell in pursuit of those he loves; and who persists even after death not as a hero lifted up to Olympian glories, but in the company of peasants, breaking bread with them and offering them the solace of his wounds.

- David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite

Indeed. The one thing Christianity can't be -- which its modern detractors often take it to be -- is "old hat"; some slightly modified system of existing morality; a metaphysical or mythological re-run. Just as a matter of historical fact, Christianity is not those things, as Nietzsche understood. It is not in smooth continuity with what came before, but represents a massive upheaval, both in what it preached and in its effect on the world. And being so many centuries removed from the event of Christ in history the scandalous nature of it is difficult to grasp for us moderns, but Nietzsche reached back into the depths of time and was able to captured a glimpse of this notion at a time when it was being forgotten in "post-Christian" Europe.

Of course, Nietzsche understood the scandal of Christ and Christianity and despised them for what they actually were -- a radical evangel of peace amongst a sea of terrible ”majestic” violences -- but this seems preferable to despising Christianity for being something it isn't, as most do. As C.S. Lewis said "Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it."

1 comment:

  1. How anyone can laud or have 'romantic' notions of the Classical world is beyond me. Do we really want to revert to a culture where possibly as many as 80% of people were slaves with no rights, where violence and murder were typical of the quotidian and revered as signs of strength and 'superiority', where unwanted children were exposed to die etc, etc.

    To be fair to Nietzsche he himself walked the walk, abandoning a glittering academic career and living out his philosophy to its bitter and inevitable conclusion, so he could never be accused of hypocrisy. What irks me is the sight of cosy, well-paid academics who revere him while living the most sheltered lives imaginable. I'm sure Nietzsche himself would be disgusted by it.