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(33) Kyaneos

Nietzsche argues against the idea that there is an omnipresent and omniscient God on the grounds that it is as if you are a toddler on his little leash—except for your whole life. Every move is watched; and Nietzsche quotes a fussy middle-class German girl who says to her mother, “It’s indecent”—although that really only works if you anthropomorphise God, so that He is like a dirty old man who watches the fraulein undress and urinate. Nietzsche further argues that this situation takes away courage—for true courage means to stand alone, if you always have “celestial backup” (Jesus is my copilot) then genuine courage is impossible.

Nietzsche’s objections are not true objections in the sense that he merely says “it’s ridiculous it’s this way”, to which a religious person could reply “it’s this way whether you find it ridiculous or not—I find puffer fish ridiculous, yet they exist”. However, Nietzsche doesn’t really present his points as a contribution to the debate in that way. So I will quibble with him on his own grounds, psychological grounds. To be specific: Nietzsche had never heard the expression “there are no atheists in foxholes” (or its 19th-century equivalent).

It’s my experience that it’s hard to be courageous unaided—even the Homeric heroes had the daemons that guided them; and the phrase “whistling in the dark”, while not positive, sums up the fact that…men do tend to whistle in the dark (and how much better to invoke the protection of Horus instead). I think, contrary to Nietzsche, that it is hard to be brave and courageous without some spiritual support—as evidenced by the way the atheist USSR brought religion back into the public sphere in WWII. This quite popular idea that “the real man stands alone, not deluded like a child and without gods” seems to me to be a recipe for cowardice—after all, if there is nothing other than your life, why not do everything you can to preserve it?


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