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Friedrich Nietzsche: the ultimate Christian

Updated: Mar 2, 2023



Nietzsche was the ultimate Christian—strange as that may sound. Nietzsche came from a long line of German preachers and his whole oeuvre really constitutes a series of sermons. Nietzsche wants to save your soul, and the way he will save your soul is by telling you you don’t have one.


It was in the blood—autistic Teutonic preacher blood that went back generations. A Nietzsche was most at home in a pulpit in a village called Tübingün or something—something with lots of umlauts, anyhow. From his pulpit, Nietzsche the Elder would rage and storm at the congregation: “Look at ye in the pews, well-content in your lives: I see vanity, usury, fornication, adultery, gluttony, pride—yea, not one of you appreciates what our Lord did for you; and ye will burn, and deserve it!”


Nietzsche is basically a man who takes Christianity seriously whereas most people do not—for most people, even in his time, it was “lol whatever” or just “something you did” that was virtuous and respectable and probably good for the children. This is Nietzsche’s problem with his Victorian contemporaries—it’s why he announces “the death of God”. Preacher Nietzsche knows that his congregation doesn’t think God is real, even though they come to church and act pious—so better do away with this hypocrisy, in the spirit of Jesus the non-hypocrite, and admit “God is dead”.


“The pastor delivered a shocking sermon and said God was dead.” Yet I can just as well imagine an earlier Nietzsche-preacher who said of his congregation, “The way you vile creatures behave, God might as well not exist.” Remember, Nietzsche never really attacks Christ: what he says is that there was one Christian and he died on the cross. Isn’t that the attitude of a Christian preacher who takes it totally seriously, to the extent normal people don’t?


What Nietzsche says really is that not one person lives up to (has lived up to) the example set by Christ, so how dare we call ourselves Christians? And isn’t that just a very acerbic Protestant sermon in the end? I mean, it’s not like the Church of Rome will save you with bells and smells and a cash bribe to get into Heaven—you better be literally acting like Jesus, so far as a German Protestant is concerned, or your goose is cooked.


Nietzsche’s conclusion, as someone who takes Christianity really seriously, is that since no one can live up to Christ’s example we better not bother; it’s less hypocritical, more in keeping with Christ’s non-hypocritical message, to not pretend that we’re going to turn the other cheek and let ourselves be crucified. Yet, really, doesn’t this elevate Christ to the supreme example in moral terms? He is so perfect nobody can ever emulate him and so Christianity itself is an impiety invented by resentful Jews like St. Paul who are fed up with the burden of the law in their own tradition.


This is why Nietzsche is really the most complete Protestant—he’s the most totally consistent Protestant who takes it to its logical conclusion, with his amor fati being a statement that everything is predestined (Calvinism as strained through a scientific worldview) and salvation being demonstrated by the degree to which you act in a Christ-like way (nobody can, nobody is good enough, nobody will be saved). Even when he criticises Paul, he’s really after the origin of “the whore of Babylon”—the Church of Rome—who distorts Christ’s teachings with “bells and smells”; in the end, he concludes that the Church of Rome starts with the apostles (who were backsliders).


You don’t just escape your blood inheritance that easily—Nietzsche was going to be trained to be a priest but diverted into classics, but the urge to preach was strong in him; the urge to formulate a consistent Christianity, the urge to take Christianity utterly seriously, is very Teutonic and Protestant. Nietzsche asks, “What are the consequences if we are to really be Christians?” He concludes that it’s practical suicide, yet even in his own day hardly anybody was really thinking *I wonder if I really live out the Christian ethic absolutely?*.


In complete consistency, Nietzsche decided that if nobody can live up to Christ’s example—if we’re always going to blot our copy books—then we might as well “work with the grain” and reverse the Christian message; if people will hate the trespasser—never love them and forgive them—then you might as well tell people to really hate. Go with the flow, if you like. To be fair to Nietzsche, he praises Aristotle’s ethics—so he didn’t just advocate you become really vengeful, just moderately vengeful; still, at certain points, he does just seem to reverse the Christian ethic in a humourless German way—and that is certainly “the popular Nietzsche”.


Your contemporary pastor sits in his office, guitar hung up on a coatrack, mug emblazoned with “Lord help me, I try!”, and with a poster of the kitten hanging off the washing line that says “Hang in there, man!”. Then—blown in through the ether—appears Pastor Nietzsche, swathed in black; he stalks into the office, thin and Teutonic, and say, “What has this, this, to do with Our Lord’s crucifixion?” “Well, howdy, why don’t you pull up a chair and, um, people call me Bob these days, not Pastor…”


Nietzsche is not a philosopher: a philosopher attempts to build a world picture in a dispassionate way; he’s very abstract—Heidegger was a philosopher, you can’t really use what he says as a guide to life (most people can’t understand what he says). Yet Nietzsche is for everyone, despite his elitist pretensions. Nietzsche is a sermoniser; he wants to provoke moral reform in the population—and he goes about it good and hard with all the persuasive tricks used by preachers down the ages. Jung is his true counterpart—though not as intelligent—and Jung was also descended from Protestant preachers.


Jung is basically the nice vicar who invites you to pull up an armchair, have a warm mug of cocoa, and reassures you that “it all comes out in the wash”—Nietzsche is more the rail-thin fanatic who fixes you with a stare and says, “And have ye examined your conscience to ask why this terrible event befell ye? And why God be testing ye? And have ye considered HELLFIRE?”


Nietzsche is the last Protestant preacher: he got up in the pulpit, fulminated with disgust at his congregation, and then, finally, dismounted the pulpit, muttering under his breath, “Not one of you takes this seriously, not one of you will be like Christ—so we might as well call the whole charade off.” Hence, in many ways, Nietzsche is the most faithful disciple, since he at least grants that Christ should be taken as a serious proposition, whereas for most people “it’s not worth getting worked up over”.


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