What are Nietzsche's most misunderstood ideas

philosophy "God is dead!" - and Nietzsche immortal

"The mad man jumped right under her and pierced her with his eyes: Where is God going? He cried, I want to tell you! We killed him, - you and I! We are all his murderers!"

With these words begins Friedrich Nietzsche's famous piece of text from the "Happy Science". The protagonist is the "great person", the madman and seer who is not understood by the people. Because he proclaims the unheard of:

"God is dead! God remains dead! And we killed him! How do we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? The most sacred and most powerful that the world has so far has bled to death under our knives."

The author Friedrich Nietzsche slips into the role of the "great person" in order to convey something to the readers that apparently exceeds their intellectual horizon. People were still groping in the dark, which is why the great person "lit a lantern in the bright morning". That is why the madman is a seer, a prophet, an enlightener:

"I am too early, I am not yet on time. This tremendous event is still on the way and is wandering - it has not yet reached the ears of the people."

How is it possible that man could slay God? And how can man as a mortal even kill God as an immortal being? Nietzsche's thesis seems to be paradoxical, the facts can obviously not be clarified with logical arguments.

"I can't cope with Christianity"

Friedrich Nietzsche, son of a Lutheran pastor from the Saxon town of Röcken, quarreled with church and Christianity throughout his life. He was neither an atheist nor a devout Christian, and yet he dealt with religious topics in all of his writings - with the gods of the ancient Greeks, with Catholicism and Protestantism, with Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Nietzsche was not a theologian either, although he briefly studied Protestant theology in Bonn. Rather, at the age of 25 he was appointed associate professor for classical philology in Basel. But Nietzsche was in constant contact with other scholars, for example with his Basel colleagues, the religious scholar Johann Jacob Bachofen and the cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt.

In Nietzsche's posthumous notes there is the incidental remark: "I cannot cope with Christianity."

Friedrich Nietzsche's fundamental theme, which he repeatedly incorporated into the most diverse works of his short, 18-year creative period, is the change in our conception of God: the change from a sensual experience of God to a value that we worship as God; the transition from a religion of life to one of decadence. That is the central nerve of his argument: the fight against the nihilistic, against the negative culture.

Snappy comments against the church

The classical philologist Friedrich Nietzsche admired the Hellenic world, especially the ancient Greeks' understanding of God. His famous early writing "The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music" traces the Apollonian and Dionysian gods of the Greeks with great sympathy. The essay "The Birth of Tragic Thought" also dates from this time, the early 1870s. Shortly after taking up his professorship in Basel, the 26-year-old wrote:

"Not to turn away from life, the eyes of the Hellenes looked up at them believingly. They speak of a religion of life, not of duty or asceticism or spirituality. All these figures breathe the triumph of existence, an exuberant feeling for life accompanies theirs Cult. "

As a young professor of Greek and Latin, Friedrich Nietzsche devoted himself to the cultic life of the Greeks. Anyone reading Nietzsche's passionate criticism of the nihilistic age, the décadence culture, should think of this preoccupation with the Hellenic world. Written in snappy aphorisms and comments directed against the church, monarchy and parties. The religion of the time, understood as a form of cultural decline, can already be read in a posthumous fragment from 1873:

"I notice exhaustion, one is tired of the important symbols. All possibilities of the Christian life, the most serious and casual, the most harmless and reflective, have been tried out, it is time for imitation or something else."

Exhaustion, decadence, nihilism - these are the symptoms Nietzsche uncovered and which also attacked religion. What the "other" could be, Nietzsche will only explain in his later writings - primarily in the Antichrist. First of all, he shows himself to be a diagnostician of the times who asks himself: How did it come about that sensual religion and cult, in short: "the religion of life", were visibly devalued?

Dancing is impossible

The philosopher, who almost voluptuously described the cult in "The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music", attributes the profound change to the technical-scientific age, to the rationalistic mindset. In addition, the awareness of a guilty conscience, guilt and atonement has increasingly come to the fore. The magic has escaped from the world and a hierarchical order of values ​​has been established instead. An order in which - as the scholastics once said - God is the highest value. Before this highest value, Nietzsche once remarked, it was impossible for him to dance.

In reality, the "mad man" is a wise man. When he exclaims: "God is dead! We killed him!" then that is at the same time the Basel professor's diagnosis, which is critical of civilization. He adds by way of explanation: People took the last blow against God when they degraded God to the highest value. As a result of the development, Nietzsche recognizes: Christianity as a meaningless, hostile religion. In his last productive years, before the serious illness, the criticism grew noticeably sharper. That was the time between the early retirement in 1879 and the mental breakdown in Turin in January 1890. The philosopher was no longer able to publish the "Antichrist. Curse on Christianity" written in 1888 during his lifetime. In it he writes:

"That is not what separates us, that we do not find a god again, neither in history, nor in nature, nor behind nature, - but that we, what was worshiped as God, not as 'divine', but to feel as pitiful, as absurd, as harmful, not as an error, but as a crime in life. We deny God as God. If this God of Christians were proven to us, we would be even less able to believe him. "

Heidegger and Bloch on Nietzsche's footsteps

"The most sacred and most powerful that the world has so far" has disappeared for good. The realm of the saint, which mortals shared with the gods, was transfigured by the Swabian poet Friedrich Hölderlin, who died shortly before Nietzsche was born. Around 1870 Friedrich Nietzsche only recognized the "world night" in which God had already disappeared. After all, both the poet and the thinker had great influence on a philosopher who was born in the year the Antichrist was written not far from Nietzsche's place of work in Basel - Martin Heidegger. The Swabian philosopher, who held a series of lectures on Nietzsche in Freiburg at the end of the 1930s, once wrote:

"Man can neither pray before this God, nor can he sacrifice to him. Before the causa sui, man can neither fall on his knees out of shyness, nor can he make music and dance in front of this God."

That could be a quote from Nietzsche, because the author of the Antichrist described the Dionysian intoxicating scenes in "The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music" with very similar words. On the other hand, he felt the church to be blasphemous because it did not respect God but despised it. Martin Heidegger demanded a new reflection on God, a surrender of our ideas about God. Only a new way of thinking could "perhaps lead us closer to the divine God".

The Tübingen philosopher Ernst Bloch, a contemporary of Heidegger, walked in Friedrich Nietzsche's trail of criticism of religion. From an early age he devoted himself to the heretical and rebellious figures within the church - for example the priest and revolutionary Thomas Müntzer. The Marxist Bloch interpreted the New Testament politically by exposing its humanistic core. This can be seen in his main work "The Principle of Hope":

"The truth of the ideal of God is only the utopia of the kingdom, for this is precisely the prerequisite that no God remains in the highest, since no one is there or has ever been there anyway."

No yesterday and no day after tomorrow

Ernst Bloch quotes Jesus' words from the Gospel of Luke as evidence for his humanistic interpretation of the New Testament:

"The kingdom of God is in your midst (Luke 17:12)."

Bloch spoke of "atheism in Christianity" and Nietzsche of the "antichrist", but neither book title was aimed at a mere turning away from Christianity. The two philosophers looked for the "human, all too human" in religion. Basically, Nietzsche never left the mythical foundation of religion, namely the sacred as that which unites people and gods. He countered his sharp diagnosis of civilization with the Christianity lived by Jesus:

"The gospel was precisely the existence, the fulfillment, the reality of this' kingdom '." - "' The kingdom of God 'is nothing that one expects: it has no yesterday and no day after tomorrow, it will not come in' a thousand years '- it is an experience in one heart: it is there everywhere. "

Friedrich Nietzsche therefore clearly rejects the consolation of a better life in the hereafter. Likewise the belief in a supersensible kingdom: In preparatory notes on the Antichrist he writes:

"The exemplary life consists in love and humility; in the fullness of the heart, which does not exclude even the lowest, in the belief in bliss here on earth, in spite of hardship, resistance and death, in forgiveness, in the absence of anger , of contempt. "

Messianic claim to salvation

In "The Hope Principle" Ernst Bloch explains the twofold orientation of Christian atheism: Jesus as the Son of Man and as the messianic savior on earth. Ernst Bloch recognized the real self-image of Jesus in his Greek names "Messiah" and "Christos" - the anointed by human hands. The name points to the famous scene in Bethanien, when Mary rubbed Jesus with the precious nard oil - shortly before he died on the cross. From this perspective Bloch understands Christianity as an appeal for hope for people thirsting for redemption:

"The Christian hope was that everything is redeemed. And no anthropological criticism of religion robs the hope that Christianity is entrusted with. It brings the contents of religion back to human desire."

Bloch's humanistic interpretation of the New Testament can be traced back directly to Nietzsche, who up until the Weimar Republic had an influence on intellectuals and artists, on the left and the right that could hardly be underestimated. And who - after the Second World War - encouraged undogmatic interpretations of biblical sources in theology. Nietzsche's reinterpretation of the "Redeemer" is particularly clear in the pamphlet "Zur Genealogie der Moral" written in 1887. The messianic claim to salvation here passes directly from the Son of God to the Son of man. To the son of man, who was given a different name by Nietzsche:

"But at some point, in a stronger time than this rotten, self-doubting present, he must come to us, the redeeming man of great love, whose loneliness is misunderstood by the people as if it were an escape from reality while it was only his immersion in reality is so that one day, when he comes back to light, he will bring home the redemption of this reality.This man of the future who will redeem us from great disgust, from the will to nothing, from nihilism, this chiming of the bell of midday and the great decision, to give the earth its goal and to give back hope to man, this antichrist and anti-mini-philist, this conqueror of God and nothing - he must come one day. "

"That Holy Anarchist"

In 1921 Ernst Bloch portrayed the church and social revolutionary Thomas Müntzer: Luther's theologian and antipode not only rebelled against the papacy, but also against the class society during the peasant wars. Müntzer fought against the hierarchies in the monastery and church, as well as against the serfdom of the peasants in feudal society. The medieval priest, who was arrested, tortured and publicly executed in 1525, may have taken the life of Jesus as a model. This is what Nietzsche's comment suggests:

"This holy anarchist, who called on the common people, the outcasts and 'sinners' to contradict the 'ruling class', the caste, the privilege, the order, the formula, was a political criminal."

Friedrich Nietzsche adheres to the faith, despite all the rational counter-arguments that he himself repeatedly put forward. With this he showed himself to be in agreement with the Dane Sören Kierkegaard, who struggled with the "difficulty of believing". The Protestant philosopher from Copenhagen also wanted to hold on to this belief, even though it seemed absurd to him in view of the age of belief in science. For Nietzsche, the "difficulty to believe" - ​​in line with his Danish colleague - was something very existential. Because it was important to both of them to find a very personal path to faith that does not care about catechistic doctrines:

"The 'good news' is that there are no longer any contradictions; the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children; the belief that is loud here is not a hard-won belief - it is there, it is from the beginning, it is, as it were, one Such a belief is not angry, does not blame, does not defend itself; it does not bring 'the sword' - it has no idea to what extent it could one day separate. It does not prove itself, it is its miracle every moment , his reward, his proof, his 'kingdom of God'. This belief is not formulated either - he lives, he defends himself against formulas. "

Sensuality of islam

The liberation from the bony world of formulas of Christian dogmatics was already a commonplace among the early romantics around Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel. Hence their constant search for a new, sensual religion - as it was called for in the "system program" of German idealism.

The radical enlightener Friedrich Nietzsche is the most powerful thinker of a new Christianity, a secular religion, in the 19th century. It goes back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 'Religion civile', which he formulated in his social contract as early as 1758. Rousseau saw them as the foundation and binding agent through which everyone experiences themselves as a member of a social community.

The secular religion took various forms in the 20th century: Spiritist human happiness, atheistic counter-religion, communist promise of salvation from a classless society. Peaceful and violent, messianic and apocalyptic scenarios were played out.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Nietzschean religion meant: struggle against the established ecclesiastical order, search for the roots of Christianity, for the life of the first Christian groups. In a nutshell: The frozen religion is to be revived. It is certainly true that many - as Peter Sloterdijk suggested in the book "God's Zeal" - seek the sensual religion in the jealousy of Islam. But in return it introduces too many codified behaviors - from veiling to Ramadan. Which is why this latest monotheism was immediately put back in a straitjacket.

It seems as if certain Islamic values ​​have a great attraction for Western citizens - the sense of community among Muslims, the clothing that promotes identification, the alignment of all areas of life according to the rules of the Koran. Undoubtedly, Muslims have never felt the hostage of nihilism and religious doubt. This is perhaps the greatest fascination for those looking for meaning from the West.

Omnipotence was yesterday

The great skeptic Friedrich Nietzsche was not a profound expert on Islam. But one thing is clear: the Basel philosopher never wanted to go back to a naive understanding with God. His position is that of an enlightened religion. That is why there can be no all-powerful, all-knowing Allah for him. No God who embodies all that weak people lack.

The overcoming of such childlike projections was predicted by the "great person". Because he announced that we were attending a "tremendous event" - the death of God. Since then we are - as Nietzsche writes - "on the threshold" of a new religion, a new way of life. The "Happy Science" prepares readers for the new event:

"The greatest recent event that God is dead is already beginning to cast its first shadow over Europe.We philosophers and 'free spirits' feel at the news that the 'old God is dead' as if illuminated by a new dawn, our heart overflows with gratitude, astonishment, hunch, expectation - finally the horizon appears again free, finally our ships are allowed to sail again, to sail at any risk, every risk of the cognizant is allowed again, the sea, our sea is open again, perhaps there never was such an 'open sea'. "