Antichrist: 2. History and the gods

My earlier post sketched out the way that Nietzsche saw Christianity as a rejection of life in favor of a living infirmity. In The Antichrist, he seeks to genealogically show how this came to be. What might be surprising is the way that Nietzsche makes it clear that not all religions reject reality; religion is not necessarily an opiate of the masses. There is that which says “Yes” to life, instead of making virtues of disease and contagion. For Nietzsche, paganism is this religion; it elevates strength and courage, the best strivings of humanity, and grounds these movements in the gods. Paganism is the religion of the mighty nations, of those who grapple and do battle on the world stage. “Pagans are all those who say yea to life, and to whom ‘God’ is the word for the great yea to all things” (436).[1]

The Old Testament God was a God like this. He was the God of kings and warriors, the God of life, death, warfare, and love. And this God was all of this because the nation of Israel emerged as a fighter and contender, subduing her enemies and destroying their gods. This God was the God of the nation who elevated all who bowed in worship, ennobling them and empowering them to fight life’s good fight.

When Israel’s fortunes changed and her political and military power waned and collapsed, she foolishly chose to keep her God instead of casting him off for another that would empower them to rise from the rubble and refuse the ways of death. Israel simply accepted failure and degradation, and the God of glory and might was transformed into “the God of the physiologically degraded” and “weak" (395). Because the nation did not have the courage to refuse its downfall, Israel resigned herself to it and modified her God to sacralize this surrender to destruction.

Christianity doubled-down on this death-drive by rejecting Israel and Judaism in favor of a crucified God. It was not enough for the people to be downtrodden and subjected to foreign rule, it was not enough for them to be guilty and punished by God, God himself had to decay and be degraded. No longer were suffering and infirmity separated from God, but they were determinative of his own identity. The followers of Jesus “sided with everything weak, low and botched,” making of these things the ideal that ought to be pursued at all cost (387). The body was rejected and cast off, the passions were made evil, and hatred of all that is good became the norm. Under this scheme there was no way out for the people; they had to surrender to suffering and death; they had to reject life because of the eternal life to come.

What’s devastating about this genealogical approach is the way that it recognizes the thoroughly historical and compromised nature of our engagement with God and the things of God. Rather than being something that happens in the tranquil and misty reaches of eternity, we come to talk about, think about, and work out our life with God and the gods only in the pitch and lurch of daily life. Nietzsche shows us the way that the currents of time and space must influence what we think about God: of course Israel’s understanding of God was influenced by what was happening in her history; of course Judaism developed in response to imperial domination; and of course Christianity followed in the wake of all of this and couldn’t escape the demands placed on it by the first-century Mediterranean. Laid bare here is the fact that we develop our understandings of God based on, yes, what happens when life goes well, but even more so based on what happens when it falls apart. And our articulation and naming of God often doesn't reject domination and oppression and abuse, but tends to reinscribe these things into the heavens, theologically sanctioning the worst of our impulses and silencing those who would say, "This ought not be." #churchtoo has made this all too clear.

Nietzsche underlines the way that God is historical all the way down, and always has been. 

Always. 

The question he presses on us is this: can we find a historical God who checks and calls into question our basic assumptions and operating principles? Can we find a God-in-flesh who doesn’t just baptize our ways of living, who isn’t just a further weapon in ideology’s arsenal? Is it possible that a God immersed in history might overturn our resignation and self-destruction and hatred and prejudice and violence or must God always only function as a propagandistic tool for power and domination in the never-ending war for ideological control?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

_____________________________________________________________________________

Note: post banner bar image is Botticelli's Mars and Venus.

[1] Page numbers are from Friedrich Nietzsche, A Nietzsche Compendium, ed. by David Taffel (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2008).