Antichrist: 3. Christ and the Christians

Slowly but surely my last two posts on Nietzsche’s The Antichrist have been spiraling inwards to the heart of the matter: if we’re talking about Nietzsche's Antichrist, who is his Christ?

Whatever might be said about Christianity and the Christians, Jesus, for Nietzsche, is a different story. Unlike what his 'followers' claim, Jesus did not see himself as the savior, did not see himself as God, did not inscribe suffering into God himself, but took this world as it is, went where it directed, and loved, regardless of the cost. In doing so he called into question the empire. He dared to question the rule of Caesar, and it was this which led to his death. “He died for his sins” and not the sins of the world (406).[1]

Nietzsche’s Christ lays bare the fact that from the beginning no one followed after him: the disciples could not bear the tragedy of his life, could not bear the implications which this forced upon them, could not face the reality of the situation. They couldn’t live with him simply as a man who died, crushed on the Wheel of Time. So, they turned him into a suffering Messiah who was God. The idea of God became “a weapon in the hands of priestly agitators” who took (and take) divine sanction as legitimizing their own rule (403). The tragedy of Jesus is that “there never was more than one Christian, and he died on the Cross” (415). 

Jesus makes clear that Christianity is and has always been propaganda and ideology, prone to look after its own ends at the expense of life and at the expense of obedience to him, the crucified Nazarene.

And Nietzsche is right, isn’t he?

A survey of church history reveals time and again the way that those bearing the name of Christ have departed from their namesake. Far from displaying a life in accordance with his own, power, prestige, wealth, sophistication, and fame have all too often been Christians’ primary pursuit. Whereas Jesus lived love all the way down, even when it led to his death, his followers have pursued safety, security, and self-interest.

We cannot evade this rebuke, we must not blunt its sharpness, we—I—must own that this is us. So too have we—so too have I—abandoned the crucified one for the baubles of this world. Faced with the choice of a life lived unreservedly for others or one of comfort, ease, and contentment, I balk. I turn back. I deny I ever knew this first-century peasant. Because of the truth of Nietzsche’s critique, I cannot simply side-step him on my resolute march toward glory. As much as I’d love to just shrug him off as someone who was confused, didn’t get it, got syphilis, and went nuts over horse troubles, this 19th century German gets me and those I sometimes find myself in company with all too well.

Where Christ lies dead and moldering in the grave, all that’s left to proclaim his message are we who claim his name as our own. Where Christ degrades, we dub ourselves his "hands" and "feet", thereby legitimizing our acting and doing as his own. There is no check on our aspirations, no check on our scheming, no check on our drive for domination. We can simply weaponize Jesus for our own self-serving purposes.

But.

This can also be the case where we claim that Jesus now lives: even Easter can be deployed in such a way that merely reaffirms we Christians in the way we already live: “We’ve got the living deposit of faith--or orthodoxy or a “literal” reading of scripture or the real message of Jesus--it’s on lock, so listen up!”

This is why we must pass through Nietzsche. We cannot go around him. Only when we leave the security and stability of the ecclesiological bunker and face full on the devastating truth of our constant and consistent efforts to manhandle Jesus for our own benefit is it possible that there just might be good news on the loose.

The stakes are life and death.

Nietzsche got that.

Do we?

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