From the front cover flap of my Barnes & Noble edition, “…Nietzsche, a despiser of mass movements both political and religious, did not ask his readers for blind faith and obedience, but rather for critical reflection, courage, and independence.”
Apparently, Nietzsche and I have more in common than I thought.
I only was able to spend thirty minutes in this book so far and, like my son, decided to read the introduction pages to get a feel for the significance of it. I’m about half-way through and the margins are filled with “yes” and “shit” and “well, crap” already.
Why? Because the book was published in 1883 and much of what he’s saying about the evolution of mankind…well, it just hits a little close to home. It probably always has and always will.
“…life is assumed to be valuable just as it is.”
Tragic or comic, suffering or happiness, this is all of life and is not only to be endured but lived to fullest extent. We aren’t here waiting at this moment for the next to be better. We aren’t suffering through one period of life to enjoy happiness in the next. We are, simply, here, right now, living.
Years ago, I read that Nietzsche’s statement that “God is dead,” wasn’t a metaphysical thing. It’s not that the actual God died or that we killed him somehow. He was “referring instead to people’s belief in the Judeo-Christian God. His claim is that many people who think they believe in God really do not believe. That is, their “belief” makes no difference in their lives, a fact they betray through their actions and feelings.”
This struck right to the middle of my heart because it’s something I’ve brought up so many times over the years. I started watching “Messiah” on Netflix this past week. I’m not done yet, so no spoilers, please! While watching, I’ve paused so many times to rail about their reaction to this man. It’s exactly my problem with religious people. You say one thing and then behave another. You say, “God’s will be done.” And then act to change it. You say, “Turn the other cheek.” And then fight. You say, “Thou shalt not kill.” And then contract to murder. And it’s not just Christians.
Those who have turned our government into a religion are doing the same. We say, “For the greater good.” And then get angry when we’re in the minority. We say, “The authority knows best.” And get angry when it’s used against us. We say, “This is what the voters want. Democracy decides best.” And then avoid following the laws the majority voted for.
I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with it. It’s the natural outcome of denying reality because it’s easier. I believe we should acknowledge that our society has changed. We don’t need “blind faith and obedience.” We need “critical reflection, courage, and independence.” But that involves personal responsibility, and most of us aren’t willing to take that on. It’s far easier to be told what we are supposed to do, make others do it, and blame others when things go badly. It’s easier to take the welfare or the tax break, send our kids to public schools, vote for someone else, or force the medical care, than to provide for ourselves and live with the consequences.
Any time I’ve heard Nietzsche discussed, it’s usually negative. I’ve heard him equated with Nazi’s, which now I’m reading was a misunderstanding based on his sisters editing after his death. I’ve heard that his philosophy leads to nihilism and that was his goal. Nihilism isn’t a goal, it’s a crisis, a turning point. At first, we think, “What’s the damn point if we have nothing to work towards, no afterlife or reward at the end?” We struggle through the change, cocoon ourselves and consider the options. Once we begin to think critically, we take courage and emerge independent. We accept this world right here as it is, the people around us as they are, and we live our lives to the fullest, suffering and peace in same space. Reality is far more exciting.
My thinking is that, just as we protect our children with myths about the wider world as they grow, just as we train our children how to take care of themselves in the comparative safety of our homes, only to allow them to grow up, move out into the world, and take on responsibility for their own lives, so humanity does the same. Humanity will move through this crisis, it will struggle and fight its way out of the protective cocoon of myth and belief, to finally emerge in a new and beautiful form. This is what is meant as “God’s Will.” We aren’t meant for blind faith and obedience forever. If it doesn’t, then so be it. Evolution is a relentless bitch.
Now I know what my son was so excited about. I can’t wait to read more, but I don’t want to rush through just so that I can add it to my “Autobibliography.” I need to slow down, read, write, and reflect more. This may take a while, but I think it will be worth it.
Want to start at the beginning? Pop back to my initial post “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: New Read”