Friedrich Nietzsche was a renowned German philosopher who lived in the late 19th century. His extensive studies, arguments and counterarguments on morality and ethics are a source of inspiration and the subject of extensive studies. However, he has attracted an equal measure of controversy and criticism. He was born in the city of Leipzig and raised under strict Lutheran Church principles. However, views presented in his studies suggest that he was in opposition to the Occident which is regarded as the core of Christian and Platonic origin and teachings. Therefore, it is with a palpable degree of irony that his philosophies negate the stout principles which guided him during his childhood. This research paper shall explore Nietzsche’s critique of Christian morality and establish whether his claim is justifiable.
Overview: Nietzsche’s Approach to Morality
Nietzsche, in his studies on morality, emphasized the difference between philosophical laborers and true philosophers. Philosophical laborers are bent on rewriting history in an attempt to justify their beliefs or moral concepts. Nietzsche depicted such people as liars and manipulators who were driven by selfish, self-fulfilling objectives. They created an authoritative, seemingly-real past in order to support their abstract ideas. Conversely, genuine philosophers exhaust all past events and facts in a subjective, broad-minded and creative manner in order to predict mankind’s future. Thus, they attempt to uncover the truth and create a new, virtuous perspective beneficial to all mankind.
Nietzsche regarded Plato as a genuine philosopher. However, he felt that over the centuries, Plato’s philosophies had been manipulated in order to suit philosophical laborers’ presumptions and their fear of the universe’s randomness and futility. Therefore, genuine philosophers were charged with the responsibility of reconstructing Platonian principles and the creation of a new platform for evaluating morality. Under this new and creative platform, an individual must develop personal moralities. This is evidenced by his rejection of Platonic-Christian dogmatism, more so amongst the youth. Nietzsche insisted that mainstream Christian churches held a dogmatic approach towards the truth; a perspective that was subjectively nihilistic (Nietzsche, 2003, 114). Therefore, Nietzsche sought to establish that reality is never in a constant state of flux; rather, it is dynamic and always in a transient state.
Slave Morality versus Master Morality
Nietzsche’s critique of Western/Christian principles on morality is manifested in his description of the master-slave morality concept which he referred to as ‘ressentiment.’ He imagined that at the onset of civilization, proto-humans (people who existed in the early ages) had a beastly consciousness. Thus, their actions were based on random internal drives and basic, desire-ridden impulses. With the advent of civilization and the passage of time, people were divided into two major strata: the master race and the slave race. Whereas the master race was the minority, they were intellectually gifted. Hence, they managed to subdue the slave race. Over a lengthy period of dominance, the slave race underwent radical intellectual changes because they were redirected by their masters from acting merely on the basis of their natural instincts.
The master race was very oppressive. Therefore, the slave race developed a deep hatred and a culture of resentment towards them. Arguably, over time, they developed a ‘bad’ conscience. The need to find someone or something to blame for this ‘bad’ conscience led to the emergence of a social-construction figure that slaves could identify as the root of all evil: the demon. Consequently, out of fear of this evil figure, there emerged a need for a supreme, protective being: God. Thus, Nietzsche argues that God, the holiest, divine and supreme Christian being, is an imaginary social construct and the product of a need for protection originally due to the slaves’ deep ‘ressentiment’ for their masters. Hence, Nietzsche feels that Christianity is the ‘greatest curse’ and is a fruit of one’s ‘innermost corruption’ and ‘instinct for revenge.’ To him, it is mankind’s ‘immortal blemish’ (Kennedy, 2010, 4-5).
The Herd Morality
Nietzsche is in objection to the herd morality concept because it places value to what he feels is pointless and futile. Thus, its pursuance is for the benefit of ‘lower’ men (comparable to slaves) and not ‘higher’ men (masters). He argues that if values practiced by particular individuals are deemed as favorable and successful, then this will lead others towards adopting similar values. Eventually, this shall create a herd-like populace. Therefore, it is not a principle which man should embrace.
Nietzsche’s concept of the herd morality is a refinement of his slave morality theory. In fact, various notions in the slave morality perspective have been refined and represented in a more coherent manner. First, the deep fear possessed by slaves is represented as humility. Secondly, impotence is regarded as the heart’s power of goodness. Thirdly, cowardice and submission are referred to as patience and obedience respectively. Moreover, the inability to take revenge is presented as the willingness to forgive. Finally, the desire to seek revenge is presented as one’s desire for justice. Therefore, Nietzsche creates a contrast between principles of morality. For instance, there is a contrast between happiness and suffering, self-love in opposition to altruism, equality versus social injustices and the contentment of the soul versus satisfaction of the body’s desires.
Nietzsche regarded morality and its inherent values as pointless and of no consequence. In fact, they are impediments to the attainment of glory and greatness. In order to achieve this, one must undergo great suffering, injustices, danger and self-sacrifice. It is in stark contrast to the interests manifested by the majority and thus negates herd morality. Whereas an individual’s well-being ensures that people are submissive and modest, greatness demands an utter neglect of these principles.
Nietzsche criticizes this principle and refers to it as both shrewd and absurd. Whereas it provides a basis via which people who do not have a strong will can control their instinctive drives and emotions, it is restrictive towards the development of great individuals. As the heard morality took center stage, it lost its ascetic ideal due to the fact that it drives an individual towards happiness and contentment in this world rather than suffering in this world and achieving redemption and greatness in the next. Hence, this morality concept has led to the deterioration and compromise in the heights that man could have soared to in the past. Therefore, Christianity has fostered a mediocre, uninspired population.
Nietzsche’s Critique of Christian Morality
Nietzsche regarded ‘ressentiment’ as toxic to the attainment of greatness, heroism and pride. Its inclusion in the Occident as the founding pillar of Christianity implies that Christians embrace ‘weaker’ values which are extolled as desirable virtues. ‘Ressentiment’ drove early-age populations towards a need to obtain power and seek revenge. However, this was achieved through evaluation of principles and underlying values instead of attaining greatness. Nietzsche aptly illustrates that Jews, in an attempt to get rid of the master-slave relationship, rejected the conventional ‘aristocratic value equation (good=aristocratic=powerful=beautiful=happy=loved by the gods)’ in favor of the adoption of values that depict suffering, poverty, submission and powerlessness as desirable aspects. These ‘lowly’ people would achieve salvation in their next life. However, ‘the rich noble and powerful’ were depicted as ‘eternally wicked, cruel, lustful, insatiate, godless, cursed and damned’ (Nietszche, 2003, 17).
Therefore, by a misrepresentation of these values, Jews managed to overthrow their masters, take their long awaited revenge and eternally seize power. Hence, according to Nietzsche, Jesus Christ was not an ultimate figure representing forgiveness, humbleness and love but a climax of the campaign against oppression. On the other hand, he referred to nobleness as ‘a positive basic concept’ which ‘affirmed itself gratefully and triumphantly.’ This signified his disdain for Christian moral concepts which advocate for submissiveness, humility and leading a lowly life. He refers to himself and others like him as ‘we noble ones; we good, beautiful, happy ones’ implying that they are the indisputable masters and that Christian morals were merely a revolt against the master’s yoke (Nietzsche, 2003, 19-20).
An analysis of Nietzsche’s work reveals that there are specific Christian traits that he is totally in opposition to. These are the representation of Christian concepts as unconditionally valid, the formulation of morality principles based on ‘ressentiment,’ the notion of ‘free will’ which depicts individuals as independent from their actions, and the ‘ascetic ideal.’ Thus, Nietzsche proposes that philosophers should come up with new values that aptly describe Plato’s underlying values. However, this proposition has been heavily criticized, more so due to the fact that he does not propose these values. Hence, in spite of having a valid criticism of Christianity as an abstract form resultant from ‘ressentiment’ his concepts can never be implemented on a practical basis due to several reasons.
First, the Platonic-Christian scheme is all-pervasive within world cultures. Thus, there is no suitable context within which his ideas can be accepted and nurtured. Nietzsche made a fundamental mistake in assuming that all philosophers can be swayed to accept his theories on morality as logically formulated thus rejecting the underlying Christian ethos as the basis of morality. His perspectives on morality and ethics sought to establish the harm accruing to people as a result of adopting the status quo. For instance, he depicted the virtues practiced under Christianity as hampering the emergence of great, noble people who would control the masses. Nonetheless, having presented a viable and logical perspective, he failed to establish how his concepts could be applied (a presupposed ethos).
Secondly, Nietzsche’s approaches in certain meta-ethical discourses are misleading and fail to interpret the teachings in their context. In his pursuance of a rational standpoint on morality, he seeks to establish that God is non-existent and that He is an abstract being born out of human fear and need for protection. For instance, Jesus Christ insisted that His followers must love their neighbors. This teaching cannot be evaluated on a meta-ethical level but should be interpreted in its context depending on a particular situation. Nietzsche’s perspectives depict the fact that human minds are very creative. In addition, they present a guard against a dogmatic discourse. Critics feel that Nietzsche’s work was an attempt at presenting his own understanding of the world. This was greatly hampered by his limited experience of morality and its inherent virtues. Arguably, Christianity is a highly transferable religion. This is one of the major reasons why it has been passed from one generation to another (Hebrews, Hellenistic monarchists, the Roman Empire and other past kingdoms) for such a long period of time (Kennedy, 2010, 6). Therefore, Christianity accommodates multiple viewpoints and cultures, a fact that Nietzsche completely ignores perhaps due to the fact that he was raised in a stifling and oppressive society which limited his experiences on morality.
Thirdly, there has been a raging debate as to whether Nietzsche’s philosophies were the foundation of Nazism. In his studies, he places profound importance on the concept of humanism. His hierarchical approach places humanity at the top and disregards all notions indicative of the existence of God or nature’s superiority. Therefore, no man is bound to worship or revere a divine being; rather, he places authority on the hands of a few elites (masters). He is in favor of a master morality approach in contrast to the Judean-Christian approach manifested in slave morality. Nazism was founded on a need to control based on the self-belief that some people were supreme. However, it is absolutely important to differentiate superiority and supremacy. Nietzsche’s philosophies emphasize that a master race controls the slave race because of their intelligence (excellence). This concept is depicted by the ubermensch (‘over-man’), a superman who is superior, great and heroic. Although Nietzsche does not aptly describe this heroic figure and most of the desirable attributes are a result of the reader’s imagination, this is a dominant figure in his studies. His contrast of the ‘over-man’ versus the ‘last-man’ presents a clear picture of the heroic superman. Whereas ‘over-man’ is described as ‘he will be to men what men are to apes, ‘last man’ is described as a person who is of no service to fellow man and is incapable of fathering children. Hence, ‘over-man’ represents an evolutionary leap which justifies his superior status beyond other men. Nonetheless, his philosophies are naïve and could be ultimately potent if misinterpreted by people in positions of power (Kennedy, 2003, 8-10).
Nietzsche’s approach presents a concrete platform for the evaluation of the Christian morals and principles. He convinces the reader that Christianity is a massive cover-up of the underlying truth. Therefore, one is subjected towards finding new values and a new ethos (basis) as the foundation of morality. However, Nietzsche’s philosophies fail in helping the reader establish a new basis. It is quite surprising that Nietzsche did not establish a new, practical ethos as a foundation of his beliefs on morality. Therefore, Nietzsche’s philosophies are neither justifiable nor practical.