Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion


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In this respect, as so many have noted, Nietzsche exhibits affinities with other modern unmaskers of religious illusion, such as Marx and Freud. Marx and Freud sought to guide human beings to a more rational conduct of life by enlightening them about their irrationality. Marx thought the way to the future was opened by demystifying human social and economic relations; Freud, despite a certain resignation, was relentless in asserting the need for the mastery of Logos and ego. Nietzsche, however, was more ambivalent than either with respect to the modern project of enlightenment.

He did not reject the value of enlightenment, but he insisted on its limits, and on the 11 See Westphal As such, Nietzsche was as suspicious of the modern idealization of rationality, and its humanistic faith in enlightenment, as he was of metaphysical values, religion, and morality. Some critics accuse Nietzsche of moral or epistemological nihilism; others go further to argue that such nihilism, paired with his glorification of power, culminates in a sort of monstrous fascism— or in French postmodernism.

And, indeed, despite his claims to be an affirmative thinker, it is impossible to ignore the fact that there is much about this existence that Nietzsche despised and from which he yearned to be free; denial and negation played such a formative role in his thought and rhetoric that they at times smothered the affirmative impulse. At times, there seems to be little about human life that Nietzsche was able to affirm except possibly the strength that allowed him to endure in his misanthropic solitude.

Nietzsche himself, however, insisted on a close, even paradoxical relation in his thought between negation and nihilism on the one hand, and affirmation on the other. How does one affirm life in the depths of abyssal suspicion? How does one simultaneously affirm life and demand that it be transformed? How does one love life in hating it? When Nietzsche distanced himself from both the metaphysical traditions of religion and the critical modernity exemplified by Marx and Freud, he was one of the first Western 13 See, for example, Milbank Although I disagree with some of his conclusions about the echo of idealism in Nietzsche, the best work on Nietzsche and nihilism is in Gillespie, Nihilism Before Nietzsche In Zarathustra, and also later, in more critical and somber writings, life is loved and praised, even revered: not simply accepted or nobly borne.

What enabled Nietzsche to make the move to affirmation instead of resignation? The question of the relation of negation and affirmation in Nietzsche is not solved simply by invoking the historical labor of the negative, whether through Hegelian or Marxist dialectic, or through the struggle of a quasiDarwinistic evolution. Metaphysical morality and religion are, for Nietzsche, responses to the problem of existence that promise to solve the problem once and for all. Yet, it is precisely in this attempt to find a solution to existence that, for Nietzsche, nihilism is most clearly and dangerously manifested.

Some of the most profound suffering in human life arises for Nietzsche precisely in confronting the fact that any definitive meaning of life continually escapes our grasp. He presents this poetically, if not philosophically, with his idea of eternal recurrence. Eternal recurrence signals the definitive rejection of an economy of redemption that would give life meaning by offering an ultimate meaning for suffering.

His ambivalence toward modernity is mirrored by an essentially ambivalent attitude toward religion. Philosophy as Spiritual Practice Nietzsche was convinced that philosophy as he knew it in nineteenthcentury Germany was one of the many symptoms of nihilism. He sought therefore to transfigure philosophy, in part by looking to its past. Working with this ancient model, Nietzsche writes a new, embodied philosophy, one that is both more passionate and more literary than the philosophy of his time.

The philosopher for Nietzsche is a shaper of self and culture. Like the figure of the ascetic saint, with which Nietzsche was so fascinated, the philosopher is a figure that represents, in body, soul, and practice—not simply in thought or text—the powers and possibilities of human life. This causes certain problems for the reader, especially since Nietzsche gleefully uses categories and concepts at the same time that he is denouncing them.

He writes, in many respects, against himself. This suggests the limitations of a hermeneutic strategy that would be satisfied with the univocal philosophical determination of his concepts and arguments. One must also ask, what is he doing by writing this way? Or, how is he performing? In part, my reading of Nietzsche rests on the claim that he enacts affirmation precisely in undermining philosophy as he considers it to have been established in the West since Socrates.

Philosophy, as Nietzsche understands it, is a spiritual path of not simply to affirmation, the only path he sees available for those of us living in the West at the end of modernity. The possibility of affirmation rests on something beyond philosophical investigations and justifications, for affirmation wells from out of the body as much as from the mind, compelling one to live vibrantly rather than assuredly.


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Ultimately, Nietzsche does not simply discuss and analyze affirmation philosophically; instead, he exemplifies affirmation in his philosophical practice, in a performance of an ecstatic, figurative, affirmative thinking and writing. I use the term spiritual with some hesitation, which emerges directly from the questions of religion this book seeks to address. Used with some specificity, the term can be helpful. This definition helps us distinguish, for instance, between the spirit and the psyche or the spiritual and the psychological. Spirit indicates something more comprehensive than psyche: cultivating the spiritual, a person opens him- or herself to something beyond the psychological unity we refer to as the personal self.

At times, Nietzsche uses Geist to refer to mind, intellect, or consciousness. Philosophy, then, is for Nietzsche more than an academic discipline: it is a practice by which he cultivates, strengthens, and beautifies the self and its relationship to the world and cosmos; it is the spiritual exercise par excellence.

To be spiritual, for Nietzsche, is to learn to live in pain and paradox, even exacerbating these, with an affirmative intensity and celebration. The terms spirit and spiritual, however, are not without their problems.

As such, the term spiritual also reflects the rise of modern, Western individualism, based in the valorization of the autonomous, rational self for whom tradition and ritual can be nothing more than hindrances to the full, free development or realization of the self. Closely connected with such individualism is the modern split between the public and the private.

Traditional religion, in the modern view, is dangerous in large part because it is public, and so threatens the autonomy of the political and economic realms. Spirituality, on the other hand, is private, and more easily avoids the temptations of public pronouncement and influence faced by modern institutional religion. Being spiritual today is easy; for Nietzsche becoming a free spirit was the most difficult thing a human being could undertake.

Nietzsche too easily ignored the way in which religious traditions, especially Christianity, offer resources for the affirmation of spiritual searching and researching. Despite his vehement criticisms of the ascetic ideal and religious intoxication, Nietzsche cultivates an affirmative self in a transfiguration of ascetic and mystical practices. It might appear paradoxical that the affirmation Nietzsche celebrates could be based in the serious and painful labor of asceticism, which he so often denounced as an expression of the hatred of life.

But Nietzsche recognized that the ascetic had discovered a key to power and spirit. Instead of repeating the paradigmatic gesture of the ascetic ideal by extirpating asceticism, Nietzsche refigured asceticism as an affirmative discipline of spiritualization. More recently, such images have been reactivated by postmodern and feminist thinkers who seek to celebrate the unrepressed body and desire. There is a strong correlation between the construction of asceticism as religious grotesque and the ideology of healthy, vibrant secularization. To put it crudely, the ascetic stands for repression and denial in an age when selfdefinition is understood to be a task of freeing oneself from such barriers to self-realization.

But some scholars have recently argued that it is a mistake to view all forms of asceticism as pathological phenomena.

The Religious Spirit Manifests in Many Ways But Has One Thing in Common - Spirit of Religion

Instead, they suggest we think about asceticism as ascesis, as an empowering means of re-creating mind and body. Despite his role in the modern construction of asceticism, I argue that Nietzsche himself offers resources for such a rethinking of asceticism. Rethinking asceticism with and against Nietzsche means rethinking ourselves, engaging in a kind of spiritual discipline. In this way, this book is an attempt to indicate how Nietzsche calls us to such discipline.

In the book he valued above all his others, Nietzsche portrays Zarathustra as undergoing experiences of self-transcendence in which he realizes the joy of eternity, a joy that involves the affirmation of the necessity of worldly, suffering life. In each of these cases, Nietzsche offers powerful reasons for bringing the lenses of mystical experience and mystical writing to bear on his work. The study of mysticism offers another angle on the tension between affirmation and negation in Nietzsche. In the literature of certain Christian mystics one finds a paradoxical intertwining of joy and suffering that helps me to follow the links Nietzsche forges between suffering, ecstasy, and affirmation.

None have tried to explain it in terms of mystical transcendence and participation. Nietzsche views suffering as necessary for the cultivation of the noble soul; yet his affirmation of suffering is not merely instrumental, it is also ecstatic. After that how can we fail to bless with tenderest gratitude the Love that sends us this gift? Such an exercise would be uninteresting, for it would only play with definitions.

It also would ignore the fact that concepts such as asceticism and mysticism—like religion—are constructs, which, in their contemporary usage, are generated in large part through the debates that constitute the modern study of religion. Thus, in deploying these terms, I do not seek to prove that Nietzsche is a particular kind of ascetic or meets the criteria of an authentic mystic—or that he is or is not religious. To view them as constructions is not to invalidate them, but to use them strategically and pragmatically, in a way that enables questions and comparisons that might not be obvious when contemporary constructions are used uncritically.

In the case of Nietzsche, they carry a constructively subversive force, resisting the assimilation with secularism by illuminating productive tensions in his thought. My objective, then, is twofold: to undertake a critical study of Nietzsche and to explore the categories by which we endeavor to understand human religiosity. These objectives depend on one another, and work through each other, for as Nietzsche challenges us to examine our desire for religious consolation, the question of religion, raised in a way that resists certain modern constructions of the category, challenges us to reread Nietzsche.

This demands a three-step hermeneutic. It is necessary, first, to explore the way Nietzsche determines the concepts of asceticism, mysticism, and religion. These chapters and sections lay the textual groundwork for my study. Second, I will examine contemporary studies of asceticism and mysticism that challenge or complicate modern constructions of the concepts, particularly with respect to the way modern thinkers have, after Nietzsche and Weber, constructed asceticism and mysticism as two forms of flight from or denial of the world.

In other words, I explore the ways in which ascetic and mystical practices can be said to be affirmative in the Nietzschean sense. This is the task of Chapters 3 and 4. Finally, the third step is a comparative and evaluative process by which I use the lenses of asceticism and mysticism to compare Nietzsche to his self-declared enemy, Christianity. In doing do, I argue that in certain specific ways Nietzsche is closer to Christianity than is commonly thought. Instead, the point is to bring them together as closely as possible, utilizing the lenses of asceticism and mysticism, to determine precisely where they are similar and where they differ on the question of denial and affirmation.

Nietzsche has become a familiar icon, a strong and unmovable signpost for the division between the religious and the secular. Perhaps we have not wanted to question why we are so content, even determined, to have him do this. Yet, like any great thinker, Nietzsche can provoke us to rethink our common sense, to remap the familiar terrain of our world and experience, by looking, once again, at how he constantly unsettled his own convictions.

Reading Nietzsche as he asks us to read him is to engage in a sort of ascetic discipline, a discipline by which the reader repeats the tension that springs the dynamic of his writing—the tension between close, slow attention and a letting go of the mastery that demands progression, coherence, and resolution. Nietzsche asks us to resist the desire for such mastery in an effort to read with him—and against him—as he opens himself to the plurality of forces by which one becomes who one is.

Such discipline opens us to new questions and new insights on persisting questions; it lures us into the labyrinth of ourselves and our time as we think with and against Nietzsche, with and against ourselves. By the significance of the question had changed for him, yet it continued to occupy his reflections on affirmation.

Nietzsche had claimed that with the demise of tragic sensibility Western culture had lost a fundamental connection with the primal forces of life. This was not, however, simply a historical or scholarly problem, for Nietzsche was looking forward to a recovery of a tragic sensibility as the key to the renewal of European culture.

The new preface reflects back: You will guess where the big question mark concerning the value of existence had thus been raised. Is there a pessimism of strength? Is it perhaps possible to suffer precisely from overfullness? In tragedy, Nietzsche believed he had discovered the way in which pre-Socratic Greeks had confronted suffering while continuing to affirm life. Tragedy, in other words, was a dramatic ruse by which life preserved itself in the face of the stark revelation that the life of the individual is never released from suffering.

By now, he had Schopenhauer in mind as an exemplar of declining pessimism, for Schopenhauer had thought that the ultimate response to suffering was to deny the value of life by turning from it in mystical transcendence. Nietzsche continued to affirm pessimism because he continued to believe that suffering was fundamental to life. But where Schopenhauer recommended turning from this life, Nietzsche now sought to affirm life in its radical implication with suffering.

But this did not prevent him from finding the question, and the attempts philosophers had made to answer it, of great interest, for he viewed the philosophical disposition that questioned the value of existence as symptomatic of a certain kind of soul. The question of the value of life thus became a psychological question, to be explored in terms of the health 1 It is generally accepted that it was only after The Birth of Tragedy that Nietzsche began to move away from Schopenhauer.

This fundamental reality is not divine, but only blind, endless striving, suffering in its eternal conflict with itself. I was looking into a mirror that reflected the world, life and my own mind with hideous magnificence. Schopenhauer argued that such intuition is grounded not in consciousness but in the body, in its desires and passions, and that it could be brought to the point of knowledge in an act of pure, willless knowing. Because in contemplation human beings are freed from the strivings and struggles of willing, Schopenhauer considers this state the most blissful one that human beings can experience a: This position would be an important point of departure for Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy.

But Schopenhauer distinguishes between this natural, blind self-affirmation of the will from the self-conscious affirmation to which human beings can ascend in contemplation. Attending only to phenomena, human beings are easily struck by the inevitability of suffering and the pain of individuation. But they continue to will as individuals, desiring the end of their suffering. It is only in a certain overcoming of the individual will, thinks Schopenhauer, that life can be genuinely affirmed.

He is particularly interested in two types of overcoming. In the artist, Schopenhauer sees the paradigmatic affirmer of life. Taken one step farther, however, knowledge of the will actually enables the will to turn against itself. The life of the virtuoso is characterized not simply by transient experiences of aesthetic bliss, but by the cultivation of a life turned against the ever-striving will, by the denial of the will to live. Schopenhauer makes three basic distinctions between the artist and the religious virtuoso.

His pessimism thus leads to a vision of the end of all striving and desiring. Soon after The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche came to question the metaphysical pretensions of this vision and valuation and became more and more convinced that to affirm life, human beings had to affirm the suffering of existence—not transcend it—and even find joy in it. For this, Nietzsche would always admire Schopenhauer. Is it sufficient for you? Would you be its advocate, its redeemer? For you have only to pronounce a single heartfelt Yes!

This effort brought him to the conclusion that certain ways of doing philosophy are in themselves either life-denying or life-affirming. When he uses the term metaphysics, Nietzsche refers to a philosophy based in the dualistic conviction that things of the highest value have an origin altogether distinct from the origin of the things of lower value. This dualism draws this absolute distinction in values in a particular way: things of the highest value are unchanging, unconditioned, eternal, and harmonious, while things of lowest value are changing, conditioned, transitory, and dissonant.

This methodological interest grounds one major aspect of his critique of metaphysics. More generally, Nietzsche argues that metaphysical explanations are methodologically suspect. Nietzsche also argues, however, that such philosophical criticism of the methods of metaphysics is limited, for though it can undermine the philosophical pretensions of metaphysics, it cannot understand the value of metaphysics.

Metaphysics promises a certain kind of control over the contingencies and disasters of human life, consoling human beings and offering them security. This control is ultimately unverifiable, but this itself, as Nietzsche would come to recognize more and more, contributes to the power of its interpretations. Nietzsche believes this immense power 7 8 See also GS: To further complicate matters, Nietzsche refuses to level a blanket condemnation of metaphysics.

Tyler T. Roberts, Contesting Spirit: Nietzsche, Affirmation, Religion - PhilPapers

When he claims that origin does not determine value, Nietzsche has in mind not only the fact that the criticism of an origin will not necessarily free us from an error, but he also is asserting that something rooted in error can come to have great value and produce great beauty. Or that something can be both valuable and destructive. This suggests that the practice of liberation involves recognizing the historical continuity of human life, and further, that it is impossible simply to start afresh with new ways of valuing and living. How can they affirm their dignity? Will genuine philosophical vigilance undermine life?

But Nietzsche does not see it this way in Human, All too Human, for although philosophy can strip us of our consolations by arriving at knowledge of the errors and sources of previous ways of valuing life, philosophy conducted with proper respect for the limits of reason and the nature of human valuing cannot determine or discover new value.

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The reason is that valuing is not a matter of knowing as much as it is of feeling, mood, and desire HH: The human being, therefore, is torn between knower and valuer. Will truth not become inimical to life, to the better man? Faced with this prospect, Nietzsche offers some tentative answers in fragments scattered throughout Human, All too Human. Two are of interest here. Nietzsche suggests that such philosophical liberation is only possible through a practice of knowing in which one is continually reimmersing oneself in life—in order to again transcend it. In the spectacle of suffering life, as achieved by the philosopher, one finds equanimity and joy.

Nietzsche offers a second response to the conflict between knowledge and value. Such a situation between two so different demands is very hard to maintain, for science presses for the absolute dominance of its methods, and if this pressure is not relaxed there arises the other danger of a feeble vacillation back and forth between different drives. To indicate the way towards a resolution of this difficulty, however, if only by means of a parable, one might recall that the dance is not the same thing as a languid reeling back and forth between different drives.

High culture will resemble an audacious dance. It is, instead, a drive that seeks absolute dominance.

Contesting Spirit

It appears that Nietzsche senses the need to resist this drive. This passage, then, raises two questions. How does the figure of the dance help Nietzsche conceive of a relation to both science and metaphysics that both resists and affirms them? And, does this figure suggest the affirmation of a certain kind of metaphysics, poetry, or religion? And all their solemnities—solemnities about a nothing? When life has a goal, he asserts, it has meaning. Nietzsche claims that to this point in human history this ideal has been the only goal that the human will has had so far.

Apart from the ascetic ideal, man, the human animal, had no meaning so far. His existence on earth contained no goal. This is precisely what the ascetic ideal means: that something was lacking, that man was surrounded by a fearful void—he did not know how to justify, to account for, to affirm himself; he suffered from the problem of his meaning. This echoes the problem that Nietzsche had already anticipated in Human, All too Human: struggling to expose the nothingness of the metaphysical will to the beyond, he confronts the calamitous possibility of being left with nothing to will.

The primary question Nietzsche raises in the Genealogy, therefore, can be posed in an initial formulation: when we see the ascetic ideal for what it is—a will to nothingness—is it possible to find a new ideal, a new way of willing or valuing, or does the philosophical search for the truth of our most cherished values and meanings leave us with nothing?

However, in the period between Human, All too Human, and the Genealogy, Nietzsche had come to look at the power of metaphysics in a new way. As a result, Nietzsche began to treat the power of metaphysics not simply in terms of a conscious need for security and control, but as a deep instinctual response of self-preser- 36 CHAPTER ONE vation.

The ascetic ideal gives meaning to life by denying the value of the world and nature, but this denial is a ruse of the life force itself. Its vehicle is the priest. Through this figure, Nietzsche deepened his grasp of the intertwining of sociological and psychological forces in the creation of human value. Nietzsche contrasts two perspectives on the ascetic ideal. The ascetic priest is a self-conscious dualist: one lives this life and undergoes its suffering, glories in its suffering, for the sake of another—better, truer, more divine—mode of existence.

For Nietzsche, however, this is the characteristic misunderstanding of value committed by those enslaved to the faith in opposite values, and it is the characteristic hope of those for whom the absence of suffering is the highest value. The ascetic ideal, from this perspective, is not a denial but an affirmation, the means by which the instinct of self-preservation of a particular kind of life accomplishes its purpose.

The ascetic priest works as the tool of a will to power. Nihilism, as the will to nothing, has been a force for the preservation of life at the same time that it is a route to power for the priest. First, one who follows the ascetic ideal gives meaning to his or her life only through a self-deceptive, dualistic refusal to acknowledge his or her own rootedness in life or motives in adhering to the ideal.

The desire to transcend this life can be justified, and be successfully self-deceptive, only if it posits a realm of absolute truth and value. Claiming to worship God, one really seeks to be free of suffering. Third, and most important: the ascetic ideal has been the means by which the weak, led by the priest, have prevailed over the strong in a battle of values.

This victory deserves careful attention. The weak have been victorious, according to Nietzsche, through a revaluation of values, or, more precisely, by instituting a new mode of valuation. In the first essay of the Genealogy, Nietzsche argues that the ascetic ideal finds its source in the ressentiment of the priest and all those who, out of one form of weakness or another, hate and envy self-affirming humanity. When Nietzsche writes of the revaluation of values, he has in mind this essential difference between the active valuing of health and affirmation, on the one hand, and the reactive valuing of ressentiment, on the other.

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The will of the weak to represent some form of superiority, their instinct for devious paths to tyranny over the healthy— where can it not be discovered, this will to power of the weakest. GM: The ascetic ideal allows the weak to affirm life through self-deception and the active hostility to ascending, vital life.

The power of this hostile absolutism is supported by the fact that there are so many people who need this interpretation. Through the ascetic ideal, life can simultaneously be affirmed and despised. It is not affirmed or loved for itself, but only as a means to peace beyond this life and absolute mastery in this life. Nietzsche attacks the ascetic ideal because it undermines those who would affirm this life here and now. In that earlier book, however, Nietzsche had been concerned primarily with the possibility that the critical consciousness would undermine the ability of human beings to value their existence.

Thus, he had imagined the possibility of being able to find joy and dignity in scientific, philosophical detachment, in the enjoyment of the spectacle produced by the insistence on truth. By the time of the Genealogy, however, Nietzsche had refined his understanding of the metaphysical presuppositions of philosophy itself, and he had found the metaphysical consciousness more uncanny than he had thought.

Near the end of the Genealogy, Nietzsche argues that the antimetaphysical spirit is itself metaphysical, a manifestation of the ascetic ideal. These truth seekers have remained ignorant of their own constituting ideals and drives; the will to truth has masked a certain will to ignorance about the souls that cleave to the will to truth.

We have never sought ourselves—how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves?


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  4. Nietzsche finds the face of the ascetic in the mirror of his own philosophical inquiry. Thus the will to truth attacks itself; the ascetic ideal mortifies its highest objectives. And yet at the furthest degree of this torment, the philosopher is able to look beyond. The will to truth turns its merciless gaze on itself to give Nietzsche insight into the fate of the absolutism of metaphysics: the nihilism of a historical trajectory in which the highest values—God, the Good, Truth—devalue themselves. Turning truth on truth, the ascetic ideal betrays itself. But this betrayal holds familiar dangers, for if God dies, if truth is not an absolute value, how can human beings determine the value or the meaning of life?

    From what perspective, or with what criterion, will they be able to determine what is or is not valuable? If they, with Nietzsche, look beyond the ascetic ideal, they are confronted with a new intensification of nihilism, no longer the will to nothingness, but, more terrifying, the state of having nothing to will.

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    In other words, Nietzsche discovers a problem, not a solution; in fact, he claims to find his meaning not in an ideal that solves the problem of the ascetic ideal, but in the problem of the old ideal itself. One solution to this problem would be to consider whether it is possible to give meaning to life with an ideal or highest value that is not absolute in the life-denying way of the ascetic ideal. Questioning truth as absolute value is not the same as claiming that truth does not exist or that it has no value. As Clark argues, one can pursue the truth of truth without conceiving of this pursuit as the most important thing one can do, or, at least, without thinking that this search has its end in itself Finding their meaning in the absolute value of truth, human beings will find their meaning in some other ideal, which as Clark rightly points out, will be an ideal that affirms thisworldly life.

    But what makes an ideal life affirming or life denying? In the Genealogy, Nietzsche neither poses an explicit answer to this question, nor proposes an alternative to the ascetic ideal. One partial explanation for this is that Nietzsche finds himself still captive to the ascetic ideal. He finds himself on a threshold, at a place where values that have reigned heretofore are devaluing themselves and where the future remains unclear because the will to truth remains a problem.

    The priest, the guardian of morality, proclaims the ultimate value of selflessness and the virtue of surrender. Nietzsche, however, unmasks priestly morality as an uncanny, and intricately deceptive drive for power. It has been braided out of secret and obsessive mutterings of the need for vengeance on all that constrains or hurts the vulnerable self; it arises in the tenderly nurtured desire to have more power than the rapacious oppressors; power, as I have indicated, that is incontestable, absolute, inhuman.

    As the philosopher of the will to power, Nietzsche affirms the way all life strives for power. Nevertheless, he attacks morality because it is based in a quest for unworldly power: unable to exercise the power of life, it seeks power over life. Since their morality exalts self-surrender, they must never admit how this ruse disguises their hunger for limitless power.

    Encountering Religion

    Nietzsche perceives that adherents of the ascetic ideal find relief from the human condition by bathing in the intoxicating righteousness of moral condemnation, which derives not from the puny, insignificant self, but from infinite God, who upholds the weak and mortifies the strong. The problem of nihilism as Nietzsche poses it in the Genealogy is primarily a moral problem—not just one moral problem among others, but the problem of morality itself. It is not a religious problem.

    Evidence for this can be found in the fact that Nietzsche does not find the slave revolt in values only in the emergence of Judaism and Christianity, or in religion in general, as one who has read only the Genealogy might suppose. In Twilight of the Idols , he traces the trajectory of ressentiment and morality through the philosophical revaluation accomplished by Socrates. With the Athenian nobles already mired in decadence, their instincts in a state of anarchy, forces from the lower social order embodied in Socrates asserted themselves to impose a new mode of valuation grounded in morality and reason TI: 39— Reason as moral imperative overrides the instincts of self-affirmation and dominance that had characterized the Greeks of the tragic age.

    This mastery becomes the obsession of Western philosophy—a philosophy of consciousness—from Plato to Kant and Schopenhauer. This belief, Nietzsche thinks, is an error with great consequences TI: And for the resentful priest the idea of a self with free will becomes a powerful weapon in the battle with the nobles because it allows the priest to claim that the nobles are responsible for the harm they visit upon the weak.

    Such willing is definitive of holiness. The imaginary unified consciousness is set over against the body and desire, expressing freedom and holiness by subjugating those imponderable forces of energy and fecundity. The moral self, the holy self, is the self who masters that part of itself that changes.

    Although, as we have seen, Schopenhauer takes issue with Kantian epistemology, both are in essential agreement with respect to morality and holiness. As in Kant, Schopenhauer identifies holiness with the freedom of the will by which the will detaches itself from the life of the body and the passions. For both, then, the self, as holy—as spirit—exists only in a certain curved cipher, whose sharp edges cut against the suffering body.

    Nietzsche despised this domesticated holiness that opposes in principle the wildness of the body, for it expresses the philosophical baptism of a pathological will to mastery. Instead, now, the holiness of the self is readily located in the imaginary, yet utterly transparent, point of the impassive free will. What ideas he has, what unnaturalness, what paroxysms of nonsense, what bestiality of thought erupts as soon as he is prevented just a little from being a beast in deed!

    Responsibility as a moral category, suspended between guilt and innocence, registers the ideal of primordial mastery, given to human beings, a mastery over suffering itself, over life itself. Yet despite his provocative claims about the nonexistence of free will, the illusion of the ego, and the sickness of morality, Nietzsche does not seek to deny certain possibilities of freedom, self, or responsibility. His objective is to combat the psychological and sociological uses to which these ideas have been put in service of the morality of the ascetic ideal.

    It must affirm this vulnerability, not seek to hide or flee from it. In his later work, however, he was convinced that the question itself was symptomatic of a perverse will to master life. Not by a living man, because he is party to the dispute, indeed its object, and not the judge of it; not by a dead one, for another reason. The value of life cannot be estimated by the living, which includes the deadened priest who absolutizes self-surrender or the deadened philosopher who seeks to master life through consciousness.

    A will to mastery over life underwrites both these demands, tearing human thought and expression from body, nature, and history. The revaluation of all values is not simply a matter of a new set of values, but of a new way of valuing altogether, as Deleuze points out when he argues that the revaluation of values means 15 To reiterate, Nietzsche does not equate this morality of mastery—the morality of the weak or the slaves—with religion per se.

    He does correlate it with the priestly revaluation made possible in the monotheistic religions of the Hebrews, but he also correlates life-affirming self-mastery with the religious roots of Greek tragedy. Transgression against the divine in this case, as evidenced in Greek tragedy, is punishable, but it is not without nobility GS: Thus tragedy is, for Nietzsche, alien to monotheistic religious traditions and Western philosophical morality alike.

    For Nietzsche, the modern soul finds itself caught between the two. But now the will to truth unmasks itself to itself as an aversion to life. Is it possible to live the problem of life turned against itself, valuing the search for its own sake, not for the sake of the destination? This holiness entails its own practices, psalms, laments, deprivations, and raptures. It will involve, as we will see in the following chapters, characteristically religious themes. Of course, Nietzsche argues that religious beliefs and institutions have been instrumental in sustaining the nihilistic dualism of the faith in opposite values, and, in certain instances, he comes close to identifying religion with nihilism.

    What, precisely, is the link between religion and nihilism? Nietzsche, The Antichrist The Christian conception of God—God as God of the sick, God as spider, God as spirit—is one of the most corrupt conceptions of God arrived at on earth: perhaps it even represents the lowwater mark in the descending development of the God type. God degenerated to the contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes!

    Nietzsche, The Antichrist Have I been understood? At the same time, each went beyond Enlightenment conceptions of reason and superstition to develop deep critical readings of religion that sought to account for the hold it exerted on human beings. His later work, however, complicates this vision, not only on the matters of philosophy and affirmation, but on the matter of religion as well.

    Consoling Powers In Human, All too Human, and in Dawn, Nietzsche explores the question of religion from two methodological perspectives, following the pattern I isolated in the previous chapter. First, he attacks the speculative origin of religion. For example, he suggests that it originated in the attempt to regulate nature through the mistaken belief that nature is controlled by invisible spirits. For those with a modern, intellectual conscience, he argues, it is no longer possible to believe in supernatural beings or forces.

    He believes that metaphysical, religious errors take hold of the human imagination in situations of fear or suffering, developing as powerful ways of coping with the uncontrollable exigencies of human life. These ideas and practices are more than errors, they constitute a hermeneutic through which one comes to view and experience life and suffering. Nietzsche identifies this Wesen as the religiose Neurose—the religious neurosis. And does he connect the essence of religion with the misery of a human neurosis he seeks to overcome? Deleuze recognizes quite clearly that Nietzsche claims there are active and affirmative gods and religions.

    However, he also argues that Nietzsche nonetheless holds that religion is essentially tied to bad conscience, and, from bad conscience, also to ressentiment and guilt — As I argue below, however, it is a mistake to move so quickly from bad conscience to guilt. To address its effects on our sensibilities is to interpret suffering, in this case by interpreting life and world religiously and, Nietzsche adds, artistically and metaphysically. Thus, Nietzsche raises three basic objections to religion, where religion is understood as the belief in metaphysical entities that determine the fortunes and misfortunes of human life.

    First, it is an intellectual error to posit metaphysical causes, since, by definition, we can have no evidence of such causes. Second, by positing metaphysical causes of suffering and developing methods of calling to and persuading divine power s to address their woes, human beings ignore real, worldly causes. Finally, as with any narcotic, religious and moral interpretations only grant the alleviation of suffering by intensifying other kinds of suffering.

    For example, Christianity alleviates meaninglessness and hopelessness by infecting people with the belief in sin and guilt, which only further alienates them from the reality of human life. Ultimately, Nietzsche thinks, religious interpretations of suffering make the human condition worse. Religion as a hermeneutic of suffering has succeeded, Nietzsche argues, in large part because it has been able to impart to human beings a sense of power in the face of fear and suffering.

    Of particular importance here is the distinction between polytheism and monotheism. Nietzsche admired the polytheism of the Greeks. Such gods develop as an idealizing expression of noble self-affirmation. See also D: 16, By contrast, in monotheistic visions of absolute power Nietzsche isolates the key to the metaphysical faith in opposite values and its devaluation of the human. The monotheistic notion of divinity, he claims, is based in an absolute, metaphysical gulf between God and human.

    The god of monotheism therefore reflects not an idealization of the human, but is a negative reflection of a lack, representing all that we are not but should be. For Nietzsche, Paul is the true founder of Christianity as tradition and dogma. In the Antichrist, Nietzsche also casts Buddhism as a development of nihilistic resignation. Dying with Christ, Paul can die to the Law; and to die to the Law is to die to the flesh. On this reading, suffering and worldly misery are signs of future happiness. The idea of a moral God consoles only by casting suffering as a sign of future bliss, and requiring that it be intensified in order to gain that future state.

    Suffering itself is not healed, but, at the price of one kind of suffering from suffering— guilt—another—the feelings of helplessness and uncertainty—is ameliorated. The monotheist devalues finite human power in an intoxicating, self-deceptive contrast with the absolute power of God. The way to new life is accomplished not simply by cultivating a path of suffering, but by systematically devaluing and renouncing all that is human.

    Nietzsche will pursue this argument in great depth in the Genealogy, where he shows that the power of the ascetic ideal finds a foothold in a decadent, exhausted culture. In such a context, the goal of another life enables decadents to live, it relieves boredom and exhaustion by giving them something to strive for: the rest and peace they want more than anything else. In Dawn, however, Nietzsche develops a different part of his analysis, one that is always presupposed in his later work.

    In Human, All too Human, Nietzsche seems to be operating with an essentially hedonistic view of human motivation: human beings are motivated by the desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. He argues that suffering is of little consequence because human beings do not strive after happiness or pleasure, but after power. This issue dominates the opening pages of Dawn, to the point where Nietzsche appears no longer interested in the intellectual errors at the origin of religion, but in the way religion originates in the lust for power.

    He continues to stress the need for consolation, but now the promise of a better life is not simply a consolation that allows one to bear suffering in the present, but, to the extent that one is able to strive for that future by imposing suffering in the present, one also is able to experience the intoxication of power. Put differently, power itself consoles D: 15, The Saint Following Schopenhauer, the saint is for Nietzsche the paradigm of the religious virtuoso or genius: as in Schopenhauer, the saint is both mystic and ascetic.

    Nietzsche argues that ecstatic states and ascetic practices enable certain people to exercise great power. Moreover, through such experience, the metaphysical interpretation of the cosmos is confirmed. One can see that an extraordinary power exists, a power unlike anything one can produce oneself and through which one feels united with all. One finds, in the ecstatic state, the transcendent goal of human life, the true state of the human soul, in comparison with which the life of finitude and change stands condemned D: 27, The ecstatic, by means of this possession, is able to separate him- or herself from the domination of custom and law that binds the community together, for the feeling of power serves as a divine warrant for the rejection of the communal norm; it becomes the guarantee that the voice urging one to depart from custom is not the voice of a mere human, but the voice of a god.

    The display of ecstasy or madness also can convince the rest of the community of the presence of divine power, concentrating that power in the saint. In the spectacle of cruelty, human beings find power in forgetting the suffering of their own lives. They also imagine that the gods enjoy cruelty, so it becomes necessary to have in the community people who suffer. Because most people cannot comprehend how others can impose suffering upon themselves, they assume that those who can, those who overcome the power of natural human desire and display their self-denial in excess and ecstasy, are empowered with divinity.

    Selfimposed suffering produces a feeling of power in the ascetic as well—as with Paul, there is a unique feeling of power that comes with absolute submission, submission to the point of inflicting suffering upon oneself. In a fundamental sense, the power of the ascetic is based in an illusion. But the saint remains for Nietzsche an ambiguous figure. Even after turning away from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche continues to be fascinated with the idea of self-denial.

    This leads him to rethink the vague psychological hedonism that marks Human, All too Human, in favor of a more complex understanding of the psychology of power. Although Nietzsche finds that ecstatics and ascetics deceive themselves as to the source of their power, he recognizes that their freedom, their departure from the stupid pleasures and consolations of the herd, could be purchased only at the price of great pain.

    Madness and suffering, suffering in madness, are means by which those chosen by the gods are identified to stand apart, with the power of distinction, from the community. In his own striving for freedom of thought, genuine philosophy, and individuality, Nietzsche encounters his own pain and power and inquires whether he might not find some direction along this path from the saint.

    With respect to the saint, Nietzsche argues that religion is a means by which individuals cultivate and interpret extraordinary experi7 There is no final way to demarcate the priest from the ascetic or the ecstatic saint, for a priest could be a saint and vice versa. But already in the analysis of the saint, Nietzsche saw how such power could be used not just to tear the individual away from the constraints of the community, but also to exercise power over the community. The saint, in other words, can be a force for alterity but also a force for new community and conformity.

    Nietzsche articulates this possibility in his discussions of the priest, complicating the figure of the saint by showing how one class of people exerts social power by investing itself with the aura of the divine, and also, in the process, by infecting others with the self-doubt and self-hatred of guilt and sin.

    AC: —45 Reflecting on this hatred and on the sociological conflict between masters and slaves or the noble and the base leads Nietzsche to develop his most complex genealogical account of the origin of priestly religion—of which Christianity is the logical culmination.

    Guilt before God: this thought becomes an instrument of torture to him. This distinction between good and evil, and, implicit in that distinction, the concepts of individual responsibility and guilt, corrupts the spontaneous self-affirmation of the nobles and makes self-denial an ideal. Through this ascetic ideal, Nietzsche argues, the priest has exerted great power in Western civilization and has given great numbers of exhausted, decadent people a reason to live, thus playing a significant role in the preservation of the human species. Correlatively, he comes to focus more and more on the development of monotheism in the Jewish and Christian traditions, and on the moral and social consequences of this trajectory.

    The priest relies on the idea of human depravity as strategy for worldly power. Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, as well as Feuerbach, all offer methods of interpreting religion beyond the ostensive meaning of religious ideas, symbols, and practices. Of these thinkers, Feuerbach and Nietzsche developed the most genuinely critical readings of religion. Their thought exhibits interesting parallels with respect to the concepts of projection and alienation, and to the place of Christianity in a developmental scheme of religions.

    In these respects, Hegel and the historicizing temper of the nineteenth century stand in back of both of them. For the definitive treatment of Feuerbach on religion, see Harvey Wagner, at least before his conversion to Christianity, was strongly influenced by Feuerbach and encouraged Nietzsche to read him. Surprisingly, Nietzsche mentions Feuerbach fewer than ten times in his notes, though, according to one of contemporaries, Nietzsche was discussing Feuerbach with friends and acquaintances in the period leading up to Zarathustra see Gilman In other words, God becomes a perfect omnipotence that humans could never achieve.

    This impossible perfection makes their own finite power seem worthless. For Feuerbach, therefore, the danger of alienation lies in the loss of that which human beings have projected into God; that which has been alienated must be recovered. The Hegelian Feuerbach sees a universal process of projection, alienation, and reconciliation as the history of the development of human self-consciousness.

    Like Hegel, he sees the history of religion as involving a necessary alienation by which human destiny is achieved. History, coming to its culmination in modern self-consciousness, testifies to the redemption of alienation in this self-consciousness: alienation and religion have been the means by which human beings have come to know and become themselves. For Nietzsche, by contrast, God becomes a means to self-torture. The function of alienation consists in the priestly preservation of the weak. The genealogical Nietzsche sees the concept of god being used in a particular way in a particular historical trajectory by which human beings alienate themselves in the worship of God.

    Although Nietzsche does think that it has brought some benefits to human culture, this historical trajectory does not represent the necessary movement of spirit or human self-consciousness. Search Close Advanced Search Help. My Content 1 Recently viewed 1 Contesting Spirit. Contesting Spirit Nietzsche, Affirmation, Religion.

    Add to Cart. Prices are subject to change without notice. Prices do not include postage and handling if applicable. Free shipping for non-business customers when ordering books at De Gruyter Online. Please find details to our shipping fees here. Print Flyer Recommend to Librarian. More options … Overview Content Contact Persons. Frontmatter Pages i-vi. Download PDF. Contents Pages vii-viii. Acknowledgments Pages ix-x. Get Access to Full Text.

    Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion
    Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion
    Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion
    Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion
    Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion Contesting spirit: Nietzsche, affirmation, religion

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