In one sense it seems to me that Friedrich Nietzsche didn’t understand the Gospel at all; in another sense it seems that he understood it better than many Christians. A few pages into On the Genealogy of Morals he explains how our idea of “good” comes from “the powerful, the superior, the high minded.” In other words, the elite equated their way of life with what is “good” and the way of the lower classes with what is “bad”. While I am not far enough into his argument to speak for him it seems that what he is saying is this: morality doesn’t derive from a deity or a metaphysical reality, but from the aristocracy equating their life style with that which is pleasant and the life-style of those they oppress with that which is not pleasant. This is how morality is determined.

What caught my attention was Nietzsche’s statement about the Jews. He blames the Jews for being the people who introduced the idea that morality is not that which we can equate with power, or the life-style of the oppressor, arguing instead that morality is seen in the actions of the poor, the oppressed. Nietzsche says that “the slave revolt of morals” began with the Jews, because the Jews spread the idea of morality based on something other than power. [1] Listen to these words:

“….this is indeed what happened: from the trunk of that tree of revenge and hatred, Jewish hatred— the deepest and most sublime hatred, that is, the kind of hatred which creates ideals and changes the meaning of values, a hatred the like of which has never been on earth— from this tree grew forth something equally incomparable, a new love, the deepest and most sublime of all the kinds of love— and from what other trunk could it have grown?…Love grew forth from this hatred, as its crown, as its triumphant crown, spreading itself ever wider in the purest brightness and fullness of the sun, as a crown which pursued in the lofty realm of light the goals of hatred— victory, spoils, seduction— driven there by the same impulse with which the roots of that hatred sank down ever further and more lasciviously into everything deep and evil. This Jesus of Nazareth, as the gospel of love incarnate, this ‘redeemer’ bringing victory and salvation to the poor, the sick, the sinners— did he not represent the most sinister and irresistible form of the very same temptation, the indirect temptation to accept those self-same Jewish values and new versions of the ideal?” [2]

In other words, Jewish morality is a sort of hatred: the hatred of the slave for the master. For Nietzsche the brilliance of the Jews—as made most evident in Jesus of Nazareth—is that they convinced the Masters that their morality was immorality and that the morality of the slaves was true morality, shaming the Masters. Nietzsche calls the Gospel of the Crucifixion, “…that horrific paradox of the ‘crucified God’, that mystery of an inconceivably ultimate, most extreme cruelty and self-crucifixion undertaken for the salvation of mankind?” [3] According to Nietzsche, he says of the Jews, “Never in world history did a people have a more important mission. The ‘masters’ are done away with; the morality of the common man has won.” [4]

In summary, Nietzsche exhibits both disgust, but also profound respect, as he credits the Jews for being the people who brought forth the world’s most successful slave revolt by convincing those in power than their power was not “good” and by arguing that it is the poor and oppressed who are the truly moral since God honors their suffering. Whether Nietzsche’s historical account is accurate or not is a secondary point. It is his theology that interests me.

Thoughts? Any Nietzsche scholars care to add anything to help me better understand his argument? 

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[1] Nietzsche, Friedrich; Douglas Smith (1997-01-23). On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic. By way of clarification and supplement to my last book Beyond Good and Evil (Oxford World’s Classics) (p. 19). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[2]  Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 21.

[4] Ibid.

Friedrich Nietzsche

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