Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nietzsche, Man of Straw

TBWBoSRaDH* nicely captures what makes Nietzsche so many Christians' favorite atheist:

Friedrich Nietzsche was the product of a line of Lutherans pastors, so it should not surprise that his atheism engages so directly, and inverts so forcefully, the thrust of Christianity. As philosophy goes much of what Nietzsche had to say was captivating, but then I also find science fiction captivating, as well as some portions of the Bible. The atheism of Nietzsche plays on the terms of Christianity, and that is why Christians often admire his work. It is entirely intelligible to them insofar as it operates in the same universe of morals, albeit characterized by inversions. So naturally Christians castigate atheists who are not Nietzschians, such a stance creates much greater difficulty in fashioning rhetorical thrusts. Too many presuppositions simply are not aligned. [emphasis mine]
Nietzsche merely inverted some of Christianity's central claims -- mercy displays weakness rather than nobility, forgiveness is for the craven rather than for the virtuous, etc. -- and more fundamentally, his "god is dead" is most profitably read as his despair at a vast, meaningless, and disorderly cosmos.

All this said, making definite statements about what Nietzsche believed is a tricky business. By contrast, so-called 'new atheists' write and speak clearly, and challenge faith on terms its defenders prefer to wish away, namely, reason and evidence. This doesn't make them right, but it engages the questions on terms that mere assertions of faith, no matter how impassioned, sincere, or captivating, can never ultimately succeed. Nietzsche's acceptance of Christian frames and terms, together with his penchant for self-contradiction, bombast, bamboozlement, and obscurantism, makes for a superficially easier target. Like dissolves like.

Good luck with that one, Christians.

* Cf.

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