Nietzsche's Attack on Christian Theism

"If the Christian dogmas of a revengeful God, universal sinfulness, election by divine grace and the danger of eternal damnation were true, it would be a sign of weak-mindedness and lack of character not to become a priest, apostle or hermit and, in fear and trembling, to work solely on one's own salvation; it would be senseless to lose sight of ones eternal advantage for the sake of temporal comfort. If we may assume that these things are at any rate believed true, then the everyday Christian cuts a miserable figure; he is a man who really cannot count to three, and who precisely on account of his spiritual imbecility does not deserve to be punished so harshly as Christianity promises to punish him."
--Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

"Really unreflective people are now inwardly without Christianity, and the more moderate and reflective people of the intellectual middle class now possess only an adapted, that is to say marvelously simplified Christianity. A god who in his love arranges everything in a manner that in the end will be best for us; a god who gives to us and takes from us our virtue and our happiness, so that as a whole all is meet and fit and there is no reason for us to take life sadly, let alone exclaim against it; in short, resignation and modest demands elevated to godhead - that is the best and most vital thing that still remains of Christianity. But one should notice that Christianity has thus crossed over into a gentle moralism: it is not so much 'God, freedom and immortality' that have remained, as benevolence and decency of disposition, and the belief that in the whole universe too benevolence and decency of disposition prevail: it is the euthanasia of Christianity."
--Nietzsche, Daybreak 92

The two quotes above by Nietzsche suggest certain kinds of failed Christianity: one that lives a life utterly out of line with its beliefs; the other a Christianity bereft of its defining features. Keeping in mind Alisdair MacIntyre's critique of the failed practice of a modernity without a true telos guiding its actions, how might part of Nietzsche's attack on Christian theism result from a practice guilty of bad faith, of even ethical and ideological incoherence?

Discussion Questions

  • Do pity, consideration, virtue, gift-giving, and renunciation inevitably lead to disrespect of life and the weakening of human beings? Can they be misused to those ends? 
  • Does Nietzsche truly understand the Christian tradition? What has he overlooked?
  • Would the kind of Christianity that Nietzsche decries above be incoherent and guilty of bad faith?
  • How does the Christian worldview view human beings differently from Nietzsche? Do they share anything?
  • What would Nietzsche put in its place?
  • How does Nietzsche's critique show us that Christian practices cannot be divorced form Christian beliefs?


"Are you a slave?  If so, you cannot be a friend.  Are you a tyrant?  If so, you cannot have friends. In woman, a slave and a tyrant have all too long been concealed. For that reason, woman is not yet capable of friendship: she knows only love. In a woman's love is injustice and blindness towards all that she does not love. And in the enlightened love of a woman, too, there is still the unexpected attack and lightning and night, along with the light.  Woman is not yet capable of friendship: women are still cats and birds. Or, at best, cows. Woman is not yet capable of friendship. But tell me, you men, which of you is yet capable of friendship?"

Louise von Salome, a former philosophy and theology student, as well as an intellectual revolutionary was loved by both Paul Ree,  Jewish philosopher and devotee of the new psychology, and by Nietzsche. The three lived together for a time, with Salome rejecting Nietzsche's marriage proposals twice. She found Ree the more interesting of the two and reduced the older Nietzsche to helpless melancholy and frustration. This famous picture features Salome holding a whip with both Ree and Nietzsche held by ropes. An ironic photograph taken in a moment of self-aware bemusement by the trio.

What does it reveal about the limits of Nietzsche's own "life-affirming" alternative?


"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding