Why We Should Read More Nietzsche

A quick word by way of introduction: I first encountered Nietzsche about four years ago, and to be sure, I can’t quite even remember how I first heard of his name, from whom I first heard it, or why I was even compelled to research this enigmatic and strange philosopher. I was new in my Christian faith, and yet something about Friedrich Nietzsche pulled me in, and much to my surprise, I began to be allured by what people were saying about him–mostly Christian philosophers referencing him and trying to show how he was wrong, et cetera. I nevertheless knew that I had to read him for myself, if for no other reason than to have something to easily ‘disprove.’

I began reading Der Antichrist, which incidentally enough is one of Nietzsche’s last books, a highly blasphemous polemic, he ever penned in his frantic last year of work before his collapse. This, moreover, is not the work that most people new to Nietzsche choose to read first, but I was nevertheless drawn into its stark anti-Christian diatribe, and sought it out quite precisely because it was so opposite to what I had been experiencing in my life; namely, a true regeneration. Needless to say, my reading thus began a spiraling course of intense and passionate engagement with this philosopher’s thought: Nietzsche’s prose doesn’t merely sit idly on the page, but rather it jumps out and attacks the reader forcefully with enthusiasm and determination. I finished The Antichrist and thereupon moved into Beyond Good and Evil–my understanding of Nietzsche still naïve at best. Then I figured that I had better start at the beginning, and moved all the way back to Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, which I read speedily only to follow it up with On the Genealogy of Morals.

My understanding of Nietzsche was beginning to grow, but I still held many misconceptions, and only, at this point, saw Nietzsche as a philosophical backdrop wherewith one could refute and negate, but didn’t see his philosophy as something that could contribute positively or substantively to my own worldview or metaphysic. I moved next into Also Sprach Zarathustra, which I read furiously and forthwith became utterly captivated by Nietzsche’s prose, vigor of spirit, and attractive ironical humor. Zarathustra was light on his feet and gay; he didn’t let anyone or anything inhibit his determination or direction; he lived lofty and was a free-spirit. In many ways, I wanted to be like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. I moved next into Twilight of the Idols, and followed it with his Ecce Homo. My understanding of Nietzsche had been growing remarkably, as was, quite plainly, my understanding of philosophy–which I had been studying diligently and patiently for the past three years on my own–as I finished my undergraduate degree in history and began my graduate studies in theology.

Upon the heels of the two aforesaid works, I moved into Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science), one of Nietzsche’s celebrated masterpieces, and indeed it didn’t disappoint. At this time, I became good friends with a new co-worker who had just recently been hired at my place of employment. He had just finished his undergraduate degree in philosophy, and likewise had selfsame, subtle affinity for Nietzsche. Thus ensued long afternoons at our work place together, abiding our time wisely by discussing philosophical concepts whereof Nietzsche’s thought and doctrines were, true to form, deliberated upon with great enthusiasm by us both. Thence I moved into Nietzsche’s Menschliches allzu Menschliches (Human, All-Too Human) which served as a massive bridge and paradigmatic epiphany in my Nietzsche thinking (read my review here), and fused together years of my thought in such a way that I was wrestling with, grappling, and engaging with tough, core Nietzsche doctrines that I myself felt like I had a better grasp and understanding than most other people did–notwithstanding the fact that most people have not even read one lick of his written work.

More recently, I have read Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and The Case of Wagner, as well as two Nietzsche biographies (Nietzsche: A Critical Life, Nietzsche in Turin) and a book on Nietzsche doctrine (What Nietzsche Really Said). Also, his Untimely Meditations which is a compilation of four early Nietzschean essays of which one of them which is brilliant early Nietzsche (The Use and Abuse of History), and lastly, The Dawn of Day (Morgenröteor Daybreak, The Dawn). I also have recently finished the last of his major works translated in English, his posthumously published aphoristic note-compiled work, Will to PowerThus has concluded my reading of Nietzsche’s entire corpus (at least what is translated into English of his written works), but not my study of Nietzsche, and consequently, my reading and re-reading of him. With that being said, and in light of Tim Keller’s uncannily timed tweet which occurred three days after I went on my own twitter diatribe about why Christians need to read Nietzsche, I will hereby lay out ten reasons why we need to read more Fritz.

1. Nietzsche helps us doubt

While Nietzsche took the Pascal notion that doubt was synonymous with sin, “Christianity has done all it possibly could to draw a circle around itself, and has even gone so far as to declare doubt itself to be a sin” (Daybreak, 89), the Word makes it quite clear that doubt is not the same as unbelief. The latter is a sin, “help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24, c.f. Jn 16:9, Heb 3:12), whereas the former has been used by God as an instrument to propel some of the greatest men into the ministry such as Peter (Mt 14:31, Jn 18:15-27), Thomas (Jn 20: 24-29), Jeremiah (1:4-19), Moses (Ex 4:1), and many more. The idea is dialectical: lack of faith leads us to doubt; doubt leads us to realize our lack of faith; lack of faith leads us to cry out for more faith (Lk 17:5), which causes us to combat our doubt so we can more fully apprehend and take hold of Christ. We know existentially that we will never have an unwavering solidarity with our will, and in fact are conflicted in the realm of faith in contradistinction to doubt. But someone will say, what about James? wherein he writes,

“You must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (Jas 1:6-8).

Here we encounter the double minded (lit. double-souled, δίψυχος) man, the one of whom Bonhoeffer speaks of as well in his Ethics:

“A person is simple who in the confusion, the distortion, and the inversion of all concepts keeps in sight only the single truth of God. This person has an undivided heart, and is not a double-psyche, a person of two souls [c.f. Jas 1:8]” (Ethics, 81).

This person is one who does not question the basis of their actions necessarily on arbitrary distinctions that have been created only accidentally on the account of the fall, namely good and evil, but someone that transcends this knowledge by simply being of one mind, walking in the will of Christ. Bonhoeffer tells us that because of this disunion with the Unknown God and His creation, we have thereby set up for ourselves arbitrary distinctions like good and evil, sacred and profane, when these spheres are in fact accidental. Nietzsche tells us in his Beyond Good and Evil that “Everyone who is deep loves the mask . . . every profound spirit needs a mask” (Beyond Good and Evil, 40). This mask is necessary, says Bonhoeffer, because of the nature of ourselves as sinful beings who are now divided in will, for we no longer seek the things of God. Kierkegaard rightly so acknowledges this same fact, and realizes that no one can fully apprehend God objectively, and hence they must undergo a radical subjective infinite resignation whereby the subject believes on the strength of the absurd (Fear and Trembling): “If I want to keep myself in faith, I must continually see to it that I hold fast the objective uncertainty” (Concluding Unscientific Postscripts, 204). Kierkegaard said that it is the pure in heart and man of a whole mind to will one thing, yet rightly acknowledged that this was improbability and indeed illusory. Those who believe they are not conflicted are indeed most likely in despair (Sickness Unto Death), as they are consciously or unconsciously delusional.

While Nietzsche lusted after this transcendence and overcoming of good and evil and a revaluation of values hitherto known, we can be confident that this will ultimately be accomplished, as we put our hope in Christ, the Judge who will come and rectify the penultimate and finally fortify universal justice at His hand. So while we suffer hardship, toils, doubt, unbelief, feebleness, and despair, we can be confident that Christ will lead us from the penultimate to the ultimate, as we leap before we look (Kierkegaard), with His Word the final authority, that we have been elected in Him. We therefore conclude with Barth, who writes that “we may doubt, but it is in God we doubt” (Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 156).

2. Dialectical process to salvation

Although this was touched on briefly heretofore utilizing Kierkegaard as our standing ground, Barth helps us understand Nietzsche in a unique was as well. In his exegesis of the Epistle to the Romans, he speaks of salvation as a process of negation, a dialectic movement from negation to affirmation.

“It is the faithfulness of God which we encounter so inescapably in the prophet’s ‘No’ : God the Holy One, the altogether Other. It is the faith of men which we meet in the awe of those who affirm the ‘No’ and are ready to accept the voice and to move and tarry in negation. Where the faithfulness of God encounters the fidelity of men, there is manifested His righteous man live. This is the theme of the Epistle to the Romans” (Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 42).

3. Amor Fati (Phil 4:13)

Nietzsche came to his doctrine of Amor Fati slowly but carefully and assuredly. How can one embrace life–“If we affirm one single moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence” (Will to Power, 532)–and all of its sufferings–“‘Why suffer?’ Man, as the animal that is most courageous, most accustomed to suffering, does not negate suffering as such: he wants it, even seeks it out, provided one shows him some meaning in it, some wherefore of suffering. The meaningless of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse which hitherto lay spread out over mankind” (On a Genealogy of Morals, 28)–and not be reduced to the nihilism which Nietzsche tried so hard to combat? Nietzsche found his answer, in contradistinction to Schopenhauer’s negation of the will, in a wild and ecstatic Dionysian affirmation of life and the aesthetic ideal. This was tightly wrapped up in amor fati, which teaches us to affirm life in all of its givings regardless of our current situation of status.

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer” (The Gay Science, 276).

This, albeit of a qualitative difference, rings loudly in the exhortations of the Apostle Paul when he writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:11, 12).

4. Nietzsche extols the individual

Nietzsche’s sense of individualism and aesthetic creativity has still much to offer us. He was extremely critical of communistic/socialistic structures, and saw insanity a common thread throughout “the masses,” something that Plato saw as the “mob rule.”

5. Nietzsche praises aesthetic creativity

Nietzsche’s life giving affirmation in a Dionysian spirit was the foundation for his aesthetic ideal. He very much wanted art to flourish in the spirit of the Ancient Greeks or French/Italian Renaissance. The idea is not submitting to an ethical standard, but creating within yourself new ideals that are reflected in one’s art and approach to life as a “yea-sayer”. A Zarathustra light heartedness is needed, and an ironical gay science approach helps us to achieve these ends.

6. Nietzsche rails against free-will

Nietzsche was extremely critical of freewill, and in fact blatantly denies it opting instead for, as his progressive thought developed, Amor Fati. He saw all things as a necessity, and saw the embracing of this as beautiful, suffering included. This is closely tied into his doctrine of the eternal recurrence of all things.

“We do not blame nature when she sends a thunder storm and makes us wet: why then do we term the man who inflicts injury immoral? Because in the latter case we assume a voluntary, ruling, free will, and in the former necessity. But this distinction is a delusion” (Human, All To Human, 108).

Here Nietzsche can find some harmony with Calvin, and while it is “the Will to Power” that is moving and distributing to all things and not God’s decrees through primary and secondary causes—thereby still upholding moral responsibility—orchestrating a divine play for His glory, we nevertheless can find a lot of what Nietzsche says hard, and indeed something to grind our teeth on.

7. Nietzsche’s skepticism of deontological and utilitarian systems

Nietzsche ridiculed Kant—whom he called the “Chinaman of Konigsberg” —and Mill—whom he called a “blockhead,” and a “flathead” (The Will To Power, European Nihilism, 30), as he did the Germans and English respectively! Nevertheless, Nietzsche helps us to see the limits and shortfalls of deontological and utilitarian systems with prose that ignites as much as it does destroy. Nietzsche denied, as Mill states, that what motivates man is pleasure and an avoidance of pain, showing scores of examples where humans willingly subject themselves to pain for a different cause. Rather, Nietzsche saw the allure of power in what truly motivated people’s actions and intentions. We can learn a lot from this premise, at least of not for anything to show the limitations of human ethical systems. Here Bonhoeffer has much to offer us as well.

8. Nietzsche shows the limits of philosophy and as a corollary, theology

Nietzsche calls himself an anti-metaphysician more than once, and ridicules Kant’s phenomenal world and Plato’s forms. Indeed, he rails against the passive Christian mentality of his age where one passively waited for this life to pass away for their glory and just reward in the life hereafter! Anything that took away from our ability to say “yea” to life here and now he saw as decadent. While we must beware of extremes here, Nietzsche’s skepticism of ontology is not unwarranted, and we should take his philosophical accusations against metaphysics seriously before we begin to construct theology blindly or abstractly. Barth and Bonhoeffer here come into view, positing God as qualitatively different and wholly other (Kierkegaard), but made known at the theological Krisis of history when the Unknown God bridged the infinite gap between Himself and His creation. If Nietzsche was on to something, then perhaps so too where Barth and Bonhoeffer, when they began their theology Christologically.

9. Nietzsche ridicules materialism, nihilism, etc.

While it is wrong to assume that the summa of Nietzsche philosophy is solely negative, he does have affirmative positions in his thought, Nietzsche was a skeptic at heart. Included in his was atomism, materialism, scientism, evolution, nihilism and more. Nietzsche offers a healthy dose of the logical ramifications of much of what is ignorantly presupposed today without one iota of thought of the corollaries. Concerning this, for instance, is the lack of any ontological grounding for truth (perspectivism), morality (revaluation of all values), etc. Furthermore, Nietzsche was furiously critical of the overwhelming acceptance of Darwinism in the Scientific community which he saw as flawed, since higher species do not always flourish but sometimes are out-witted by lower species for various reasons. Moreover he did not see survival as the driving forces of life, but rather the will to power, which is much more dynamic and accountable thesis.

“Psychologists should bethink themselves before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength—life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent power thereof. In short, here, as everywhere else, let us beware of superfluous teleological principles!—one of which is the instinct of self-preservation. It is thus, in effect, that method ordains, which must be essentially economy of principles” (Beyond Good and Evil, Ch 1, Sec 13).

He rejected the dogmatic opinion of science, as he saw it merely as one perspective and not the sole authoritative monopoly on truth, and feared that science would become the new “Christianity”—just as blind and dogmatic. Alvin Plantinga’s “Where the Conflict Really Lies” comes nicely into view here. How often do we here scientists sneaking in philosophical subtleties into their theses’ and conclusions either knowingly or unknowingly, when they should know better that science observes natural phenomena and cannot inquire into metaphysics! Nietzsche was right, and every materialist should unequivocally know this.

10. Will to Power

Nietzsche knew all too well what the traditional Calvinist/Reformed dogma was of God’s eternal and secret predestination. Those who chide Nietzsche, for example in his understanding of Christianity, have a naive view of Fritz, who, given his pious Lutheran upbringing, had a seriously powerful command of Scripture, even after his departure from the faith at am early age.

“Paul conceived and Calvin followed up the idea that countless creatures have been predestined to damnation from time immemorial, and that this fair world was made in order that the glory of God might be manifested therein” (The Wanderer and His Shadow, 85).

It must be said then in point of fact, that those who try to ridicule the God of Calvinism by analogously comparing it to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, or his will to power, fail to do so, not because they misunderstand the God of Calvinism, but because they misunderstand Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and his will to power. Nietzsche loathed the God of the Bible, especially the God presented to him in Calvinism whose central motif was His glory. Hence, in point of fact, Nietzsche would in no wise construct anything analogous to it, and indeed he didn’t. Zarathustra was not an evolutionary ideal, but was Nietzsche’s conception of a new kind of human, one who transcended human constructs and ethical ideals. Zarathustra lives in lofty places, is passionate yet also is a solitary wanderer, and embraces aesthetics and suffering simultaneously (Dostoyevsky). He is not an end in himself (Ayn Rand), but rather a means whereby he can show mankind, or those daring enough to embark, the way to the übermench.

“I will make company with creators, with harvesters, with rejoicers: I will show them the rainbow and the stairway to the übermench” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, Section 9).

Nietzsche’s quip that he would only believe in a God who danced shows the distance from which he constructed his dancing prophet, Zarathustra, vis-à-vis Calvin’s God.

“Nietzsche, when he wildly and passionately rejected God, seems to have seen the issue [predestination] far more clearly than the thoughtless ‘direct’ believers who condemned him” (Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 349).

Those who line up Calvin’s God with Nietzsche’s Will to Power simply do injustice to Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Will to Power.

” Do you want a name for this world? A solution for all its riddles? A light for you, too, you best-concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men?–This world is the will to power–and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power–and nothing besides!” (The Will To Power, 550).

Nietzsche, far from setting up something analogous to Calvin’s God constructs his Will Power in the spirit of Amor Fati, which focuses on the subject, and the Will to Power as a life-giving source which seeks to distribute power at means and is not something to be equated to the conquest for power by utilizing brute force for pleasure, glory, or anything of the like.

The Will to Power is as creative as it is fatalistic, and in this regard obviously there are a lot of parallels to draw; namely, the necessity of suffering for one, and the total sovereignty of God as another. This is a rich well which we could draw lengthy and rich theological truths from.

“The more everything human—our good and evil, our belief and unbelief—becomes transparent as glass, the more pronouncedly do we—as we are seen and known by God—stand under His sovereignty and under the operation of His power” (Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 93).

In a word, as the penultimate nears the ultimate, as the dimly lit mirrors become more transparent, as we begin to finally see Him like He is, the more we will realize that we are wholly and completely under the operation of His power, as Barth terms it. And yet, while these distinctions still remain, it is our lot in life to suffer, endure, and persevere until the end.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil 1:29).

We would do well to see God as the Great Orchestrater of the Universe, and to not view ourselves as free to change our future, but as humble servants to accept it, for it has been granted to us from times eternal, and we do will to be content therewith (1 Tim 5:6-8).

Nietzsche has must to offer us, and not only us, but to the world. If you are new to Nietzsche, and are intimidated, let me offer you some primary guidance. The English speaking world only knew Nietzsche for a long time through two very faulty translations. Thanks in large part to the rigorous life-time work of Walter Kauffmann, we know can enjoy Nietzsche for scholarly work, as well as for pleasure, as Kaufmann rescued Fritz’s reputation in academia in the Anglo-American sphere. What I would suggest first, is that your translation be Kaufmann, Hollingdale, or the new Cambridge University series of Nietzsche translations which is making great strides in Nietzsche scholarship, through textual criticism of original autographs/published editions in the Nietzsche archives.

As far as where to start, I am loath to say this, but starting with Kauffmann’s “Nietzsche: Psychologist, Philosopher, Antichrist” might prove to be highly beneficial for those who lack an intellectual background of what backdrop Nietzsche is writing against. For those with a decent philosophical/theological/historical background, I would suggest getting a copy of Kauffmann’s translations in both series’ of Nietzsche’s works, namely, “The Basic Writings of Nietzsche,” and also, “The Portable Nietzsche.” Kauffmann has invaluable exegesis, commentary, and footnotes that will help the new reader navigate through Nietzsche’s thought with relative ease and maximum enjoyment. As far as order, I would suggest Nietzsche thus: 1. Beyond Good and Evil, 2. On the Genealogy of Morals, 3. The Gay Science, 4. Twilight of the Idols. The remainder of Nietzsche can be read in any order as the aforesaid four would lay a solid ground of the diversity and complexity of his thought and progression, albeit my favorite of Nietzsche’s works is “Human, All-Too Human” in both parts.


4 thoughts on “Why We Should Read More Nietzsche

  1. Although I would say we differ quite fundamentally overall philosophically, I will say that I appreciate your treatment of Nietzsche. It was very well put. I would also recommend reading Nietzsche in the order you recommended, though my favorite is Will to Power.

    • I appreciate your kind remarks; also, thank you for reading αδελφος μου! Nietzsche is dear to my heart. It is good to be able to engage in discussions like this.

  2. Nietzsche has a pervasive smell of must to offer us, and not only us, but to the world. As most of his deciples are apologists really, just because they can’t read German language and can’t understand the pathetic grandeur of 19th century European intellectuals, who couldn’t cope with the emerging societal change that they could foresee, but not control. Prémodern enlightenment shaped a view of social paradise, while theirs was lost. The Post-modern night-shift flipped the switch again, but there’s no return, only eternity.

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