Sunday, April 11, 2010

Marx and Nietzsche: Christianity as the disease of man

One aspect of philosophy I really enjoy is the connections and similarities of philosophers and philosophies. These similarities or connections are more common in parallel strains of philosophy, but can also crop up in starkly different philosophies. One such similarity is the perspective of Christianity as a disease that infects human kind and that limits and restrains them.

Marx and Nietzsche, while focusing on very different things in their works, share in common their mistrust of Christianity, and their opinion of its deleterious effects. Marx focuses on the universal, on the class struggle, while Nietzsche is concerned with the individual. Marx finds Christianity to be an ensnaring illusion which propagates capitalism, while Nietzsche views Christianity as a vengeful reordering of values. When viewed side by side, Marx’s and Nietzsche’s views of Christianity illuminate certain similarities that stand out amongst their slight dissimilarities.

Marx primarily views Christianity as a trap that tricks people into willingly falling into it. The Christian bible encourages subservience through teachings such as “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”, and “turn the other cheek”. A core concept of the bible is that there is an afterlife in which the immortal souls of people will be rewarded or punished according to how they acted during their life. Teachings such as these discourage revolution, in part because of morally dubious acts that revolutions involve like killing and “stealing” of property, and partly because the importance of what one has during their life is significantly less if there is much greater rewards in an afterlife. The ultimate consequence of these teachings is that the lower classes are repressed by their own hand and refuse to rise up and free themselves.

Nietzsche views Christianity as the perfection, the final fruition, of the vengeful inversion of values instigated by the Jews. Nietzsche writes “from the trunk of that tree of vengefulness and hatred… capable of creating ideals and reversing values… grew something equally incomparable, a new love, the profoundest and sublimest kind of love.”(34) In the metaphor he uses the vengeful hate of the Jews as a trunk, and Christianity is a crown of the trunk that spreads out into the light seducing people like the trunk of hate could never do. Nietzsche claims that Jesus of Nazareth is the bypass through which the vengeful hate is fulfilled. He claims that Jesus is the incarnation of love, the redeemer, the savior of the weak and of the sinners; the irresistible seduction, the bate that lures people in.

In viewing these two perspectives of Christianity side by side the differences become apparent, but the similarities are also flushed out. Both Marx and Nietzsche have a strong dislike of Christianity, but I think that for Nietzsche the problem of Christianity is much more central, acute, and pernicious. Marx sees Christianity as one element that promotes capitalism, one issue among many. However, for Nietzsche Christianity is representative of the central problem, the inversion of values, the root of the problem, the perfection of the vengeful hate.

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