Friday, March 25, 2011

Religion as Revenge: Nietzsche (5)

By further examining some specific moral virtues, it becomes clearer why Nietzsche’s hermeneutics of suspicion interpret Christian morality as slave morality and therefore why he disdains it as a ‘great curse’ and an ‘immortal blemish’ of humanity (The Gay Science, Book 5, S343).

For Nietzsche, justice and love (including, compassion, charity or pity) are ‘parallel expressions of the revenge of the resentful’ (Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p.252). Within slave morality, whilst distributive justice (equality) expresses the latent envy of those who have the least share, retributive justice (punishment) expresses an operative desire to be executioners. This is why Nietzsche has Zarathustra say, ‘[m]istrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful… the hangman and bloodhound look out of their faces. Mistrust all who talk much of their justice’ (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 2, Chapter 7). In their mouths, the word “justice” is ‘like poisonous spittle’ (On the Genealogy of Morals, Essay 3 S4).

Nietzsche’s comments on the dangers of eager moral judges raise the question of moral fanaticism, even of terrorism and fascism.
Nietzsche is easy to deal with when he can be treated as a proto-Fascist whose doctrine of the will to power portends Hitler. [But a]… more disturbing [suggestion is]… that the great gulf we have fixed between ourselves and fascism is largely wishful thinking… We would like to say that the fascists and the terrorists represent the distortion and misuse of the ideals of justice. Nietzsche’s reply is that those ideals are in essence, and not accidentally, moral distortions because of their origin in resentment. Probably nothing makes his case stronger than comparing the fascist Final Solution with the Christian Final Judgement (Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, pp.255-256).
In a similar way, love within slave morality is a virtue that expresses revenge. In any act of giving, we are able to demonstrate that we are ‘the more powerful’ and to experience ‘the taste of superiority.’ In ‘active gratitude,’ we enact ‘benevolent revenge.’ But the object of love, compassion, charity or pity experiences this as a form of ‘contempt’ (Daybreak, SS133-138), since, ‘[g]reat indebtedness does not make men grateful, but vengeful; and if a little charity is not forgotten, it turns into a gnawing worm’ (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 2, Chapter 3).

Within both justice and love, then, will to power within slave morality, ‘the will to power of the weakest’ (On the Genealogy of Morals, Essay 3 S14), expresses the repressed resentment that cannot otherwise find expression in a form of moral superiority. Nietzsche refers to this unconscious vengeful moral supremacy as Pharisaism, since Pharisees are ‘all men of ressentiment… a whole tremendous realm of subterranean revenge,’ who ‘walk among us as embodied reproaches’ (S14). In slave morality, ‘the good must be Pharisees – they have no choice,’ since their goodness depends on the evilness of others (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 3, S12.26). ‘Pharisaism is not a degeneration in a good man,’ Nietzsche writes, ‘a good deal of it is rather the condition of all being good’ (Beyond Good and Evil, S135). In slave morality, moral superiority is therefore inbuilt in the moral value “good.”

From biblical descriptions of Pharisees, it is not hard to see why Nietzsche uses this term to describe the moral superiority of slave morality. Think, for example, of the Pharisee who prays, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’ (who prays beside him in Luke 18:11).

Remembering that ‘[o]ne does not have to be a Pharisee in order to be a Pharisee’ (Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p.267), to what extent do our beliefs and practices unconsciously express moral superiority?

How close, then, do they lie to moral fanaticism and even fascism?

What happens to our manifest beliefs in forgiveness, salvation or love of neighbour, if our notions of “goodness” depend on latent comparisons with those whom we have first deemed “evil”? How can we forgive ‘those on whose wickedness [our] own goodness depends?’ (p.272)

Do we make virtues out of weakness and various forms of impotence? Do we mask fear and cowardice as obedience and humility?

If “God,” “morality,” “truth,” and other Christian “ascetic ideals” are nothing more than means to justify an unconscious desire for revenge...

...what happens to my faith?

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