Nietzsche and Islam II
“I want to live among Muslims for a good long time, especially where their faith is most devout: in this way I expect to hone my appraisement and my eye for all that is European” (Friedrich Nietzsche, 13 March 1881)
After writing my previous post, Nietzsche and Islam, I came across an academic book with the same title, written by Dr Roy Ahmad Jackson. In it, Jackson sets out to determine why Nietzsche — the ‘great atheist’ — ‘felt inclined to be so generous towards Islam’. His conclusions, which are based on Nietzsche’s own words, are not too dissimilar from that presented in my short post. I argued that Nietzsche aligned himself with Islam as part of his attack on the ‘life-denying’ aspects of Christianity. However, after reading Jackson’s book, I would like to add a little bit of nuance to this.
It is true that Nietzsche was critical of Christianity, and that he used Islam to attack (what he considered to be) the passivity of this ‘woman’s religion’. However, Jackson dispels two myths concerning Nietzsche’s religiosity. Firstly, as I have already emphasized, ‘contrary to many perceptions on the matter, Friedrich Nietzsche is not the standard bearer for atheism. In fact, […] both the man and his philosophy are imbued with a deep religiosity’. Indeed, as the essayist Erich Heller has put it, ‘He is, by the very texture of his soul and mind, one of the most radically religious natures that the nineteenth century brought forth’.
The second myth that Jackson dispels is that of Nietzsche’s anti-Christianity — or perhaps more accurately, the myth of Nietzsche’s animosity toward Christ:
Nietzsche himself made a clear distinction between Christianity and the figure of Christ, the latter he regarded as a ‘higher man’ who questioned the morals of his time. Jesus, according to Nietzsche, challenged priestly authority and attacked the ‘Jewish church’ as a corrupt and self-preserving organisation whose theology was geared to enhance its own power, whereas the message Jesus decreed was that the kingdom of heaven was not some distant possibility, but rather a present reality
And according to Alistair Kee:
[Nietzsche] was not offended by the man Jesus, but by the degenerate Christ as constructed by the herd. Here he is not alienated by the possibility of theism, but by “monoto-theism”, that deadly boring God who is worshipped by those who themselves have never affirmed life
To affirm life you cannot wait for the hereafter. At the very least, heaven and hell exist as a motivation to do good now, to be steadfast and mindful. Biding your time in this life in preparation for the next defeats the purpose of belief. This listlessness is at the root of acedia (better known as the deadly sin of sloth), which, according to the monastic tradition (in which this was a particular issue), is ‘the most troublesome of all’ the deadly sins.