Nietzsche’s Jesus

“. . . . he had denied any chasm between God and man, he lived this unity of God and man as his ‘glad tidings’ . . . .”

“One sees what came to an end with the death on the Cross: a new, an absolutely primary beginning to a Buddhistic peace movement, to an actual and not merely promised happiness on earth.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (translated by R. J. Hollingdale): in the following seven sections, Nietzsche develops his vision (reinterpretation) of Jesus Christ:


What I am concerned with is the psychological type of the redeemer. For it could be contained in the Gospels in spite of the Gospels, however much mutilated and overloaded with foreign traits: as that of Francis of Assisi is contained in the legends about him in spite of the legends. Not the truth about what he did, what he said, how he really died: but the question whether his type is still conceivable at all, whether it has been ‘handed down’ by tradition. — The attempts I know of to extract even the history of a ‘soul’ from the Gospels seem to me proofs of an execrable psychological frivolity. Monsieur Renan, that buffoon in psychologics, has appropriated for his explication of the type Jesus the two most inapplicable concepts possible in this case: the concept of the genius and the concept of the hero. But if anything is unevangelic it is the concept hero. Precisely the opposite of all contending, of all feeling oneself in struggle has here become instinct: the incapacity for resistance here becomes morality (‘resist not evil!’: the profoundest saying of the Gospel, its key in a certain sense), blessedness in peace, in gentleness, in the inability for enmity. What are the ‘glad tidings’? True life, eternal life is found — it is not promised, it is here, it is within you: as life lived in love, in love without deduction or exclusion, without distance. Everyone is a child of God — Jesus definitely claims nothing for himself alone — as a child of God everyone is equal to everyone else. . . . To make a hero of Jesus! — And what a worse misunderstanding is the word ‘genius’! Our whole concept, our cultural concept  ‘spirit’ had no meaning whatever in the world Jesus lived in. To speak with the precision of the physiologist a quite different word would rather be in place here: the word idiot. We recognize a condition of morbid susceptibility of the sense of touch which makes it shrink back in horror from every contact, every grasping of a firm object. Translate such physiological habitus [i.e., condition] into its ultimate logic — as instinctive hatred of every reality, as flight into the ‘ungraspable’, into the ‘inconceivable’, as antipathy towards every form, all that is custom, institution, Church, as being at home in a world undisturbed by reality of any kind, a merely ‘inner’ world, a ‘real’ world, an ‘eternal’ world. . . . ‘The kingdom of God is within you‘ . . .


Instinctive hatred of reality: consequence of an extreme capacity for suffering and irritation which no longer wants to be ‘touched’ at all because it feels every contact too deeply.

Instinctive exclusion of all aversion, all enmity, all feeling for limitation and distancing: consequence of an extreme capacity for suffering and irritation which already feels all resisting, all need for resistance, as an unbearable displeasure (that is to say harmful, as deprecated by the instinct of self-preservation) and knows blessedness (pleasure) only in no longer resisting anyone or anything, neither the evil nor the evil-doer — love as the sole, as the last possibility of life . . .

There are two physiological realities upon which, out of which the doctrine of redemption has grown. I call it a sublime further evolution of hedonism on a thoroughly morbid basis. Closest related to it, even if with a considerable addition of Greek vitality and nervous energy, is Epicureanism, the redemption doctrine of the pagan world. Epicurus a typical decadent: first recognized as such by me. — The fear of pain, even of the infinitely small in pain — cannot end otherwise than in a religion of love . . .


I have anticipated my answer to the problem. Its presupposition is that the type of the redeemer has been preserved to us only in a very distorted form. That this distortion should have occurred is in itself very probable: there are several reasons why such a type could not remain pure, whole, free of accretions. The milieu in which this strange figure moved must have left its mark upon him, as must even more the history, the fate of the first Christian community: from this the type was retrospectively enriched with traits which become comprehensible only with reference to warfare and the aims of propaganda. That strange and sick world to which the Gospels introduce us — a world like that of a Russian novel, in which refuse of society, neurosis and ‘childlike’ idiocy seem to make a rendezvous — must in any case have coarsened the type: the first disciples in particular had to translate a being immersed entirely in symbols and incomprehensibilities into their own crudity in order to understand anything of it at all — for them such a type could not exist until it had been reduced to more familiar forms. . . . The prophet, the Messiah, the judge who is to come, the moral preacher, the miracle worker, John the Baptist — so many opportunities for misunderstanding the type. . . . Finally, let us not underestimate the proprium [i.e., characteristic] of all extreme, and in particular sectarian veneration: it extinguishes the original often painfully unfamiliar traits and idiosyncrasies in the revered being — it even fails to see them. One has to regret that no Dostoyevsky lived in the neighborhood of this most interesting décadent; I mean someone who could feel the thrilling fascination of such a combination of the sublime, the sick and the childish. One final viewpoint: [. . . .] I myself have no doubt that [a] plentiful measure of gall (and even of espirit) has only overflowed on to the type of the Master out of the excited condition of Christian propaganda: for one knows very well how resolutely all sectarians adjust their Master into an apologia of themselves. When the first community had need of a censuring theologian to oppose the theologians they created their ‘God’ according to their requirements: just as they unhesitatingly put into his mouth those totally unevangelic concepts which they could not do without, ‘Second Coming’, ‘Last Judgment’, every kind of temporal promise and expectation. —


I resist, to repeat it, the incorporation of the fanatic into the type of the redeemer: the word impérieux alone which Renan employs already annuls the type. The ‘glad tidings’ are precisely that there are no more opposites; the kingdom of Heaven belongs to children; the faith which here finds utterance is not a faith which has been won by struggle — it is there, from the beginning, it is as it were a return to childishness in the spiritual domain. The occurrence of retarded puberty undeveloped in the organism as a consequence of degeneration is familiar at any rate to psychologists.  — Such a faith is not angry, does not censure, does not defend itself: it does not bring ‘the sword’ — it has no idea to what extent it could one day cause dissention. It does not prove itself, either by miracles or by rewards and promises, and certainly not ‘by the Scriptures’:  it is every moment its own miracle, its own reward, its own proof, its own ‘kingdom of God’. Neither does this faith formulate itself — it lives, it resists formulas. Chance, to be sure, determines the environment, the language, the preparatory schooling of a particular configuration of concepts: primitive Christianity employs only Judeo-Semitic concepts (– eating and drinking at communion belong here, concepts so sadly abused, like everything Jewish, by the Church). But one must be careful not to see in this anything but a sign-language, a semeiotic, an occasion for metaphors. It is precisely on condition that nothing he says is taken literally that this anti-realist can speak at all. Among Indians he would have made use of Sankhyam concepts, among Chinese those of Lao-tse — and would not have felt the difference. — One could, with some freedom of expression, call Jesus a ‘free spirit’ — he cares nothing for what is fixed: the word killeth, everything fixed killeth. The concept, the experience ‘life’ in the only form he knows it is opposed to any kind of word, formula, law, faith, dogma. He speaks only of the inmost thing: ‘life’ or ‘truth’ or ‘light’ is his expression for the inmost thing — everything else, the whole of reality, the whole of nature, language itself, possesses for him merely the value of a sign, a metaphor. — On this point one must make absolutely no mistake, however much Christian, that is to say ecclesiastical prejudice, may tempt one to do so: such a symbolist par excellence stands outside of all religion, all conceptions of divine worship, all history, all natural science, all experience of the world, all acquirements, all politics, all psychology, all books, all art — his ‘knowledge’ is just the pure folly of the fact that anything of this kind exists. He has not so much as hear of culture, he does not need to fight against it — he does not deny it. . . . The same applies to the state, to society and the entire civic order, to work, to war — he never had reason to deny ‘the world’. . . . Denial is precisely what is totally impossible for him. — Dialectics are likewise lacking, the idea is lacking that a faith, a ‘truth’ could be proved by reasons (– his proofs are inner ‘lights’, inner feelings of pleasure and self-affirmations, nothing by ‘proofs by potency’ –). Neither can such a doctrine argue: it simply does not understand that other doctrines exist, can exist, it simply does not know how to imagine an opinion contrary to its own. . . . Where it encounters one it will, with the most heartfelt sympathy, lament the ‘blindness’ — for it sees the ‘light’ — but it will make no objection . . .


In the entire psychology of the ‘Gospel’ the concept of guilt and punishment is lacking; likewise the concept reward. ‘Sin’, every kind of distancing relationship between God and man, is abolished — precisely this is the ‘glad tidings’. Blessedness is not promised, it is not tied to any conditions: it is the only reality — the rest is signs for speaking of it . . .

The consequence of such a condition projects itself into new practice, the true evangelic practice. It is not a ‘belief’ which distinguishes the Christian: the Christian acts, he is distinguished by a different mode of acting. Neither by words nor in his heart does he resist the man who does him evil. He makes no distinction between foreigner and native, between Jew and non-Jew (‘one’s neighbor’ is properly one’s co-religionist, the Jew). He is not angry with anyone, does not disdain anyone. He neither appears in courts of law nor claims their protection (‘not swearing’). Under no circumstances, not even in the case of proved unfaithfulness, does  he divorce his wife. — All fundamentally one law, all consequences of one instinct. —

The life of the redeemer was nothing else than this practice — his death too was nothing else. . . . He no longer required any formulas, any rites for communicating with God — not even prayer. He has settled his accounts with the whole Jewish penance-and-reconciliation doctrine; he knows that it is through the practice of one’s life that one feels ‘divine’, ‘blessed’, ‘evangelic’, at all times a ‘child of God’. It is not ‘penance’, not ‘prayer for forgiveness’ which leads to God: evangelic practice alone leads to God, it is God!  — What was abolished with the Evangel was the Judaism of the concepts ‘sin’, ‘forgiveness of sin’, ‘faith’, ‘redemption by faith’ — the whole of Jewish ecclesiastical teaching was denied in the ‘glad tidings’.

The profound instinct of how one would have to live in order to feel oneself ‘in Heaven’, to feel oneself ‘eternal’, while in every other condition one by no means feels oneself ‘in Heaven’: this alone is the psychological reality of ‘redemption’. — A new way of living, not a new belief . . .


If I understand anything of this great symbolist it is that he took for realities, for ‘truths’, only inner realities — that he understood the rest, everything pertaining to nature, time, space, history, only as signs, as occasion for metaphor. The concept ‘the Son of Man’ is not a concrete person belonging to history, anything at all individual or unique, but an ‘eternal’ fact, a psychological symbol freed from the time concept. The same applies supremely to the God of this typical symbolist, to the ‘kingdom of God’, to the ‘kingdom of Heaven’, to ‘God’s children’. Nothing is more un-Christian than the ecclesiastical crudities of a God as a person, of a ‘kingdom of God’ which comes, of a ‘kingdom of Heaven’ in the Beyond, of a ‘Son of God’, the second person in the Trinity. All this — forgive the expression — a fist in the eye — oh in what an eye! — of the Gospel: world-historical cynicism in the mockery of symbolism. . . . But it is patently obvious what is alluded to in the symbols ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ — not patently obvious to everyone, I grant: in the word ‘Son’ is expressed the entry into the collective feeling of the transfiguration of all things (blessedness), in the word ‘Father’ this feeling itself, the feeling of perfection and eternity. — I am ashamed to recall what the Church has made of this symbolism: has it not set an Amphitryon story at the threshold of Christian ‘faith’? And a dogma of ‘immaculate conception’ into the bargain? . . . But it has thereby maculated conception —

The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is a condition of the heart — not something that comes ‘upon the earth’ or ‘after death’. The entire concept of natural death is lacking in the Gospel: death is not a bridge, not a transition, it is lacking because it belongs to quite another world, a merely apparent world useful only for the purpose of symbolism. The ‘hour of death’ is not a Christian concept — the ‘hour’, time, physical life and its crises, simply do not exist for the teacher of the ‘glad tidings’. . . . The ‘kingdom of Heaven’ is not something one waits for; it has no yesterday or tomorrow, it does not come ‘in a thousand years’ — it is an experience within a heart; it is everywhere, it is nowhere . . .


This ‘bringer of glad tidings’ died as he lived, as he taughtnot to ‘redeem mankind’ but to demonstrate how one ought to live. What he bequeathed to mankind is his practice: his bearing before the judges, before the guards, before the accusers and every kind of calumny and mockery — his bearing on the Cross. He does not resist, he does not defend his rights, he takes no steps to avert the worst that can happen to him — more, he provokes it. . . . And he entreats, he suffers, he loves with those, in those who are doing evil to him. His words to the thief on the Cross contain the whole Evangel. ‘That was verily a divine man, a child of God!’ — says the thief. ‘If thou feelest this’ — answers the redeemer — ‘thou art in Paradise, thou art a child of God.’ Not to defend oneself, not to grow angry, not to make responsible. . . . But not to resist even the evil man — to love him . . .

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