Oct 23, 2021

Nietzsche and Nihilism

2 Min Read

Friedrich Nietzsche believed Christianity makes people weak and leads to the decline of society. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul describes the destructive “solution” to this problem posed by Nietzsche, the father of nihilism.

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Friedrich Nietzsche was a student of history and a student of 19th-century culture, and he began with a complaint against the chief characteristics of 19th-century European culture, which he described as being decadent. To be “decadent” means to be in a process of radical decay or corruption. Now, Nietzsche saw this decadence as being driven by the negative influence of the Christian church, because the Christian church posited certain values that Nietzsche was convinced would undermine and destroy the human spirit. For example, the ethic of Christianity stresses grace, and mercy, and pity. For Nietzsche, these so-called Christian virtues instill weakness into people and cause them to live in an unthinking and noncreative way, a way that sort of dwarfs the basic human spirit and destroys what the existentialists call “authentic human existence.” Nietzsche saw a necessary antidote for the survival of Western civilization, and for culture to reach its potential. First of all, what had to happen was that we had to get rid of this sentimental religion that blinded people from the reality of human existence as we find it. Nietzsche is often considered the modern father of nihilism. Nihilism basically has the creed that there are no eternal truths, there is no eternal purpose, and there is no ultimate meaning or significance to human existence. Then, in the final analysis, what we meet in life is what Nietzsche called “das nichts,” the nothingness—the nothingness of meaninglessness. There is no God, and because there is no God, there is no ultimate meaning to human life. And that’s what is meant by nihilism, or the nothingness of human experience. Now, his thought was formed in his college days, and he advocated an approach to existence called “biological heroism,” which was articulated in part in his most famous work in German Also Sprach Zarathustra or in English, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, who was the prophet of the age who declared the death of God. Now in this declaration of the death of God, Nietzsche described how this took place in two stages. He said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that originally there was a pantheon full of gods and goddesses, and Western civilization had a view of polytheism where you had a god for this and a god for that. And he said that what caused the death of all of the rest of the gods and ushered in monotheism was when this Jewish God stood up in the midst of the assembly of all of the deities and declared to the universe, “Thou shalt have no other gods besides me!” And he said, when this Jewish deity made that outrageous claim of exclusivity, that the rest of the gods broke out laughing, and they laughed so hard that they laughed themselves to death. And so, only one God was left, the God Yahweh. And, of course, this God then later succumbed, and his fatal illness (that which killed God, according to Nietzsche) was pity. “God is dead; He died of pity.” He died from this same weakness that has now been infected in Western culture. The response to this is to create a new existential humanity based on what he called “biological heroism.”