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Posts Tagged ‘Nietzsche

Why Authenticity is Not the Highest Virtue

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Trevin Wax over at the Gospel Coalition has a great piece entitled, “Being True to Yourself is Living a Lie.”  The gist of the article is that much of pop culture today – everyone from Disney to Lady Gaga – is espousing that being true to oneself is the highest virtue.  He sites some of the following examples from Disney and Gaga:

  • Cinderella singing about her dreams and being true to her inner princess
  • Mulan refusing to fit into cultural stereotypes
  • Ariel longing for a world she wasn’t created for
  • Aladdin becoming the prince he pretended to be

Music only reinforces this message during the teenage years. For example, Lady Gaga’s anthem “Born This Way” celebrates our urgings and longings:

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

The underlying assumption here is that the highest virtue of life is authenticity to self.

Nietzsche, Disney and Lady Gaga

This kind of assumption has its roots in neither Disney films nor Lady Gaga’s music.  The roots of these assumptions are found in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche essentially espouses the most consistent (as consistent as anything can be within a framework that has no God and by corollary no Truth, no fixed axioms… etc.) atheistic system.  Nietzsche is one of the few atheists that actually says that morality is contingent on God’s existence.  For him, because God does not exist, neither does morality and morality is nothing but a human construction that is keeping humanity from evolving beyond humanity.  For Nietzsche, he wants humanity to shed itself of morality and embrace power and dominion over weaker humans.  Only when a few will be cruel and domineering over weaker humans (humans who still embrace morality, Truth… etc.) will humanity start the process of becoming like the overman (the overman is to humanity what humanity is to the apes – the next step in our evolutionary biology).  Here is the KEY – The key to embracing power… The key to rejecting morality and its chains… The key to evolving and walking the tightrope towards the overman… is AUTHENTICITY TO SELF.  (For more on this you can read a piece I wrote entitled – Why Nietzsche is Helpful for the Christian)

The Problem with Authenticity to Self

The big problem with authenticity to self is that we are children of Adam.  As children of Adam, being authentic to ourselves means we should embrace all our sin patterns and call them good and healthy.  What happens if we apply the lyrics of the Lady Gaga song to the man who is attracted to little boys or girls?

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

What happens if we apply these lyrics is that pedophilia is not only not wrong, it is rather virtuous and good – for I am merely exercising my authenticity to my personhood as a son of Adam.  Margaret Sanger was just being authentic to her feeling that certain races and genetic material was inferior and therefore ought to be prevented from birth or eliminated from the womb.  Hitler was just being authentic to his extreme hatred in his heart for the Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.  Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez, Albert Fish, Ted Bundy, and the Zodiac were all just expressing on the canvas of the murdered bodies their authentic personhood as sons of Adam.

Calling all the sinful, disobedient, law-breaking, twisted and harmful desires of our heart good is not just unhealthy it is dangerous to society, the thriving of culture and the reality of the Gospel.

The Good News

The good news is authenticity is a virtue in the new life we have when we are adopted into Christ’s family.  We are given the mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit, God’s book, and a community of people to grow and flourish.  Authenticity means living in light of being no longer a son of Adam but a son of the King – one who has been set free from the mind of sin and death and is free to become a slave of Christ.

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Nietzsche vs. Christianity: Part 3

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Lecture 3 focused on four things:  1.  The intellectual backdrop to Nietzsche  2.  Nietzsche’s 3 main objections to Christianity  3.  Nietzsche’s positive affirmations in place of Christianity  4.  The Nietzschean Catechism.  Audio is available here.

I.  Intellectual Backdrop

19th century Western (Continental) Europe was unkind to Christianity.  Some of the major works floating around were:

The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin

Replaces need for God in cosmology

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Inherently atheistic

On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers by Friedrich Schleiermacher

Book basically splits Protestantism in two

Origins of the History of Christianity by Ernest Renan

The New Testament is essentially myth.  This revisionist history was seminal in classic liberalism and influential in the later Jesus Seminar.

The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig von Feuerbach

Christianity is superstition that will soon be replaced by humanism

The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud

Humanity has invented God and this delusion is a kind of mental illness.

Prolegomena to the History of Israel by Julius Wellhausen

Wellhausen espouses that the first five books of the Old Testament were not written by Moses but by editors from four schools of thought.  A flood of Bible criticism followed Wellhausen.  Tubingen.

History of Materialism and Critique of its Present Importance by Friedrich Lange

Atomistic Materialism and Darwinism.

II.  3 OJECTIONS:

1.  Intellectually impossible (this is assumed a priori without argumentation)

2.  It demeans humanity (herd mentality, Dionysianism…)

3.  Its morality is fatal to life (slave morality, Dionysianism…)

Nietzsche is more concerned with assessing the damage that Christianity has done rather than tearing it apart limb from limb.  Nature was determinant and all metaphysics are to be rejected.

III.  Nietzsche’s Positive Affirmations

1.  Be a free-spirit

2.  Be curious

3.  Be nomadic (as well as will to power, master morality…)

IV.  The Nietzschean Catechsim

Nietzsche ends book 3 of The Gay Science with 8 hypothetical questions and answers (see page 142):

1.  What makes one heroic?

To approach at the same time one’s highest suffering and one’s highest hope

2.  What do you believe in?

In this, that the weights of all things must be determined anew.

3.  What does your conscience say?

You should become who you are.

4.   Where lie your greatest dangers?

In compassion

5.  What do you love in others?

My hopes

6.  Whom do you call bad?

He who always wants to put people to shame

7.  What is most human to you?

To spare someone shame

8.  What is the seal of having become free?

No longer to be ashamed before oneself.

Nietzsche vs. Christianity: Introduction

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Earlier this spring, I taught a course with the Encore program at NC State University entitled Nietzsche vs. Christianity.  In case any of you who were in the course (or who weren’t) wanted the audio or lecture outlines…  I will post those here.

The outline of the course is as follows:

I.  Nietzschean Thought

II.  Christian Thought

III.  Nietzsche’s Objections to Christianity

IV.  Christianities’ Response to Nietzschean Objections

V.  A Potential Synthesis… and Talking Points

VI.  Collision DVD

Written by Michael Graham

April 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Christopher Hitchens Has a Christian Brother, Peter Hitchens

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I recently taught a class on Nietzsche and Christianity.  I showed a film called Collision on the final day of class.  The film follows three public debates between Reformed Pastor Douglas Wilson and prominent writer/atheist Christopher Hitchens.  I had a student in my class who grew up with J.R.R. Tolkien, and many of the other Inklings.  He also knew Peter Hitchens, the brother of Christopher Hitchens, and former atheist turned Christian.  I was poking around Doug Wilson’s blog recently and came across this video.

Apparently, Peter has written a book analyzing the New Atheists entitled, The Rage Against God.  It looks interesting.  Daily Mail has an excellent read chronicling Peter and Christopher’s relationship.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 6: “Post-Modernism”

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Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty: If you don't understand him, you probably don't understand "post-modernism" either...

Perhaps you have had an experience like this one:  You are talking with someone about your personal beliefs.   After explaining your story and worldview they respond with something to the effect of, “that is so good for you,” or “I am glad you have that.”

Perhaps you have had another experience like this one:  You are at a church, or a conference, or some other Christian meeting and the speaker has talked about the importance of understanding “post-modernism.”  I have heard some form of this talk probably a dozen times and never has the speaker ever hit the nail on the head.

This blog post will attempt to sort out Evangelicalism’s imprecise analysis of culture and philosophy on the matter of “post-modernism”

Post-modernism “explained”

Post-modernism is a reaction against the arrogance of modernism and the Enlightenment Project.  Modernism and the Enlightenment Project attempted to create a perfect worldview through pure reason alone.  Suffice to say this project was a dismal failure and imploded in the late 19th century.  This created an intellectual vacuum in Western thinking and the main thing that replaced it was an equal and opposite reaction to modernisms’s hubris.  Post-modern thought rejects foundations;  it is skeptical of overarching stories and worldviews; it says that truths are merely local and not universal.  The problem with post-modernism and defining the term is that  post-modernity rejects definitions, rejects categories, rejects foundations, and rejects Truth.  Hence, the philosophy is best understood as a reaction against modernism and requires modernism to exist in the same way a tick requires a host.

All to common example

One such example was a kind 70+ year old professor during my time at seminary.  The man had incredible ministry experience yet was sorely off in his cultural and philosophical analysis.  For several weeks he used modern categories and terms to describe post-modern thought.  The underlying irony was that he was attempting to explain as a slightly modernistic outside observer what an entire class of slightly post-modern inside participants had experienced their whole lives.

What is wrong with the analysis [Besides the face that almost every time anyone says, “Post-modernism is ________,” they are being reductionistic… ]

I do not believe we are in a post-modern culture!

I have talked to hundreds of people who have many different worldviews.  I have talked to people in several countries, on three continents (including Western Europe).  Christians love to label “Post-modern” as some kind of catch all.  It is dangerous to assume that post-modernism can be considered a “worldview.”   It is dangerous because it can be best seen as a rejection of worldviews, even though Christians continue to call it a worldview.  Lots of people I talk to are scientific rationalists.  Lots of people I talk to are pragmatists.  Lots of people I talk to are inspired by Eastern thought.  Some of the people I talk to borrow from all of the above – these are the people that we have incorrectly labeled “post-moderns.”  Let me repeat:

Post-modernism is not a stand alone philosophy. Christians have completely mislabeled and misunderstood this philosophical undercurrent.

What you need to be studying is the philosophy of Richard Rorty.

Post-modernism is a critique of modernism and is not a standalone worldview.  However, Richard Rorty took the post-modern skepticism and married it to another philosophy:  pragmatism.  Rorty was a philosophy professor at Yale (1956-57), Army (57-58), Wellesley (58-61), Princeton (61-82), Virginia (82-98), and Stanford (98-2005).  Here is a brief outline of Rorty’s thought:

1.  Propositions are true if they are helpful, and not because they have a one-to-one relationship with facts.

2.  Language is a game, because words are defined by other words, which are defined by other words, which are often defined by the original word in question (heavily borrowing from later Wittgenstein and post-structuralism)

3.  All language is contingent.  There is no link between language and reality.

4.  Therefore, Truth is incoherent and pointless.  No Final Vocabulary exists (Rorty’s way of denying the existence of absolute truth)

5.  The ideal person is the ironist – a person who:  1. skeptical of final vocabulary  2. Argument within ones current vocabulary cannot dissolve such skepticism  3.  As they philosophize about their situation they do not think that their vocabulary is somehow closer to reality than others.  People that have exhibited these traits according to Rorty – Nietzsche, Foucault, Heidegger, Proust, and Derrida.

6.  Final vocabulary leads to cruelty, therefore it must be rejected.

7.  What is true is what works.  What works is what is true.

Richard Rorty has blended post-modernism with pragmatism, in what I call post-modern-pragmatism.    This is what well-meaning Christians have been trying to explain but been unable to have the correct taxonomy.  Is everyone in America a post-modern-pragmatist?  absolutely not (and I am not sure why so many call ‘our culture’ post-modern).  Is there a trend towards the ideas of Rorty in Western Europe and the United States?  In my view, yes.

The tricky thing about post-modern-pragmatism is that it does not need to be true for people to desire it and adhere to it – it merely needs to “work for them.”  Revisiting the conversation I have had countless times from the beginning of this post – these people are espousing the ideas of Richard Rorty.  The whatever-works-for-you worldview is post-modern-pragmatism and not post-modern thought.

Christians have been unable to deconstruct post-modern-pragmatism because they have mislabeled it and been applying the wrong arguments against it.  The glaring weakness in Rorty’s (and any post-structuralist) thinking is that it is still subversively is appealing to Final Vocabulary in order to deconstruct Final Vocabulary.  In other words, his argument is still essentially:

There is no truth, besides this one.

Post-modern-pragmatism is essentially a bait-and-switch.  Worldviews have always been judged on two criteria:  is it true?  AND  does it work?  Rorty attempted to make those two separate questions, one single question by defining the two terms circularly as being synonymous with the other.  It is a diabolical yet ultimately silly philosophy.  The reason it is so powerful is that people employ this philosophy to justify their mutually exclusive beliefs and sin.  When confronted with the fact that they hold mutually exclusive beliefs they respond, “that’s ok, it works for me.”

I believe the central reason why evangelicals have missed the target by so far on “post-modernism” is because evangelicals are intellectually lazy.  Further, this laziness is always seeking to pigeon hole the many ideas and many cultures of a massive country into a really small box that they can then apply assembly line tools to fix (modernism still rears its ugly head in the evangelical).  Moving forward, evangelicals need to be more precise and more rigorous in understanding cultural and philosophical trends and ideas.  Up next  we will examine how evangelicals have done this, why they have done it, and what we need to do instead.

(if you care to read Rorty for yourself, the best summary of his thought is his book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity)

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 5

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Evangelical Populist Game Plan

Evangelical Populist Game Plan

Protestantism split in two, and the Fundamentalist branched morphed into evangelicalism in the mid-to-late 20th century. Broadly speaking, evangelicalism has always been a mixture of two sub-groups:  populist and reformed.

The populist group is comprised mainly of the groups who were largely supportive of the revivalist practices of the Great Awakenings.  The populist evangelicals would include broadly speaking most Baptists, Dispensationalists (large overlap with Baptists), and other difficult to categorize groups like Focus on the Family, Liberty University, DL Moody (the person and the institution), Billy Graham, the Christian Right and Campus Crusade for Christ and other Parachurch ministries.

The Reformed group was much smaller, comprised mainly of conservative Presbyterian denominations and a handful of Particular/Reformed Baptists. The Reformed group was rather quiet during this period.  The Presbyterians were by-and-large dealing with internal conflicts resulting from some sub-groups going liberal (see this chart to look at the history).

The evangelical populist group had more of an outward impact, but not necessarily for the better.  The populist group abandoned cultural transformation in academia, the arts, media, and other realms, yet embraced involvement in the political arena.  Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, Robert Grant’s founded Christian voice, Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition, and James Dobson threw his weight around with Focus on the Family.   The net result was the broad formation of the Christian Right.  At first glance, it seems strange that the evangelical populists would elect to disengage from all but one cultural arena.  However, the premises behind the strategy are simple:

1.  America has always been a Christian nation with a manifest destiny

2.  Influence flows from top down

3.  Politics is at the top of American culture and exerts the most power over the culture

4.  America has a clear cultural center and that center is politics

5.  Politics is the horse that pulls the cart of American culture

6.  Because politics is influential and drives culture, and politics lies at the center of American culture… Politics is the best investment for cultural engagement for evangelical influence.

There are other reasons also for this engagement, for example, Dispensationalisms’ influence strongly encourages Zionism, which inherently involves political engagement.  The problem with the evangelical populist’s game plan is that most (or some would argue, all) of its premises are incorrect.  In my estimation, influence is always a both/and combination of power exerted top-down and individuals working grassroots bottom-up.  In my estimation, America has no coherent cultural center, instead rather hundreds of overlapping sub-cultures of varying sizes and influences.  In my estimation, politics follows the culture, not vice versa.  The evangelical populist political gameplan was steeped in modernistic assumptions about culture combined with a Nietzschean view of power.  Further, I am not sure who has been exerting influence over who, the Christian Right or the GOP?

Up next, a look at the last two decades and the resurgence of the Reformed group within evangelicalism…

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