Kaufmann’s note points out that the German title of part three is “Das religiose Wesen.” “Wesen” is also the name of the monsters in the TV series Grimm. No doubt this is a deeply meaningful connection, particularly since the first paragraph of part three is a discussion of hunting in the wilderness.
Unlike the eponymous character in Grimm, however, Nietzsche is not hunting monsters who can disguise themselves as human beings while secretly preying upon us; he is hunting the truths about the human soul that science and religion alike have claimed to have access to. Unfortunately, Nietzsche finds this to be a lonely task:
it is proved to him [the hunter] again and again, thoroughly and bitterly, how helpers and hounds for all the things that excite his curiosity cannot be found. (45)
For that matter, most do not recognize the value of the search itself unless it is described in the proper way, which Nietzsche tells us with his usual sarcasm:
But a curiosity of my type remains after all the most agreeable of all vices—sorry, I meant to say: the love of truth has its reward in heaven and even on earth. (45)
Nietzsche’s method would appear to us to be an exploration of vice, so he catches himself and tells us that he’s searching for truth, which all agree to be a virtue.
Christianity’s explanation of the truth about mankind Nietzsche finds completely deficient, depending on which version of Christianity we’re talking about. The robust faith of Northern Europe, of “a Luther or a Cromwell,” Nietzsche thinks has more to do with genetics and culture than with any substance in their religion (46, 48). With that said, their faith lacks a certain delicacy that one finds in the southern parts of Europe (50). It is in these areas that Nietzsche thinks he sees the “faith” of the early Christians, which was a response to the genial elitist tolerance of Rome in the name of the oppressed classes. In Nietzsche’s view, Christianity is a slave religion designed to offend the powers-that-be in the name of those who are trod underfoot:
From the start, the Christian faith is a sacrifice: a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit; at the same time, enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation. (46)
This is the antithesis of what the ancient West valued and enshrines the worst and most depraved Oriental values—typified by the “god on the cross”—as an attempt to spit in the face of the condescension the haves have for the have-nots.
One observation that Nietzsche believes we can make about the religious impulse among mankind is that it always is attended by certain psychological and physiological aspects of the human being:
Wherever on earth the religious neurosis has appeared we find it tied to three dangerous dietary demands: solitude, fasting, and sexual abstinence. (47)
Nietzsche believes this fascination with the “saint” can be explained by our desire to see a reconciliation of otherwise opposite tendencies. In this man, we see the bad (the sinner) and the good (the pursuit of holiness) exist in succession. But rather than assuming that a miracle has occurred, Nietzsche suggests that a change in our language of good and evil would explain the miracle and remove the wonder, presumably leaving us free to properly observe something about human nature . . .
Even more, we see in the saint something of the potential greatness of man:
In short, the powerful of the world learned a new fear before him; they sensed a new power, a strange, as yet unconquered enemy—it was the “will to power” that made them stop before the saint. (51)
And so we might understand why an Attila would turn back in the face of a Leo (if we’re buying that particular story)—there is something powerful that seeps out of those who stand against all the primal urges we have as creatures and tell them “no.”
As should be clear, today’s reading is a scattering of observations about religion that taken together point in a specific direction. Namely,
1) That Christianity, and by extension all religions, is explicable by natural causes alone, without reference to the miraculous;
2) That modern philosophy and science (especially psychology and philology) are developing to the point where we are nearly ready to set Christian doctrine aside as untenable in any case;
3) That we must still account for the faculty or aspect or longing within man that desires something like Christianity (or any religion)—so long as we ignore this we will never be shed of the superstitions that oppress us;
4) There is hope that 3) will come to pass:
With the strength of his spiritual eye and insight grows distance and, as it were, the space around man: his world becomes more profound; ever new stars, ever new riddles and images become visible for him… Perhaps the day will come when the most solemn concepts which have caused the most fights and suffering, the concepts “God” and “sin,” will seem no more important to us than a child’s toy and a child’s pain seem to an old man . . . (57)
Which isn’t to say that our squabbling and suffering will be over, just that future generations will look at our current fighting over religion the way we look at the religious components between the wars of the ancient world—whether Bel or Zeus is more powerful to us hardly seems worthy of being mentioned during modern combat.
Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and cohost of the City of Man podcast.