This book is written for the higher men, who might not yet exist. Whoever will read it needs to be hard, used to solitude, and equipped with new ears, new eyes, and a new conscience to bear truths that have never before been articulated.
The text begins by denouncing the present age for the insipidity of its moderate virtues. In contrast, the new man understand the good as that which augments the feeling of power, evil as weakness, happiness as the feeling of resistance overcome. Christianity, with its pity for the weak, must be overcome.
The question, then, is what sort of new man must be bred or willed as most valuable. Progress will not bring inevitably the desirable future. On occasion, it breeds something higher, but, on the whole, the modern man falls much below the Renaissance man in worth. Christianity has waged war against the higher man. The virtues and understandings of good and evil it promotes are signs of “decadence.”
Pity is the technic of nihilism; it makes suffering contagious. It thwarts evolution by preserving the weak, and encourages denial of life in favor of another world. The theologians are the greatest perpetrators of these perverse values, though theologians, of course, also include traditional philosophers. The Germans above all are guilty of this; that is why they welcome Kant so gratefully. He allowed faith to continue by making the other world no longer refutable, even if not actually provable. The theological instinct is the instinct for faith. Faith is faulty vision.
Nietzsche then goes on to critique Kant’s notion of the categorical imperative as life denying. The true virtue, he claims, is judged by the amount of pleasure it brings. Kant’s universal virtue turns the actor into an automaton, an idiot. And yet, this paradigm still holds. All free spirits are persecuted. They have the entire world in opposition to their notions of good and truth. For all of their superiority, though, they are much more humble. They recognize man as an animal – the sickliest animal, if the most interesting. Most men view the human “spirit” as a sign of our advancement. The new man, however, recognizes it as a mistake, an unnecessary use of spiritual energy. He knows that nothing “which is done consciously can be done perfectly.” To take away the physical in favor of the spirit is to be left with “miscalculation.” This alienation from the physical – even nature becomes synonymous with the fall – means that Christianity has no point of contact with reality. Instead, it offers imaginary causes.
Similarly, this alienation from reality allows Christianity to see itself as an improvement on Judaism. Ancient Judaism still had a God that expressed the strength, pride, and gratitude of the Jewish people. Now, though, he is everywhere, dispersed everywhere, existing in hidden corners. The Christian God is highly decadent, a God understood as the contradiction of life. It does no credit to the barbarians of northern Europe that they accepted this God.
Christianity’s nihilism, however, shouldn’t be confused with Buddhism. Buddhism belongs to a much older, more spiritually advanced people. It preaches moderation, as if to an ill or depressed man. It seeks cheerfulness and, unlike Christianity, attains its goals. Christianity, however, was created to be much more violent, to force the strong, young barbarians, to turn their liveliness and violence against themselves. The naivete of the Christian is seen in the desire to understand why one suffers. The Buddhist accepts it; the Christian demands an explanation. The only way to justify all of the suffering found and inflicted by the religion was to make it into a tradition of love. “Love is the state in which men see things most decidedly as they are not. … When a man is in love he endures more than at any other time; he submits to anything. The problem was to devise a religion which would allow one to love” (sec 23).
N then goes on to examine the origin of Christianity, claiming it is directly continuous with Judaism. The Jews, he thought, were the most remarkable people who ever lived, because, confronted with the decision of whether to live or not to live, they chose to live at any price. Faced with a hostile world, they defied it. While they have the appearance of decadents, they are the opposite, adopting such measures as an expression of vitality. The priests of these traditions weaken and infect others as a means to an ends, as an expression of vital interest. This trend is linked to this history of Judaism. Originally, the god of Israel was an expression of strength. When he failed, though, rather than abandon him, the Jews denaturalized him. The priest became central to the narrative, and developed the Scripture as a means of control. Everything became reduced to “obedience or disobedience to God,” which is to say, obedience or disobedience to the priest.
Basically, Nietzsche read Jesus as a revolt against priestly values, the hierarchy in society, the idea of “superior men.” But because this hierarchy was all that held the Jewish people together, Jesus was killed as a political criminal. He died for his own sins. As a psychological type, Jesus suffered from extreme susceptibleness to pain, as if to be touched was unendurable, as every sensation was too profound. The true original teaching of Christianity, then, is that there is no more need to resist anything, because the kingdom of God is at hand already. There is no more distinction between this world and another. Sin, then, is a later invention. It would have been incoherent to make claims about the distance between man and God, because the entire point of the good news was that this distance had been abolished. Everything natural, temporal spatial was a sign, the inspiration for a parable; the only truths were subjective truths (34). This was true Christianity; however, 19 centuries has only taught the antithesis to it, leading to the divinization of hierarchies, the Church, and the gap between this world and the next.
“There was only one Christian and he died on the cross” (sec 39). The Christian as we know him is a delusion, a cover behind which he allows his instincts to play. Christianity as we understand it developed from the love of the disciple, incapable of understanding why Jesus had died. When faced with this question, he blamed it on ruling Judaism. Christianity then became a revolt against the established order, despite the fact that nothing in the character of Jesus had suggested it. Jesus became a sacrifice, a promise for another world, essentially a fraud perpetrated by Paul who was suffering from the priestly instinct. Christianity became a manifestation of resentment.
Christianity is linked to democracy. It owes its success to flattering the ego of the vain by raising every individual up to a position of epic importance. The tendency to range oneself as part of a community of the good and just against the rest of the world signals unprecedented megalomania (which is a weird critique from the theorist of the ubermensch). A critique of specific bible passages follows, which Nietzsche dismisses as filthy.
Science is the greatest enemy of God; it is “the original sin.” It was the discovery of science which filled God with fear and set him against man. So to speak. God here, of course, really means the priest, who is afraid above all of losing his power through science. The whole moral order was set up against science. Grace, sin, salvation, were all invented to destroy man’s sense of causality.
Nietzsche launches into a psychological portrait of the believer, who he sees as manifesting a broken will. The believer wants to think that just because he believes faith makes blessedness that therefore makes the proposition true. He doesn’t want to face the fact that all truth must be fought for. Faith validates decadence and illness. Martyrs likewise have damaged truth by creating the illusion that there must be truth in any cause that a man is willing to die for. This has slowed the spirit of scientific inquiry.
Great intellectuals are skeptics. Freedom from conviction is a sign of strength. Conviction for the great intellect is at most a means. For the weak, it is the ends. It shows man incapable of positing himself as the telos.
The ends of lying must be asked. “The fact that, in Christianity, ‘holy’ ends are not visible is my objection to the means it employs. Only bad ends appear; the poisoning, the calumniation, the denial of life, the despising of the body… - therefore its means are also bad.” The anarchist and the Christian are both destructive figures. Christianity destroyed “the whole harvest of ancient civilization” by crushing science, elevating resentment to a guiding principle. Moreover, Christianity, specifically the Germans, destroyed the Renaissance, the one effort of transvaluation of Christian values. Just at the moment that the corruption and vitality of Rome was becoming apparent, Luther appeared.
The book ends by condemning Christianity and calling for a transvaluation of all values, starting from the present.