“In the beginning was violence, according to Nietzsche – violence that was celebrated by the pagan virtues.8 Nietzsche and neo-Nietzscheans perceive reality as anarchy that cannot be controlled except by subjecting it to “the will to power” in one way or another.9 Nietzsche’s perception dictates that violence must be the master of us all and leads to the intolerable notion that “difference” is the only truth – a truth that in its unleashed and unrestrained power has led to twentieth-century concentration camps and to ethnic cleansing. Even when this kind of violence is not fully recognizable, it lurks near the surface, barely concealing the original primordial conflict that is often restrained by sacral order, but only just. Given this belief, Nietzsche was right to see Christianity as the enemy, since Christianity is unique in refusing ultimate reality to conflictual phenomena.“10 [https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/publications/conrad-grebel-review/issues/winter-2000/and-against-milbank-critical-discussion-john-milbanks]
Milbank is especially concerned by Nietzsche’s presentation of the truth of difference, since this nihilistic ontology is being promoted by many postmoderns who see in Nietzsche the only true master of suspicion.11 Against such formidable opponents Milbank seeks to assert an ontology of peace that cannot enter into dialogue with the Nietzscheans. Rather, we must understand that an ontology of violence is a mythos, and as such to counter it, one cannot resuscitate liberal humanism, but one can try to put forward an alternative mythos, equally unfounded, but nonetheless embodying an ‘ontology of peace’, which conceives differences as analogically related, rather than equivocally at variance.12
Crucially, this ‘ontology of peace’ affirms the postmodern notion of reducing substance to transition. However, it questions the facile reading of the transcendental that would consider transition as mere conflict.
That postmodernism reduces everything to language games, to incommensurability, does not impose a conclusion that the primordial ontology is simply a play of force, fate and chance. This pivot is only an aesthetic decision. It owes much to Nietzsche’s vision: relations of force, a pathos of tension, the will to power as a “monster of energy, without beginning, without end…a play of forces,” [Will to Power, 549-50].
Abundant, recurring, contradictory violence is considered what is Dionysian. This is for Nietzsche “active.” Nietzsche despises Christianity because he sees it as “reactive.” His glamor for the strong over the weak has him deny Christianity’s consoling expressions, acts of compassion, benevolence for the other, for the dispossessed, slaves, invalids. Nietzsche denounces Christianity in favor of impulses of stronger or “higher” forms of life. He asserts what he calls “free spirit”, which is simply the exercise of what he presumes to be “natural” instinct, and the “natural” instinct is what is powerful. Hearkening back to the pagan mythos, he sees what is powerful as what is good and what is weak as what ought to be despised.
Nietzsche is the figure who wants to dispel all truth as relative, as perspectival in such a way so as to supposedly undermine an absolute, but simultaneously he wants to make “force” a prior truth to all things, violating his own said position. Nietzsche opts for the injunction against absolutes by theorizing an absolutism of force. He then uses his metaphysics to oppose an unconditional nature against an unconditional morality.
First, what he considers unconditional nature. Force, will to power, the wine of Dionysian intoxication, appropriation and violence is made primordial. He opts for what Bentley Hart calls an “adolescent adoration of pagan harshness.” [ibid, 107]
Second, the opposing of unconditional morality. What is unconditional morality? It is what is elsewhere considered the “Jewishness” of transcendental morality – a morality that is not situational, but anchored in a Reason that exceeds or is outside the fluttering and flux of pagan strife.
Nietzsche uses the term “nature”, or otherwise simply force or will to power, as a standard against which to measure all moralities.
He attempts to use his absolutism of “force” to critique of Christianity as an ill that nurtures the weak. For Nietzsche, of course, everything that is “good” is “all that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.” (Antichrist, 115).
Christian morality is a problem for Nietzsche because it is said to preserve the weak in their weakness. He misreads the Judeo-Christian exegesis, as he goes on to pose against this apparently “reactive” weakness a “natural” existence – an existence of force, of relations of force and appropriation of power. In this sense, for Nietzsche what is moral is what is powerful and what is good is what is overpowering. Christianity, owing to the conscience of the Jews, is at bottom a concern for the dispossessed, the marginalized, the abject, those who are in pain and those who are suffering. Nietzsche misreads the Judeo-Christian position probably owning to his heretical Protestant upbringing.
He reads it as a despising of life and a kind of relishing of suffering, claiming therein that all of it leads to nihilism. This is actually more Hellenistic than it is Jewish.
Nietzsche sets up an opposition, an antagonism or tension between Dionysus and Christ, and subsequent postmodernists follow his aesthetic taste, apparently ignorant to his initial misreading of what is Christianity in regards to “weakness.” The difference between the Christ and Dionysus is for Nietzsche a difference of meaning: if Dionysus is the created torment, destruction, even a will to annihilation, then Christ crucified is in Nietzsche’s words an “objection to life, as a formula for its condemnation.”
One would not be wrong to cast a mirror of suspicion against the master of suspicion.
Opposing Dionysus and Christ is for Nietzsche a mythos. He wants to push a certain mythos over a certain other mythos. “The god on the cross is a curse on life, a signpost to seek redemption from life,” and conversely, “Dionysus cut to pieces is a promise of life: it will be eternally reborn and return again from destruction.” [Will to Power, 52-43] This is a little inane because eternal return of violence out of violence, of power out of power, is ultimately a shallow extrapolation of what constitutes being-in-difference.
Following Nietzsche, Deleuze also exudes the inane. He claims in Nietzsche and Philosophy that Christ suffering’s is an “unjust” life. His Nietzschean wager against Christianity is that life can only be loved when it is weak, tormented, or mutilated, whereas Deleuze follows the fetish where Dionysus is a life of “justice of being.” Deleuze, having little if not any knowledge of the positions of the desert fathers, for example, simply takes Nietzsche’s aesthetic taste as an a priori.
Not only are the Nietzscheans wrong about the basic presumption of life within the Christian doxa, but deadly wrong – we all know “the wages of sin is death.”
For the Nietzscheans, Christianity is a “slave revolt” in values. In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche says that Christianity is only sufficient for slaves, the weak, the ill, and all of that is elevated to a universal law. In his rush to fetish the master over the slave, the strong over the weak, he presumes that “slave morality” is an emphasis on pity, relief from suffering, consolation, etc. and that this “slave revolt” is a “diseased” nature which makes life “impotent” and fertilizes the seeds of nihilism. In the Genealogy of Morals, he makes it very clear that in his eyes Christian love is a form of the “Jewish species of hatred,” and a vengefulness directed against the health, strong and vigorous” (35). His argument is persuasive but ultimately not a deep enough exegesis of the thing he is attempting to critique.
The price for being wrong about all of this seems pretty high. It is not a consequence that the Nazis were able to graft so much of Nietzsche into their own platform, and even though Nietzsche himself wasn’t a Nazi, since the author is no longer in control of his writings (since once he writes he is no longer in control of what is written), lines like the following are easily streamlined not only into the Nazi program, but could also be distilled in the programs of socialist eugenics and New Man utopianisms: “The weak and the ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy. And one shall help them do so.” [Antichrist, 166]
This “philanthropy” is Spencerist survival of the fittest. Again, with violence ontology what is primal is strife. The lesson of “nature” for Nietzsche is that everything is antagonistic. Everything is said to be struggle, contest and competition. Injustices, well, ultimately they aren’t really of any consequence next to the maximization of life’s power in expansion and acquisition.
And care for the dispossessed or for the other? All of that can be summed up as simply a competitive power game.
Hart is right, it really is adolescent.
Prioritizing an ontology of violence – an aesthetics of the agon – Nietzsche’s vision of being is that of the pagan, or even specifically a sort of Heracleitean vision, where everything is conflict and life is force – appropriation, injury, overpowering. In this world of strife, this ontology of violence, difference is elevated as first principle – difference becomes an absolute as every force is appropriation, resistance, succumbing, vanquishing of another force. Hence Nietzsche’s critique is no less metaphysical than what it attempts to attack.
Following in his shadow, postmodernists parrot the anti-metaphysical argumentation that is itself metaphysics. Ironically, of course, it remains akin to the rejection of “metanarratives” at the same point of creating a new meta-narrativity. The question is whether there is a consciousness of doublespeak, or else the dissonance is total?
Nietzsche prescriptions come down to an aesthetic choice. Hart has, rightfully in my view, pointed out that Nietzsche’s aesthetic choice is compelling but not convincing. An ontology of violence philosophizes force relations as an aesthetic preference, as first aesthetics. His counternarrative to Christianity can’t really be denied its power, since it does have its strong points, but what he insists in his vision is no less arbitrary or resentful, or somehow a more truthful account. It remains an aesthetic choice of the agon that is really not any more convincing than other narratives.
It is crucial to point out what Christianity gets right. It set up a roadblock that subverted the paganism of “noble” values. In Nietzsche’s view, Christianity is the enemy because from its very inception, following the conscience of the Jews, it refrains from equation of being with domination and acquisition.
Further, and this is also extremely crucial especially for argument for human rights, Christianity makes a basic separation of political statism from revelation, thus lodging the dignity of each human being (imago of God) as being prior to any political formation.
In Christianity, ontology is a matter of gift and grace – a primordial goodness. When Christianity accounts for violence it does so in an extremely different way than Nietzsche’s fetishized paganism. Nietzsche is not brilliantly original here, in fact his assertion of cruelty as underlining society is already accounted for in Augustine’s civita terrence. The difference, however, is that for Augustine another City can be imagined, experienced and enacted even within a context resistant to it. This is because in true orthodoxy “sin” is a secondary order of reality, originally unnecessary. Sin, as a loss of being rather than a legalistic transgression, is a missing of the mark when aimed at the ideal, and the ideal is the embodiment of love even at the site of suffering (which is, frankly, being itself). The other City that can be imagined comes out of this embodied love, is build upon it.
Yet for Nietzsche, since everything is a march of will to power, he remains essentially a metaphysical fabulist.
He equates Christianity with Platonism – “Platonism for the masses” – but it seems that it doesn’t matter much if this is wholly accurate. Is he ignorant of the notion that Christianity replaces the “identity” of Platonism with an ontology of the creaturely, and does so in a way that has no substantial claim on being, but instead elevates a God whose actuality is not any being’s existence? It is, of course, true that Christianity often adopts the philosophical language of Platonism, but it is a “Platonism” already transformed according to Christianity’s own narrative: in accordance with its own analogies and transcendent expressions. Even Neoplatonism already begins to make decisive breaks regarding the notion of two worlds – the relation between the apparent world (chaotic material) and the ideal world (realm of forms) – as for example in Plotinus where the infinity is already no longer an indeterminate formlessness, but has become a positive of a plenitude of goodness (of the One).
For Plato the realm of forms is an abstraction from the world of difference (particularity), but for Christianity something shifts very early on: the absolute is infinite, equated with goodness, truth and beauty, but the Godhead (Trinity) emanates out of the relational and the responsive. The Trinity is thus not a Platonic narrative of emanation, as a diminishing hierarchy of divinity. Further, the Trinity actually radically disturbs the critique of the (ontological) simualcral, making simulacra a meaningless concept. Christian beauty is not a manifestation of an enclosed beauty – as if beauty is enclosed in on itself and is violently grafted onto a deformity of material. Beauty is transformed in Christianity into a contingent expression of divine delight, which is already in created difference.
I think Nietzsche knew very well that Christianity’s mythos of elevating the abject Jew would lead to a revolt of conscience and ultimately a deferral of the will to power, or of the “natural” instinct. He knew very well that unconditional morality was an obstacle for any assertion of, well, ultimately, a nihilistic will to power that simply mimics the ontotheological god it is trying to critique.
With Christianity created difference contains the grace of the infinite within itself. There is no “other world” in Christianity – there is only a single world: no true or apparent world, no real or simulacrum. Christian truth is not Platonic truth because creation contains all created difference within itself – all creation and history – and does so in a way that does not reduce difference. The ontological beauty – the Gift of Being- does not reduce contingency to distortion. God is itself a differential excess.
Nietzsche remains a protestant heretic.
He wants to pass Christianity off as a death cult, and instead favor Dionysus that is supposedly the great wasteful sensuality, the extravagant power of life. Does he misread Dionysian extravagance, and is he aware of how much of a death cult the Dionysian actually is? A quote by Hart on the topic of the wine of Dionysus suffices to make this point more palpable:
“It is conceivable that a theological answer to Nietzsche could be developed entirely in terms of the typology of wine. After all, wine of Dionysus is no doubt the coarsest vintage, intended to blind with drunkeness rather than enliven whimsy; it is fruit of the same vine with which Dionysus bridged the Euphrates, after flaying alive the king of Damascus, so that he could conquer Inida for viniculture (so we know from Plutarch, Pausanias, Stabo, Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, and others); and of the same vine for which Lycurgus mistook his son Dryas when driven made for offending the wild god, causing him to cut Dryas down for ‘pruning’ (as Homer and Apollodorus report); the vine that destroyed the pirates who would not bear Dionysus to Naxos (so say Homer, Apollodorus and Ovid); it is the wine that inflamed the maenads to rend Pentheus limb from limb, led by his own mother Agave (as Euripides and others record); the wine repeatedly associated with madness, anthropophagy, slaughter, warfare, and rapine (one need consider only the Dionysian cult at Orchomenus – with its ritual act of random murder – and the story of the daughters of Minyas – frenzy, infanticide, cannibalism – from which it sprang.” [Hart, Aesthetics of the Infinite, 108]
Perahap Nietzsche’s protestant heresy underlines his contention of Dionysian wine of madness over Christ’s wine, the wine of fellowship, based on a misreading of Christianity’s relation to the flesh? His desire for what Hart calls the “coarsest vintage” informs his despising of Christianity as “contempt of the flesh,” but such exterminism actually runs right through the old world of paganism. In this regard, some of what in Christianity could be construed as exterminist is actually Christianity succumbing to pagan influence, and not the other way around. Hart explains it as follows,
“the prevailing spirit of “otherworldliness” had long been moving through the empire: not only gnosticism, but every variety of etheralizing devotion; mystery religions, Eastern esoterica, mystical Platonisms, and the occult; the contempt for the flesh expressed by Valentinus, Ammonias Saccas, Plotinus, the Mithraic mysteries, or even the sanctimoniously ungroomed Emperor Julian was more bitterly word-weary than any of the exorbitant expressions of spiritual to which the church fell prey.” [The Beauty of the Infinite, 106]
The condemnation of the flesh in Christianity, which is often associated with the various Protestantisms (like the Puritan prudishness) is Christianity being affected by the institutions of the age – affected by what remains a pagan phenomenon.
“if Christian culture were simply spiritualist, if it endorsed an ethos like that of the Corups Hermeticum or the libertto of Parisfal, Nietzsche’s indictments of Christian “castratism” would command great force; but for all the cunning and psychological inventiveness of his genealogy, it fails at every juncture to accommodate the complexity of what he wishes to describe. The orthodox doctrine of creation, led the church (more radically even than Neoplatonism) to deny to evil any ascription of true being, to define it not as an essence or positive force but as mere negation, reaction, a privation of the good, a perversity of the will, an appetite for nonbeing – but no objective thing among things: all things had to be affirmed, and with equal emphasis, as God’s good creation.
And surely there is something almost tediously wrong in asserting that Christ’s crucifixion has ever figured in Christian tradition as a repudication, rather than ultimately an affirmation, of the fleshly life Christ was forced to relinquish.” [Hart, ibid]
It seems to me that Nietzsche and fascism have a common root, even though Nietzsche himself was not a fascist. “Violence ontology” really does sum it up quite nicely.
Though Nietzsche was supposedly not antisemitic – again, what he writes he is no longer in control of, and he wrote with a great inventiveness on what he called Christianity’s “Jewish subversion” – it is must be explored what is “Jewishness.” What precisely is this “subversion” that he sees that is an affront to violence ontology? It is the subversion of the pagan world, which Nietzsche rightfully saw in the pivot of aesthetics from the Classic to Christian aesthetics – a pivot out of a world enamored by the terror of violence, to a “Jewish” view of being. This Jewishness is precisely that the order of creation is a gift and a blessing. The kabod of God’s goodness of all that is, and its weariness of the flesh does not accommodate a hatred of being, but rather a marvel at the beauty of its creation even at the site of its pain of being. And further, owing to Jewish conscience, in Christianity one suffers for God because God suffers. In this sense, Nietzsche is correct inasmuch as Judaism is subversive, but it is subversive in all the right ways that underlines the displacement and dispelling of the violence of pagan will to power.
And, of course, if you are stuck in a kind of “adolescent adoration of pagan harshness,” [ibid, 107] then the Christian, or properly Judeo-Christian horizon becomes the enemy on account of its subverting the frenzy of infanticide, and the cannibalistic drunkeness of Dionysian madness.
This affirmation of life is correct of Christianity, or specially the Judeo-Christian or Jewish and Christian dispensation. Christian wine is contrasted as a radically different vintage than the wine of Dionysus. Wine within the Biblical accounts is in Hart’s assesment a “concrete emblem of the beauty of creation and the joy of dwelling at peace in the midst of others.” It is not the wine of Dionysus, “which makes fellowship impossible,” and promises only intoxicated absorption, the anonymity of appropriation, the truba of violence. Instead, the wine of God is the wine of the wedding feast at Cana. and Cana echoes back into the fellowship of the Torah,
“The wine of Christian scripture, on the other hand, is first and foremost a divine blessing and image of God’s bounty (Gen. 27:28; Deut 7:13; 11:14; Ps.104:15; Prov. 3:10; Isa.25:6; 85:8; Her.31:12; Joel 2:19-24; 3:18; Amos 9:13-14; Zech. 9:17), and an appropriate thank offering by which to declare Israel’s love of God (Exod. 29;40; Lev. 23:13; Num.15:15-10; 18:12; 28:14; Deu. 14:23; 15:14; 18:4; it is the wine that “cheers the hearts of gods and mean” (Judg. 9:13), to be drunk and shared with those for whom nothing is prepared on the day holy to the LORD (Neh. 8:19), the sign of God’s renewed covenant with his people (Isa.55:1-3), the drink of lovers (Song of Sol. 5:1) and the very symbol of love (7:2, 9; 8:2), whose absence is the eventide of all joy (Isa.24:11); it is, moreover, the wine of agape and the feast of fellowship, in which Christ first vouchsafed a sign of his divinity, in a place of rejoicing, at Cana – a wine of the highest quality – when the kingdom showed itself “out of season” (John 2:3-10); the wine, again, forsaken with all the good things of creation, when Christ went to his death, but promised to be drunk anew at the banquet table of his Father’s kingdom, and from which – embittered with myrrh – he was forced to turn his lips when on the cross (Mark 15:23; Mat.27-34); the wine, finally, whose joy is imparted to the church again, and eternally, with the first of Pentecost (Acts 2:13), and in which fellowship of Christ and his flock is reborn with every celebration of the Eucharist.” [ibid 108]
The wine of Dionysus is dead wine, and contra the Nietzscheans this coarse wine is the wine of decay, and not life at all. Nietzsche’s mythos attempts to kill off God, an ontotheological god that his own metaphysics of forces apes at every turn – this is a misplaced reading of the God of covenant, which was never the god of Supreme Being . Nietzsche is dead. Nietzsche remains dead. And what dies with him is a violence that conceals itself behind an affirmation of life: what dies is what philosophizes itself in the name of difference where the failure to ontologically account for otherness brings the eruption of violence or terrorism. This principle of evil is ultimately a negation of being.
Nietzsche is dead, but Christ lives on eternally.
“Of course, Nietzsche was a teetotaler and couldn’t judge the merit of neither vintage, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that his attempts at oino-theology should betray a somewhat pedestrian palate.” [ibid 109]
“And given the most venerable strain of Christan soteriology, which understands Christ’s cross and resurrection as the conquest of death and the return of his invincible life, it is questionable how far the terms of Nietzsche’s opposition can credibility be taken; and questionable whether the Deluzean embroidery upon this typology does not prove a bit threadbare and vulgar: Does the suffering of Christ confirm being’s guilt while the suffering of Dionysus proclaims its innocence, or may one exercise some subtlety here and see int he cross and resurrection of Christ the story of life’s unjust suffering (that is, the injustice of a violence that crucifies), and of a justice that crises out for the salvation of what lies in bondage, and reveals itself as a deathless love of creation’s fullness? This crude dualism, between a suffering that condemns life and another that hallows it, ignores the multivalency of both narratives; or rather, it leaves unquestioned the life Dionysus affirms and entirely fails to see what life is raised up with Christ. Simply said, Dionysus’s affirmation is a curse pronounced on life, while Christ’s renunciation affirms the whole of creation.” [ibid 109]
This remains the answer to the nihilists: an ontology that views existence as peace, as the infinite plenitude of the beautifc, rather than a violence or conflictual strife.
Christian exegesis is unique in this regard: “The uniqueness of Christianity is seen most clearly here and legitimates Nietzsche’s focused attack on Christianity as a religion of the weak – not because it is weak but because it undercuts the story of the strong, the übermensch.” [https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/publications/conrad-grebel-review/issues/winter-2000/and-against-milbank-critical-discussion-john-milbanks]