Book Review: The Antichrist – Nietzsche

The Antichrist was written in 1888 one year before Nietzsche’s descent into madness and immediately after his Twilight of the Idols. Both books should be read under the aspect of the last words of his final original book, his autobiography Ecce Homo:

“Dionysus against the Crucified.”

The German title can be translated as either “The Anti-Christ” or “The Anti-Christian”. It was likely meant to mean both. Dionysus has two opponents, one worthy of him, the other unworthy.

The name Nietzsche gives to his worthy opponent is Christ – hence Dionysus is the Anti-Christ. The unworthy opponent is the Christian, who is undeservedly dignified by being treated to such elaborate condemnation.

Birth of Dionysus - Greek Mythological God of Wine
Dionysus. Ancient Greek God of wine, fertility, ecstasy, festivity.

In the foreword he writes:

“This book belongs to the very few. Perhaps none of them is even living yet. Possibly they are the readers who understand my Zarathustra […] One must be honest in intellectual matters to the point of harshness to so much as endure my seriousness, my passion. One must be accustomed to living on mountains – to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egoism beneath one. […] Strength which prefers questions for which no one today is sufficiently daring; courage for the forbidden […]Very well! These alone are my readers, my rightful readers, my predestined readers: what do the rest matter? – The rest are merely mankind. – One must be superior to mankind in force, in loftiness of soul – in contempt …”

The book is directed to a minority and is relatively short composed of 62 sections, mainly devoted to attacking Christianity in its institutional form.

Nietzsche is against Christianity’s morality of compassion. He praises:

“virtue free of moralic acid”

– The Antichrist, §2

That is, breaking free of oppressive moral influences that guided the masses, giving way to individual freedom.

Christianity wants everyone to be equal and has waged war against the higher man. However, equality would eliminate all the noble values, and everybody would become mediocre, it is opposed to the ubermensch. There must be a “pathos of distance” a chasm separating the ordinary from the extraordinary.

Nietzsche criticises the decadent values of Christianity, which spring out of illness, weakness and resentment and ultimately opposes our natural instincts. This saps the life of the human being and creates a sick and weak type of human, who is created ill but commanded to be well.

“Created ill but commanded to be well.”

As Christianity is against the instincts, power, and growth; it is against life itself. Under the holiest names lie the values of decline, and nihilism.

It is diametrically opposed to Nietzsche’s Will to Power, in which the instincts are the fundamental component of human identity, the main drive force in humans.

Christianity is a religion of pity. For a noble morality, pity is a weakness, but for Christianity, it is a virtue.

Nietzsche claims that the Christian religion and its morality are based on imaginary fictions:

“this entire fictional world has its roots in hatred of the natural (- actuality! -).”

– The Antichrist, §15

He opposes the Christian concept of God because:

“God degenerated to the contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes! In God a declaration of hostility towards life, nature, the will to life! God the formula for every calumny of ‘this world’, for every lie about ‘the next world’! In God nothingness deified, the will to nothingness sanctified.”

– The Antichrist, §18

Nietzsche compares Buddhism with Christianity, and although he considered both to be nihilistic and decadent religions, he states:

“The critic of Christianity is profoundly grateful to Indian scholars that one is now able to compare these two religions. – Buddhism is a hundred times more realistic than Christianity.”

– The Antichrist, §20

Nietzsche considers Buddhism to be more realistic as it does not use the concept of God and the struggle against sin, but rather the struggle against suffering. Buddhism objectively claims, “I suffer,” while Christianity interprets suffering in relation to sin. He claims that Buddhism is “beyond good and evil” because it has developed past the self-deception that lies in moral concepts.

Buddha. “I suffer”

Nietzsche touches on the problem of the origin of Christianity, which grew out of the Jewish instinct. They turned against the natural world with their instincts of resentment against the higher men.

The Jewish priests made use of the decadent population but were not decadents themselves. Nietzsche praises them as they created a Revaluation of all Values, however, it was directed towards decadent values, instead of noble values.

Nietzsche relates the five stages of denaturalising values:

In the first stage, the Jews considered Yahweh to be the God of Justice, it was an expression of its consciousness of power. They affirmed themselves and realised their own power.

Yahweh. The God of Justice

In the second stage the concept of God is falsified and Yahweh became a demanding god. Next, the concept of morality is falsified and is no longer an expression of life and growth.

In the fourth stage the history of Israel is falsified, the great epoch becomes an epoch of decay, a moral world order is established which assigns value to actions that obey the will of God. Punishment and reward are assigned according to the degree of obedience.

In the fifth stage, God’s will is revealed in holy scripture. The sacred book formulates the will of God to the priest, disobedience to God or the priest is henceforth “sin”. Priests use “sin” to gain and hold power and from then on, all things of life are so ordered that the priest is everywhere indispensable: birth, marriage, death and so on, thus the priest becomes part of the holy people.

In this already falsified soil, arose Christianity who revolted against Jewish priesthood:

“The case is of the first rank: the little rebellious movement which is baptised with the name of Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish instinct once more, in other words the priestly instinct which can no long endure the priest as a reality, the invention of an even more abstract form of existence…”

– The Antichrist, §27

Jesus was brought to the Cross and died for his guilt, however often it is made, that he died for the guilt of others.

Nietzsche touches:

“for the first time … on the problem of the psychology of the redeemer.” – The Antichrist,  §28

The point of his doing is to contrast Christ with the priestly type, who figures in this book as the arch-villain though not the arch-opponent. As Nietzsche discusses Christ, the tone becomes ever warmer and even ecstatic. It becomes one of the most moving and powerful parts of the book:

“He knows that it is through the practice of one’s life that one feels ‘divine’, ‘blessed’, ‘evangelic’, at all times a ‘child of God’. It is not ‘penance’, not ‘prayer for forgiveness’ which leads to God: evangelic practice alone leads to God, it is God! […] The profound instinct for how one would have to live in order to feel oneself ‘in Heaven’ […] this alone is the psychological reality of ‘redemption’. – A new way of living, not a new belief.”

– The Antichrist, §33

From time to time in this piece of exalted prose Nietzsche refers to Jesus as an idiot, though one is compelled to conclude that the frequent employment of the word “Idiot”, derives from his discovery of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

He goes on to write:

“If I understand anything of this great symbolist it is that the took for realities, for “truths”, only inner realities.”

– The Antichrist, §34

The idea of cultivating pure inwardness, freed from any external demands, including that of the primacy of the body, is clearly one that Nietzsche found very attractive. To cultivate inwardness and nothing more, is something no one but Christ managed to do.

Christ. Cultivation of pure inwardness

He was bound to be comprehensively misunderstood, and the history of Christianity is a history of misunderstanding:

“This ‘bringer of glad tidings’ died as he lived, as he taught – not to ‘redeem mankind’ but to demonstrate how one ought to live. What he bequeathed to mankind is his practice.”

–  The Antichrist, §35

However, Christ’s disciples didn’t see things that way. They turned action into doctrine, mistook symbols for facts, and produced a set of decadent and resentful teachings.

“In reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross.” – The Antichrist §39

Nietzsche criticises Paul the Apostle, who claimed that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice of an innocent man for the sins of the guilty.

“Jesus had done away with the concept ‘guilt’ itself – he had denied any chasm between God and man, he lived this unity of God and man as his ‘glad tidings’”

– The Antichrist §41

Nietzsche states that Christianity has robbed us of the harvest of the Renaissance, which he states as:

“The revaluation of Christian values, the attempt, undertaken with every expedient, with every instinct, with genius of every kind, to bring about the victory of the opposing values, the nobles values.”

– The Antichrist, §61

He praises Cesare Borgia, whom he had a genuine admiration for and considered him as the embodiment of the Renaissance:

“Cesare Borgia as Pope … Am I understood? … Very well, that would have been a victory of the sort I desire today: Christianity would thereby have been abolished!”

– The Antichrist, §61

Cesare Borgia. The embodiment of the Renaissance

He ends stating:

“And one calculates time from the unlucky day on which this fatality arose – from the first day of Christianity! – Why not rather from its last? – From today? – Revaluation of all values!”

– The Antichrist §62

The Antichrist in 10 Minutes | Friedrich Nietzsche

The Antichrist was written in 1888 one year before Friedrich Nietzsche’s descent into madness and immediately after his Twilight of the Idols. Both books should be read under the aspect of the last words of his final original book, his autobiography Ecce Homo: “Dionysus against the Crucified.”

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