Quote of the day: Friedrich Nietzsche on the Bible

Let me admit it: I love Nietzsche. I don’t always understand him, but for sheer stylistic flair and bold, daring overstatements, he is a thrill to read, a real page-turner. He can also be searingly wise, cutting through the nonsense and getting to the bare essentials of what man is and what life is. Yes, there’s a lot to dislike, too, especially his rants about the will to power and his contempt for pity and altruism. But he was still a man of deep compassion and high morals. He was never an anti-Semite and his works were bastardized by his sister and by the Nazis, tragically associating his name with a movement he would undoubtedly have detested.

All that was an unexpectely long-winded way for me to cut and paste a quote of Nietzsche’s that I love. I apologize in advance to Christian readers who might be offended by it (Nietzsche despised the Christian and Jewish religions). I quote it more for its poetry than its philosophy. This was one philosopher who could write.

In the Jewish “Old Testament,” the book of divine justice, there are men, things, and speeches of such impressive style that the world of Greek and Indian literature has nothing to place beside them. If we stand with fear and reverence before these tremendous remnants of what human beings once were, we will in the process suffer melancholy thoughts about old Asia and its protruding peninsula of Europe, which, in contrast to Asia, wants to represent the “progress of man.”

Naturally, whoever is, in himself, only a weak, tame domestic animal and who knows only the needs of domestic animals (like our educated people nowadays, including the Christians of “educated” Christianity), among these ruins such a man finds nothing astonishing or even anything to be sad about—-a taste for the Old Testament is a touchstone with respect to “great” and “small”—- perhaps he finds the New Testament, that book of grace, still preferable to his heart (in it there is a good deal of the really tender stifling smell of over-pious and small-souled people).

To have glued together this New Testament, a sort of rococo of taste in all respects, with the Old Testament into one book, the book, the Bible – that is perhaps the greatest act of audacity and “sin against the spirit” which literary Europe has on its conscience.

When I was in college, I actually memorized that entire passage. I came across it today, and had to post it.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

There’s really very little in Nietzsche I dislike, but i do have to get defensive when it comes to his biblical pronunciations, especially from Zarathustra (“You shall love peace only as a means to a new war” – stuff like that); it’s so easily misunderstood and so often twisted into Nazi-style nonsense. In terms of originality, writing style and sheer genius, I consider him a veritable god, one of those very rare types who can break apart from those around him and speak the truth, no matter the personal cost.

December 21, 2005 @ 3:23 am | Comment

Ah, Nietzsche. I remember pouring over his works in undergraduate, particularly Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, and my iPod is engraved with a quotation from Nietzsche. A man who is often miscategorized on the basis of his sister’s misappropriation of his work.

I’m not sure that the will to power is something to dislike, though I can see that it may be easily twisted beyond what Nietzsche really meant.

December 21, 2005 @ 3:17 am | Comment

Nietzsche is great 🙂

I haven’t read that much of him (yet), I discovered him shortly before coming to China. And yeah, the nazi connection is silly, yet for some people it’s the first thing that comes to mind 😛

Hmm, reminds me I should read the old testament someday too =)

December 21, 2005 @ 4:18 am | Comment

Hm, well I also admire Nietzsche, but he’s wrong about the “justice” of the Old Testament. By any enlightened modern standard, there’s precious little justice in it. Most of it is a textbook on ethnic cleansing and outright genocide.

When I was an undergraduate, I wrote a paper in which I psychoanalyzed God – specifically the Old Testament God. Diagnosis: I found him to be a paranoid and a sociopath, among a host of other psychoses.

December 21, 2005 @ 4:46 am | Comment

I don’t think he’s making any statement about fiery old Jehovah, but about the depth of history and the sheer literary gorgeousness of the Old Testament. One is deply substantive, the other – he says – is a sham, intent on pacifying and castrating the people.

December 21, 2005 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

Thus Spoke Zarathustra is being retold in the manner of Dr. Seuss:

http://www.openculture.com/2016/06/philosophy-prof-illustrates-nietzsches-zarathustra-in-the-style-of-dr-seuss.htm

June 18, 2016 @ 3:06 pm | Comment

It’s a little sad that Nietzsche’s understanding (along with Ivan) of the Bible was cartoonish at best. An understanding most leave behind in their childhood. That being said, Christians can be of the baser sort. Some are ignorant, judgmental, self-righteous, and hypocritical. However, that’s exactly the point of the Old and New Testament. 66 books written by various authors with one golden chord running through them all…Jesus Christ.

Psalm 22…written almost 3000 years ago…who could that be about?

Without Wax
Phil

March 9, 2017 @ 7:30 am | Comment

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