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.
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.