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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

from Julian Young's Nietzsche biography

I picked up Young's new philosophical biography of Nietzsche recently (review in the nytimes) and I've been jumping around in it, picking different topics as they grab my interest. I'm trying to read it sequentially as well but the evolution of a thought grabs hold of me and then there I go, pillaging. So here's some plunder related to Nietzsche's view of religion:
Given, however, Nietzsche's enthusiasm for Plato's Republic, this picture of the philosopher as 'using' religion to social ends might seem to conjure up the idea of religion as a 'noble lie' and of the ruler as a cynical outsider who is himself not for a moment taken in by the 'pious fraud': a picture of the philosopher king as, like Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, all too aware that religion is the opium needed to control the masses while regarding it, himself, as nothing but superstition.
Actually, though, this cannot be Nietzsche's account of the philosophical leader, since, if it were, he would become indistinguishable from the 'free thinker': the man of 'modern ideas' who looks down upon religion 'with an air of superior, almost gracious amusement...mixed with slight contempt for what he assumes to be "uncleanliness" of spirit that exists when anyone supports a church'.
He will obey communal ethos, that 'morality' which is a function of the unique character, history, and current circumstances of his community.
[H]e will know that they are not the worse for that, that being fictions (or fictionalized versions of real people) impairs in no way their functioning as 'touchstones' of human excellence.

Nietzsche grasps here, I think, an important point about religious discourse: 'Jesus would never do that' can have just as much ethical force for someone who believes Jesus never existed as for someone who believes he did. As The Jane Austen Book Club illustrates, "This is what (Jane Austen's) Emma would do in this situation" can have ethical force. What this shows is that though religion might be a 'noble lie' told to the masses, this does not at all confine the enlightened ruler to cynical detachment. Rather, in reverencing the gods, he knows he is reverencing the best in his community. The situation is like that between mother and child: both can agree that 'Santa wouldn't like that' even though one knows Santa to be a fiction while the other believes him to be real.
[A] good religion must serve human well-being rather than, as with Christianity, subordinating human life to religious prescriptions damaging to human health. 'The gods' should serve man, not man the gods.

p. 430-431
So Young's Nietzsche is pro-religion though not pro-Christianity.


Michael Drake said...

Does this argument make the Jane Austen Book Club a religious sect?

Mike said...

As long as only the book club leader knows Jane Austen was writing fiction. As a religion, I imagine The Jane Austen Book Club is exactly the kind of religion Nietzsche would endorse. :) (I haven't watched the film.)

HMS said...

Mike, we'd like to invite you and Chris to join us as Authors in Alexandria.

You may mirror your existing posts from here or elsewhere or produce original posts there, on anything you wish, as you desire. For your contributions and participation we will blogroll you with no reciprocation required. See our Guidelines for Authors for full details.

Come contribute your perspectives and opinions to the ongoing conversations there. Contact us through the site for full invitations and instructions.

Mike said...

HMS - Unfortunately I have a hard enough time keeping up with this blog. Perhaps if/when time allows.