Nietzsche on Religion

I went through a Nietzsche phase as an undergrad philosophy major but never read The Anti-Christ, so Thomas Dalton’s current TOO article “Nietzsche and the Origins of Christianity” was a real eye-opener — the ultimate conspiracy theory: St. Paul as the center of a plan to counter Roman power by recruiting non-Jews to “to steal away their moral authority and place it, ultimately, in the hands of a Jew who would sooth their suffering, and ‘save’ them.” The result of the triumph of Christianity was a Jewish slave morality — “a catastrophe of the highest magnitude. … countering every aspect of Roman morality and spirituality, and … establishing a system favorable to Jewish interests.” A morality born of “the hatred and revenge of the Jews.”

What an incredible feat:  to turn Europeans away from their own western heritage — a noble, life-affirming Greco-Roman culture — and toward a foreign, alien, decadent, Oriental worldview.  And it was done as revenge, out of hatred, and built upon lies.  An ancient religion — Judaism — born of falsehood and lies, creates another born of falsehood and lies.  It is done for reasons of power, control, wealth, and survival.  And the lie prevails.

Anything bordering on religion is always likely to provoke intense feelings and for good reason. Since I am an evolutionist, I see all religion as a sort of ideology — a belief system that gives meaning and coherence to the world, and motivates behavior. The only important question is whether the ideology furthers or hinders the evolutionary aims of the people who believe in it. In that sense, Jewish religious ideology has tended to be quite adaptive for Jews — regulating marriage and providing for group cohesion and negative views of non-Jews, etc.

What about Christian ideology? Here the record is quite a bit more mixed, but in general I am much more positive about Christianity than Nietzsche. Regarding the ancient Roman world, the following is a passage from my review of David Sloan Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedrals:

Particularly interesting is the discussion of early Christianity based on the work of Rodney Stark (1996). Early Christianity emerges as a non-ethnic form of Judaism that functioned as a way of producing cohesive, effective groups able to deal with the uncertainties of the ancient world. The ancient world was a very unpredictable place indeed, characterized by natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, rioting, epidemics, brutal military campaigns against civilians, famines, and widespread poverty. Navigating this world was greatly facilitated by co-religionists ready to lend a helping hand and to establish economic alliances. Wilson has no hesitation in supposing that Christian charity in extending aid to fellow Christians suffering from the plague involved altruism, as indeed it did. But the result was that more Christians survived these disasters than did Pagans: Christianity was adaptive at the group level. The adaptiveness of Christianity also stemmed from its emphasis on several attitudes that were notably lacking in the Roman Empire: encouragement of large families, conjugal fidelity, high-investment parenting, and outlawing of abortion, infanticide, and non-reproductive sexual behavior. The bottom line is that Christian women did indeed out-reproduce Pagan women. Other obvious examples of religiously mandated fertility and family-promoting values in the contemporary world are the Amish and Hutterites, the Mormons, and Orthodox Jews. All of these religions are characterized by social controls and religious ideologies that promote adaptive behavior at the group level.

Further, Christianity has at times been a very effective force against Judaism. Indeed, in Ch. 3 of Separation and Its Discontents I argue that the institutionalization of Christianity in the late Roman Empire was fundamentally an anti-Jewish movement. See here for the short version. I note there that these fundamentally anti-Jewish attitudes remained Church teaching and influenced Church policy until Vatican II. I also note that

on the one hand, there is no question that Catholicism was able to serve as a viable institution of ethnic defense in other historical eras, notably the Middle Ages when, as James C. Russell notes, the Church was influenced by German culture. On the other hand, the strands of Christian universalism can lead to compromising the ethnic interests of Christians. Indeed, since Vatican II, Catholicism has become part of the culture of Western suicide. In the US, it is in the forefront of the open borders movement. It is therefore not at all surprising that Jewish organizations would be dismayed by any retreat from Vatican II.

As Russell notes, Germanic culture was not submerged by Christianity. My view is that a biological tendency toward individualism is a far better explanation of Western institutions since the Enlightenment than Christianity. There is much else to be said — too much to get into in a blog.  Suffice it to say that whatever St. Paul intended in creating Christianity, he could not control the outcome in its long later history.

Nevertheless, I do think that Christian universalism remains a problem for European survival. In commenting on Evangelical Protestants in the US, I noted their high fertility and strong sense of family values as clearly adaptive.  However,

A great many Christian denominations, including some evangelical groups, are strong supporters of multi-racial immigration and quite a few Christian groups avidly seek converts from all races and ethnicities. My impression is that most white Christians live in an implicit white world. Their gut instincts are to preserve an America that has at least a vague resemblance to the world in which they grew up.

There is no question that Christian Zionism has been a negative force on US foreign policy in the Middle East, although. as Mearsheimer and Walt note, it is very doubtful that they would have any influence at all without the support and encouragement of the Israel Lobby.

I do think that race will trump religion in American politics in the sense that White Americans will realize that importing millions of non-White Christians from Mexico and elsewhere is a horrible idea. Race is a far more powerful variable in predicting people’s political affiliations than religion, and that will continue as the racial polarization of America continues and the Republican Party (or, hopefully, the A3P)  becomes the party of Whites. Implicitly at least, White people who are strong Christians understand that they have far more in common with atheists, agnostics and liberal Protestants who are White than they do with non-White Christians. The fact that Conservative Protestants defied their leaders and were strong supporters of immigration restriction in the period of ethnic defense that culminated in the 1924 law shows that they can be rallied to sensible causes. The fact that so many of them are now involved in the Tea Party opposition movement and the rallies against immigration amnesty of recent years shows that they have healthy instincts.

So I remain optimistic that Christianity will ultimately prove to be an evolutionarily adaptive ideology for Christians.

Bookmark and Share

84 replies

Comments are closed.