The Antichrist by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Download The Antichrist ebook. The Antichrist (German: Der Antichrist) is a book by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, originally published in 1895. Although it was written in 1888, its controversial content made Franz Overbeck and Heinrich Köselitz delay its publication, along with Ecce Homo. The German title can be translated into English as either The Anti-Christ or The Anti-Christian, depending on how the German word Christ is translated.
Nietzsche claimed in the Foreword to have written the book for a very limited readership. In order to understand the book, he asserted that the reader “… must be honest in intellectual matters to the point of hardness to so much as endure my seriousness, my passion.” The reader should be above politics and nationalism. Also, the usefulness or harmfulness of truth should not be a concern. Characteristics such as “Strength which prefers questions for which no one today is sufficiently daring; courage for the forbidden” are also needed. He disdained all other readers.
Nietzsche was a late 19th century German philologist and philosopher. He was known for writing in a style which was caustic yet not always explicit, so his views on the various subjects on which he wrote are often difficult to ascertain (except for his rants about musicians he used to like before they became mainstream). This, on top of his (and I’m paraphrasing) claim that “Christianity is stupid but Buddhism is kind of cool, I guess,” has made him an appropriate patron philosopher of disaffected 16 year olds everywhere. This is not to say that more mature thinkers haven’t been influenced by him, however. Nietzsche had a major influence on later post-modern thinkers such as Foucault and Derrida and was well-received by some of his contemporaries as well, including Sigmund Freud and H.L. Mencken.
Apart from concepts he explicates more clearly elsewhere, like the death of God and the will to power, one of the major themes of this work is the undermining of aristocratic values by Christianity. H.L. Mencken, the translator of the edition of The Antichrist from which I have been quoting, summarizes Nietzsche’s position on this topic rather briskly in his introduction:
“what he feared most was the pollution and crippling of the superior minority by intellectual disease from below… Of all the religions ever devised by the great practical jokers of the race, this is the one that offers most for the least money, so to speak, to the inferior man. It starts out by denying his inferiority in plain terms: all men are equal in the sight of God.”
If Mencken’s summary of Nietzsche’s view on Christianity sounds belligerent at first hearing, it’s quite tame in comparison to Nietzsche’s:
“The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it. What is more harmful than any vice?—Practical sympathy for the botched and the weak—Christianity… Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect.”
If Nietzsche is to be believed, Christ had no interest in challenging a system which divided human beings according to their supposed value or nobility. But Christianity, following in the steps of the apostle Paul, who, despite being offered the right hand of fellowship by Jesus’ first disciples is generally blamed for inventing anything which scoffers dislike about Christianity, subverted it:
“This was [Paul’s] revelation at Damascus: he grasped the fact that he needed the belief in immortality in order to rob ‘the world’ of its value, that the concept of ‘hell’ would master Rome—that the notion of a ‘beyond’ is the death of life…. Nihilist and Christian: they rhyme in German, and they do more than rhyme… Paul’s invention, his device for establishing priestly tyranny and organizing the mob: the belief in the immortality of the soul—that is to say, the doctrine of ‘judgment.'”
The irony of Nietzsche’s claim that a belief in the afterlife establishes tyranny and undermines the heroic is that the Christianity religion, when its doctrines and holy books are not in the control of a select few who can then twist it as it serves them, has undermined authoritarianism chiefly because of its doctrine of resurrection. The tyrant’s only weapon is his threat of violence, his power to kill. Since Christians believe that God will raise them up, this threat is minimal, and therefore the tyrant is disarmed. It is only when a priestly class is believed by others to have the power of eternal damnation that an ostensibly Christian religion’s influence turns to tyranny. This is why Martin Luther, when he had wrested the Bible from the magisterium, could boldly say to his accusers, “here I stand, I can do no other.” The danger which Nietzsche thinks he sees in Christianity—that it will view the world as wicked or worse yet insignificant—is in fact a product of the ancient Gnostic heresy which claimed that the spiritual realm is all that matters. That Gnosticism has influenced historic Christianity is unfortunately and undeniably true, but such gloomy doctrines cannot be found in the New Testament. Our pal Friedrich has simply missed its point.
Whereas Marx thought that Christianity propped up class distinctions, Nietzsche felt that it undid them, which only demonstrates the tendency of Christianity’s critics to blame the Christian faith for any feature which they dislike in western culture. For Nietzsche, it was Christianity that destroyed what was most noble in man:
“Whom, then, does Christianity deny? what does it call ‘the world’? To be a soldier, to be a judge, to be a patriot; to defend one’s self; to be careful of one’s honour; to desire one’s own advantage; to be proud … every act of everyday, every instinct, every valuation that shows itself in a deed, is now anti-Christian: what a monster of falsehood the modern man must be to call himself nevertheless, and without shame, a Christian!”
In order to underline his argument about Christianity being merely a morality of resentment on the part of weak people, he contrasts what he sees as the Christian perspective with his understanding of the early Jewish one. Nietzsche thought of the God of the conquering Israelites to be a representative of their own will to power on earth. YHWH was their God, not the world’s, and He fought for them. Though Nietzsche may have disbelieved in all gods, he rather liked this idea of God, and contrasted it with what he saw as the more universalistic and pious God of the New Testament:
“The truth is that there is no other alternative for gods: either they are the will to power—in which case they are national gods—or incapacity for power—in which case they have to be good… When everything necessary to ascending life; when all that is strong, courageous, masterful and proud has been eliminated from the concept of a god; when he has sunk step by step to the level of a staff for the weary, a sheet-anchor for the drowning; when he becomes the poor man’s god, the sinner’s god, the invalid’s god par excellence, and the attribute of ‘saviour’ or ‘redeemer’ remains as the one essential attribute of divinity—just what is the significance of such a metamorphosis? …The Christian concept of a god—the god as the patron of the sick, the god as a spinner of cobwebs, the god as a spirit—is one of the most corrupt concepts that has ever been set up in the world: it probably touches low-water mark in the ebbing evolution of the god-type.”
How did such a sad sack as the Christian God come about, according to Nietzsche? Such a decay results from what Nietzsche calls ressentiment and the slave mentality.
Whereas the early Israelites were a warlike people who rose from subjugation to conquer their environment, and their God a reflection of this will to power, the early Christians were Jews who had been subjugated. Christianity, therefore, was the result of the ressentiment of a subjugated class toward their subjugators. Instead of fighting to destroy their enemies, since they were too weak to do so, Christians turned the other cheek and pretended that it was a great sacrifice on their part. At the same time, according to Nietzsche, they attempted to create a sense of shame in the superior class simply for being superior. Christianity was, for Nietzsche, a force which undermined what made man great—his will to power.
The first step in formulating a religion based on ressentiment is, according to Nietzsche, as follows:
“when the oppressed, downtrodden, and overpowered say to themselves with the vindictive guile of weakness, ‘Let us be otherwise than evil, namely, good! and good is everyone who does not oppress, who hurts no one, who does not attack, who does not pay back, who hands over revenge to God, who holds himself, as we do, in hiding; who goes out of the way of evil, and demands, in short, little from life; like ourselves the patient, the meek, the just,’ – yet all this, in its cold and unprejudiced interpretation, means nothing more than ‘once for all, the weak are weak; it is good to do nothing for which we are not strong enough.'”
Having concluded that they were superior for being weak, the Christians, with their slave morality, then turned directly upon the aristocratic class and destroyed it by infecting it. The early disciples asked themselves, “Who put him to death? who was his natural enemy?” and answered, “dominant Judaism, its ruling class.” “From that moment,” Nietzsche informs us, “one found one’s self in revolt against the established order, and began to understand Jesus as in revolt against the established order.”
As a result of Christianity’s later overcoming of the Roman empire:
“The majority became master; democracy, with its Christian instincts, triumphed… Again I remind you of Paul’s priceless saying: “And God hath chosen the weak things of the world, the foolish things of the world, the base things of the world, and things which are despised’: this was the formula; in hoc signo [in this sign] the décadence triumphed.—God on the cross—is man always to miss the frightful inner significance of this symbol?—Everything that suffers, everything that hangs on the cross, is divine…. We all hang on the cross, consequently we are divine…. We alone are divine…. Christianity was thus a victory: a nobler attitude of mind was destroyed by it—Christianity remains to this day the greatest misfortune of humanity.”
In a tone as presumptuous as his mustache, Nietzsche pontificated about how Christianity, with its belief in universal equality, leveled humanity by destroying the partition between superior and inferior men:
“Let us not underestimate the fatal influence that Christianity has had, even upon politics! Nowadays no one has courage any more for special rights, for the right of dominion, for feelings of honourable pride in himself and his equals—for the pathos of distance…. Our politics is sick with this lack of courage!—The aristocratic attitude of mind has been undermined by the lie of the equality of souls… Wrong never lies in unequal rights; it lies in the assertion of ‘equal’ rights.”
Having dismantled not only Christianity, but every moral constraint which is based upon it that modern man takes for granted, all that is left is the will to power. Nietzsche, for all of his flaws, had a clear grasp of what mankind’s options are—commitment to transcendent relational ethics or commitment to personal sovereignty which has no use for external imperatives. To the man who is not bewitched by such a philosophy, it is clear that the reason of the autonomous man is unhinged, unreasonable, and destructive. For the man who worships a crucified God, Nietzsche has nothing but contempt.
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Friedrich Nietzsche was a nihilist philosopher, critic and poet who wrote several works of philosophy which have proven strongly influential since their initial publication in the late 19th century. After beginning his academic career as an expert in ancient Greek and Latin, Nietzsche would steadily advance into philosophy, becoming more convinced and sure of his arguments as time went by. Gradually, his writings became more polemical and provocative, criticising earlier philosophers, established institutions such as the Christian church, and its moral tenets in a series of vehement and swiftly paced writings which at times veer into humorous sarcasm. Nietzsche’s final work was The Antichrist, which was completed a short time before a mental breakdown which rendered the scholar incapacitated for the final decade of his life. By the time of his death in 1900 at the age of 55, Nietzsche had assembled a large and devoted following, particularly within academic and scholarly circles, which continues to this day.
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