Monday, June 13, 2016

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part I: Nietzsche


Atheism, like theism, raises both theoretical and practical questions.  Why should we think it true?  And what would be the consequences if it were true?  When criticizing New Atheist writers, I have tended to emphasize the deficiencies of their responses to questions of the first, theoretical sort -- the feebleness of their objections to the central theistic arguments, their ignorance of what the most important religious thinkers have actually said, and so forth.  But no less characteristic of the New Atheism is the shallowness of its treatment of the second, practical sort of question.
 
The mentality is summed up perfectly in the notorious “Atheist Bus Campaign” of 2009 and its preposterous slogan: “There's probably no god.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  As if atheism promised only sweetness and light.  As if the vast majority of human beings would not find the implications of atheism -- that human existence has no purpose, that there is no postmortem reward to counterbalance the sufferings of this life, nor any hope for seeing dead loved ones again, etc. -- far more depressing than any purported deficiencies in traditional religious belief.  And as if the metaphysical assumptions underlying atheism would not cast into doubt the liberal and egalitarian values upheld by most atheists no less than the more traditional moral codes of the world religions. 

One of the hallmarks of the Old Atheism is that it was less inclined toward such naïveté.  You won’t find banalities like “stop worrying and enjoy your life” in writers like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Sartre, Freud, or Marx.  Such thinkers were in general more sensitive to the unpleasant implications of atheism, and to the challenge atheism and its metaphysical presuppositions pose to the hopes and ideals even of many atheists themselves.

Not that this attitude is entirely dead.  Woody Allen has been giving expression to it for much of his career (Crimes and Misdemeanors being the best example, Whatever Works being by far the worst).  In recent philosophy, Alex Rosenberg has certainly been willing to draw out from atheism some pretty chilling consequences.  David Stove’s atheism was even more consistently pessimistic, and unencumbered by Rosenberg’s capricious desperation to make his own atheistic pessimism as palatable as possible to egalitarian liberals.  New Atheists, however, seem in general more inclined toward delusional happy-talk of the kind indulged in by Richard Dawkins when he opined that a world without religion could be “paradise on earth… a world ruled by enlightened rationality… a much better chance of no more war… less hatred… less waste of time.” 

So let’s take a look, in this post and future ones, at atheism of the grittier old time sort.  We’ll start with Nietzsche, that grandest of Old Atheists and the great hero of my own atheist years.  My favorite Nietzsche line back in the day was this:

A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions! (Cited in Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, p. 354)

You might say that the reason I’m no longer an atheist is that I took Nietzsche’s advice seriously.  Of course, your mileage may vary.  But what might a New Atheist with the courage for an attack on his own convictions yet learn, even short of giving up his atheism?

The death of God

Nietzsche famously maintained “that ‘God is dead,’ that the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable” and that this promised “a new dawn” and was thus a cause for “happiness, relief, exhilaration, encouragement” (The Gay Science, Kaufmann translation, pp. 279-80).  But he was not so stupid as to think that “paradise on earth,” “a much better chance of no more war,” and other such Dawkinsian fantasies would be the immediate sequel.  On the contrary, he foresaw that “shadows… must soon envelop Europe,” that a “sequence of breakdown, destruction, ruin, and cataclysm… is now impending,” indeed a “monstrous logic of terror… an eclipse of the sun whose like has probably never yet occurred on earth” (p. 279).

Likewise, the protagonist of Nietzsche’s famous parable of the madman says:

“Whither is God? … I will tell you.  We have killed him -- you and I.  All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this?  How could we drink up the sea?  Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?  What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?  Whither is it moving now?  Whither are we moving?  Away from all suns?  Are we not plunging continually?  Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions?  Is there still any up or down?  Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing?  Do we not feel the breath of empty space?  Has it not become colder?  Is not night continually closing in on us? … God is dead. God remains dead.  And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?  What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?  What water is there for us to clean ourselves?  What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?  Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?...”  (The Gay Science, p. 181)

Why all the melodrama, if the “death of God” amounts (as the New Atheist would have you believe) to nothing more momentous than (say) a child’s coming to realize that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster don’t really exist?

The answer is that, as Nietzsche understood more profoundly than even many religious believers do, a religion is not merely a set of metaphysical propositions but embodies a culture’s highest values and thus a sense of its own worth:

A people that still believes in itself retains its own god.  In him it reveres the conditions which let it prevail, its virtues: it projects its pleasure in itself, its feeling of power, into a being to whom one may offer thanks.  Whoever is rich wants to give of his riches; a proud people needs a god: it wants to sacrifice.  Under such conditions, religion is a form of thankfulness.  Being thankful for himself, man needs a god.  (The Antichrist, section 16, Kaufmann translation)

Consequently, a culture that doubts its religion comes to doubt itself and its own legitimacy. And a culture that repudiates that religion is, in effect, committing a kind of cultural suicide.  The moral and social order to which the religion gave rise cannot survive its disappearance.  The trouble, in Nietzsche’s view, is that too few see what this entails:

Much less may one suppose that many people know as yet what this event [the death of God] really means -- and how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined because it was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it; for example, the whole of our European morality.  (The Gay Science, p. 279)

The New Atheist, upon hearing this, may shrug, thinking only of the heady prospect of guilt-free porn surfing, transvestite bathroom access, rectal coitus, and the other strange obsessions of the modern liberal mind.  But Nietzsche had somewhat higher ends in view.  By “the whole of our European morality,” he was not talking merely or even primarily about the rules of traditional sexual ethics against which the modern liberal has such a weird animus (and which are not unique to Christianity or Europe in any event).  He was talking about everything that has counted as morality in European culture, including the values modern egalitarian liberals still prize, and which Kant, Mill, and other modern ethicists of whom Nietzsche is harshly critical tried to give a secular foundation.  Since Nietzsche despised that morality, he thought its disappearance was a good thing and opened the door to something better.  But he knew that the transition would be ugly, that the path to a new order was uncharted, and that the precise nature of the destination was unclear.  Hence:

The time has come when we have to pay for having been Christians for two thousand years: we are losing the center of gravity by virtue of which we lived; we are lost for a while.  (The Will to Power 30, Kaufmann and Hollingdale translation.  The numbers cited here and later are section numbers, unless otherwise indicated.)

Against equality

What Nietzsche most hated, and the demise of which he most looked forward to, was the egalitarianism that Christianity had introduced into Western civilization.  As he writes in The Will to Power:

The “Christian ideal”: … attempt to make the virtues through which happiness is possible for the lowliest into the standard ideal of all values… (185)

Through Christianity, the individual was made so important, so absolute, that he could no longer be sacrificed: but the species endures only through human sacrifice -- All souls become “equal” before God: but this is precisely the most dangerous of all possible evaluations!  If one regards individuals as equal, one calls the species into question, one encourages a way of life that leads to the ruin of the species: Christianity is the counterprinciple to the principle of selection

This universal love of men is in practice the preference for the suffering, underprivileged, degenerate: it has in fact lowered and weakened the strength, the responsibility, the lofty duty to sacrifice men.  (246)

What is it we combat in Christianity?  That it wants to break the strong… (252)

And in The Antichrist Nietzsche famously says:

What is good?  Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself.

What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness.

What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.

Not contentedness but more power; not peace but war; not virtue but fitness (Renaissance virtue, virtu, virtue that is moraline-free).

The weak and the failures shall perish: first principle of our love of man. And they shall even be given every possible assistance.

What is more harmful than any vice? Active pity for all the failures and all the weak: Christianity. (The Portable Nietzsche, p. 570)

The “equality of souls before God,” this falsehood, this pretext for the rancor of all the base-minded, this explosive of a concept which eventually became revolution, modern idea, and the principle of decline of the whole order of society -- is Christian dynamite. (p. 655)

End quote.  Now, about this notion of the equal worth of all human beings, Nietzsche makes two main points.  First, it loses all intellectual foundation with the demise of Christianity.  He writes, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

[T]hus blinks the mob -- “there are no higher men, we are all equal, man is man; before God we are all equal.”

Before God!  But now this god has died.  And before the mob we do not want to be equal.  (The Portable Nietzsche, p. 398)

And in Twilight of the Idols:

When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet.  This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together.  By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one's hands… Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent… it stands and falls with faith in God. (The Portable Nietzsche, pp. 515-16)

This collapse of any reason to believe in the basic moral equality of all human beings is among the repercussions of the “death” of the Christian God that Nietzsche thinks European civilization has yet to face up to.  Modern secular moralists presuppose this egalitarianism but they have no rational grounds for doing so.  It is merely a prejudice they have inherited and refuse to question despite their rejection of its traditional basis:

[U]tilitarianism (socialism, democracy) criticizes the origin of moral evaluations, but it believes them just as much as the Christian does.  (Naiveté: as if morality could survive when the God who sanctions it is missing!…) (The Will to Power 253)

For Nietzsche, when modern intellectuals “believe that they know ‘intuitively’ what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality,” this is a delusion, and in fact reflects nothing more than the historical “effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and… the strength and depth of this dominion” even if “the origin of [the] morality has been forgotten” (Twilight of the Idols, p. 516).

Think of the contemporary secular academic moral philosopher who appeals to our “intuitions,” the Rawlsian method of bringing moral theory and our “considered convictions” into “reflective equilibrium,” the liberal activist who glibly appeals to the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as if it were something other than a set of sheer assertions floating in midair, and so forth.  All of this, for Nietzsche, would merely confirm his judgment that secular egalitarianism is nothing more than a bundle of sentiments inherited from Christianity and incapable of being given a new rational foundation.  (“The democratic movement,” says Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil, “is the heir of the Christian movement” (Kaufmann translation, p. 116).  Cf. my argument to the effect that liberalism is essentially a Christian heresy.) 

The second main point Nietzsche makes about moral egalitarianism is that there is, in his view, not only no reason to accept it but also positive reason to reject it.  For one thing, he would apply his famous hermeneutics of suspicion and method of genealogical critique to egalitarianism no less than to religious belief.  If there is no good positive reason to accept some view but also reason to think that the true source of its appeal is in some way disreputable, then that, in Nietzsche’s view, is good reason to reject it.  And there is such a source in the case of egalitarian moral views: They reflect, in Nietzsche’s opinion, nothing more than the interest that weaklings, mediocrities, and failures of every kind have in bringing down or hamstringing those whose power, excellence, and success they resent and envy.  Hence, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche has Zarathustra say:

Thus I speak to you in a parable -- you who make souls whirl, you preachers of equality.  To me you are tarantulas, and secretly vengeful.  But I shall bring your secrets to light; therefore I laugh in your faces with my laughter of the heights…

“What justice means to us is precisely that the world be filled with the storms of our revenge” -- thus [the tarantulas] speak to each other.  “We shall wreak vengeance and abuse on all whose equals we are not” -- thus do the tarantula-hearts vow.  “And ‘will to equality’ shall henceforth be the name for virtue; and against all that has power we want to raise our clamor!”

You preachers of equality, the tyrannomania of impotence clamors thus out of you for equality: your most secret ambitions to be tyrants thus shroud themselves in words of virtue.  Aggrieved conceit, repressed envy -- perhaps the conceit and envy of your fathers -- erupt from you as a flame and as the frenzy of revenge…

Mistrust all who talk much of their justice! … [W]hen they call themselves the good and the just, do not forget that they would be pharisees, if only they had -- power…

[P] reachers of equality and tarantulas… are sitting in their holes, these poisonous spiders, with their backs turned on life, they speak in favor of life, but only because they wish to hurt.  They wish to hurt those who now have power…

I do not wish to be mixed up and confused with these preachers of equality.  For, to me justice speaks thus: “Men are not equal.”  Nor shall they become equal!...

On a thousand bridges and paths they shall throng to the future, and ever more war and inequality shall divide them… Good and evil, and rich and poor, and high and low… (The Portable Nietzsche, pp. 211-13)

Here Nietzsche deploys his famous distinction between “slave moralities” and “master moralities.”  A slave morality begins with its adherents’ sense of their own weakness, mediocrity, and lowliness and aims to stigmatize as “evil” anything that contrasts with this, viz. the characteristic traits of those who are powerful, excellent, or noble.  A master morality begins with its adherents’ sense of their own strength, excellence, and nobility, and judges as “bad” whatever fails to live up to that standard.  Whereas master moralities are essentially about affirming the characteristics of their adherents, slave moralities are essentially about negating the characteristics of their adherents’ opponents. 

Nietzsche despises slave moralities but respects master moralities, and thus while be famously advocates going “beyond good and evil,” he also makes it clear that he does not necessarily want to go beyond good and bad.  It is the resentment and envy he takes to underlie a slave morality’s use of the epithet “evil” that he criticizes, not the confidence and gratitude that he takes to underlie a master morality’s judgment about what is “bad.”  You might say that Nietzsche sees himself as in the business of “speaking truth to powerlessness,” unmasking the ugly motives of those who hide behind the purportedly lofty sentiments of slave morality.   To the egalitarian, he says: Don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that you are motivated by “justice.”  In reality you are simply a loser, a misfit, a failure who cannot bear the excellence and success of others and for that reason want to tear them down, while enshrouding this revenge-seeking behind a moralizing smokescreen.

Nietzsche thinks that slave moralities are not only rationally unjustified and reflect base motives; he thinks they are harmful.  In emphasizing pity for the weak, they seek to eliminate suffering, but in doing so thereby eliminate the preconditions for excellence and only make human beings weaker, softer, and ignoble.  To the slave moralist he says:

You want, if possible -- and there is no more insane “if possible” -- to abolish suffering... Well-being as you understand it -- that is no goal, that seems to us an end, a state that soon makes man ridiculous and contemptible -- that makes his destruction desirable.

The discipline of suffering, of great suffering -- do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far?  (Beyond Good and Evil 225)

And in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra says:

But if you have a suffering friend, be a resting place for his suffering, but a hard bed as it were, a field cot: thus you will profit him best…

Thus be warned of pity… [A]ll great love is even above all its pity; for it still wants to create the beloved…

But all creators are hard.  (The Portable Nietzsche, p. 202)

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche sees the logic of the slave moralist’s obsession with pity for those who suffer playing out in nineteenth-century European politics:

Whoever examines the conscience of the European today will have to pull the same imperative out of a thousand moral folds and hideouts -- the imperative of herd timidity: “we want that some day there should be nothing any more to be afraid of!”  Some day -- throughout Europe, the will and way to this day is now called “progress.” (201)

We have a different faith; to us the democratic movement is not only a form of the decay of political organization but a form of the decay, namely the diminution, of man, making him mediocre and lowering his value

The over-all degeneration of man down to what today appears to the socialist dolts and flatheads as their “man of the future”-- as their ideal -- this [is a] degeneration and diminution of man into the perfect herd animal (or, as they say, to the man of the “free society”), this animalization of man into the dwarf animal of equal rights and claims… (203)

The end result of these trends is the undermining of the very preconditions of social order, including a “mistrust of punitive justice (as if it were a violation of those who are weaker…)” (202).  He elaborates as follows:

There is a point in the history of society when it becomes so pathologically soft and tender that among other things it sides even with those who harm it, criminals, and does this quite seriously and honestly. Punishing somehow seems unfair to it, and it is certain that imagining “punishment” and “being supposed to punish” hurts it, arouses fear in it.  “Is it not enough to render him undangerous? Why still punish? Punishing itself is terrible.”  With this question, herd morality, the morality of timidity, draws its ultimate consequence. (201)

Now, it is not difficult to see in Nietzsche’s account of the “tarantulas” and of “slave morality” a description of the Bern-feeling, Wall-Street-Occupying, Social Justice Warrior.  It is hardly a stretch to see a condemnation of Rawls’s “difference principle” implicit in Nietzsche’s contempt for the egalitarian’s “preference for the suffering [and] underprivileged” and for the “attempt to make the virtues through which happiness is possible for the lowliest into the standard ideal of all values.”  The modern liberal nanny state, and the advocacy of a therapeutic rather than punitive approach to criminal justice, are obviously exactly the sorts of thing Nietzsche has in mind in the passages just quoted from Beyond Good and Evil.  Furthermore, as Richard Schacht observes:

Nietzsche’s critique of pity is above all an attack upon the tendency sufferers have… to be overwhelmed by their own suffering and the similar sufferings of others, and in their preoccupation with it to take it to matter more than anything else. (Nietzsche, p. 459)

And such preoccupation is manifest in identity group politics and the tendency of those committed to it to define themselves in terms of their perceived status as victims of oppression.

Yet such left-wing attitudes and policies are embraced by many New Atheists.  If Nietzsche is right, these attitudes and policies are not only bad and unfounded, but have their ultimate source in the very Christianity New Atheists claim to oppose.  (I would say that they actually involve a massive distortion of the equal human dignity that Christianity affirms, but that is neither here nor there for present purposes.  The point is that, whether faithfully conveyed or distorted, the idea was inherited from Christianity.)

Against scientism

Though Nietzsche certainly shares with the New Atheism its commitment to metaphysical naturalism, he would nevertheless reject its scientism -- and in particular its optimism about the ability of science to capture objective, mind-independent reality -- as hopelessly naïve and indeed incompatible with a naturalistic assessment of man’s cognitive powers.  Certainly he would be unimpressed by any argument to the effect that the utility of science proves its truth, or more generally that the fact that our cognitive faculties are adaptive shows that they capture objective reality.  He writes of beliefs that are

so much a part of us that not to believe in it would destroy the race.  But are they for that reason truths?  What a conclusion!  As if the preservation of man were a proof of truth!  (The Will to Power 497)

Again, he says:

Life is no argument.  The conditions of life might include error.  (The Gay Science 121)

Nietzsche here anticipates an element of the “argument from reason” later developed by writers like Karl Popper, C. S. Lewis, and Alvin Plantinga (though of course he doesn’t draw the anti-naturalistic conclusion that Lewis and Plantinga do).  Survival value must not, in his view, be confused with truth; the idea that science gives us truth rests on a “metaphysical faith” (The Gay Science 344).

Furthermore (and as other writers with no theological ax to grind have emphasized) the very notion of a scientific “law of nature” has a theological origin, and in Nietzsche’s view retains a merely metaphorical significance when the theology is jettisoned.  There cannot be a true “law” or “regularity” where there is neither a lawgiver nor a subject which literally submits to the law:

Let us beware of saying there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses.  (The Gay Science, p. 168)

“[N]ature’s conformity to law,” of which you physicists talk so proudly, as though -- why, it exists only owing to your interpretation and bad “philology.”  It is no matter of fact, no “text,” but rather only a naively humanitarian emendation and perversion of meaning… (Beyond Good and Evil 22)

And again, in The Will to Power:

“Regularity” in succession is only a metaphorical expression, as if a rule were being followed here; not a fact.  In the same way “conformity with a law.”  We discover a formula by which to express an ever-recurring kind of result: we have therewith discovered no “law,” even less a force that is the cause of the recurrence of a succession of results.  That something always happens thus and thus is here interpreted as if a creature always acted thus and thus as a result of obedience to a law or lawgiver, while it would be free to act otherwise were it not for the “law.”  (632)

Form, species, law, idea, purpose -- in all these cases the same error is made of giving a false reality to a fiction, as if events were in some way obedient to something… (521)

A major theme of The Will to Power’s treatment of science is the idea that, despite having largely stripped from our notion of nature that which reflects the contingent perspective of the observer, physics still -- insofar as it rests on sensory evidence -- inevitably reflects that perspective to some extent.  Of course, to remedy this, physics tries to frame its description of nature in the abstract language of mathematics.  But Nietzsche anticipates Bertrand Russell’s theme (to which I have often called attention) that insofar as physics gives us only knowledge of the physical world’s mathematical structure, it does not give us knowledge of the intrinsic character of that which has that structure, and thus actually tells us relatively little about objective reality. 

Because we have to think in terms of there being something which has the structure, the physicist postulates certain entities as the relata whose relationships are described in the structural description -- Nietzsche gives atoms as an example.  This can lead us to think we’ve actually captured something of the inner nature of the physical world as it is in itself, but in Nietzsche’s view this is an illusion.  He writes, in The Will to Power:

To comprehend the world, we have to be able to calculate it; to be able to calculate it, we have to have constant causes; because we find no such constant causes in actuality, we invent them for ourselves -- the atoms. This is the origin of atomism.

The calculability of the world, the expressibility of all events in formulas -- is this really "comprehension"? How much of a piece of music has been understood when that in it which is calculable and can be reduced to formulas has been reckoned up? (624)

It is an illusion that something is known when we possess a mathematical formula for an event: it is only designated, described; nothing more! (628)

Mechanistic theory can… only describe processes, not explain them. (660)

Much more could be said, but I’ll leave it at that.  If Nietzsche is right, the New Atheist is hopelessly naïve in supposing that the demise of religion promises only sweetness and light, that liberal egalitarian ideals can or ought to survive the demise of Christianity, and that science gives us much in the way of objective knowledge.  New Atheists are notoriously resistant to hearing out an “attack on [their] convictions” when it comes from a religious believer.  Are they willing to consider one raised by an Old Atheist?

93 comments:

Crude said...

Oh man, this is gonna be good. What am I say, it IS already good.

DNW said...

Outstanding post.

"It is the resentment and envy he takes to underlie a slave morality’s use of the epithet “evil” that he criticizes, not the confidence and gratitude that he takes to underlie a master morality’s judgment about what is “bad.” You might say that Nietzsche sees himself as in the business of “speaking truth to powerlessness,” unmasking the ugly motives of those who hide behind the purportedly lofty sentiments of slave morality. To the egalitarian, he says: Don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that you are motivated by “justice.” In reality you are simply a loser, a misfit, a failure who cannot bear the excellence and success of others and for that reason want to tear them down, while enshrouding this revenge-seeking behind a moralizing smokescreen."

As a parallel, philosopher Stephen Hicks, who I just came across, attempts to come up with a satisfactory explanation as to why those who embrace a postmodern worldview should - by and large - inevitably embrace leftism. After all, leftism is no more a logically impelled consequence of postmodern principles than of scientism/moral-nihilism, or atheism.

He concludes, somewhat tentatively that this outcome is largely an artifact of the psychology of the persons expressing these views, and nothing like a rational deduction or even inductive inference from principles: but rather a result of what the French call "ressentiment".

No doubt many of the kind would cheerfully admit it if pressed.

I think that anyone who has wasted much time trying to penetrate the rhetorical fog emitted by collectivists when they engage in "moral speak" [Hicks characterizes their methodology as a non-rational war of rhetorical attrition - and how many of us have noticed the same thing] figures that it has to have something to do with it. After all, no one is trying to prohibit them from personally or even collectively doing "good" for others. What is peculiar is that they feel the need to turn humanity into an involuntary termite heap in order to accomplish it.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has also opined that among the younger generation of campus P.C and "social justice" activists and offense trolls, exist a significant number of young people, many of them women, who are mentally ill; and that this generation of youth is demonstrably exhibiting levels of mental illness and an inability to cope with not being affirmed each and every day in each and every way, not seen in previous generations.


http://www.stephenhicks.org/publications/explaining-postmodernism/

DNW said...

Now Eduardo, I already know what you are going to say about what I said , so ...

And again, Outstanding post.


"New Atheists are notoriously resistant to hearing out an “attack on [their] convictions” when it comes from a religious believer. Are they willing to consider one raised by an Old Atheist?"

No. As we all already know, there is no reasoning with an appetite, or an entity self-reduced, gleefully, to one; no matter what the housing still more or less looks like. Though that is becoming problematic as well.

Eduardo said...

Well played Mr. DNW.

But I would say: Agreed!

Unfortunately...

Anonymous said...

Yep, Nietzsche draws the logical conclusions that the so-called New Atheists aren't willing to tolerate as they are all left-wing ideologues.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Feser: If Nietzsche is right, these [left-wing] attitudes and policies are not only bad and unfounded, but have their ultimate source in the very Christianity New Atheists claim to oppose.

I sense a deep tension in this position, which you appear to share with Nietzsche, at least to some extent.

On the one hand, Nietzsche argues that left-wing morality has its source and foundation in Christianity, and that therefore these sentiments will not be able to survive the disappearance of God-belief.

On the other hand, he levels many blistering rhetorical attacks arguing that left-wing sentiments originate in "secret ambitions to be tyrants" and "[a]ggrieved conceit, repressed envy". In Schacht's paraphrase, Nietzsche argues that left-wing morality is rooted in "the tendency sufferers have ... to be overwhelmed by their own suffering and the similar sufferings of others, and in their preoccupation with it to take it to matter more than anything else."

Suppose we grant Nietzsche's claim that left-wing morality originates in these bad motives: aggrieved conceit, repressed envy, and preoccupation with one's own suffering.

Well, these motives all seem to be pretty basic to human nature. It's not likely that they are going anywhere any time soon. But, if that's so, then the morality that flows from them seems to have a firm foundation. We can safely assume that people will continue to be envious and preoccupied with their own suffering. If left-wing morality truly flows from this fact, then why should it stop? If the source remains, why would the stream that originates in it disappear.

Now, in Nietzsche's "genealogy", the source (envy, etc.) doesn't lead to left-wing morality directly, but rather via God-belief. People intrinsically crave equality, he says, but only equality before God: "Before God! But now this god has died. And before the mob we do not want to be equal."

This is a crucial point in Nietzsche's argument. It's the only way he offers to relieve the apparent tension in his position that I describe above. Yes, left-wing morality originates in permanent things, such as the contemptible thirst for equality. Nonetheless, this morality still needs God-belief, because the thirst for equality is only a thirst for equality before God. Without God-belief, the basic desire for equality can't sustain a moral position demanding equality. This is how the death of God entails the death of liberalism.

But is it really true that "before the mob we do not want to be equal"? I just don't see it. The people concerned with equality are mostly worried about how they're treated by other people in this world and by its worldly institutions. I'm just not seeing why "equality before the mob" is insufficiently motivating to the "tarantulas" that Nietzsche describes.

Thursday said...

The idea of human equality most certainly did not come from Christianity.

I completely lost confidence in Nietzsche's geneology of "slave morality" after reading about the fierce egalitarianism of hunter gatherers. Anybody in those societies who gets too big for his britches is whacked down mercilessly. Christopher Boehm's Hierarchy in the Forest is the most widely available source.

The Mohist philsophers of Ancient China were the utopian socialists of their day and preached an egalitarian, universalist morality, with strong consequentialist tendencies. Interestingly, they were also obsessed with science and technology. (Mo Tzu, the founder, is best available in this anthology from Burton Watson.)

Utilitarian-like moralities, with their implicit equalizing, were prevalent among the atomists.

The urge towards human equality seems to be an innate part of human psychology, which pops up with more or less intensity depending on circumstances.

Thursday said...

Novelist and (liberal) Christian apologist Francis Spufford has a similar take on the "enjoy your life" meme here. It's an excerpt from his book Unapologetic, which is a book of very mixed quality: great on the New Atheists and on prayer, but rather awful in a liberal Anglican way elsewhere.

Bilbo said...

Dr. Feser,

I agree with Nietzsche's analysis of the origin of political liberalism. However, he seems to think that there is something superior to it - his superman morality. But in society this is what we would call Social Darwinism - the idea of total competition, with no social safety nets for anyone. And the losers are just to suffer in utter poverty, destitution, starvation. This superman morality is just as anti-Christian, if not more so, than the political liberalism that Nietzsche despised. The Old Testament made generosity to the poor the law of the land. The farmer could not reap all of his crops, but had to leave the edges for the poor. A person's debts were to be forgiven every seven years. A family's property was to be returned every fifty years. God commanded that there were to be no poor the Israelites. Yet this is something that conservatives such as yourself tend to leave out of your own morality. Why is that? I wonder if your attraction to Nietzsche's superman still continues to live in your own soul.

Tony said...

Well, these motives all seem to be pretty basic to human nature. It's not likely that they are going anywhere any time soon. But, if that's so, then the morality that flows from them seems to have a firm foundation.

But is it really true that "before the mob we do not want to be equal"? I just don't see it. The people concerned with equality are mostly worried about how they're treated by other people in this world and by its worldly institutions. I'm just not seeing why "equality before the mob" is insufficiently motivating to the "tarantulas" that Nietzsche describes.

Tyrrell, I think it is the "morality" part of the equation that depends on the "before God". Sure, people who have not are concerned with having "as much as the other guy", which is equality. But this want, this desire, cannot be turned into any kind of morality that impinges on both so as to constitute a framework of right behavior - an OBLIGATION to act in certain ways even when you don't want to - without the "before God" part of it. Without that, all it is, is a desire for more than you have now in the face of someone else who does have more than you have. So what? That desire isn't "good" in any moral sense.

Of course, Nietzsche's theory of whence arises the impetus for leveling equality is skewed and warped by his bad philosophy. He is wrong about how it comes from Christianity just as much as he is wrong about God.

Tony said...

God commanded that there were to be no poor the Israelites. Yet this is something that conservatives such as yourself tend to leave out of your own morality. Why is that? I wonder if your attraction to Nietzsche's superman still continues to live in your own soul.

Bilbo, you are right that God commanded practices that softened the desperate plight of the poor. However, you are wrong that "God commanded that there were to be no poor" among the Israelites. That's just wrong. That God commanded generosity to relieve the poor somewhat didn't mean he commanded equality or anything like it. The relief you mention would have made a poor person able to not starve, perhaps, but would not have made him no longer poor. Widows and orphans would remain poor under these laws, and would remain in need of relief.

Nor is the plight of the poor something to which conservatives give no attention. The standard difference is whether the poor are to be helped by individual initiative of those who have more, out of charity, good will, benevolence, and love of God, or are to be helped by taxing those who have more and distributing it by the state. Interestingly, the levitical laws say nothing about taxing the rich and distributing to the poor.

Bilbo said...

Tony,

Deuteronomy 15:4

Meanwhile, if individuals do not take care of the poor, does the state have an obligation to?

Matak Julian said...

I'm just curious. What text would you recommend as a primer or intro on Nietzsche? Especially if you're not fluent in German.

Bilbo said...

While waiting for Tony's or Dr. Feser's reply, I looked up the Catholic Church's view of healthcare. Interestingly, the Church teaches that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Sounds like they are feeling the Bern.

DNW said...



"The Old Testament made generosity to the poor the law of the land. The farmer could not reap all of his crops, but had to leave the edges for the poor. A person's debts were to be forgiven every seven years. A family's property was to be returned every fifty years. God commanded that there were to be no poor the Israelites. "

Placing aside the question as to whether they ever practiced what the prophets preached, how did that work out for them?

DNW said...

One need not even accept Nietzsche's complete analysis in order to recognize that there is a fundamental question of social affiliation and personal affinity and interest at work here: One which brings into question the very concept of "society" which has so often been unthinkingly reified by moral hand-flappers who are "quite frankly offended that any such question as to absolute limits on interpersonal liabilities and associative predicates should even arise!"

Speaking in the most general and casual terms, I think that this area is particularly problematic for most Europeans, and indeed almost everyone in the world who has not lived in a self-consciously and deliberately formed society based on limits. Interesting how the ahistorical social-contract fables came true on at least one landmass. Though I suppose one could argue that some of the Greek colonies or Rome itself to some limited extent, might be another example.

DNW said...



Bilbo said...

While waiting for Tony's or Dr. Feser's reply, I looked up the Catholic Church's view of healthcare. Interestingly, the Church teaches that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Sounds like they are feeling the Bern.

June 13, 2016 at 7:40 PM"


Whatever the Catholic Church means by a "right" in that context, they also teach that homosexuality is a grave disorder, and that artificial contraception is wrong, that missing mass is a sin, and that man has an intrinsic nature and an eternal end directed at the beatitude.

At least with that scheme you get some payoff for putting up with your life efforts being drained away by whining eff-ups and the behaviorally incontinent.

Tony said...

Bilbo: Deuteronomy 15:4

Ah, trolling. I see. Well, I won't pursue this issue because I try not to respond to trolling. If I were to respond I might get into how 15:4 details not God's commands to help the poor, but God's promise to help them, but I won't get into all that. This is all very far afield of the OP, Nietzsche, and is atheistic grapple with harsh consequences.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that's "HIS atheistic grapple with..."

Anonymous said...

@Matak: 'I'm just curious. What text would you recommend as a primer or intro on Nietzsche? Especially if you're not fluent in German.'

I studied Nietzsche in English and personally found his 1880s work to be his best. My personal favourites are 'The Gay Science', 'Beyond Good and Evil', and 'On the Genealogy of Morality'. A really good way to explore Nietzsche is through 'The Portable Nietzsche', and 'Basic Writings of Nietzsche', although the controversial, posthumous collection of his nachlass, 'The Will to Power', is also a fascinating read.

To sample his style on line, check out an early but important essay 'On truth and Lie in a Non-moral Sense'. Happy reading!

Tony said...

I completely lost confidence in Nietzsche's geneology of "slave morality" after reading about the fierce egalitarianism of hunter gatherers. Anybody in those societies who gets too big for his britches is whacked down mercilessly. Christopher Boehm's Hierarchy in the Forest is the most widely available source.

Thursday, I am not too sure what "too big for his britches" would mean in this context, but I assume it probably refers at least to amassing more than a comparable share of the hunted and gathered goods. I wouldn't trust an anthropologist / animal behaviorist like Boehm much more than Nietzsche on questions of what is innate to human nature, using a survey of "hunter gatherers". For one thing, the apparently embedded assumption that the behaviors of apes and chimps can evolutionarily enlighten us about human nature is very troublesome, since evolution denies that there is such a thing as human nature or that human self-conscious, intellectual intelligence is a fundamental difference. For another, the fact that many societies may be presumed to have moved out of hunter-gatherer arrangements into other (and wealthier) social forms almost certainly through the very processes (intelligently considered and freely chosen for perceived goods) of such things as assigning hierarchical roles and assigning rules for maintaining personal wealth, suggests that locating behaviors typical in hunter-gatherer societies is not sufficient to identifying root norms of human nature. Or, as Pope Leo XIII put it: private property is part of the natural law.

Miles Rind said...

As if the vast majority of human beings would not find the implications of atheism -- that human existence has no purpose, that there is no postmortem reward to counterbalance the sufferings of this life, nor any hope for seeing dead loved ones again, etc. -- far more depressing than any purported deficiencies in traditional religious belief.

How anybody can find consolation in the idea of being reunited with deceased loved ones after one’s own death is a complete mystery to me. Some years ago, the fellow who had been my best friend for 28 years–pretty much my entire adult life–died of brain cancer. I still feel the loss of him every day. I cannot conceive how I am supposed to find consolation in the fantasy of finding him again when we are both leading some disembodied post-mortem existence, even setting aside the question of how any adult of normal intelligence can take such a fantasy seriously. (Will he be restored to life in the degraded condition in which he was at the time of his death? Or will he be reconstituted according to some arbitrary "restore point" from earlier in his life?) I grieve the loss of my friend because I no longer have him *in my life*. The thought of getting him back when my life has run out is to me about as paltry a false consolation as I can think of.

Anonymous said...

@Matak
'To sample his style on line, check out an early but important essay 'On truth and Lie in a Non-moral Sense'. Happy reading!'

Sorry - I forgot to include the link

http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Nietzsche/Truth_and_Lie_in_an_Extra-Moral_Sense.htm

DNW said...

" How anybody can find consolation in the idea of being reunited with deceased loved ones after one’s own death is a complete mystery to me. ..."


Well if they were actually loved, and if they added something joyful to your existence, then I suppose you might entertain the idea of seeing them again, just as you might entertain the idea of seeing them back from a journey, or saved from the deathbed.


" I cannot conceive how I am supposed to find consolation in the fantasy of finding him again when we are both leading some disembodied post-mortem existence ..."

I suppose that if the notion were that you were floating around in some ghostly realm, you would find it pretty unfulfilling. But whatever features of the Christian after-life they might be criticized for when it comes to their concept of one, that feature is not one of them.



" ... even setting aside the question of how any adult of normal intelligence can take such a fantasy seriously. (Will he be restored to life in the degraded condition in which he was at the time of his death? Or will he be reconstituted according to some arbitrary "restore point" from earlier in his life?) I grieve the loss of my friend because I no longer have him *in my life*. The thought of getting him back when my life has run out is to me about as paltry a false consolation as I can think of.
June 14, 2016 at 7:52 AM "


Huh. Even a non-believer should have some minimal familiarity with what the biblical text actually says in this regard.

The interesting question which follows from Feser's essay, is not so much the Christian view of the afterlife, but how the organisms of the left, get from their moral nihilist predicates to their morally injunctive conclusions with a straight face.

Thursday said...

Tony:

This isn't some froo froo isolated finding. Boehm is only the most convenient survey of this. Every hunter gatherer society ever studied has been fiercely egalitarian. And, sure, you could argue that human beings have hierarchical tendencies too (which they obviously do). But that doesn't negate the fact that egalitarianism has been a huge part of human morality in circumstances way before Christianity or Socrates or whatever. Nietzsche's historical account of how "slave morality" arose is simply false.

Timocrates said...

Heh. Poor Nietzsche...

I find it funny that for all Nietzsche's awareness of how Christianized Westerners and Europeans are, he could not himself escape from piggy-backing on Christian prejudice; as, for instance, when he would defame others on account of their "impotence." Does he not realize that impotence in the West is a failing to be like the divine; hence, its primary referent is sexual impotence? As those Hebrew ladies of old who could scarcely be convinced that to be infertile or barren was not the penultimate curse from God? Or the reason why every fourth radio commercial I hear panders to a man's sense of failure on account of "erectile dysfunction"?

Poor Nietzsche, who so famously provided the grounds for his own condemnation and those who follow him: this sterile, limping, lifeless ideology that parasitically feeds off of Christian life and civilization. No wonder so many moderns are hell bent on killing themselves these days; for what worse fate is there then to be convinced that Christians are the weakest of the weak, then realize you only exist and are maintained on account of them? What, then, does that make you?

DNW said...

Thursday said...

Tony:

This isn't some froo froo isolated finding. Boehm is only the most convenient survey of this. Every hunter gatherer society ever studied has been fiercely egalitarian. And, sure, you could argue that human beings have hierarchical tendencies too (which they obviously do). But that doesn't negate the fact that egalitarianism has been a huge part of human morality in circumstances way before Christianity or Socrates or whatever. Nietzsche's historical account of how "slave morality" arose is simply false.

June 14, 2016 at 9:40 AM"




Presumably, this egalitarianism refers only to some nascent social stratification within a sodality or kinship group; and not to anything like equal consideration for or accommodation of the opinions of the weak, nor any concern at their gleeful brutalization; as anyone who has read accounts of Australian Aboriginal society pre-settlement [not for the squeamish] will acknowledge.

Eduardo said...

How come an mildly intelligent adult can entertain after-life seriously?

Lack of prejudice and intellectual humbleness... Yep that is it. My bad if it was so obviously Simple. (Then again my IQ is above average so maybe is just that)

I love skeptics...not! Have you ever see any of these people criticizing anything without an attack on the people who hold those beliefs or claim how low he or she sees that belief? I didn't think so...

And yet I completely umderstand that feeling, yes I was pretty damn smug and insecure I needed to hurt people positions to solidify mine... Well maybe I still do...

Timocrates said...

@ Bilbo,

I tend to agree, which is why I think Christianity is the religion in which liberalism happened, because it is a big tent religion wherein people can legitimately maintain diverse views. Capitalistic conservatism is fine so long as you hang corporate leaders who literally sell out their country in times of war and give abundantly of their profits to provide real relief for the poor; otherwise, capitalism is just an engine for social Darwinism. Both neoliberal and communist economics are utopian and tend to the abolition of government; in my mind, the Communists won the war when neoliberalism was successfully imbibed into the West, because the end goal was the abolition of law and order or government and a law of the jungle. Only in such circumstances could a socialist state effectively compete against other states and overthrow them.

The original founder of modern economics in the English-speaking world is Adam Smith, and he stressed that it must be made a crime for corporate leaders in the same industry to ever meet. This realist aspect of liberal economics was jettisoned in neoliberal economics but not completely as it couldn't avoid pointing out the evils of monopoly, though the capitalist goal is always monopoly. Nobody actually desires competition and a too laissez-faire capitalist system simply results in corporate and political collusion. What you get is the impression and appearance of competition, variety and the illusion of choice, just as Augustus Caesar draped his autocracy in republican robes.

I think socialistic policies can only work when the society itself is voluntarily tending toward a disciplined lifestyle; in other words, socialism will only work in religious societies with a healthy work ethic and a realist consciousness about the costs involved. In that situation socialism is most realistic; otherwise, it is fantasy and what you get is an ever lowering common denominator in terms of quality of life. But I must stress that liberal "capitalist" economics is also a fantasy that involves divinizing "the market", with the absurd consequence of treating the market as if it were itself a rational agent; as if the lunatic for insane reasons who is buying boat loads of toilet paper means we ought to invest in and expand the toilet paper industry to accommodate it; by extension, if we are to be strict, good liberal capitalists we ought to invest in the cocaine business too. This is why I can't stand unqualified "deregulation" advocates in Conservative circles: they have a ridiculously naive view of human nature. Greed is not good and it corrupts individuals and societies. You are best playing with fire: a man will happily make himself a fortune selling you bad loans, even though this industry radically undermines and destabilizes the very society he lives in.

Anonymous said...

@Miles Rind

So, in effect you are saying he serves no purpose for you now that he is deceased so you would rather move on?

Miles Rind said...

A very provoking non sequitur, Anonymous. I can understand your choosing to remain such.

No, I am not saying that—"in effect," or in anything else except your willful misinterpretation.

What serves no purpose for me is the idea that when my earthly existence is at an end, I get some sort of unearthly existence that includes my friend in it.

Anonymous said...

FYI, this isn't a creationist blog etc. People do think about the philosophical questions concerning causation. Some people come to the conclusion an intelligence, a being who is its own act of existence, sustains all that is not self necessary. Civil discussion over polarized shouting matches are more beneficial to both sides.

I see this thread descending into that because New Atheist's don't always engage the argument, but rather those who hold the opposing position. Theist's can fall into the same pitfall of course.

Anonymous said...

@Miles Rind

That makes your position a little more clear. Having read your first comment quickly and because it was about what you would find consoling or not, it seemed on first reading, his continued existence was being considered in purely pragmatic terms.

Bilbo said...

Tony,

I'm not sure what you mean by accusing me of "trolling." I am sincere in my belief that God was commanding the Israelites that they were responsible for trying to make sure there were no poor among them. This is why debts were cancelled every seven years and why property (land, the means of making a living) was returned every fifty years - the year of Jubilee. God did not want a society where all wealth accumulated among a few, while the great majority were poor.

Meanwhile, you have not answered my question: If individuals do not care for the poor, is the state obligated to do so?

Bilbo said...

Timocrates,

I will say up front that until the Lord returns, there is no hope of achieving a utopian state on Earth. But while we await his coming, do you think the state is obligated to care for the poor? My own answer is Yes. I tend to support most of what Bernie Sanders advocates. I wish he were against abortion. I think guaranteeing the sanctity of life would help prevent some of the abuses of the State is prone to.

Miles Rind said...

I admit that my first comment was not phrased in a fashion open to discussion. The fact is that I wrote it originally for posting on a blog that was commenting (unfavorably) on this post, then simply copied and pasted it here. But it is also a fact that I cannot understand how anyone can find consolation in this sort of idea: "Your loss of your friend/lover/spouse/parent/whatever is only a temporary separation: it will only last for the rest of your life."

Bilbo said...

Let me be more specific: guaranteeing the sanctity of each individual life.

Scott W. said...

Someone pull the Voight-Kampff machine out of mothballs.

Eduardo said...

O_O you mean like, 500 years instead of forever, or worst...

you will soon go into oblivion and forget everything. Your friend is as meaningful as the beliefs you think that are false. Imagine that... Your 28-year long friend was no more meaningful than a rock you stepped over today, in the long run, basically, getting attached to your now gone (sort of gone) friendship is useless like everything else in life.

so yeah, being with him after let's say 500 years of life would be a huuuge consolation man, and life being meaningful IMO is attached somewhat to what our lifes and deaths are.

Or maybe... Your friend didn't mean much after all, to the point where he/she can be replaced, or forgotten. I would say I doubt, but you never know.

Eduardo said...

Ok, I guess Rind is saying:

"Believing that somebody is gone or dead and we will soon get together is only meaningful, emotionally or intelectually, if we be back in this life"

There! I guess that is your poistion. I guess...

Tony said...

I'm not sure what you mean by accusing me of "trolling."

Because, as I said, your point has nothing to do with the topic of this post, i.e. Nietzsche, new and old atheism, etc.

DNW said...

Eduardo said...

How come an mildly intelligent adult can entertain after-life seriously? ...Lack of prejudice and intellectual humbleness."

Eduardo, you have been visting Feser's blog long enough to know that when Feser takes us to the intersection where the progressive's philosophical values incoherence meets up the yearning of sensitive types everywhere to order others into the breach, two things happen:

1, The logic question quickly gets passed over for emoting's sake; and 2, Christians start murmuring over it about our biblical duties to the poor; doing their best to obscure the core issue and provide cover for their comrades in pathos.

Almost no one, except a few of Feser's regulars, like the late Scott, will man-up to face the bloody question head on or to say why they will not, or cannot. The situation would be hilarious, if it were not so pathetic.

Of course they could always do like Rorty did, and boldly shrug at the notion of truth and logical entailment (when it comes to values or anything else), and just talk about organisms coping with the environment - and manipulating others to their tastes - but, that doesn't quite have that ring they want for their call to communal altruism bell.

Hicks, who I mentioned earlier, had a remarkable comment on what happens the second or third exchange, or move, into any discussion concerning the futility of the progressive's attempt to ground interpersonal moral obligations within the framework of their postmodernist worldview. There will inevitably be a shift from the argument, to a question: "But what about the poor?"

What was remarkable to me was that he suggested the same response I had myself concluded was proper, but only after having first wasted years trying to keep the type on topic. One replies, "What about them?"

And then makes the questioner stick to justifying himself until you get their base level assumptions out in the open.

This can, more or less, sort of, be done at say, a cocktail party where you have the clown maneuvered into a position where he has to either answer or face the humiliation of fleeing in public, in a place where he is known. It doesn't work on the Internet.

But we all know that.

Let the emoting and raw assertions begin ...

Anonymous said...

@Miles Rind
People believe in life after death on philosophical grounds. I want the greatest good for those I love. If that happens to be the beatific vision I couldn't but be happy about that. Also you know that Thomists don't believe the soul to be a ghost in the machine? The continuation of the form in the Thomist Hylomorphist view, while not a materialist view, is however far less Platonic than is familiar to most atheists.

Also, for Thomists at least,there is the common sense approach that individual questions and details might need to be approached individually and/or cumulatively (in logical succession). You raised several questions that would need separate considerations. I think Edward has briefly touched on the metaphysics of the resurrected body, but it is a speculative area (and there may not yet be a consensus).

Don't be tempted just to be critical, there are always benefits to seeing where those you disagree with may be right (both in terms of personal character development and in terms of intellectual progression).


Jeremy Taylor said...

Mile Rind,

You seen to have made several claims, which you treat interchangeably:

-The Christian view of the afterlife (which you show little familiarity with) is unappealing and not much of a consolation.

-It is not consolation to have to wait til the end of our lives to see our dead friends and relations again.

- The idea of meeting (in some sense) a loved one anywhere but in this life is of little consolation.

Now, you might believe all these claims, but it would be good if you could separate them out and not run them together.

whitney said...

I've never commented here because I'm somewhat intimidated but at the risk of sounding stupid I'm going to say that the entire 'self sacrifice' of Western civilization seems be tied back to Jesus. The religion in a culture is its philosophy and its backbone. It's obvious that the progressive movement builds on the bones of Christianity but it's members are poorly educated and willfully ignorant so are unable to contemplate their own history. I think if they could see the thread that connects them to the past the whole movement would become much less reactionary.

CJ Wolfe said...

Fr. James Lehrberger at the University of Dallas is working on a project tracking down all of Nietzche's quotes from Christian authors, and the facts on that score are interesting. The Christian authors Nietsche most often cites are Tertullian (an important theologian, but still a heretic on important points) and Luther. The few times he does cite Aquinas he doesn't present a very fair interpretation. In all likelihood, there are even one or two completely made up quotes that Nietzsche attributes it to Aquinas. Lehrberger is close to publishing something on this, but someone did a writeup of a presentation he did on this awhile back that is worth reading:

http://sesquipadalianmusings.blogspot.com/2008/12/nietzsche-vs-christianity.html

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser,

here somebody criticizes your claim that Aristotle's concept of natural law excludes slavery:

https://www.reddit.com/r/badhistory/comments/4o4dqq/the_skeletons_in_aristotles_closetor_natural_law/

He also posted a review of The Last Superstition here:

https://gunlord500.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/a-little-late-but-not-too-late-my-book-review-of-edward-fesers-the-last-superstition/

Best regards!

Eduardo said...

Gunlord's understanding is a bit off... Off'er than mine.
But you must admit he seems seriously serious, so that is commendable.

But it seems like somehow he confuses a anthill being inside God's intellect to ants having an intellect and actualizing forms. Maybe I lost the moment where he "refuted" that anything can be part of God's intellect, but that right there seems like a very simple mistake.

Would have to read word-by-word though... I just skimmed through because laziness of all types u_u'

Which reminds that I need to start reading those philosophers, important.

Funny how one of the commenters posted here as critics or in a critic's site.
His idea is also funny; forms depend on the concept of vitalism... Wow...

Eduardo said...

Despite the fun of reading Gunny, and see as he makes several conceptual mistakes, despite the fact that technically he read Feser (I doubt he read all that he could) I kind of give up a little. University things to do u_U! But he is fun to read.

DNW said...

whitney said...

I've never commented here because I'm somewhat intimidated but at the risk of sounding stupid I'm going to say that the entire 'self sacrifice' of Western civilization seems be tied back to Jesus. The religion in a culture is its philosophy and its backbone. It's obvious that the progressive movement builds on the bones of Christianity but it's members are poorly educated and willfully ignorant so are unable to contemplate their own history. I think if they could see the thread that connects them to the past the whole movement would become much less reactionary.
June 14, 2016 at 6:58 PM "


You should not be, it is a good observation, and a huge problem; one recognized by many Christians, and some Catholics in particular.

It may be, to some significant extent, and this will sound 'ad hom' or 'bulveristic', an artifact of the personal peculiarities of some of those attracted to institutional life, for this or that reason, in the first place.

They will fasten on the image of a wan androgynous Jesus, revel is murmured discourse, simper as they glide with clasped hands across polished floors. They probably feel guilty for living; or living as they do out of sight.

As many of the men here no doubt can personally testify, it is amazing how un-sacrificial and unapologetic one feels after a week or two of vigorous outdoor labor.

It would of course be wrong to imply too much to such an observation, and a neurasthenic may have some valid observations about this or that phenomenon, implication, or point of logic. But there is something also to be said for considering the source, as they used to say.

My remarks on the argument in the Catholic Church can be confirmed by glancing at the "Church Militant" traditionalist web site. Offensive to the sensibilities of some, or not, much of their energy is devoted to trying to recover the spine the Catholic Church was once known for having. Ironic that the link to the original site was first dropped here by an antagonist of Feser's who was mocking "Real Catholics".

Bilbo said...

Tony,

If Dr. Feser had confined his remarks to Nietzsche and atheism, I never would have would have offered any comments dealing with political topics. However, the good doctor saw fit to use Nietzsche as a way to criticize liberal politics. I agree with much that he had to say. However, if he is going to use Nietzsche for that purpose, shouldn't he also criticize Nietzsche's own superman morality, which goes in the opposite, and even more evil direction? A direction that the Republican Party seems headed toward?

So I deny your accusation that I have been trolling. I am merely responding to Dr. Feser's subtopic.

Kiel said...

Reading this article prompted me to wonder what Nietzche would think of a world like that of Game of Thrones.

Alan said...

Thursday: You’re misreading Boehm. The ‘fierce egalitarianism of hunter gatherers’ was a late social construct which marked the distinction of ‘modern behavior’, not any intrinsic human behavior. I think J. Diamond’s ‘Third Chimpanzee’ explains this a bit better. Further, this egalitarianism functions best within human communities of 300 or fewer individuals. The Neolithic saw the advent of larger communities and the end of egalitarian order. Nietzsche was not interested in aboriginal culture, but the (1500 years under Christian authority) European culture.

Vand83 said...

"However, if he is going to use Nietzsche for that purpose, shouldn't he also criticize Nietzsche's own superman morality, which goes in the opposite, and even more evil direction?"

Should he? I don't see why he should. Dr. Feser can direct his attention to any specific point he desires. Could he? Most definitely. It's tough to please all the various individuals who feel slighted due to the good doctor not addressing their pet issue. I don't see the point in making the attempt.

Eric in Hiroshima said...

This is an interesting coincidence for me, since I've been working a bit on Nietzsche lately. And as I read his descriptions of what God is like for Christians, I often think that Thomas Aquinas (whom I know mostly through Prof. Feser's work) wouldn't recognize that God.

Nietzsche's God seems to be a strictly Lutheran scolding God. A God of repressing things. Nietzsche writes of the Dionysian experience of feeling the oneness of the original unity, but doesn't mention (I think) that this experience is prominent in Christian mysticism. His whole arrangement of the limited mind-created phenomena contrasted with the infinity of the real One is so close to the Neoplatonic Christians that he comes across as a kind of Christian, in that way.

Of course Nietzsche's experience of the Unity is terrifying, but so is some mystics' experience of God.

If I contrast Nietzsche with William Blake's system (which I happen to know more about), I think their criticism of Christianity is nearly the same. But while Nietzsche pretends this is the whole of Christianity, Blake says it is only the false Christianity of the insincere mainstream. The two men's perspectivism is similar, their belief in the possibility of ecstatic experiences is similar, but Nietzsche ends up with a moral-less atheism, and Blake ends up with an extreme antinomian ecstasy.

Anyway, I wonder if people here argue that Nietzsche got it all wrong because his view of God was too narrow. If he had studied Aquinas rather than Schopenhauer, wouldn't we have ended up with a Nietzschean Christianity, not too different from what he wrote?

Thursday said...

Alan:

You sound really confused.

PaoloP said...

Dear Mr. Rind
your original question sounds a bit weird, because the answer should be obvious to anybody born in the western culture - but today one never knows. Besides, it should be quite easy to understand "how anybody can find consolation in the idea of being reunited with deceased loved ones": one finds consolation because the relationship with the beloved one is not ended.
Of course, the gist of your question is another.
The possibility of such "false consolation" (traditionally called: hope) lies entirely on the issue whether the fullness of reality is limited to your naturalistic views. How is it possible that anybody believes in such a "fantasy"? I have to remind you that Christianity is founded on one big claim: some people met "in their life" (to borrow your expression) a resurrected man - a man who not only was dead since three days, but whose death was attained on a path crossing the most fundamentals issues: God/nothing, belief/unbelief, justice/mercy, suffering/happiness, guilt/innocence, understanding/darkness, good/evil, et cetera. The meaning, the explanatory context and implications of such event were such that the at least a conclusion was clear: reality is bigger than expected.

If you are really interested in understanding how it is possible that intelligent, 'modern' people can still believe this kind of 'fantasy', there's plenty of material to ponder. I would suggest Feser's books on the philosophical side; N.T. Wright "The Resurrection of the Son of God" on the historical/theological side; and if you need - and it is entirely convenient - an experiential witness of such "bigger than expected" quality of reality, André Frossard's "Dieu existe je l'ai rencontré" is my heartily recommendation (Frossard, when he converted, embodied the type of the young man not interested in religious fantasies).

[English is not my primary language - I am Italian. Forgive my possibly bad English]


Scott W. said...

That's some pretty darn good English. It's really time to move on because Dr. Feser was just citing an example and it wasn't the main point. It's the hoary "crutch motivation" ad hominem that some scoffers like to latch onto in lieu of interacting with the main topic at hand. A topic which is much more interesting. A few atheists like Mencius Molding are wise to New Atheism that are run through with Leftist ideology which in turn has misappropriated whole chunks of Christian thinking while being obvious to it or denying it.

Anonymous said...

I found a response to Dr. Feser's post by Jason Rosenhouse: http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/06/14/why-arent-atheists-more-depressed/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
Any thoughts?

Kiel said...

His response seems a little strange. For example, he's claiming Ed agreed with Nietzsche's conclusions. All Ed was suggesting was that the old schoolers seem to care more about the consequences of their atheism than the kids these days do. That's all!

Gerard O'Neill said...

Nietzsche. Meh.

Freddy is great for some pithy one-liners, but once it dawns on you that he's being hyperbolic just to get attention, it's fairly safe to ignore him. A bit like Donald Trump (before he wanted to take charge of several thousand nukes, that is).

This is a bit like the simplistic dichotomy between supposedly heroic, aristocratic and scientific Athens and the superstitious peasant collectivism of Jerusalem -- the reality is far more complex and often contradictory to these stereotypes.

The arguments made in the early part of this post on the "depressing" consequences of atheism were made in John Haught's Is Nature Enough? (which I paid $12AU for).
This to me depends on your attitude: If nothingness is the norm, and we have a brief opportunity to hold onto somethingness, then even that tiny amount of somethingness is a bonus. If you want that somethingness to endure and even be the foundation on which the universe exists, then the brevity of human existence will be unsatisfactory.

Step2 said...

Reading this article prompted me to wonder what Nietzche would think of a world like that of Game of Thrones.

Nietzche would likely be a big fan. They've got intrigue and revenge plots out the wazoo, switches in perspective between royal courts and common savagery, a bit of mysticism, and of course incredible proverbs. Speaking of quotes I feel obligated to share a few GoT gems, although I haven't checked them all for accuracy.

1. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.
2. War is easier than daughters.
3. There is a beast in every man and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand.
4. Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow.
5. It’s hard to put a leash on a dog once you’ve put a crown on its head.
6. He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.
7. Only by admitting what we are can we get what we want.
8. A lot can happen between now and never.
9. Trial by combat, deciding a man's guilt or innocence in the eyes of the gods by having two other men hack each other to pieces. It tells you something about the gods.
10. Honor made you leave, honor brought you back.
“My friends brought me back.”
I didn’t say it was your honor.
11. (A great knight) was a painter. A painter who only used red.
12. Everybody dies sooner or later. And don't worry about your death. Worry about your life. Take charge of your life for as long as it lasts.

Eduardo said...

If nothingness is the norm we never get anything. Just because you delude yourself to believe anything in life is worth something doesn't mean it is actually worth anything. Being a new atheist you should be able... No forget it, of course you wouldn't.

So I guess the position would be:
"It is a victory/gain to believe you have gained something from a place where there is nothing to be gained"

Anonymous said...

@ Gerard O'Neill

'Nietzsche. Meh.

Freddy is great for some pithy one-liners, but once it dawns on you that he's being hyperbolic just to get attention, it's fairly safe to ignore him.'

This strikes me as the kind of fatuous remark that someone would make who had not invested that much time getting to grips with a serious thinker - how easy it is to dismiss someone if you refuse to take them seriously. I see a fair amount of this on the internet but it's a shame on a philosophy blog.

I'm not trying to be offensive but sometimes it is better not to say anything than over-simplifying a position and betraying one's ignorance. By the way, ignorance is not a crime in philosophy but it should be a prompt to learn more(if philosophical enquiry is intended), and thereby avoid an apparently flippant pretence at philosophical analysis.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Eduardo

In case I didn't make myself clear, the "somethingness" I spoke of is a human life; nothingness is all other states (pre-conception, death, non-existence).

Taylor Weaver said...

@Anon,

It's safe to just ignore Gerard. He's a troll that hangs out in places like Coyne's blog. He pops in, usually, to try to insult or belittle others without paying an attention to what others are saying. He neither acts generously in discussion or seriously engages others.

And, I doubt he has read Nietzsche. And if he did, I doubt he really understood, or sought out understanding in any serious manner.

Anonymous said...

@ Taylor,

'@Anon,

It's safe to just ignore Gerard. He's a troll that hangs out in places like Coyne's blog. He pops in, usually, to try to insult or belittle others without paying an attention to what others are saying. He neither acts generously in discussion or seriously engages others.

And, I doubt he has read Nietzsche. And if he did, I doubt he really understood, or sought out understanding in any serious manner.'

You may well be right Taylor. Thanks for the warning. Personally, I unfortunately have little time to seriously engage with the very many great contributors of this blog, but I always enjoy reading Ed's posts and the often thoughtful dialogue they inspire.

Have a nice weekend.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Anonymous

My original comment was longer, and might have explained why I thought Nietzsche's rantings were over-the-top.

The charge that I don't take Nietzsche seriously is just wrong. In fact I would credit him as being quite prophetic when it comes to much of the modern Left, especially the SJW version.

That said, I reserve the right to dismiss the work of any author whose overall philosophy I find to be lacking.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Taylor Weaver

There is not a single word in your comment that has any basis in reality. Lame.

Anonymous said...

@ Gerard O'Neill,

'That said, I reserve the right to dismiss the work of any author whose overall philosophy I find to be lacking.'

Of course you have 'the right to dismiss the work of any author whose overall philosophy I find to be lacking...', I was just cautioning you against treating your ignorance as a virtue in a public forum.

Eduardo said...

Gerard

Ok, I think I get what you said now, you are saying that brevity of Life is not satisfactory. That for a person who wants life to be enduring, the brevity is a problem (I agree) and that for a person who wants life to be the foundation for the existence of the Universe, brevity is also a problem (it is not, as a matter fact.)

I can't really agree to the second part because I don't see the connection between life being fundamental to the universe and having non-brief life. They seem unrelated, unless you mean that if something is foundamental to the universe it must last as much as it does. This seems only true if the existence of A depends on B, but it all still seems a bit off, too many different definitions for "foundation" and not enough words from you.

(Actually.... I ended up doing your job somewhat)

Anonymous said...

@ Gerard O'Neill,

'The charge that I don't take Nietzsche seriously is just wrong.' Sorry - that was clearly my mistake when I read you say 'Freddy is great for some pithy one-liners, but once it dawns on you that he's being hyperbolic just to get attention, it's fairly safe to ignore him...', followed by a rather embarrassing, superficial analysis.

Look, I'm not going to try and explain Nietzsche to you as I have neither the time nor the inclination. Yes, that is an easy move on my part but I'm not the one making the glib analysis of Nietzsche on a public forum! For the record, I think Nietzsche was wrong but I wouldn't write off a thinker based on your over-simplification of Nietzsche's critique of the post-Christian, yet unjustifiably Christianised values that he observed in Europe.

Thursday said...

I like Game of Thrones,* but its world often doesn't seem terribly medieval to me. It's all rape all torture all the time, all the smart characters are always doubting the existence of the gods etc. etc. etc. It's all very modern, and, as noted above, rather Nietzschean.

*The show. I haven't read the books.

Talon said...

Gerard,

"This to me depends on your attitude: If nothingness is the norm, and we have a brief opportunity to hold onto somethingness, then even that tiny amount of somethingness is a bonus. If you want that somethingness to endure and even be the foundation on which the universe exists, then the brevity of human existence will be unsatisfactory."

The "somethingness" of human life is of illusory value, it isn't a "bonus" just a delusion. If you embrace the attitude above, you too, are delusional, despite any protests to the contrary. Accepting some flavor of atheism in addition to illusory values doesn't make the irrational, rational, it means the atheist is an intellectually dishonest shmuck or a loony, not an enlightened ambassador for reason.

Anonymous said...

What we see here is that New Athiest camp followers can read the warnings of thinkers like Nietzsche and dismiss it because they have not yet lived in a world purged of all Judeo-Christian thought,morals, and ethics. I don't think they'll like it as much as they think they will should it come to pass.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Does anyone know of a formal analysis of the logical structure of Nietzsche's arguments about atheism and morality? I haven't found one. Any links (or references to books or articles) would be appreciated.

Gerard O'Neill said...

I just realized last night that I was being chewed out on a conservative Catholic website for not loving Nietzsche enough. The internet is beyond awesome.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Talon

I am a total loony, I admit, but not loony enough to believe my sexual habits or eating a ham sandwich will antagonize some invisible sky emperor.

Anonymous said...

@Gerard
'I just realized last night that I was being chewed out on a conservative Catholic website for not loving Nietzsche enough. The internet is beyond awesome.'

You forgot 'conservative Catholic 'philosophy' website'.

Eduardo said...

I love the fetish over sexual habits. But it does prove that you have no idea what you talking about, Gerard. You are worst than me... Tell me, tell us; how exactly will you antagonize God over taking a dick up your bum? Of course within this site's position. ;-)

Go onnn... Let's see your knowledge.

Hehehe it is always about sex isn't it, that is pretty damn funny, this need to avoid any morality that frustates our behavior, that takes away the fun of life, you know, like drugs, orgies, lying, tyranny. Where would a human be without that.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Eduardo

Dude, please...stop thinking about sodomy for five minutes.

Eduardo said...

Hahahah... You are a Troll Gerard, bonafide troll.

Haven't thought of sodomy for like.... Well ever since I wrote this post to you. And I thought more of gay love... Lesbo love or hermaphrodite love.

Well I guess it is very clear you are useless to talk to. :-)

DNW said...

Ten days ago, Gerard O'Neill said...

"This is waffle. I'm off to find something more intellectually stimulating.

June 8, 2016 at 7:52 AM"


Ten days later ...

Jeremy Taylor said...

Eduardo,

Of course he is a troll. He isn't the worst, but it is obvious he is a troll. He pops up to make comments free of substance every now and then. Probably best not to feed him.

Vaal said...

Ugh, I should not read this site when I am busy with work. As I've said, I really like a lot of Prof Feser's posts. But this one almost made my head
explode at the number of statements I wanted to contest as I read it.
For instance:

Much more could be said, but I’ll leave it at that. If Nietzsche is right, the New Atheist is hopelessly naïve in supposing that the demise of religion promises only sweetness and light,

So, basically, this article is set upon a strawman. If you consider their views beyond cherry-picking quotes, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, or any other leading New Atheist are not naive or stupid enough to think the world becomes conflict and strife-free if we get rid of religion. Nobody with a remotely charitable reading of the New Atheists could possibly posit this.
The message over and over, has been that we apply the same criteria of reason and evidence upon the claims of religion as we do to anything else. That dogma is the problem, holding some of our beliefs off the table of scrutiny by ourselves or others. And yes of course they think this will likely benefit us in the end - of course they think conflict ans suffering will remain. But that the better response to our differences is to be open to conversation and to changing our mind should the other person give the better reasons and evidence.

The quote from Dawkins is cherry-picking, in that respect. Further, note that Dawkins was asked "What do you hope the world would be like..."
so his "paradise on earth" comment should be seen in that context. (E.g. to say in any instance, for instance the recent snatching of a boy by an alligator in Florida, that one "hopes" the boy will be found alive isn't to express one thinks it is most likely).

When pressed on what Dawkins thinks about a world in which people employed the rationalism DAWKINS ENVISIONS, Dawkins simply makes the case for why it seems more likely things could be better than under the current religious divisions we see.

He's not making the case that "everyone will" think like this, but rather he's talking of an If/Then scenario - IF everyone thought rationally in the way he envisions THEN we'd likely see less conflict and divisiveness, particularly of the type currently derived from religious dogma. He seems plausibly correct: IF, for instance, the 9/11 perpetrators thought in the non-dogmatic, reason-and-evidenced way, that Dawkins suggests, then in all likely-hood they WOULDN'T have done what they did.

The question of how many people can be influenced to think that way - the issue of how realistic a goal it is to change large portions of the world from dogmatic thinking - is another issue. But it's not the one directly addressed by Dawkins, which was to imagine a world were people reasoned in the ways Dawkins suggests.

Anyway, I would have loved to stick around to contest the (very typical from theists) "Nietzschean challenge" to atheist consistency, but I won't have time to do anything more than post this comment. I'm late to the party and the comment thread seems pretty much over anyway.

Cheerio,

Vaal

Anonymous said...

A challenge may be typical and very serious nonetheless.

If Dawkins et al are are not naive, why do they support things like the idiotic bus slogans? Dawkins was very enthusiastic about them, and they are about as naive and twee as you can imagine.

Also I don't think Feser was only, perhaps not mostly, talking about what New Atheists think atheism will do for society.

Chris said...



Mr. Feser perfectly characterizes the so-called "New Atheists" when compared to the Old atheists. The shock of his " mis-representation" of the New Atheists (in comparison to the old) almost made MY head explode.

DNW said...

"The quote from Dawkins is cherry-picking, in that respect. Further, note that Dawkins was asked "What do you hope the world would be like..."
so his "paradise on earth" comment should be seen in that context. ...

When pressed on what Dawkins thinks about a world in which people employed the rationalism DAWKINS ENVISIONS, Dawkins simply makes the case for why it seems more likely things could be better than under the current religious divisions we see."


The problem of course is that, in general, reason as purely instrumental, merely serves whatever appetite it happens to serve; no matter the object. People who like Sam Harris are trying to salvage some level of objectivity for values (beyond stipulating that the act of subjective evaluation is an objective fact) are forced into trying to blatantly smuggle (picture that) objective value premises into their moral schema in ways which leave professional philosophers gasping at the apparent - well, let's call it, naivete, of it.

In the case of postmodern atheists there is even less to concern ourselves with when it comes to these questions. Rorty has nicely summed up his views on "truth" (it doesn't exist in any philosophically significant sense); and humanity's interest in it (think of ourselves instead as as organisms coping with the environment)just gets in the way of building a really enlightened world - or at least one which has the shade of black we prefer.

So under Harris' scheme all you have to do to understand that imagining someone going to hell is objectively evil, is to realize how evil it is. And for Rorty, there is no use in concerning ourselves with "metaphysical" questions of truth and the like, we are just organisms coping with and manipulating the environment to get what we just happen to be historically conditioned to want; an environment which just happens to definitionally include other human organisms.

And all you have to know in order to come to the conclusion that excluding Richard Rorty from your circle of concern by applying a rawhide mallet on his face when he gets too importunate, is that it is really evil. Or not. Or not my kind of historical contingency. Or something.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Sorry Feser, but...

Nietzsche was a drama queen. Furthermore, Christianity did not turn the world upside down and atheism does not right it again. Life is life, with all its questions, hopes/doubts, sorrow/joys. But people seem to think that embracing some all-encompassing system is what one must do. Personally, I prefer a physical hug, from anyone, Christian or atheist, to all-embracing philosophical systems: https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/11/nietzsche-drama-queen-and-christianitys.html

Also atheism is not some sort of explanation for everything like Christian theism purports to be. Atheism is simply the admission, albeit not the most human-pleasing one, that humans are mortal, and there might not be any sort of force, personal or not, that can do anything about that. Interestingly, many ancient Near Easterners including the Jewish people, agreed for millennia that life had an end, and we would all return to dust (except for the god(s) and perhaps a few select heroes), and human lived with that knowledge. But later on, thanks to Zoroastrianism, 2nd Temple Judaism, Christianity, Islam it was declared blasphemous heresy to suggest that when you're dead you're dead.

Also, any study of the history of the Christian religions (plural) doesn't breed any more confidence in all-encompassing religious systems any more than all-encompassing atheist systems. Plenty of links near the end of this piece illustrate what I've said: https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-difference-christianity-makes-both.html


DNW said...

Edward T. Babinski said,

Nietzsche was a drama queen.

... Christianity did not turn the world upside down and atheism does not right it again.

Life is life, with all its questions, hopes/doubts, sorrow/joys.

But people seem to think that embracing some all-encompassing system is what one must do. Personally,

I prefer a physical hug ..."


Isn't that sweet? For a moment it almost looks as if he is going to make an argument.

Eduardo said...

He was just dropping facts really XD!

Annnnd making people read his boo... I mean blog.

Tim Hurley said...

Could Nietzsche himself have been aware that his delirium was--only delirium?

machinephilosophy said...

"What text would you recommend as a primer or intro on Nietzsche? Especially if you're not fluent in German."

Anything and everything by Walter Kaufmann, including his The Portable Nietzsche. Maybe start with Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Anti-Christ

"What has been written so far is a symptom of what has so far been kept silent."

"A common error: to have the courage of your convictions. Rather, have the courage for an *attack* on your convictions!"

"The most deceitful way to harm a cause is to deliberately defend it with faulty arguments."

"If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out." Fortunately, no Christian acts in accordance with this precept."

"A casual stroll through a lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything."

N. Manning said...

As if the vast majority of human beings would not find the implications of atheism -- that human existence has no purpose, that there is no postmortem reward to counterbalance the sufferings of this life, nor any hope for seeing dead loved ones again, etc. --

A correction:

"that human existence has no special, pre-ordained-by-my-deity, external purpose, which is apparently solely to praise said deity...."

And an attempt to drag you back to earth:

"that there is no postmortem reward to counterbalance the sufferings of this life"

What is the purpose of this "counterbalance"? Why should there need to BE such a 'counterbalance', if your deity actually existed and actually cared about his worshippers? Talk about begging the question.