A God Torn to Pieces: Good Friday, Nietzsche, and Sacrifice

18143371_sFriedrich Nietzsche is a favorite whipping boy among Christians. It’s difficult to blame my fellow Christians for this. After all, Nietzsche is known for many provocative anti-Christian statements, but his most provocative statement might be that “God is dead.”

And yet, in his latest book A God Torn to Pieces: The Nietzsche Case, philosopher Guiseppe Fornari makes a claim that is just as provocative: “In the end [Nietzsche] was much closer to Christ than many who would claim to be Christians.”

Wait…Nietzsche was closer to Christ than many Christians? How could that be?

Nietzsche understood the implications of what Christ did on Good Friday better than many who claim to be Christians. Nietzsche was closer to Christ than many Christians because he knew the Christ that he rejected, whereas many Christians don’t know the Christ whom they call Lord and Savior.

Who was the Christ that Nietzsche rejected and that many Christians do not know? It’s the Christ who says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Nietzsche rejected Christ because he couldn’t believe in a God who offers this universal forgiveness. And the truth is that many who claim to be Christians can’t believe in that God either.

In fact, while many Christians demonize Nietzsche with their words, they actually agree with him with their actions. Nietzsche saw that human history was built upon sacrifice, and that it was our “noble duty to sacrifice men,”* but not just men, we must also sacrifice God. Here’s a profound reflection from Nietzsche for your Good Friday meditation:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. 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 the 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? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (The Gay Science, section 125.)

Notice where the violence comes from in Nietzsche’s analysis – the violence is purely human. God is dead and we have killed him. Jesus was in no way God’s victim; rather, Jesus was our sacrificial victim. Humans are responsible for the murder of God in Christ. Nietzsche knew this, but he also knew that Jesus became a victim of human violence in order to stop human violence. And Nietzsche knew that Jesus provides the only alternative to violence, which is forgiveness.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.  

Nietzsche’s problem wasn’t his analysis that “we have killed God.” Good Friday proves him right. His problem was that he rejected the alternative of universal forgiveness that Jesus offered from the cross. Jesus’ universal forgiveness seeks to transform us from being murders into being forgivers.

And that’s where Nietzsche consciously rejected Christ, and that’s where many Christians don’t know Christ. To know Christ is to know that in his life, death, and resurrection Christ freely offers forgiveness to all – even to those who have become “murderers of all murderers.”

For Nietzsche, Jesus’ attempt to end sacrificial violence was foolish because he believed that humans need sacrificial violence to survive. To show this he compared the death of Jesus to many ancient sacrificial myths and discovered that they are structurally similar. The god is murdered by an angry mob that is united in their violence against a divine victim. After the mob murdered their victim order was restored. The only difference between the murder of Jesus and the murder of the mythical gods is in interpretation. Take Nietzsche’s comparison between the Greek god Dionysus and Jesus:

Dionysus versus the “Crucified”: there you have the antithesis. It is not a difference in regard to their martyrdom—it is a difference in the meaning of it. [In Dionysus] Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence, creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilation. In the other case, suffering—the “Crucified as the innocent one”—counts as an objection to this life, as a formula to its condemnation. (The Will to Power, 542-543.)

Nietzsche clearly saw the alternatives: either we live by Dionysian myth that justifies the use of violence to maintain life’s “eternal fruitfulness,” peace, and order, or we live by the Gospel of Jesus Christ that refuses to create peace through violence, but offers another way: peace through forgiveness.

Nietzsche consciously chose the way of Dionysus, and the way of violence drove him mad because he couldn’t accept the forgiveness of Christ in his own life. And yet by clearly seeing the alternative between Dionysus and the “Crucified,” Nietzsche was closer to Christ than many who profess to be Christian. Many Christians are far from Christ because while they profess Christ, they actually believe in Dionysus; they actually believe in a god who justifies their violence rather than leads them in the way of forgive.

And the Christian world is going mad because we don’t believe in Christ who leads us to love and forgive all, including our enemies.

When we incarcerate with a vengeance rather than rehabilitate with mercy, are we following Dionysus or the Crucified?

When we deny universal healthcare for the sick, the weak, and the poor, are we following Dionysus or the Crucified?

When we deport and demean immigrant laborers, mercilessly separating parents from their children, are we following Dionysus or the Crucified?

When we return violence for violence, invading and bombing nations in the name of “justice,” are we following Dionysus or the Crucified?

This Good Friday, let’s be conscious of the alternative between Dionysus and Christ Crucified. And let’s consciously choose Christ.

 

*Fornari quotes from the German edition of the Complete Works of Nietzsche entitled Kritische Studienausgabe, 1887-1889, 15,[110], 470.

14 replies
  1. Jerry Shave
    Jerry Shave says:

    Adam, I thank God for you and for TRF. I am in awe of how you continue to post, timely, informative, well crafted, and true to the Message and Truth of Jesus Christ our Lord. I am also impressed by the quantity as well as the quality of your work. Please pass on my thanks to Susanne was well. I pray that the Good News continues to expand through all efforts such as yours.

    I met both of you at the T & P conferences. Last year we missed much of the conference because Carola fell and spent the time in the hospital. We were part of the Wood Hath Hope gang and study with Tony Bartlett. We will not be attending this year. Peace. Jerry

    Reply
  2. Andrew McKenna
    Andrew McKenna says:

    This is a perfectly good summary of Fornari’s book, which is probably the single best book to read on Nietzsche.

    Reply
  3. Tom Truby
    Tom Truby says:

    Adam, I really appreciate this piece and recognize the courage in writing it. I am thinking of you as you begin your journey across country.

    God’s Peace,

    Tom

    Reply
  4. Mark Nielsen
    Mark Nielsen says:

    Thank you, Adam. I happened to also be reading today some material on the much older (late Middle Ages) philosopher/theologian John Duns Scotus, who also questioned the idea of Jesus as “God’s victim”
    (may have even been the first to do so). Here, below is a nice summative blog post/reflection on John Duns’ significance, his long-lost counterpunch to Aquinas’ better-known atonement theology. The blog extensively quotes Ken Overberg, SJ. I am not acquainted with the author Crystal, just the ideas. But.note that the comments even mention R. Girard directly. —–>

    http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/2011/02/duns-scotus-and-atonement.html

    I hope Nietszche finally got the answers he was struggling toward. I like to believe in a “second chance” God.

    Reply
    • Adam Ericksen
      Adam Ericksen says:

      Thanks for the link to that article, Mark. I don’t know Duns Scotus as well as I should, but I’ll read up on him!

      I also hope that Nietzsche got/gets a second chance with God. One of the many great things about “A God Torn To Pieces” is that Fornari take us through Nietzsche’s very difficult life, including his very difficult childhood. It gave me a lot of sympathy for the man and makes me realize how he got to where he ended up.

      Peace,
      Adam

      Reply
  5. rob g
    rob g says:

    Very interesting article. Ties in nicely with what I read in Richard Beck’s Unclean, about God desiring mercy not sacrifice, though I would never have guessed that Nietzsche would have grasped it so well.

    Reply
    • Adam Ericksen
      Adam Ericksen says:

      Rob! I love Richard Beck’s books! Unclean had an important impact on my life. That Jesus gives us a lens to read the Bible/life in general and that lens is mercy, not sacrifice, is such an important insight when it comes to theology in general, but especially to Atonement. God didn’t want sacrifice, we did. God responds with mercy/forgiveness to our desire for violence. Great stuff!

      Hope all is well,
      Adam

      Reply
  6. Randy Oftedahl
    Randy Oftedahl says:

    I have been a long time visitor to the Raven Foundation website and have greatly enjoyed the thoughtful and inspiring articles here, but I’ve not felt I had to comment until now. I am deeply moved by this profound article. I believe the statement, “the Christian world is going mad because we don’t believe in Christ who leads us to love and forgive all, including our enemies” pretty much sums it up. It’s where we are today. I heard a radio interview with Rene Girard where he spoke of this Nietzschean dialectic; something seemed to stir in his soul, something great intellect could not grasp and therefore fell away. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale for all of us. Maybe it is a reminder that God speaks to the heart, and from somewhere deep within us we must respond. But we are moderns and sometimes our heads get in our way. This article really speaks to me…thank you!

    Reply

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