Tuesday, November 29, 2011

a little child to guide them

The Old Testament reading for today is the famous Advent one from Isaiah 11

I wish I could quote the whole thing, but it would be too long!

On that day, A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A Spirit of counsel and of strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,

But he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land's afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.

Reading Nietzsche makes me realize how very paradoxical and non-intuitive this prophecy is.

I like Nietzsche better than I thought I would.   His style annoys me, but it also has a vigor which most German philosophy lacks (and he is the first to acknowledge this himself : )).   Purposely, it seems to me, he avoids system and goes for metaphors and epigrams.    I think this is partly because he knows he is better off floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee rather than immersing himself.   It wouldn't suit his talents to pursue philosophy doggedly, like Kant.  Nor would it suit his message.

He starts off by supposing that Truth might be a woman:

Then what?   Is there not ground for suspecting that all philosophers, in so far as they have been dogmatists, have failed to understand women—that the terrible seriousness and clumsy importunity with which they have usually paid their addresses to Truth, have been unskilled and unseemly methods for winning a woman? Certainly she has never allowed herself to be won; and at present every kind of dogma stands with sad and discouraged mien—IF, indeed, it stands at all! 

Though the first time I read this I was irritated, as I read on I found it interesting as a way to look back on the history of philosophy.   Traditionally, "wisdom begins in wonder".   A kind of receptivity is involved (which is depicted  by Nietzsche as effeminate, and despised).

Later on, philosophy tried to go towards scientific/mathematical certainty, and these post-Cartesian philosophers are the ones Nietzsche seems to be taking aim at in the quote above.   I had always heard that Nietzsche was anti-Christian, and certainly this seems true but I didn't realize that he takes aim at EVERYONE -- he virulently despises positivists, skeptics, empiricists and idealists and in fact almost all pre- and post-Christian philosophers.    They are like clumsy, clueless suitors, and truth slips away from them, as if they brought their accounting books to show what good suitors they would be. 

Nietzsche seems to try a third tack, with a straight declaration of Power as the main motive in human philosophy.    If you apply that to his supposition that Truth is a woman --- well, then.     I don't think his approach quite works because it can for the most part only take hold of the outward.   It loses what it scorns, mocks and tries to conquer.   

Isaiah's depiction of the poor and needy being restored to justice, and the lion lying down with the lamb, must be completely frustrating and absurd to someone like Nietzsche.  In Beyond Good and Evil, so far he has made quite a few references to "slave morality", but never directly -- I suppose he goes into more details in his other books.

I think Chesterton talks about how the Christian tradition makes boast of the very things that seem most absurd to the world.   Individual Christians, surely, try to rationalize the faith and make it seem like a simple bourgeois or peasant system of morality that hands some of the strength back to the weak.   And even in worldly terms there is a certain kind of paradox, where the powerful end up tripping themselves up even in their power, and the poor and weak somehow survive and thrive.   But in fact, Christianity wouldn't make sense without the eschatological dimension.

So when reading Beyond Good and Evil, I feel like Nietzsche's criticisms of modern philosophy hit much closer to home than his criticisms of Christianity, which are only set in a cultural milieu.   It's a horizontal portrayal, like a cross-section.   So when people say that Nietzsche was the first to achieve a psychology of Christianity, they are misguided in many ways, but not least because Nietzsche (at least in this book) seems overwhelmingly, completely, wholly unaware of what Christianity is as a reality rather than as a societal manifestation.   Still, I like his depictions of the thing as a societal manifestation, because I think it separates the contingent elements from the actuality, which is something that needs to be done often:  the Church does it, but gently and patiently, with a mind to preserving what is good;  Nietzsche is more intolerant and unsympathetic, and doesn't care about preservation, but true Christianity is not going to be damaged by the sharp rattle of boots above the cave where the Infant Savior is hidden 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!