According to Nietzsche, “‘God on the cross.’ Never yet and nowhere has there been an equal boldness in reversal, something so horrible, questioning, and questionable as this formula: it promised a revaluation of all the values of antiquity.”
I disagree, and would argue instead that Nietzsche was a drama queen.
Nietzscheʼs “transvaluation of values” sounds dramatic, but Christianity did not turn values completely upside down, nor did Nietzsche right them again. There have been people who cared for their sick in other lands and cultures, just as there have been dictators in Christian lands. As a trained rhetorician and son of a minister, Nietzsche tended to speak in overblown terms.
In reality the idea of “God on the cross” changed the world very little because basic human needs, insecurities, ignorance and cruelty remained (we are after all, primates who follow alpha male leaders), including the egos of “Christians” which were now super-sized by being joined to the alpha male of alpha males (God).
History demonstrates that the Christian lambs who worshiped the Lamb of God on the cross soon became lions of Judah, killing more fellow lovers of Jesus and persecuting more different people for different reasons than the Romans ever did to the Christians. Christianity also helped fill the western world with the notions of demonic causation/demonization of enemies and thought control, i.e., Christianized Roman emperors decreed in their law books that anyone who doubted the truth of the Trinity was “insane, demented,” and were subject to the Emperorʼs wrath, including Imperial decrees that the books of skeptics like Porphyry and heretics like Arius be burnt. Henceforth anyone daring to question the new Christian status quo was persecuted. [Plenty of historical data to back that up at bottom]
Nietzscheʼs predecessor and idol, Schopenhauer, noted with less drama the truth about Christianity in this brief dialogue:
CONVERSATION, JERUSALEM, A.D. 33
A: Have you heard the latest?
B: No, whatʼs happened?
A: The world has been redeemed!
B: You donʼt say!
A: Yes, the Dear Lord took on human form and had himself executed in Jerusalem; and with that the world has been redeemed and the devil hoodwinked.
B: Gosh, thatʼs simply lovely.
Would the world be much better or worse off today had the Persians conquered the Greeks at Thermopylae, leaving the Middle East Zoroastrian? Or if the religion of the Roman Empire had become Mithraism rather than Christianity? Humanity would have eventually learned via people other than Jesus, lessons of practical moral philosophy, and the value of tolerance and love. Either way, It takes time for us primates to learn new things. Our own individual lives have extended childhoods and adolescences compared with those of our primate cousins, during which time we learn more.
Neither am I impressed by Jesusʼ lessons alone. A lot of interpretation has gone into understanding them. See the forthcoming volume from Sheffield Phoenix Press, “The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics”
Jesus is depicted in the Gospels leading the life of a first century celebrity who, like celebrities today, people either loved or hated. Jesus was either being listened to by crowds of people, invited to dinner and taken care of by his groupies, or he was being denounced and threatened. He never had to endure as most people do, a lifetime of anonymity including such everyday trials as marriage and child-rearing. Talk about a cross to bear. I would have liked to have seen how Jesus could parable-ize his way out of doing the dishes, taking out the trash, getting into a brouhaha with his wife after staying out late nights with his boys, or waiting in line at the check-out counter with a box of much needed diapers or Tampax that he had to get home quickly but the person ahead of him with 100 items in their cart didnʼt invite Jesus to go on through ahead, and then when Jesus thought that person was about to pay and finally allow him to check-out, he sees them take out their check-book to pay and the cashier doesnʼt have authority to cash checks and has to call over the manager. At which point Jesus explodes. But not at the Pharisees, just at life in general. Then he has a heart attack following decades of such day to day stressful situations and dies. No. Jesus was a celebrity and died a celebrityʼs death. So what? Now we have to build churches to honor him, carve statues in his imagined likeness, keep the dust off those statues and light candles for him all year long? As for Jesusʼ death on a cross, people were scourged and/or died on crosses for any number of reasons, justly or unjustly, and Jesus might have been crucified sooner had he been born thirty or forty years earlier or later, when friction between Israel and Rome was greater.
To quote E. M. Cioran: The ultimate cruelty was that of Jesus “leaving an inheritance of bloodstains of the cross… Had he lived to be sixty, he would have given us his memoirs instead of the cross… For two thousand years, Jesus has revenged himself on us for not having died on a sofa.”
The famous “sofa” line from Cioran makes me wonder what the apostles would have done had Jesus tripped and accidentally hit his head on a large rock while preaching, or, took a nasty tumble on his final walk toward Jerusalem, and, instead of being executed on a cross wound up having to be cared for by those same apostles for years until he slowly wasted away? Having to care for a crippled or brain damaged friend for a decade or more seems like more of a challenge, and certainly the image of modern day Christians wearing little bed pans around their necks would be different, along with the message that “Our savior slowly wasted away, required 24 hour care, and was only able to repeat certain syllables up till the end without making much sense… for your sins.” If you were to present the apostles with such a situation and even gave them the choice of one or the other, I bet they would choose to have Jesus die in a few hours on a cross instead, no matter how bloody, so they could march around triumphantly spreading their beliefs soon afterwards.
“A human being possessed by a belief and not eager to pass it on to others is a phenomenon alien to the earth… Look around you: everywhere, specters preaching, each institution translates a mission; city halls have their absolute, even as the temples—officialdom, with its rules… Everyone trying to remedy everyoneʼs life: even beggars, even the incurable aspire to it: the sidewalks and hospitals of the world overflow with reformers. The longing to become a source of events affects each man like a mental disorder or a desired malediction. Society—an inferno of saviors!… The compulsion to preach is so rooted in us that it emerges from depths unknown to the instinct for self-preservation. Each of us awaits his moment in order to propose something — anything. he has a voice: that is enough… all hand out formulas for happiness, all try to give directions… if you fail to meddle in other peopleʼs business you are so uneasy about your own that you convert your ‘self’ into a religion, or, apostle in reverse, you deny it altogether; we are victims of the universal game.” (Eric Hoffer agreed with Cioranʼs assessment that Christianity, Islam, fascism, communism, and other ideological mass movements attract people for similar psychological reasons.)
Or as Salman Rushdie put it…
“Love can lead to devotion, but the devotion of the lover is unlike that of the True Believer in that it is not militant. I may be surprised - even shocked - to find that you do not feel as I do about a given book or work of art or even person; I may very well attempt to change your mind; but I will finally accept that your tastes, your loves, are your business and not mine. The True Believer knows no such restraints. The True Believer knows that he is simply right, and you are wrong. He will seek to convert you, even by force, and if he cannot he will, at the very least, despise you for your unbelief.”
Logan Pearsall Smith said something similar about human beings being possessed by their beliefs, but in a funnier fashion:
“How is one to keep free from those mental microbes that worm-eat peopleʼs brains—those Theories and Diets and Enthusiasms and infectious Doctrines that we catch from what seem the most innocuous contacts? People go about laden with germs; they breath creeds and convictions on you as soon as they open their mouths. Books and newspapers are simply creeping with them—the monthly Reviews seem to have room for little else. Wherewithal then shall a young man cleanse his way; how shall he keep his mind immune to Theosophical speculations, and novel schemes of Salvation? Can he ever be sure that he wonʼt be suddenly struck down by the fever of Funeral or of Spelling Reform, or take to his bed with a new Sex Theory?”
Returning to Cioran, he went even further, noting…
“In the fervent mind you always find the camouflaged beast of prey; no protection is adequate against the claws of a prophet… Once he raises his voice, whether in the name of heaven, of the city, or some other excuse… he will not forgive your living on the wrong side of his truths and his transports; he wants you to share his hysteria, his fullness, he wants to impose it on you…. The ages of fervor abound in bloody exploits: a Saint Teresa could only be the contemporary of the auto-da-fé, a Luther of the repression of the Peasantsʼ Revolt. In every mystic outburst, the moans of victims parallel the moans of ecstasy… Scaffolds, dungeons, jails flourish only in the shadow of a faith—of that need to believe… The devil pales beside the man who owns a truth, his truth… The real criminals are men who establish an orthodoxy on the religious or political level, men who distinguish between the faithful and the schismatic.”
“I feel safer with a Pyrrho than with a Saint Paul, for a jesting wisdom is gentler than an unbridled sanctity… Saint Paul—the most considerable vote-canvasser of all time—has made his tours, infesting the clarity of the ancient twilight with his epistles. An epileptic triumphs over five centuries of philosophy! Reason is confiscated by the fathers of the Church! And if I were to look for the most mortifying date for the mindʼs pride, if I were to scan the inventory of intolerances, I would find nothing comparable to the year 529, when, following Justinianʼs decree, the School of Athens was closed. The right to decadence being officially suppressed, to believe became an obligation… This is the most painful moment in the history of Doubt.”
Augustine of Hippo set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare (“Compel them to enter,” based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Churchʼs suppression of dissent and oppression of difference.
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