November 02, 2006

Nietzsche's "Slave Morality"

Friedrich Nietzsche saw in the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12) Christ's advocation of "slave morality". According to Nietzsche, this is the moral sense a lower class develops or invents when they begin to resent their station. They cannot or will not climb out of their lowly position, so viewing a lack of "upward mobility" as a virtue is a kind a coping mechanism. By advocating "slave morality" (though never with that title), the lower class not only justifies their way of life but casts themselves as heroes - the pious among the impious rich-and-powerful.
Nietzsche sees the lower class responding to a game they don't like by changing the rules, so to speak. Are we simply changing the rules of a game we can't or won't win? Are Christians morally fooling themselves? These are the questions I'll be trying to answer over the next few days.

Initially, I think that one of his first premises is wrong, that Christians are not a class that cannot or will not advance. The problem here is that we have a different sense of what advancement means.

Christians are advancement-minded; we want to "win". What we want to win is the ultimate prize - the beatific vision, eternity in God's presence. In a way, I can't blame Nietzsche for his opinion of Christ's morality; he is playing the wrong game or, at best, misunderstanding the rules. Our goal is heaven, and we are actively engaged in achieving that goal. Christ's morality, then, does not fit the definition of a "slave morality".

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