This is a somewhat long article on Friedrich Nietzsche and his atheism, but it is worth the time and is a good read, and an article on Nietzsche that is worth anything cannot be short, an answer to the man deserves plenary treatment. He was one of very few atheists that realized the consequences of the removal of God. Most atheists these days, especially the educated and scientific ones it seems, have no clue that they are moving in and taking all their concepts and ideas of reason and will and good, and meaning, et al, from a theistic world view. When pointed out to them they deny it and refuse to see the subtle but profound difference this makes. Neitzsche saw it and accepted it. He should be respected for this, although not imitated, for his world of thought was truncated.
The author of this article is a Musliim scholar living in Turkey. He has written many books on Islam and Sufism and philosophy, and gives a fresh take from an Islamic point of view rarely referenced by Westerners.
NIETZSCHE, GOD AND DOOMSDAY: THE CONSEQUENCES OF ATHEISM, by Henry Bayman
"Reason divorced of knowledge of the divine burns into itself, like acid." — Seyyed Hossein Nasr
"Do you know what fear and loneliness mean?... You will see nothing in that expanse of eternal emptiness, you will not hear your own step, you will find nothing solid for you to rest upon." —Mephistopheles
In the Mouth of Madness
Nietzsche saw it coming. "The story I have to tell," he wrote, "is the history of the next two centuries... For a long time now our whole civilization has been driving, with a tortured intensity growing from decade to decade, as if towards a catastrophe: restlessly, violently, tempestuously, like a mighty river desiring the end of its journey, without pausing to reflect, indeed fearful of reflection... Where we live, soon nobody will be able to exist."
Nietzsche's was a mind that thought so deeply and with such intensity that it threw off sparks and crackled like a high-voltage generator. Poised on the brink of the 20th century, he saw it all in the crystal ball of his mind, and the abyss he beheld was so horrifying that he desperately tugged at the emergency brakes, vainly trying to stop the runaway train. "There will be wars," he prophesied, "such as have never been waged on earth.." And again: "I foresee something terrible, Chaos everywhere. Nothing left which is of any value; nothing which commands: Thou shalt!"
Nietzsche was no stranger to paradox and contradiction. He was simultaneously the opponent, proponent and victim of the nihilism he foresaw. His was a mind at war against his soul, a spirit locked in titanic struggle with the intellect. A student of Sufi psychology might observe that his ego—his "Me", his egotistical self—had gained control over his mind, and the latter thwarted all attempts of his spirit to elevate itself by placing before it a self-defeating intellectual obstacle around which it could find no way.
One observation, one singular realization was the motive force behind all his struggles, driving him on feverishly until his mind burned itself out trying to devise an escape. This was a formula, simply stated in three monosyllabic words, yet earth-shaking in its implications: "God is dead."
Nowadays, of course, lots of people believe in this notion without giving it a second thought. Yet the genius of Nietzsche was able to foresee all it implied, to draw most, if not indeed all, of the conclusions that would follow from its acceptance. It is for this reason that we must inspect it more closely, and in order to do this we must begin with what Nietzsche actually said.
The formula: "God is dead" appears, to be sure, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but it makes its first appearance in Section 108 of The Joyous Science (1882), written two years before Zarathustra during Nietzsche's so-called positivist period. Not only is God dead, he says, but we must banish even his shadow from the caves of our minds. There follow aphorisms extolling science and a "naturalistic" world-view. And then, suddenly, the concept appears full-blown in Section 125, under the title of "the Madman." The madman is actually Nietzsche himself, who casts the former in the image of a new Diogenes. The following extract contains the gist of it.
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"...
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "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 the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns?"
The madman asks questions which imply that: we are plunging continually, backward, sideward, foreward, in all directions. There is no longer any up or down. We are straying as through an infinite nothing. We feel the breath of empty space; it has become colder. The night is continually closing in on us—we need to light lanterns in the morning. Then he continues:
"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?... Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?..."
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners... "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves."
But what does Nietzsche mean when he says: "God is dead"? In 1887, in the second edition of The Joyous Science, Nietzsche added Book Five to the original, which begins with Section 343 and the statement: "The greatest recent event—that God is dead, that the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable..." As translator and eminent Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann points out: "This clause is clearly offered as an explanation of 'God is dead.'" In The Antichrist (1888), Nietzsche is more specific: "The Christian conception of God... is one of the most corrupt conceptions of God arrived at on earth..." And, when he was already close to insanity, he called himself "the Anti-Christ."
We may now pause here and think. Nietzsche obviously means that the Christian notion of God is dead, that this notion has become unbelievable. But to extrapolate from this to the assertion that God Almighty, the Lord of the universe and of all the worlds, now cannot be believed in, is as incorrect as it is dangerous.
In what way is the Christian notion of God different? Basically, it postulates a set of beliefs and makes certain attributions regarding the relationship between God and Jesus. It is these, according to Nietzsche, that set the Christian concept of God apart from other forms of monotheism...
Christian scholars and churchmen are still working on this point. But meanwhile, belief in God cannot wait, for this is the linchpin on which all our moral actions are based. Nietzsche saw clearly that morality without religion is impossible: "All purely moral demands without their religious basis must needs end in nihilism." Moral systems created by man without reference to God are actually unconscious regressions to religious morality. With the demise of faith, furthermore, not only morality but the universe of meanings begins to collapse, and since man cannot live without meaning, he tries to resurrect meaning under different headings. Richard Wilhelm once equated the Chinese concept of Tao with the German word Sinn, or meaning, and in the same way we may say that God is the meaning, the esprit (both the spirit and the meaning) of the universe. In order to believe in God and practice moral behavior, we cannot wait for the resolution of fine theological points.
Yet we must also recognize that Nietzsche's rejection of God goes deeper—starting from "a critique of the Christian conception of God," he generalizes to all forms of monotheism, accusing all religions of pious fraud, of "the holy lie." His hatred of Christianity is so profound that it overflows beyond its proper bounds to encompass other religions as well. It then becomes necessary to draw out the implications of this stance.
Nietzsche and Science
Nietzsche's relationship with science was ambivalent. While he recognized its utility and praised its naturalism, he also regarded science as being based on faith.
To make it possible for this discipline to begin, must there not be some prior conviction...? We see that science also rests on faith; there simply is no science "without presuppositions."
And in this, Nietzsche is right. Michael Polanyi, himself a scientist and a profound thinker on the philosophy of science, found belief to be an essential requirement of science: "no one can become a scientist unless he presumes that the scientific doctrine and method are fundamentally sound and that their ultimate premises can be unquestioningly accepted." "Any account of science which does not explicitly describe it as something we believe in is essentially incomplete and a false pretense." Nietzsche then continues:
... from where [does] science [take] its unconditional faith or conviction on which it rests, that truth is more important than any other thing, including every other conviction?... "I will not deceive, not even myself"; and with that we stand on moral ground.
Thus Nietzsche proves himself to be a moralist of knowledge. There is no "objective", i.e. morally neutral, knowledge. If we were to adopt a Sufic standpoint, we would see that Nietzsche demonstrates this from two perspectives. The perspective given above, that knowledge is sublime truth, is the standpoint of the Purified Self. Elsewhere, Nietzsche also demonstrates "that knowledge... is the subtlest guise of the Will to Power [of the egotistical self, as it is called in Sufi terminology]; and that as a manifestation of the will it is liable to be judged morally. "
Thus the question "Why science?" leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature and history are "not moral"? No doubt, those who are truthful in that audacious and ultimate sense that is presupposed by faith and science thus affirm another world than the world of life, nature, and history; and insofar as they affirm this "other world"—look, must they not by the same token negate its counterpart, this world, our world?
As Edwin A. Burtt has shown, the world of science is an abstraction from this world, a 'Platonic' world based on mathematics.
—But you will have gathered what I am driving at, namely, that it is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from... that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine.
Following his own logic, Nietzsche necessarily comes to the point where God must be eradicated from his belief system, which is the antithesis of faith:
—But what if this should become more and more incredible... if God himself should prove to be our most enduring lie?
This forms the bedrock for Nietzsche's earlier comments:
The total character of the world, however, is in all eternity chaos—in the sense not of a lack of necessity but of a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms... Let us beware of saying that there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses. Once you know that there are no purposes, you also know that there is no accident; for it is only beside a world of purposes that the word "accident" has any meaning.
Thus, the denial of God has driven Nietzsche to deny science, the laws of nature, the existence of order and even of causality. There is no purpose in the world, only chaos. Instead of "law," Nietzsche substitutes "necessity." But what is this but another name for "law"? Likewise, biologist Jacques Monod, in Chance and Necessity (1971), denied the purposefulness implied by "teleology" only to exchange it with an almost identical word, "teleonomy." What is gained by substituting one word for another if both are intended to describe the same thing?
Now it is interesting to note that Nietzsche is not alone in the conclusions he reaches. Before him, David Hume trod the same path, and in his efforts to deny God did away even with the connection between cause and effect. Thus, as Professor Jacques Barzun notes, Hume arrived at a distrust of science and religion alike: "Hume's last word of doubt on religion carries with it such a doubt about the mind of man that the certainty of science goes down in shipwreck too." It was Kant who, transcending Hume, slipped a fresh foundation under the work of science.
Strikingly, we find the same attitude in Nietzsche. In The Will to Power, he states: "the psychological necessity for a belief in causality lies in the inconceivability of an event divorced from intent... The belief in [causes] falls with the belief in [purpose]." Thus the denial of God leads to the denial of causality, the basic underpinning of science. The world is not an organism, it is not even a machine. Even grammar does not escape his attacks, for it is a system of rules, order, and the repository of a hidden belief in causality.
Why? Why do both Hume and Nietzsche, in their overzeal to deny God, end up debauching science as well? Because their denial of God is dependent on the denial of any order whatsoever in the universe. Because they knew that science took its origin, and is still based on, a world in which order prevails. If the world is chaos, there can be no order, and hence no laws either of nature or of science. (In our day, however, even the word "chaos" is being redefined, as mathematicians and scientists discern hidden order in chaos.) For the existence of any kind of laws presupposes a Lawgiver, and indeed the originators of modern science—Newton, Descartes, Leibniz, etc.—quite openly expressed their faith in a Divine Lawmaker. In order to deny the latter, Hume, Nietzsche, and those who follow their path must deny the existence of any kind of order at all. But without such order, the whole enterprise of science falls down, for it is then senseless to seek for laws, order or pattern in a disordered world. Nietzsche borders on Orwellian Newspeak in his implied conclusion: "truth is a lie," and falls into the same rut that he so despises in those who confuse mortality and immortality (see " Misconceptions About God" below). Yet paradoxically, Nietzsche was also genius enough to recognize that his nihilistic teaching (and Zarathustra's) is a "rebound from 'God is truth' to the fanatical faith 'All is false'."
But is all this true? "By their fruits you shall judge them." Science works—it is the most successful enterprise in the history of humanity. Even chance, even probability, has its laws and is not chaos. In that case, it makes sense to view the world as ordered, a place where laws—laws of science, laws of nature—hold. So it makes sense, in turn, to talk about a Lawgiver—which Newton, Copernicus, et al. had told us right from the very beginning, and which we would never have lost sight of had we not extended our debunking of the Christian conception of God to God Himself. The alternative is to assume that we ourselves project order onto the universe, which is a form of solipsism. In that case, though, the basis for an objective universe and materialism collapses. Even granting the point of solipsism, however, if man finds meaning within himself, where does he dredge up this meaning from? ...God is both transcendent and immanent. Contrary to what Nietzsche thought, He is not just incarnate in Jesus, and not just beyond the universe.
Having denied the existence of all order, all laws, Nietzsche then turns around and postulates his own "law" of eternal recurrence—the universe as a finite-state system in infinite time, an endless loop of tape replayed forever—for which there is not the slightest shred of physical evidence. Thus he replaces (as many people after him have also done) all the physics and metaphysics he has overthrown by his own brand of "naturalistic" metaphysics. Assuming that the universe is purely physical, this is the way Nietzsche reintroduces "rebirth" and "immortality"— primal yearnings of the human soul. In Germanic mythology, the world begins anew after the great destruction. The Greek concept of apokatastasis or restoration, and the early Christian views on redemption, are similar constructs. As Mircea Eliade has shown in his Myth of the Eternal Return, primitives, too, overcome the irreversibility of time by investing it with a cyclic attribute. The cosmic rhythms we observe, such as day and night or the seasons, lead in the end to an extrapolation to the universe as a whole, as evidenced even in the conjecture in modern cosmology of an "oscillating universe." Thus Nietzsche merely rediscovered an age-old concept of man.
One final point. Nietzsche's attempt to proclaim God dead results not only in the denial of truth, of science, but also of life. Had Nietzsche realized this, he would no doubt have deemed it necessary to revise his standpoint, for one of his main objections against Christianity was that it devalued life and this world by emphasizing the existence of—and the happier future state in—a next world. Now observe:
Let us beware of saying that death is opposed to life. The living is merely a type of what is dead, and a very rare type.
By reducing spirit to matter and life to death, Nietzsche makes life an abnormal condition. And in the practice of lesser minds, such abstract philosophical concepts translate into an effort to kill off living things, to reduce them to their "normal" state. In Thomas Berger's novel, Little Big Man, an Indian chief says that such men "believe that everything is dead: stones, earth, animals, and people, even their own people. And if, in spite of that, things persist in trying to live, [they] will rub them out."
And hence, as Nietzsche feared, but also advocated in spite of himself, we reach total nihilism—the effort to turn everything into nothing.
Misconceptions about God
Man is man, and God is God. Man is mortal, God is immortal. This is a crucial rule by which all forms of monotheism must abide. Man may be spiritually purified and elevated to a "vision of God," but this does not allow us to confuse one with the other.
On a sunny day, go out into the sunshine. Bathe in it, be enlightened in it, be warmed by it. Then come back indoors and ask yourself: "Did I see the sun?" Yes. "Did it enlighten me?" Yes. "Did it warm me up?" Yes.
But: "Am I the sun?" No!
The case of God is similar to the case of the sun. No one who has enjoyed a special relationship with God, however close, can claim to be God Himself on the basis of that relationship or experience.
The Mansion and the Houseguests
Two other frequent misconceptions about God concern those on the other side of the fence. The concept of God as a puppet-master or an oriental despot, so often advanced by atheists, is simply wrong. If God had wanted absolute hegemony over man, nothing could have been simpler: He could simply have created a race of mindless robots. Instead He has given man a mind and free will, and placed him in charge of this planet. But there is no authority without responsibility. Hence man is responsible for what he does on earth. Free will means that man is free to choose both good and bad: God does not compel man to anything. Man is bound by his circumstances, but he is free to make moral choices and actions. If he does something out of compulsion, he is not responsible—which is precisely why Omar, the second Caliph whose penchant for justice was as legendary as that of King Solomon, forgave a destitute man when he stole some food from the market place. But free will without guidance is naught, for without guidance man might not be able to tell right from wrong. Hence God has given man both free will and the right guidance to use that freedom wisely.
But such freedom comes at a price. The price is that man is responsible, and hence accountable, for his actions. For this freedom of will and action means that man can hurt other men, that he can harm other creatures. If man has the license to interfere with God's creation, this does not mean he has the right to destroy or misplace anything.
The following parable is more to the point than the similes of either puppet-master or oriental despot. The rich owner of a country manor has sent various friends of his to stay there during their summer vacation. The trip, however, proves so rough that the guests are afflicted with amnesia by the time they arrive at the mansion. Inside they find rooms full of wondrous objects, tables decked with fruit, and beautiful tapestries. The owner of the house, aware of the difficult passage of his guests, has left a manual on the main table outlining the house rules. One of these rules is that the guests should share in the daily household chores, such as cooking and washing the dishes. Another is that they should show proper love and respect for each other, since they have all been chosen and sent there by the same landlord. It is also good etiquette to remember the landlord from time to time, to phone him and thank him for the beautiful gift he has made to his guests.
So from that point on, it is the guests' collective responsibility to manage the household. But if they fall among each other; if they start quarreling and attacking one another; if they dump their waste in the middle of the living room; if they start swinging from the chandeliers; if they make a hell out of this paradise resort; if they pretend that the landlord does not exist, or pick up the phone and curse him for all their own self-caused troubles; if their response is grumpiness instead of gratitude, then they will have sunk into the depths of discourtesy. And what if the guests ruin the house, if they destroy the furniture? What if they burn the house down in the end?
Now this is exactly our situation on earth. And for this reason if for nothing else, we must unmask all atheistic philosophies as a self-deception that provides man with an excuse to shirk his responsibilities, and to defile the mansion in which he is a guest—the world—with his abominations.
Nietzsche sees this quite clearly. In The Twilight of the Idols, after branding free will an "error", he states: "We deny God; in denying God, we deny accountability..." As a Dostoevsky character says: "If there is no God, everything is permitted." This is the real reason for denying God: the purpose is not to unveil some profound truth (as it happens, an untruth), but to deliver our egotistical selves from moral qualms and considerations. Eradicate belief in God, and you rip out the root of morality. Nietzsche has deciphered the sequence well: if no God, then no accountability; if no accountability, then no need, indeed no possibility, for morality. It is the next step in this sequence that Nietzsche instinctively shrinks away from: without morality, it becomes not merely possible, but inevitable, for us to perpetrate unspeakable monstrosities against each other, against other beings, against nature.
Of course, declaring the death of God has no more effect on His existence than the claim: "the President of the United States does not exist" has on the American President. Hence, we will be held to account whether we believe in God or not, and to think we can evade it is simply a delusion. Meanwhile, burying our heads in the ground like an ostrich only serves—by instilling a false sense of relief and license—to increase the dastardly deeds on our account, throwing us ever further "into the red."
The Base Self versus God
Let us now follow the consequences of the statement: "The belief in God is dead" to its logical conclusions...
What are the basic drives of the egotistical self? They are, first, its material—and by implication its financial—interests, its drive toward sexual satisfaction, and its will to power. Now all three points were dealt with in the 19th century by Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, respectively. The insights of these men cannot be gainsaid. But they all lacked the knowledge that would allow them to integrate the three. And, furthermore, each one reduced questions of cosmic importance to his own discovery regarding a species inhabiting a dust speck in the vast expanses of the universe. Thus, the concept of God was, for Marx, a consequence of what he termed the "superstructure"; for Freud, a "sublimation, projection, or illusion"; and for Nietzsche, a self-deception.
Let us now go back to the egotistical self. Assume that its material needs, food and comfort are provided for. Assume, too, that its sexual drives have been satisfied. Yet for the Base Self this is not the end but merely a beginning, for it is precisely from this point onward that its further expansion must proceed. Nietzsche's original term for this in Daybreak and The Joyous Science, the "lust for power" or "love of power" (machtgelüst), is more revealing than his later "will to power." And indeed, left to its own devices, the Base Self will try to appropriate more and more power to itself—whether it be political power, social power, or pecuniary power. And Nietzsche, better than Marx or Freud, was able to discern this motivation. (Following in Nietzsche's footsteps, Alfred Adler and Bertrand Russell, too, identified power as the motive force in man.) Ahmad Sirhindi (1563-1624), ... once explained it this way:
The self in its state of impulsiveness (ammara) always strives to be superior... It refuses to acknowledge its dependence on and debt to others. This is nothing but a claim to divinity... Indeed, [such a] self will not settle even for partnership with God, but desires to subjugate even Him, to enslave all that exists. It is for this reason that aiding and abetting this self, the enemy of God, ... is the greatest of follies and disasters.
Here, the basic motivation of the Base Self stands revealed: it wants to be God, even if this is impossible. It desires absolute submission on the part of others.
Now the greatest obstacle in this way is belief in God Himself. The selfish ego in man cannot tolerate even God, or perhaps especially God, so it will try to abolish belief in God the first chance it gets. In all their merciless unmasking of base motives, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche never suspected that this was the reason for their atheism, and the subtlest thinkers fell victim to the even subtler tricks of the Base Self. Nietzsche's madman reveals the consequences of "God is dead": "... must not we ourselves become gods?" One of Dostoevsky's characters remarks: "If there is no God, then I am God." Nietzsche's following remark, the apogee of hubris, tells it all: "Today I love myself as my god." And indeed, in the final throes of Nietzsche's megalomania, he claimed that he was God.
... In his treatment of Nietzsche's Zarathustra, Carl G. Jung, the great psychologist, remarks:
If you knew what reality that fact possesses which has been called God, you would know that you could not possibly get away from it. But you have lost sight of it; you don't know what that thing means and so it gets at you unconsciously, and then without knowing it you are transformed into God almighty, as happened to Nietzsche. It got into him to such an extent that he went crazy and signed his letters "the dismembered [Dionysos] Zagreus," or "Christ Dionysos," because he became identical with the God he had eliminated. You see, inasmuch as we have eliminated God to a great extent, it is just as if we were all denying the fact that we were hungry, but then we begin to eat each other; we get so hungry that a catastrophe will follow... we now think that the progress of thought and the development of the human mind is hampered by the existence of such old prejudices, and we destroy those old forms because we think that we are gods and can do without them... There, of course, is the great danger of any creation: it destroys something which should not be destroyed, and out of that develop the most catastrophic consequences, as in Nietzsche's case.
Jung goes on to point out Nietzsche‘s "identification with the deity—the Superman takes the place of the deity."
But there is a further problem to be reckoned with here. Having declared God dead, Nietzsche's self-deification followed as a matter of course. But even this megalomania may not have been his real undoing. For there is yet a final twist, a further step to go: if God is dead, and Nietzsche is God, then Nietzsche is—dead! Dead, and yet alive! (Recall that he refers to himself as "the dismembered," "the crucified.") This short-circuit, this final paradox, must have proved too much of a strain for even the likes of his nimble mind, which thereupon committed mental suicide, and he became the ultimate embodiment—or is it the entombment?—of his own reasoning: a dead, shattered mind in a living body. Thus, it can be seen that in Nietzsche's case, the egotistical self declared its final rebellion by totally blotting out his mind, which it had driven to the point of exhaustion. (This is why Sirhindi says that aiding the Base Self is the greatest folly, the worst disaster.) Like a tool which has outlived its usefulness, it was then broken and thrown away, after all the efforts of his great spirit to achieve salvation had been successfully vanquished by his intellect using the deadly formula: "God is dead." Nietzsche's insanity has been linked with tertiary syphilis, but this—if true—can only have accelerated, not caused, the process.
It is a pity that this had to be the outcome, since Nietzsche had already deduced that "strenuousness," or self-exertion, was the way to go—in Sufi psychology, a cardinal method for cornering the Base Self. And this brings us to a discussion of Nietzsche's "Superman."
"Man is a rope," says Nietzsche in Zarathustra, "suspended between animal and superman—a rope over an abyss." Thus he portrays man as an unfinished, incomplete being. In this he is entirely in accord with Sufi psychology and the mystics of all traditions. But just at the point where Nietzsche's ideas begin to show the greatest potential, his project proves self-defeating—for he trips himself up by his continued adherence to "the death of God." Without God, there can be no Superman, no God-realized man, no saint, no man who is close to God; without that light and guidance, one can only be close to the devil.
... In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche recognizes the existence of a "higher self." "The discipline of suffering, of great suffering—do you not know that it is this discipline alone which has created every elevation of mankind hitherto?" He asks "what type of human being one ought to breed" : "This more valuable type has existed often enough already: but as a lucky accident, as an exception, never as willed." He talks of a "type of higher species of man, half 'saint', half 'genius'..."
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ... Couched in dreamlike imagery, it is Nietzsche’s spiritual journey and testament. Nietzsche wrote its major parts very quickly in a trancelike state, and elaborated upon them afterwards; his subconscious gushed forth onto the paper like a broken dam. In Jungian terms, the archetype of the "wise old man" became activated in him in the person of Zarathustra, and in Ecce Homo Nietzsche himself speaks of being "merely an incarnation, mouthpiece or medium" for that figure. Yet he appears to have only partially digested or assimilated the insights of the latter; as C.G. Jung notes, lacking the means of modern psychology, he does not display awareness in many cases of what the revelations flowing out through his hand really mean.
Zarathustra is replete with symbolism pertaining to the Base Self (called nafs al-ammara in Sufism). Not surprisingly, this aspect of Zarathustra has gone almost entirely unnoticed, for as Jung observed, "in the west we have no philosophy of the self", and even a man of his stature was not always able to discern the portent of these symbols (he refers to the Base Self as the "shadow" or "inferior man" when he does).
...he can never reach his goal, for he has already defeated his own purpose by accepting that "God is dead." Hence he deprives his 'higher species', the Superman or Overman (übermensch), of an ideal towards which to strive and approach asymptotically. The rocket he would shoot to the stars then misfires and burrows into the ground: "'Man must become better and more evil'—thus do I teach. The most evil is necessary for the superman's best." He castigates altruism as "the morality of decadence": "An 'altruistic' morality—a morality in which self-interest wilts away—remains a bad sign under all circumstances... The best is lacking when self-interest begins to be lacking... Man is finished when he becomes altruistic." Approvingly calling his Zarathustra "the destroyer of morality" and himself an 'immoralist', he continues in The Gay Science: "You will never again pray, never again worship... you have no perpetual guardian and friend... there is no longer for you any rewarder and recompenser, no final corrector—there is no longer any reason in what happens, no longer any love in what happens to you..."
Thus, like Dr. Frankenstein, Nietzsche sets out to create a superior human being, yet succeeds only in producing a monster. In Zarathustra, he lets the cat out of the bag: "I guess you would call my overman—devil." In The Antichrist, he defines happiness as "not peace, but war", and criticizes Christianity for having pictured "the strong man as the typically reprehensible man." Barred from elevation in the vertical direction, his "self-overcoming" can take place in only one direction: the ego can only expand—or rather inflate—in the horizontal. Lacking this vertical direction, the only thing left for him is to claim superiority through his own will to power. Thus every individual is left pitted against every other, and a common morality becomes impossible. Locked in the basement of the Base Self, with evil and cruelty as its guides, with the only goal repudiated, with the elevator and even the stairway out of the labyrinth bricked over, his 'superman' becomes, not a sage or saint, but a Hitler, a Stalin. His wine turns to vinegar, his elixir of life to poison. No wonder he went insane. As things stand, his 'superman' is hopelessly confused; a hodgepodge of the highest stage of selfhood, the "Purified Self," and the worst of the Base Self—a tainted mixture instead of pure, clear, sparkling water.
Yet after all is said and done, it cannot be denied that Nietzsche had great potential in him. Had he fallen into the hands of a competent Master, he would no doubt have borne fruit, his mind and his spirit would have declared peace, and would have begun to pull in the same direction instead of in opposite directions. Perhaps he himself might have become a 'superman' in the better sense of the term. Nietzsche realized as much: "If only I had a Master!" he once exclaimed—but it was not to be. There was nothing in the Western intellectual tradition to provide Nietzsche with the master he needed, nor is there still.
The Base Self and Science
Let us now turn to the question of the Base Self versus knowledge. We have already noted that Nietzsche was a moralist of knowledge. ...he conceived of knowledge in two different ways: as sublime Truth (which Nietzsche attributed to Plato and the wisest of all ages), and as the subtlest guise of the Will to Power (which Nietzsche himself advocated: the will to truth is the Will to Power, the passion to rule)....
Ever since Bacon, we have known that "knowledge is power." Lord Acton has informed us that: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Using the equivalence of knowledge and power, we arrive at: "absolute knowledge corrupts absolutely." This refers to the Base Self. The Base Self seeks knowledge not for its own sake, but for the love of power. This lust for power is progressively diminished as higher levels of selfhood are attained, until the Purified Self is reached; the latter contemplates knowledge as divine truth solely out of its love for Truth, not out of lust for the power that knowledge will give. Only the Purified Self is worthy of possessing knowledge, and deserves Truth, because it will never misappropriate, misuse, or abuse it.
Hence, knowledge in the hands of the Base Self is an extremely dangerous thing. The more the selfish ego knows, the more arrogant does it become, the greater is its tendency to self-deification. And awareness of this fact has never been so relevant as it is today, in the Information Age of our scientific civilization. Never have we possessed so much knowledge, and never has science, or information, been so dangerously open to misuse. Einstein's equation E=mc2 is a case in point: from the knowledge that matter can be converted into energy, we have fashioned weapons that will destroy the human race. But Copernicus, at the very beginning of the scientific revolution, was already aware of the implications, which explains his reluctance to make his discoveries widely known.
The following apocryphal letter, purportedly by Lysis, shook Copernicus to his very core and caused him to withhold his great discoveries for almost four decades:
After the death of Pythagoras... it remains our sacred duty to remember the divine teaching of our master and not to divulge the treasures of philosophy [read: "science"] to those who have not undergone preliminary purification of the mind... Some of his imitators achieve many and great things, but in an improper way... thus their audience is encouraged to ruthlessness and insolence, for they stain the pure tenets of philosophy with rash and impure demeanour. It is as if one were to pour clean, fresh water into a well filled with dirt—for the dirt will only get agitated, and the water will be wasted. This is what happens to those who teach and are taught in this manner. Thick and dark forests cover the minds and hearts of those who have not been initiated in the proper manner, and disturb the mild contemplation of ideas...
Yet once the atomic bomb was finished, the decision to use it, and to stockpile weapons the measure of whose destruction is beyond belief, was made by others. This signals the fact that in a technological civilization, in a scientific society, it is not enough to have scientists who are moral; everybody should pass through proper moral training. And if one considers that university students can now design an atomic bomb, plus the fact that the smallest nations are eager to lay hands on one, it becomes clear that the project must be worldwide.
All this demonstrates that in order to handle knowledge wisely, we must aim at an elevation and purification of the Base Self... Otherwise, knowledge or information in the hands of the Base Self can only lead to the misuse and abuse of power. Scientists, if they are not themselves evil, then become the instruments of those who are. In his novel Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley portrayed this graphically by representing Einstein at the end of a leash held by a gorilla in a general's uniform.
So much for the beginning—but what of the end? What are the final consequences of the loss of belief in God? Nietzsche's formula cost him his sanity; what is the outcome if large sections of humanity cease to believe in God?
It is no longer possible to ignore the following fact: highfalutin, abstract metaphysical propositions have consequences in the physical world. A philosophical proposition declaimed by a pundit from his ivory tower, when acclaimed and acted out by men of lesser intelligence and even less conscience, lead to concrete results in the real world. These are the fruits of that seed, and "by their fruits you shall judge them." The fruits immediately lay bare the peculiar properties concealed in the seed which cannot be discovered without sowing it.
Nietzsche's formula has been sown for more than a century. It has become a standard, a stock item, an integral part in the intellectual equipment of the West. During this time, it has had the chance to grow, to bear fruit. A century after Nietzsche, where do we now find ourselves?
The history of the 20th century has been one of increasing decimation and devastation. The discovery of the most hideous weapon in history at the end of World War 2 has guaranteed that there will be few, if any, survivors at the end of the next world war, and those few will envy the dead. Two bombs—two bombs were all we had in 1945. Today, half a century later, we have not ten, not one hundred, but tens of thousands of these weapons, temporarily gathering mothballs. But don't be fooled—they're still there, all nations are lusting after them, and there's enough raw material for thousands more. The H-Bombs in their cocoons, the ballistic missiles in their silos may be hibernating now, but when their springtime comes they will resume proliferation.
Alongside this tremendous increase in murder-power—and murder is its proper name, for their greatest destruction is wrought on innocent civilians—the century soon to be left behind has witnessed atrocities unparalleled in history. Human beings have slaughtered each other in gas chambers, in ovens, in concentration camps, under torture, not by the thousands but by the tens of millions. To paraphrase Turkish poet M. A. Ersoy, "whole continents went boiling down into that maelstrom."
What is the magnitude of the death toll? Precise figures are impossible to obtain. In a chapter on "The Century of Megadeath" in his Out of Control (1993), Zbigniew Brzezinski attempted a rough estimate. His reckoning is conservative, and closer to a minimum value than what the losses actually were.
Brzezinski estimated that approximately 87 million people had perished in wars during the 20th century. An almost equal number, more than 80 million, had been murdered in cold blood as a result of ideologically motivated terror and totalitarian genocide. Thus upwards of 167 million, or almost 170 million people, represent the lower limit on this century’s dreadful ledger. "This," concludes Brzezinski, "is more than the total killed in all previous wars, civil conflicts, and religious persecutions throughout human history." The mind cannot deal adequately with carnage of such monstrous proportions, and is numbed into incomprehension by the very magnitudes involved. This incomprehension serves as a refuge for the human mind, which instinctively recoils from coming to terms with evil of such dimensions.
The 70 million dead in two world wars; the 50 million dead or missing in combat during the so-called "peace" period since the last world war; the 6 million Jews butchered in extermination camps; the untold millions handed over to famine; the tens of millions that perished in the Soviet Gulag (the devastation is of such magnitude that accurate figures cannot be cited, estimates ranging between 15 and 66 million); the comparable number that went to their deaths in China; the progressive institutionalization of torture by almost all the nations of the world; the ever-increasing degree of violence in the methods of torture; the lack of compassion for women, children and the aged—quite to the contrary, the compulsion to inflict even more merciless torture on precisely those who are most at our mercy—the terrors of the 20th century are far beyond the comprehension of any horror movie. What has happened in fact leaves fiction speechless, no matter how depraved or imaginative...
Jean-Paul Sartre, despite his atheism, spoke of the "God-shaped hole" in the human soul left by the death of faith. But he found it necessary to reject God whether He existed or not, since the idea of God, he supposed, negates human freedom— which was, of course, Nietzsche’s problem also. The crucial question, however, is freedom for what, exactly. If the laws of God "enjoin the good and forbid the evil," are we asking for anything else than freedom for evil when we ask for more freedom? And what possible good is going to derive from unleashing evil? If the freedom of man is not going to serve good, what possible value does it have? Are we asking for the freedom to murder multiples of six million human beings, like a Hitler, or tens of millions of human beings, like a Stalin? Are much smaller concentrations of evil absolved from being evil just because they are less? And are not such unspeakable, unnameable atrocities merely the accumulation of countless lesser evils? When one lives in a coccoon of abstractions, it is quite easy to lose sight of such simple things. And the "God-shaped hole" can only be filled by God again; nothing smaller will do.
Perhaps, in Nietzsche‘s time, the consequences of unbelief were still not sufficiently apparent. Perhaps it could still be claimed that a metaphysical belief was no different from the lack thereof. But today, we do not have this luxury open to us. Everything is now crystal clear. Man at the pinnacle of civilization, science, and technology is no different than a caveman wearing a tie. In terms of his capacity to inflict destruction, he is incomparably worse.
If belief in God is dead, then Doomsday is on the agenda. Mankind will self-destruct sooner or later in a gigantic spasm of insanity. Unbelief in God, in short, can mean only one thing: man's collective suicide. Nietzsche gives voice to a "deepest suspicion that is more and more gaining worse and worse control of us Europeans and that could easily confront coming generations with the terrifying Either/Or: 'Either abolish your reverences or—yourselves!' The latter would be nihilism; but would not the former also be—nihilism? That is our question mark."
In retrospect, we can see that the question is not one of Either/Or, but Both/And—better yet, If/Then: If you abolish faith in God, then you abolish yourselves. The first nihilism begets the second.
In The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche makes the uncanny observation: "We have abolished the true world [the ideal world of Plato, the God of Christian religion]: which world is left? Perhaps the apparent one? Certainly not! Together with the true world we have also abolished the apparent one!" Nietzsche here not only makes the distinction between Necessary Being (God) and Contingent Being (universe) as dealt with in Sufism and Islamic philosophy, predicating the existence of the latter on the "Ground of all being." Much more eerily and perhaps unwittingly, he shows that by shutting the door on the light of God, we cripple the projection of that light into the universe. As long as that door remains closed, peace, love and meaning are not replenished but depleted, and mankind becomes steadily more depraved, merciless and desperate—psychologically abnormal. The stage grows darker and darker, until its collective consciousness of the universe is blotted out in a catastrophic paroxysm of global proportions.
If Nietzsche is the prophet of atheism, Thus Spoke Zarathustra is the Bible of atheism. But one fundamental question remains: why, then, was Nietzsche not satisfied with the simple death of God; why did he find it necessary to search beyond it for Zarathustra and the Superman? The reason is that he cannot stop, and man cannot stop; his noble spirit, though choking, continues on its spiritual quest. His greatness resides in the fact that he realizes that there lies something higher, something greater, beyond his conceptions, even if he cannot come to proper terms with it. His attempt manifests itself, as Jung demonstrates, in the archetypal symbol of Zarathustra. He is trying to find a way out of the nihilism that the death of God leaves in its wake. In the best humanistic tradition, he devalues a God "out there" in order to elevate Man. But what if God is not merely external to man, but also internal to him?
By rejecting God in toto, Nietzsche also inadvertently devalues man. Man is thereby estranged from the divine spark within and left as a husk, a mere shell. He is alienated from the wellsprings of his soul. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche proposes that man should not flow out to a God, but should ever accumulate water like a dam; he fails to see that it is the same God who flows into man, nourishing him from within, so that if man builds a dam against God, he will be left in the end with a dry riverbed on both sides of the dam, for the spring will dry up— or rather, be diverted. He thus obviates any possibility of man’s self-realization, and defeats the purpose of his mission. But man as he exists now is an unfinished being, and will always try to transcend himself; atheist or not, this is the condition of man. The quest that Nietzsche set out on has been realized in all true spiritual traditions, of which Islamic Sufism represents the culmination. From his Birth of Tragedy to the very end, this is the tragedy of Nietzsche, and this tragedy has become part of the very fabric of the twentieth century. "The true calling of man," said Aldous Huxley echoing Nietzsche, "is to find the way to himself." The "death of God" has blighted our lives to the extent that it has become the definitive concept in modern thought, and it is high time— "the highest time," in Zarathustra’s words— that we began the examination of Sufism in this light.
Nietzsche criticized Christianity for its supernatural aspect, for its emphasis on spirit to the detriment of nature, for its denial of nature and worldly life; and he was genius enough to see where this dichotomy has been transcended: "the culture of Islam... more congenial to our senses and tastes than Rome and Greece... owed its origins to noble... instincts, because it said Yes to life..." He saw, in other words, that the pair of opposites are here constellated in a radically different way, and that the rights of the body are recognized just as much as the rights of the spirit. A little more time, and he might also have realized that the "transvaluation of values" he was searching for had already been affected in Islam. For at bottom he was trying, not to do away with all values, but to transcend conventional morality with all its mendacity, contradictions and hypocrisies, to go beyond the specifically Christian conceptions of good and evil; and "evil" in the Christian sense has never existed in Islam.
"Nietzsche was by no means anti-moral in general but only anti-moral in the Christian, Buddhist, or any other strength-denying senses. He wanted to go beyond Good and Evil to reach the valid (as he thought) opposition, Good and Bad"— which are precisely the categories found in Islam. In line with the ego/power relationship discussed above, he attempted to formulate the contents of these categories solely in terms of power; but in addition to that, a sick, ailing, sleepless ex-professor, in pain but also in love with life, can perhaps be excused his resentment for weakness in all its forms; it is his own weaknesses he is reacting against. To him, life is strength; hence his opposition to Buddhism no less than to Christianity, as well as all other life-denying religions that wish to escape this world.
The Nightmare of Insanity
Nietzsche, who said: "God is dead," finally went insane. In a premonitory nightmare attributed to Zarathustra, Nietzsche provides us with a rare and chilling glimpse into his condition:
I had turned my back on all life, thus I dreamed. I had become a night watchman and a guardian of tombs upon the lonely mountain castle of Death. Up there I guarded his coffins... Life that had been overcome, looked at me out of glass coffins. I breathed the odor of dusty eternities: sultry and dusty lay my soul. And who could have aired his soul there?
The brightness of midnight was always about me; loneliness crouched next to it; and as a third, death-rattle silence, the worst of my friends. I had keys, the rustiest of all keys; and I knew how to use them to open the most creaking of all gates. Like a wickedly angry croaking, the sound ran through the long corridors when the gate's wings moved: fiendishly cried this bird, ferocious at being awakened. Yet still more terrible and heart-constricting was the moment when silence returned and it grew quiet about me, and I sat alone in this treacherous silence.
Thus time passed and crawled, if time still existed... But eventually that happened which awakened me. Thrice, strokes struck at the gate like thunder; the vaults echoed and howled thrice; then I went to the gate. "Alpa," I cried, "who is carrying his ashes up the mountain? Alpa! Alpa! Who is carrying his ases up the mountain?" And I pressed the key and tried to lift the gate and exerted myself; but still it did not give an inch. Then a roaring wind tore its wings apart; whistling, shrilling, and piercing, it cast up a black coffin before me.
And amid the roaring and whistling and shrilling the coffin burst and spewed out a thousandfold laughter. And from a thousand grimaces of children, angels, owls, fools, and butterflies as big as children, it laughed and mocked and roared at me. Then I was terribly frightened; it threw me to the ground. And I cried in horror as I have never cried. And my own cry awakened me—and I came to my senses.
As Professor Jung points out in his masterly analysis of this dream: "It is a horrible foreboding of [Nietzsche's] insanity... Insanity is the secret, the utter destruction of his mind... [The dream is weakly laid down to Zarathustra’s 'enemies.'] But who is his enemy? His own unconscious—his enemy is himself. So he has dreamt himself, that is his own case, his own insanity."
Having identified "God" with death and the devil in his mind, Nietzsche's dream takes the form of a descent into Hades, into hell. From time immemorial men have tried to master the unconscious—to unlock its secrets and to dominate it—using the rusty keys of their willpower. But the unconscious has always proved singularly impervious to such attempts at taming it: it has a life, a will of its own, and the will to power is ineffectual against it.
Nietzsche's Abysmal Thought, his unconscious, asks a question which Nietzsche reiterates above: "Who is carrying his own ashes up the mountain?" The answer is: Nietzsche himself is carrying the ashes of his own burnt-out mind. And the black coffin—both blackness and coffin symbolizing death—is again Nietzsche, out of which issue the thousand peals of laughter, the insane laughter of Nietzsche. (Zarathustra's disciple recognizes as much: "Are you not yourself the coffin?" he asks.) He tries to unlock the creaky gates of his unconscious; but his unconscious is also straining at the gates from the other side, and it then bursts forth with a roar, sweeping away the thin fabric of his reason, inundating him, overwhelming him with its contents—which is indeed what happened in the end. He became one of the "undead:" a dead mind in a living body, an insane laughter in a coffin.
Such a welling up of the unconscious—whether spontaneous or drug-induced—leaves one as helpless as a small boat on stormy seas. Under these conditions, there is only one solution: to anchor oneself solidly to the ground of this ocean: the Ground of all Being who is also the Ground of the unconscious. God, and God alone, can help against this merciless onslaught, and by taking refuge in God, by fixing one's attention, centering one's thoughts, on God, one can be saved from being drowned before the storm abates. But if we have repudiated God like Nietzsche, then there is nothing solid left to hold on to, and then there is "no exit" from the hell of insanity: certainly Nietzsche, who considered his Zarathustra—and therefore himself—as "a psychologist... who has no equal," did not prove immune.
To the extent that we think God is dead, we partake of Nietzsche's madness, we participate—however partially or subconsciously—in his insanity. If we wish to avoid his fate; if we wish to avoid the precipice towards which we all are still invisibly hurtling, we would do well to heed the following wise words:
He whose footsteps you follow in, His destination you will reach.