If you’d asked my high school self if I’d ever end up a fan of Frederich Nietzsche, my first response would’ve been, “Who?”, followed by my fearfully running away to bury my head in some apologetics book. Over the years, though, I’ve come to love Nietzsche, his work, and his passion. While his thought has been coopted and misrepresented by folks on the Right to countenance all sorts of despicable behaviors, when you get down to actually reading the man there’s an unmistakable courage and fearlessness in his writing that’s almost intoxicating to read. There’s something thrilling about the way he kicks my feet out from underneath me. Every. Single. Time. Unlike other thinkers, he is not afraid to “think a thought through to the end.”[1]

Take The Antichrist.[2] In this short book, Nietzsche sketches out a genealogy of Christianity and levels a massive critique against it. He boils things down like this: The problem with Christianity is that it rejects life; it rejects the way the world actually works, in favor of something make believe. It prefers pipe-dreams and fantasies to the way that things actually are. And when it does this, Christianity hurts people and makes the world a worse place.

Here’s how Nietzsche reaches these conclusions. For him, life is about beauty and strength and striving and passion; it’s about grabbing hold of existence and joyfully draining it of all it’s worth, constantly growing and expanding and enlarging oneself and one’s community. Life simply is the will to power, the refusal to let death and sickness have the final word, the affirmation of an unending commitment to all that is good, noble, and uplifting. Reality is about embracing the battle, taking the fight to the streets, and rising to greater and greater heights. Life simply is “the instinct of growth, of permanence, of accumulating forces, of power” (387). Life resolute says, “No!” to death and all of her ways.

While ancient Rome and ancient Greece were built on this glorious pursuit, fearlessly taking up the mantel, and establishing empires the likes of which the world has yet to match, Christianity from the start—and seen most explicitly in Protestantism—rejected life. It rejected striving, it rejected strength, it rejected all that is real and true, instead erecting a law that negates this life in favor of the life to come.

At its core, Christianity is the religion of the sick, the infirm, the weak who were unable to cope with life on life’s terms. Here God decayed “into the contradiction of life,” instead of being what transforms and joyfully embraces it (396). By elevating suffering, resignation, and failure to the level of virtues, the Gospel simply gives sanction and free reign to the resentment of the pitiful offscourings of humanity, enabling them to use their corrupting negation of life to topple empires, nations, and states from the inside-out. Instead of saying “Yes” to life, Christianity says a defiant “No.”

Christianity is, thus, the elevation of nothing, the elevation of all that is not real, to the order of the universe. Christianity simply is nihilism (388).

I love the fact that Nietzsche doesn’t pull his punches and goes straight for the jugular. He recognizes that this is life-and-death serious, and that treating it like anything else fails to realize the stakes we’re playing for.

When reading something like this, there’s a natural reflex to pull back from it, to recoil and then go on the offensive, attempting to put Nietzsche in his place.

We do so at our own peril.

Rather than putting our guard up, seeking to fortify ourselves against his blows, what if we leaned in to the punches?

When we do so, the truth of Nietzsche’s claims becomes evident. All too often, what is peddled in church simply sacralizes the order of oppression and degradation or lashes out resentfully at others due to anxieties about Christianity’s loss of power and standing on the world stage. On the one hand, the former draws inward, resigning itself to the way the world runs, simply shrugging things off with the promise that in the next life “things will be better.” It seeks a vaguely gauzy spiritual commiseration at the expense of taking a stand in the streets where bondage and enslavement are being dealt out left and right. Far from delving deep into the struggles of this life, it rejects the pain and suffering and pleasure and beauty we find all around us in favor of contemplatively anaesthetizing glances towards the life to come. On the other hand, the latter attitude mournfully bemoans the way things used to be, desperately wishing for the glories of Christendom, seeking to inflict misery on everyone else in the meantime. It cries about the injustices of “persecution” and how Christians are being treated poorly when the government dares insist that civil rights for all means civil rights for all; it gets seriously upset about the “War on Christmas.”

Nietzsche’s critique here is so damning because of the way it pulls back the curtain and reveals the ugly machine at the core of much of our religion. With both of these approaches, isn’t God simply the enlargement of our own deepest, darkest desires? Isn’t God merely the stamp of approval on our already-mapped-out plans and programs? Isn’t God just the eternal ratification of all that we want and believe and think we deserve?

If that’s the case, then maybe this God needs to be put to death.

[1] To quote Kierkegaard’s famous dictum (which he did not use in reference to Nietzsche).

[2] Page numbers are from Friedrich Nietzsche, A Nietzsche Compendium, ed. by David Taffel (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2008).