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Saturday, January 31, 2015

NIETZSCHE: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Body and Soul)

In the Prologue Zarathustra proclaimed that God is dead.  What does he mean by that?  In this section Zarathustra gives a series of speeches to elaborate on his message.  If God is now dead, what happened?  How did this idea of God begin in the first place?  Zarathustra explains: “This god whom I created was man-made and madness, like all gods!  Man he was, and only a poor specimen of man and ego: out of my own ashes and fire this ghost came to me, and, verily, it did not come to me from beyond.  What happened my brothers?  I overcame myself.”  Zarathustra believes God is a creation of our own imaginations.  The idea of God is merely a projection of our own wish to have more power and life.  God does not, as the Bible says, show himself to us from some otherworldly realm.  The idea of God begins within the minds of weak people.

In Zarathustra’s opinion we need to be strong and face reality as it is, not as we wish it to be.  There is no God.  There is no heaven.  Then why do so many people believe in them?  Zarathustra has an answer: “It was suffering and incapacity that created all afterworlds… this created all god and afterworlds…”  Since our bodies are frail and mortal we try to find comfort wherever we can.  Religion provides comfort.  But in Zarathustra’s opinion it’s a false comfort.  We try to escape bodily pain and death through some sort of existence based on a (non-existent) spirit or soul apart from the body.  So Zarathustra thinks we’re searching in all the wrong places.  When we try to escape pain and suffering we go wrong.  He says, “It was the body that despaired of the body… it was the body that despaired of the earth.”  Zarathustra wants us to overcome despairing life in a body.

But it takes a strong and healthy person to overcome this kind of despair.  Life as Zarathustra envisions it is not for weaklings.  Only the strong survive and society is full of weak, sick people.  He says, “It was the sick and decaying who despised body and earth and invented the heavenly realm…”  Only sick and decaying people dream of heaven.  And they have infected many others with their own despairing attitudes: “Many sick people have always been among the poetizers and God-cravers… they always look backward toward the dark ages.”  Nietzsche thinks religious-minded people are messed up mentally.  After all, they’re chasing after fantasies.  How healthy can that be?  

In some ways this story is similar to our reading in The Gospel of Mark.  Jesus had disciples and so does Zarathustra.  Jesus teaches in parables and so does Zarathustra.  Jesus wants to guide us to a new way of living and so does Zarathustra.  But there’s a fork in the road concerning this new way of life.  The message in The Gospel of Mark is our souls, as well as our bodies, need to be healed.  Nietzsche is having none of that.  He doesn’t believe we have souls so they don’t need to be healed.  The way he puts it, “‘Body am I, and soul,’ thus speaks the child... But the awakened and knowing say: body am I entirely, and nothing else…”  The Gospel of Mark says almost the exact opposite: “Jesus…said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.  Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”  Jesus and Zarathustra have very different ideas about the nature of the body, the soul, heaven and children.  So it’s not surprising that Jesus would see God as a Father in heaven and Zarathustra would see him as man-made madness.


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