The twofold struggle against misfortune. When a misfortune strikes us,
we can overcome it either by removing its cause or else by changing the effect
it has on our feelings, that is, by reinterpreting the misfortune as a good,
whose benefit may only later become clear. Religion and art (as well as metaphysical
philosophy) strive to effect a change in our feeling, in part by changing the
way we judge experiences (for example, with the aid of the tenet, "Whom
the Lord loves, he chastens")1 and in part by awakening a pleasure
in pain, in emotion generally (which is where tragic art has its starting point).
The more a person tends to reinterpret and justify, the less will he confront
the causes of the misfortune and eliminate them; a momentary palliation and
narcotization (as used, for example, for a toothache) is also enough for him
in more serious suffering. The more the rule of religions and all narcotic arts
decreases, the more squarely do men confront the real elimination of the misfortune---of
course, this is bad for the tragic poets (there being less and less material
for tragedy, because the realm of inexorable, invincible fate grows ever smaller)
but it is even worse for the priests (for until now they fed on the narcotization
of human misfortunes).
Sorrow is knowledge. How gladly one would exchange the false claims of priests---that there is a God who demands the Good from us, who is guardian and witness of each act, each moment, each thought, who loves us and wants the best for us in every misfortune---how gladly one would exchange these claims for truths which would be just as salutary, calming, and soothing as those errors! But there are no such truths; at the most, philosophy can oppose those errors with other metaphysical fictions (basically also untruths). But the tragic thing is that we can no longer believe those dogmas of religion and metaphysics, once we have the rigorous method of truth in our hearts and heads, and yet on the other hand, the development of mankind has made us so delicate, sensitive, and ailing that we need the most potent kind of cures and comforts---hence arises the danger that man might bleed to death from the truth he has recognized. Byron expressed this in his immortal lines:
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth,
the tree of knowledge is not that of life.2
There is no better cure for such cares than to conjure up the festive frivolity of Horace, at least for the worst hours and eclipses of the soul, and with him to say to yourself:
quid aeternis minorem
consiliis animum fatigas?
cur non sub alta vel platano vel hac
Of course, any degree of frivolity or melancholy is better than a romantic
regression and desertion, an approach to Christianity in any form; for one can
simply not engage in Christianity, given the present state of knowledge, without
hopelessly soiling his intellectual conscience and abandoning it to himself
and to others. Those pains may be distressing enough, but without pains one
cannot become a leader and educator of mankind; and woe to him who would try
to lead and no longer had that clean conscience!4
Truth in religion. During the Enlightenment, people did not do justice
to the significance of religion, there is no doubt of that. But it is just as
certain that in the subsequent opposition to the Enlightenment they went a good
piece beyond justice, by treating religions with love or even infatuation, and
adjudging them to have, for example, a deeper, even the very deepest understanding
of the world. It was for science to divest this understanding of its dogmatic
trappings in order to possess the "truth" in unmythical form. Thus
all opponents of the Enlightenment claimed that the religions stated sensu
allegorico,5 so the masses would understand, that age-old wisdom
which is wisdom in and of itself, inasmuch as all true modern science has always
led to it instead of away from it. In this way, a harmony, even identity of
views, would obtain between mankind's oldest sages and all later ones, and the
progress of knowledge (should one wish to speak of such a thing) would refer
not to its substance but rather to its communication. This whole view of religion
and science is erroneous through and through; and no one would dare to profess
it still today, had not Schopenhauer used his eloquence to take it under his
protection, this eloquence which rings out so loudly, and yet reaches its listeners
only after a generation. As surely as one can gain much for the understanding
of Christianity and other religions from Schopenhauer's religious and moral
interpretation of men and the world, so surely was he in error about the value
of religion for knowledge. In this regard he himself was simply the too
tractable student of the scientific teachers of his time, who all cherished
romanticism and had renounced the spirit of the Enlightenment; born into our
present age, he would have found it impossible to speak of the sensus allegoricus
of religion; rather, he would have done honor to truth, as was his wont, with
the words: "Never, neither indirectly nor directly, neither as a dogma
nor as an allegory, has religion yet held any truth." For out of fear
and need each religion is born, creeping into existence on the byways of reason.
Perhaps at one time, when endangered by science, it included some fabricated
philosophical theory in its system, so that it could be found there later; but
this is a theologian's trick from the period when a religion is already doubting
itself. These tricks of theology, which of course were practiced very early
on in Christianity, the religion of a scholarly age, steeped in philosophy,
led to that superstition about a sensus allegoricus. Even more, they
led to the habit of philosophers (particularly those half-men, the poetic
philosophers and the philosophizing artists) of treating all feelings which
they found in themselves as if they were essential to man in general,
and thus to the habit of granting their own religious feelings a significant
influence on the conceptual structure of their systems. Because philosophers
often philosophized in traditional religious habits, or at least under the old
inherited power of that "metaphysical need," they arrived at dogmas
that in fact greatly resembled Jewish or Christian or Indian religious doctrines,
resembled them in the way children tend to resemble their mothers. In this case,
however, the fathers weren't sure of the maternity (as can happen) but rather,
in the innocence of their amazement, told tales of a family resemblance of all
religions and sciences. In reality there is no relationship nor friendship nor
even enmity between religion and real science: they live on different stars.
Any philosophy that allows a religious comet to trail off ablaze into the darkness
of its last prospects makes suspicious everything about itself that it presents
as science; presumably all this too is religion, although decked out as science.
Incidentally, if all peoples were to agree about certain religious things, the existence of a god for example (which, by the way, is not so in this case), then this would only be a counterargument to those things that were maintained, the existence of a god for example: the consensus gentium and hominum6 in general can in fairness only pertain to foolishness. Conversely there is no consensus omnium sapientium7 regarding a single thing, with the exception spoken of in Goethe's lines:
Alle die Weisesten aller der Zeiten
lächeln and winken und stimmen mit ein:
Thöricht, auf Bess'rung der Thoren zu harren!
Kinder der Klugheit, o habet die Narren
eben zum Narren auch, wie sich's gehort!8
Saying it without rhythm or rhyme, and applying it to our case: it is the consensus
sapientium that any consensus gentium is foolishness.
Origin of religious worship. If we imagine ourselves back in the times
when religious life was in fullest flower, we find a fundamental conviction
which we no longer share, and because of which we see the gates to the religious
life closed to us once and for all: it concerns nature and our interaction with
it. People in those times do not yet know anything of natural laws; neither
for the earth nor for the heavens is there a "must": a season, the
sunshine; the rain can come, or also fail to appear. There is no concept whatsoever
of natural causality. When one rows, it is not the rowing that moves
the ship; rather rowing is simply a magical ceremony by which one compels a
demon to move it. All illnesses, death itself, are the result of magical influences.
There is never anything natural about becoming ill or dying; the whole idea
of a "natural development" is lacking (it first begins to dawn on
the older Greeks, that is, in a very late phase of mankind, with the conception
of a moira9 which reigned over the gods). When someone shoots
with bow and arrow, an irrational hand and strength is always at work; if springs
suddenly dry up, one thinks first of subterranean demons and their mischief;
it has to be the arrow of a god whose invisible influence causes a man to drop
suddenly. In India (according to Lubbock),10 a carpenter makes sacrifices
to his hammer, his axe, and his other tools; in the same way does a Brahman
handle the pencil with which he writes, a soldier his weapons of battle, a mason
his trowel, a worker his plow. In the mind of religious men, all nature is the
sum of the actions of conscious and intentioned beings, an enormous complex
of arbitrary acts. There is nothing outside ourselves about which we
are allowed to conclude that it will become thus and so, must
be thus and so: we ourselves are what is more or less certain, calculable. Man
is the rule, nature without rule: in this tenet lies the basic
conviction that governs primitive, religiously productive ancient cultures.
We present-day men experience precisely the reverse: the richer a man feels
inwardly, the more polyphonic he is as a subject, the more powerfully nature's
symmetry affects him. With Goethe, we all recognize in nature the great means
of soothing the modern soul;11; we hear the stroke of the greatest
clock with a longing to rest, to become settled and still, as if we could drink
this symmetry into ourselves, and thus come finally to an enjoyment of our own
selves. Formerly it was the reverse: if we think back to primitive, early tribal
states, or if we closely observe present-day savages, we find them most strongly
directed by law, tradition: the individual is almost automatically
bound to it, and moves with the uniformity of a pendulum. To him nature--uncomprehended,
frightful, mysterious nature--must seem to be the realm of freedom,
of choice, of a higher power, a seemingly superhuman level of existence, a god.
Now, every individual in those times and conditions feels that his existence,
his happiness, that of his family, the state, the success of all enterprises,
depends on those arbitrary acts of nature: some natural events must take place
at the right time, others must fail to take place. How can one exercise an influence
on these terrible unknowns? How can one bind the realm of freedom? The individual
wonders and asks himself anxiously: "Is there no means, through tradition
and law, to make those powers as governed by rule as you are yourself`?"
The thinking of men who believe in magic and miracles is bent on imposing a law on nature; and in short, religious worship is the result of this thinking. The problem that those men set themselves is most closely related to this one: how can the weaker tribe nevertheless dictate laws to the stronger, direct it, and guide its actions (as they relate to the weaker tribe)? At first one will be reminded of the most harmless kind of pressure, that pressure one exerts when one has courted someone's affections. By entreaties and prayers, by submissiveness, by committing oneself to regular tributes and gifts, by flattering glorifications, it is also possible to exert pressure on the forces of nature, by making them favorably inclined: love binds and is bound. Then one can seal contracts, by which one commits oneself reciprocally to certain behavior, puts up pledges and exchanges vows. But much more important is a kind of more powerful pressure through magic. Just as man knows how to use the help of a magician to hurt a stronger enemy and keep him afraid, just as love spells are effective from afar, so the weaker man believes he can also direct the more powerful spirits of nature. The main means of all magic is to gain power over something that belongs to the other, hair, nails, some food from his table, even his picture or his name. With such apparatus one can then proceed to do magic, for the basic assumption is that there is something physical to everything spiritual; with its help one can bind the spirit, harm it, destroy it. The physical furnishes the ways and means by which to catch the spiritual. Just as man now directs man, so he also directs some one spirit of nature; for the spirit too has its physical aspect, by which it can be caught. The tree and, compared with it, the seed from which it sprang: this puzzling juxtaposition seems to prove that one and the same spirit is embedded in both forms, now little, now big. A stone that starts to roll suddenly is the body in which a spirit acts; if there is a block of stone lying on a lonely heath, it seems impossible that human strength should have brought it there; thus the stone must have moved itself there, that is, it must be housing a spirit. Everything that has a body is accessible to magic, including spirits of nature. If a god is virtually bound to his image, then one can also exert direct pressure against him (by refusing him sacrificial nourishment, by flagellation, enchainment and the like). To exact the wanting favor of their god, who has left them in the lurch, the humble people in China entwine his image with rope, tear it down, drag it in the streets through heaps of mud and dung: "You dog of a spirit," they say, "we let you dwell in a splendid temple, we covered you prettily in gold, fed you well, sacrificed to you, and yet you are so ungrateful" In Catholic lands, similar violent measures have also been taken during this century against images of saints or of the Virgin Mary when during plagues or droughts, for example, they did not want to do their duty.
All these magical relationships to nature have called into being countless ceremonies; finally when the confusion of them has grown too great, one tries to order them, systematize them, so that one thinks he is guaranteeing the favorable course of the whole process of nature, particularly the great cycle of the seasons, by a parallel course of a system of proceedings. The meaning of religious worship is to direct nature, and cast a spell on her to human advantage, that is, to impose a lawfulness on her, which she does not have at the start; whereas in present times, man wishes to understand the lawfulness of nature in order to submit to it. In short, religious worship is based on ideas of magic between man and man; and the magician is older than the priest. But it is likewise based on other and more noble ideas; it presumes a sympathetic relationship of man to man, the existence of goodwill, gratitude, hearing supplicants, of contracts between enemies, of bestowal of pledges, of demand for protection of property. Even in very primitive stages of culture, man does not confront nature as a powerless slave, he is not necessarily her involuntary servant: in the Greek stage of religion, especially in the relationship to the Olympian gods, there is the thought of a coexistence of two castes, one nobler and more powerful, the other less noble; but according to their origin both belong together somehow and are of one kind; they need not be ashamed before one another. That is the noble element in Greek religiosity.
On viewing certain ancient sacrificial utensils. The combination of farce, even obscenity, with religious feeling, shows us how some feelings are disappearing: the sensibility that this is a possible mixture is vanishing; we understand only historically that it once existed, in festivals of Demeter and Dionysos, at Christian passion plays and mystery plays. But even we are still familiar with the sublime in league with the burlesque, for example, the sentimental blended with the ludicrous---and this a later age will perhaps no longer understand.
Christianity as antiquity. When we hear the old bells ringing out on
a Sunday morning, we ask ourselves: can it be possible? This is for a Jew, crucified
two thousand years ago, who said he was the son of God. The proof for such a
claim is wanting.
Within our times the Christian religion is surely an antiquity jutting out from a far-distant olden time; and the fact that people believe such a claim (while they are otherwise so strict in testing assertions) is perhaps the oldest part of this heritage. A god who conceives children with a mortal woman; a wise man who calls upon us to work no more, to judge no more, but to heed the signs of the imminent apocalypse; a justice that accepts the innocent man as a proxy sacrifice; someone who has his disciples drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of the afterlife, to which death is the gate; the figure of the cross as a symbol, in a time that no longer knows the purpose and shame of the cross---how horridly all this wafts over us, as from the grave of the ancient past! Are we to believe that such things are still believed?
What is un-Greek in Christianity. The Greeks did not see the Homeric
gods above them as masters and themselves below them as servants, as did the
Jews. They saw, as it were, only the reflection of the most successful specimens
of their own caste, that is, an ideal, not a contrast to their own nature. They
felt related to them, there was a reciprocal interest, a kind of symmachia.12
Man thinks of himself as noble when he gives himself such gods, and puts himself
into a relationship similar to that of the lesser nobility to the higher. Whereas
the Italic peoples have a regular peasant religion, with continual fearfulness
about evil and capricious powers and tormentors. Where the Olympian gods retreated,
there Greek life too grew gloomier and more fearful.
Christianity, on the other hand, crushed and shattered man completely, and submerged him as if in deep mire. Then, all at once, into his feeling of complete confusion, it allowed the light of divine compassion to shine, so that the surprised man, stunned by mercy, let out a cry of rapture, and thought for a moment that he carried all of heaven within him. All psychological inventions13 of Christianity work toward this sick excess of feeling, toward the deep corruption of head and heart necessary for it. Christianity wants to destroy, shatter, stun, intoxicate: there is only one thing it does not want: moderation, and for this reason, it is in its deepest meaning barbaric, Asiatic, ignoble, un-Greek.
Being religious to one's advantage. There are sober and efficient men
on whom religion is embroidered like the hem of a higher humanity. These men
do well to remain religious: it beautifies them.
All men who have no expertise with any weapon (mouth and pen counting as weapons) become servile: for such men, religion is very useful, for here servility takes on the appearance of a Christian virtue and is surprisingly beautified.
People who think their daily lives too empty and monotonous easily become religious: this is understandable and forgivable; however, they have no right to demand religiosity from those whose daily life does not pass in emptiness and monotony.
The everyday Christian. If Christianity were right in its tenets of a vengeful god, general sinfulness, predestination, and the danger of an eternal damnation, it would be a sign of stupidity and lack of character not to become a priest, apostle, or hermit, and, with fear and trembling, work exclusively on one's own salvation. It would be nonsensical to lose sight of one's eternal advantage for temporary comfort. Assuming that he believes at all, the everyday Christian is a pitiful figure, a man who really cannot count up to three, and who besides, precisely because of his mental incompetence, would not deserve such a punishment as Christianity promises him.
On the shrewdness of Christianity. It is a trick of Christianity to teach the utter worthlessness, sinfulness, and despicableness of man in general so loudly that disdain for one's fellow men becomes impossible. "Let him sin as he will, he is essentially no different from me; I am the one who is in all ways unworthy and despicable," the Christian tells himself. But this feeling too has lost its sharpest sting because the Christian does not believe in his individual despicableness: he is wicked simply because he is a man, and calms himself a bit with the tenet: we are all of one kind.
Change of roles. As soon as a religion comes to prevail, it has as its enemies all those who would have been its first disciples.
Fate of Christianity. Christianity came into existence in order to lighten the heart; but now it has to burden the heart first, in order to be able to lighten it afterward. Consequently it will perish.
The proof by pleasure. An agreeable opinion is accepted as true: this is the proof by pleasure (or, as the church says, the proof by strength), that all religions are so proud of, whereas they ought to be ashamed. If the belief did not make us happy, it would not be believed: how little must it then be worth!
Dangerous game. Whoever allows room in himself again for religious feeling these days must also allow it to grow: he cannot do otherwise. Then his nature gradually changes: it favors that which is dependent on or near to the religious element; the whole range of his judgment and feeling is befogged, overcast with religious shadows. Feeling cannot stand still: be on your guard!
Blind disciples. As long as one knows very well the strengths and weaknesses of his teaching, his art, or his religion, its power is still slight. The disciple and apostle who has no eye for the weakness of the teaching, the religion, etc., blinded by the stature of his master and his own piety towards him, for that reason generally has more power than his master. Without blind disciples, no man or his work has ever gained great influence. Sometimes, to promote the triumph of a form of knowledge means only that one weds it to stupidity, so that the weight of the stupidity also forces the triumph of the knowledge.
Demolition of churches. There is not enough religion in the world even to destroy religions.
Sinlessness of man. Once man has grasped "how sin came into the world" (which is to say, through errors of reason, due to which men take each other---and the individual takes himself--for much blacker and more wicked than is actually the case), then his whole mood is greatly improved, and men and world seem at times to be in such a halo of harmlessness as to make him utterly contented. Amid nature, man is always the child per se. This child might once dream an oppressive, terrifying dream, but when he opens his eyes, he always finds himself in paradise again.
Irreligiosity of artists. Homer is so at home among his gods, and takes such delight in them as a poet that he surely must have been deeply irreligious. He took what popular belief offered him (a paltry, crude, in part horrible superstition) and dealt as freely as a sculptor with his clay, that is, with the same openness Aeschylus and Aristophanes possessed, and which in more recent times has distinguished the great artists of the Renaissance, as well as Shakespeare and Goethe.
Art and strength of false interpretation. All the visions, horrors, exhaustions
and raptures of the saint are familiar states of illness, which, based on deep-rooted
religious and psychological errors, he simply interprets otherwise, that
is, not as illnesses.
Thus Socrates' Daimonion14 likewise is perhaps a disease of the ear, which he explains in accordance with his prevailing moral thinking, but other than how it would be explained today. It is no different with the madness and ravings of prophets and oracular priests: it is always the degree of knowledge, imagination, ambition, morality in the head and heart of the interpreters that has made so much out of them. One of the greatest effects of men whom we call geniuses and saints is that they exact interpreters who misunderstand them, to the good of mankind.
Reverence for madness. Because it was observed that an excited state would often clear the mind and produce happy ideas, it was thought that through the states of greatest excitement one would partake of the happiest ideas and inspirations. And so the madman was revered as the wise man and oracle giver. This is based on a false conclusion.
Promises of science. Modern science has as its goal the least pain and the longest life possible--that is, a kind of eternal happiness: to be sure, a very modest kind in comparison with the promises of religions.
Forbidden generosity. There is not enough love and kindness in the world to permit us to give any of it away to imaginary beings.
Religious worship lives on within. The Catholic Church, and before it all ancient worship, commanded the whole range of means by which man is set into unusual moods and torn away from the cold calculation of his advantage, or pure, rational thinking. A church reverberating with deep sounds; muted, regular, restrained invocations of a priestly host that instantaneously transmits its tension to the congregation so that it listens almost fearfully, as if a miracle were in the making; the atmosphere of the architecture that, as the dwelling of a divinity, extends into the indefinite and makes one fear the movings of the divinity in all its dark spaces---who would want to return such goings---on to man, once the assumptions for them are no longer believed? Nevertheless, the results of all that have not been lost: the inner world of sublime, tender, intuitive, deeply contrite, blissfully hopeful moods was begotten in man primarily through worship; what now exists of it in the soul was raised at the time of its sprouting, growing, and flowering.
Religious after-effects. However much one thinks he has lost the habit
of religion, he has not lost it to the degree that he would not enjoy encountering
religious feelings and moods without any conceptual content as, for example,
in music. And if a philosophy shows us the justification of metaphysical hopes,
of a deep peace of the soul to be attained therefrom, and, for example, speaks
of the "whole, certain gospel in the glance of Raphael's madonnas,"15
then we approach such statements and explanations with an especially warm disposition.
Here it is easier for the philosopher to make his proofs; what he wants to give
accords with a heart that gladly takes. We notice here how less careful free
thinkers actually object only to the dogmas, but know very well the magic of
religious feeling; it hurts them to let the latter go, for the sake of the former.
Scientific philosophy has to be very careful about smuggling in errors on the basis of that need (an acquired and, consequently, also transitory need). Even logicians16 speak of "intuitions" of truth in morality and art (for example, the intuition "that the essence of things is one"), which should be forbidden them. Between painstakingly deduced truths and such "intuited" things there remains the unbridgeable gap that the former are due to the intellect, the latter to need. Hunger does not prove that any food to satisfy it exists, but it wishes the food. "To intuit" does not mean to recognize the existence of a thing to any extent, but rather to hold it to be possible, in that one wishes or fears it. "Intuition" takes us not one step farther into the land of certainty.
We believe instinctively that the religiously tinged sections of a philosophy are better proved than the others. But basically it is the reverse; we simply have the inner wish that it might be so--that is, that what gladdens might be also true. This wish misleads us into buying bad reasons as good ones.
On the Christian need for redemption. If we reflect carefully, it ought
to be possible to arrive at an explanation for the process in a Christian's
soul that is called the need for redemption, an explanation that is free of
mythology, that is, a purely psychological one. Of course, until now psychological
explanations of religious states and processes have been in some disrepute,
in that a theology that calls itself free has been up to its bootless mischief
in this area; for from the start, as the spirit of its founder Schleiermacher17
allows us to assume, "free theology" was aiming at the preservation
of the Christian religion and the continuance of Christian theologists,18
who were to gain a new anchor, and above all a new occupation, in the psychological
analysis of religious "facts" Undeterred by such predecessors, we
venture to present the following interpretation of the phenomenon in question.
Man is conscious of certain actions that rank low in the customary hierarchy
of actions; in fact, he discovers within himself a tendency to these kinds of
actions, a tendency that seems to him almost as unchangeable as his whole nature.
How he would like to try his luck in that other category of actions, those that
are generally esteemed to be the topmost and highest; how he would like to feel
full of a good consciousness, which is said to follow a selfless way of thinking!
But unfortunately it does not go beyond this wish: the dissatisfaction about
being unable to satisfy the wish is added to all the other kinds of dissatisfaction
that his lot in life generally, or the consequences of those actions, termed
evil, have aroused in him. Thus he develops a deep discontent and searches for
a doctor who might be able to put an end to this discontent and all its causes.
This condition would not be felt so bitterly if man would only compare himself dispassionately to other men; then he would have no reason to be dissatisfied with himself to any special degree; he would only be sharing the common burden of human dissatisfaction and imperfection. But he compares himself to a being who is solely capable of those actions called selfless and who lives in the continual consciousness of a selfless way of thinking: God. Because he is looking into this bright mirror, his own nature appears so clouded, so abnormally distorted. Next, the thought of this other being makes him fearful, in that it hovers in his imagination as a punishing justice; in every possible experience, large or small, he thinks he recognizes its anger, its menace, and he even thinks he has a presentiment of the whiplashes it will deliver as judge and executioner. Who helps him in this danger, which by its prospect of an immeasurable duration of punishment, surpasses in horror all other terrors of the imagination?
Before we present the further consequences of this condition, we want to avow
that man has arrived at this condition not through his "guilt" and
"sin," but rather through a series of errors of reason, that if his
nature seemed dark and hateful to him to that degree, it was the fault of the
mirror, and that that mirror was his creation, the very imperfect creation
of human imagination and powers of judgment. First, any being who would be capable
of purely selfless actions only is more fabulous than the phoenix. It cannot
even be imagined clearly because from the start the whole concept of "selfless
action," if carefully examined, evaporates into the air. Never has a man
done anything that was only for others; and without any personal motivation.
Indeed, how could he do anything that had no reference to himself, that
is, with no inner compulsion (which would have to be based on a personal need)?
How could the ego act without ego?
A God who conversely is all love, as is occasionally assumed, would not be capable of one single selfless action, which should remind us of a thought of Lichtenberg's, taken, to be sure, from a more common sphere: "It is impossible for us to feel for others, as the saying goes. We feel only for ourselves. The principle sounds harsh, but it is not, if it is only understood correctly. We love neither father nor mother nor wife nor child, but rather the agreeable feelings that they give us."19 Or, as La Rochefoucauld says, "Si on croit aimer sa maîtresse pour l'amour d'elle, on est bien trompé."20 For the explanation of why actions of love are esteemed higher than others, namely because of their usefulness rather than their essence, see the above-mentioned investigations On the Origin of Moral Feelings.21 But if a man should want to embody Love, quite like that God, to do everything for others, nothing for himself, it is already impossible from the start, because he has to do a great deal for himself in order to be able to do anything at all for the sake of others. Next, it assumes the other person is egoist enough to accept those sacrifices, that life for his sake, over and over again: so men of love and self-sacrifice have an interest in the continued existence of loveless egoists incapable of self-sacrifice, and the highest morality, in order to endure, would have virtually to exact the existence of immorality (by which, to be sure, it would cancel itself out).
Furthermore, the idea of a God disturbs and humiliates as long as it is believed, but given the present state of comparative ethnology, its origin can no longer be in doubt; and with insight into that origin, the belief disappears. The Christian who compares his nature to God is like Don Quixote, who underestimates his own bravery because he is preoccupied with the miraculous deeds of heroes out of chivalric novels; in both cases, the standard of measure being used belongs to the realm of fable. But if the idea of God disappears, so too does the feeling of "sin" as a transgression against divine precepts, as a stain on a creature consecrated to God. Then what probably remains is that discontent which is very intimately bound up with and related to the fear of punishment by a secular justice, or the fear of men's disrespect; but discontent from the pangs of conscience, the sharpest sting in the feeling of guilt, has been stopped short when one perceives that through one's actions one may have transgressed against human tradition, human statutes and regulations, but that one has not yet jeopardized the "eternal salvation of the soul" and its relation to the divinity. If in the end man succeeds in convincing himself philosophically that all actions are unconditionally necessary and completely irresponsible, and if he takes this conviction into his flesh and blood, those vestiges of the pangs of conscience disappear, too.
If the Christian has, as we said, come to feel self-contempt through certain errors, through a false, unscientific interpretation of his actions and feelings, he must notice with the greatest astonishment how that condition of contempt, of remorse, of displeasure generally, does not last; how occasionally there are .hours when it is all blown away from his soul and he feels free and courageous again. In truth, pleasure in oneself and contentment with one's own strength, in league with the inevitable weakening of any great excitation, have gained the victory: man loves himself again; he feels it--but this very love, this new self-esteem, seems unbelievable to him; he can see in it only the wholly undeserved downpouring of a merciful light from above. If he previously thought he saw warnings, threats, punishments, and every kind of sign of divine anger in all occurrences, so now he reads divine goodness into his experiences: one event seems to be loving, another seems to be a helpful hint, a third, and particularly his whole joyful mood, seems to be proof that God is merciful. As previously, in a state of discontent, he interpreted his actions wrongly, so now he misinterprets his experiences. He understands his mood as the consoling effect of a power governing outside himself; the love with which he fundamentally loves himself, appears as divine love; that which he calls mercy and a prelude to redemption is in truth self-pardon, self-redemption.
Thus a certain false psychology, a certain kind of fantasy in interpreting motives and experiences, is the necessary prerequisite for becoming a Christian and experiencing the need for redemption. With the insight into this aberration of reason and imagination, one ceases to be a Christian.
On Christian asceticism and saintliness. However much individual thinkers
have tried to represent the rare manifestations of morality that tend to be
called asceticism and saintliness as something miraculous, which to examine
in the light of a rational explanation would be almost sacrilege and profanation,
so strong, on the other hand, is the temptation to this sacrilege. Throughout
history, a powerful impulse of nature has led men to protest generally
against those manifestations; science to the extent it is, as we have said,
an imitation of nature, permits itself to protest at least against the claim
of their inexplicability, even inaccessibility. To be sure, it has not yet been
successful; those manifestations are still unexplained, to the great delight
of the above-mentioned admirers of the morally miraculous. For in general, the
unexplained should be thoroughly inexplicable, the inexplicable thoroughly unnatural,
supernatural, miraculous---so goes the demand in the souls of all
religious men and metaphysicians (artists, too, if they are also thinkers).
Whereas the scientific man sees in this demand the "evil principle."
The general, first probability one arrives at when considering asceticism and saintliness is that their nature is complicated: for almost everywhere, within both the physical and the moral world, the ostensibly miraculous has been successfully traced back to complicated and multiply-conditioned causes. Let us venture first to isolate certain impulses in the souls of saints and ascetics, and in conclusion to imagine them entwined.
There exists a defiance against oneself that includes among its most
sublime expressions various forms of asceticism. For some men have such an intense
need to exercise their strength and love of power that, lacking other objects
or because they have always otherwise failed, it finally occurs to them to tyrannize
certain parts of their own being, as if they were sections or stages of their
selves. Thus some thinkers will confess to views that clearly do not serve to
increase or improve their reputation; some virtually beg to be despised by others,
whereas it would be easy for them to retain respect by being silent. Others
retract earlier opinions and are not afraid to be called inconsistent thereafter;
on the contrary, that is what they try for, behaving like high-spirited horsemen
who like their horse best only when it has become wild, skittish, covered with
sweat. Thus man climbs on dangerous paths into the highest mountains in order
to mock his own fearfulness and his shaking knees; thus the philosopher confesses
to views of asceticism, humility and saintliness, by which light his own image
is most grievously made ugly. This shattering of oneself, this scorn for one's
own nature, this spernere se sperni,22 which religions have
made so much out of, is actually a very high degree of vanity. The whole morality
of the Sermon on the Mount belongs here; man takes. a truly voluptuous pleasure
in violating himself by exaggerated demands and then deifying this something
in his soul that is so tyrannically taxing. In each ascetic morality, man prays
to one part of himself as a god and also finds it necessary to diabolify the
Man is not equally moral at all times--this is well known. If one judges his morality by his capacity for great sacrificial resolve and self-denial (which, when it has become constant and habitual, is saintliness), man is most moral in affect; greater excitation offers him new motives, which he, when sober and cool as usual, perhaps did not think himself capable of. How can this be? Probably because of the relatedness of everything great and highly exciting: once man has been brought into a state of extraordinary tension, he can decide as easily to take frightful revenge as to make a frightful break with his need for revenge. Under the influence of the powerful emotion, he wants in any event what is great, powerful, enormous, and if he notices by chance that to sacrifice his own self satisfies as well or better than to sacrifice the other person, then he chooses that. Actually, all he cares about is the release of his emotion; to relieve his tension, he may gather together his enemies' spears and bury them in his own breast. Mankind had to be educated through long habituation to the idea that there is something great in self-denial, and not only in revenge; a divinity that sacrifices itself was the strongest and most effective symbol of this kind of greatness. The triumph over the enemy hardest to conquer, the sudden mastery of an emotion: this is what such a denial appears to be; and to this extent it counts as the height of morality. In truth, it has to do with the exchange of one idea for another, while the heart remains at the same pitch, the same volume. Men who have sobered up and are resting from an emotion no longer understand the morality of those moments, but the admiration of all who witnessed in them supports these men; pride consoles them, when the emotion and the understanding for their deed have faded. Thus those acts of self-denial are basically not moral either, insofar as they are not done strictly with regard for other people; rather the other person simply offers the tense heart an opportunity to relieve itself, by that self-denial.
In some respects, the ascetic too is trying to make life easy for himself, usually by completely subordinating himself to the will of another or to a comprehensive law and ritual, rather in the way the Brahman leaves absolutely nothing to his own determination, but determines himself at each minute by a holy precept. This subordination is a powerful means of becoming master of oneself; one is occupied, that is, free of boredom, and yet has no willful or passionate impulse; after a deed is completed, there is no feeling of responsibility, and therefore no agony of regret. One has renounced his own will once and for all, and this is easier than to renounce it only occasionally, just as it is easier to give up a desire entirely than to moderate it. If we remember man's, present attitude towards the state, we find there too that an unqualified obedience is more convenient than a qualified one. The saint, then, makes his life easier by that complete abandonment of his personality, and a man is fooling himself when he admires that phenomenon as the most heroic feat of morality. In any event, it is harder to assert one's personality without vacillation or confusion than to free oneself from it in the manner described; it also takes much more intellect and thought.
After having discovered in many of the more inexplicable actions, expressions of that pleasure in emotion per se, I would also discern in self-contempt (which is one of the signs of saintliness) and likewise in self-tormenting behavior (starvation and scourges, dislocation of limbs, simulated madness) a means by which those natures combat the general exhaustion of their life-force (of their nerves): they use the most painful stimulants and horrors in order to emerge, for a time at least, from that dullness and boredom into which their great spiritual indolence and that subordination to a foreign will described above have so often let them sink.
The most common means that the ascetic and saint uses in order to make his life more bearable and entertaining consists in occasionally waging war and alternating victory and defeat. To do this he needs an opponent, and finds him in the so-called "inner enemy." He exploits particularly his tendency to vanity, ambition, and love of power, as well as his sensual desires, to allow himself to see his life as a continuing battle and himself as the battlefield on which good and evil spirits struggle, with alternating results. It is well known that regularity of sexual intercourse moderates the sensual imagination, even almost suppresses it and, conversely, that it is unleashed and made dissolute by abstinence or irregularity in intercourse. Many Christian saints' imaginations were exceedingly dirty; thanks to their theory that these desires were real demons who raged in them, they did not feel very responsible; to this feeling of irresponsibility, we owe the so instructive honesty of their confessions. It was in their interest that the battle always be entertained to some degree, for, as we said, their bleak life was entertained by it. But in order that the battle appear important enough to arouse continuing interest and admiration in the nonsaints, sensuality had to be more and more calumniated and branded; indeed, the danger of eternal damnation became so closely linked to these things that quite probably for whole generations, Christians conceived children with a bad conscience, indubitably doing great harm to mankind. And yet truth is standing on its head here, which is especially unseemly for truth. To be sure, Christianity had said that each man is conceived and born in sin, and in the insufferable superlative Christianity of Calderon this thought had been knotted together and tangled up once again, so that he ventured the craziest paradox there can be, in the well-known lines:
the greatest guilt of man
is that he was born.23
In all pessimistic religions, the act of procreation is felt to be bad per'se,
but this feeling is by no means a general, human one; not even the judgment
of all pessimists is the same on this point. Empedocles, for example, knows
nothing of shame, devil, sin in all things erotic; rather, on the great meadow
of calamity, he sees one single salutary and hopeful apparition: Aphrodite.
For him she is the guarantee that strife will not prevail indefinitely, but
will eventually give the scepter to a gentler daemon.24 Practicing
Christian pessimists, as we said, had an interest in seeing a different opinion
in power; for the loneliness and spiritual desolation of their lives, they needed
an ever-active and generally recognized enemy, by opposing and conquering whom
they again and again portrayed themselves to the unsaintly as half-incomprehensible,
supernatural beings. When finally, as a consequence of their way of life and
their destroyed health, this enemy took flight forever, they knew at once how
to see their inner self populated by new demons. The scales of arrogance
and humility, in vacillation up and down, entertained their brooding minds as
finely as the alternation of desire and serenity. At that time psychology served
not only to throw suspicion on everything human, but also to revile it, to scourge
it, to crucify it; man wanted to consider himself as bad and evil as
possible; he sought out fear for the salvation of his soul, despair about his
own strength. Everything natural, to which man attaches the idea of badness,
sinfulness (as is still his habit in regard to the erotic, for example) burdens
him, clouds his imagination, makes his glance timid, lets him quarrel with himself
and makes him unsure, lacking confidence; even his dreams acquire the flavor
of his troubled conscience. And yet this suffering about the natural is in the
reality of things totally unfounded; it is only the consequence of opinions
about things. It is easy to see how men become worse by labeling the
unavoidably natural as bad and later feeling it to be so constituted. It is
the device of religion, and of those metaphysicians who want to think of man
as evil and sinful by nature, to have him cast suspicion on nature and to make
himself bad; for he learns thus to experience himself as bad, since he cannot
take off the dress of nature. Gradually, after a long life of nature, he feels
so oppressed by such a burden of sins that supernatural powers become necessary
to lift this burden; and with that, the need for redemption, which we have already
discussed, enters the scene, corresponding to no real sinfulness but rather
only to an imagined one. If one goes through the individual moral statements
of the documents of Christianity, one will find everywhere that the demands
have been exaggerated so that man cannot satisfy them; the intention
is not that he become more moral, but rather that he feel as sinful
as possible. If man had not found this feeling agreeable, why should
he have produced such an idea and been attached to it for so long? As in the
ancient world an immeasurable strength of spirit and inventiveness was employed
to increase joy in life through ceremonial worship, so in the age of Christianity
an equally immeasurable amount of spirit has been offered up to a different
striving: man was to feel sinful in all ways and excited, animated, inspired
thereby. Excite, animate, inspire at all costs---is that not the watchword
of an enervated, overripe, overcultivated age? The circle of all natural feelings
had been run through a hundred times, the soul had grown tired of them; then
the saint and ascetic invented a new category of life-stimuli. They presented
themselves to everyone, not actually for the many to imitate, but rather as
a frightening and yet delightful spectacle, which was performed on that border
between this world and the afterworld, where everyone used to think he perceived,
now heavenly gleams of light, now eerie tongues of flame glowing up from the
depths. The eye of the saint, focused on the meaning of a short earthly life,
frightful in every way, focused on the imminence of the final decision about
an endless new life to come, this burnt-out eye, in a half-wasted
body, made men of the old world tremble to their depths. To look at, to look
away from with a shudder, to sense again the fascination of the spectacle, to
yield to it, have one's fill of it, until the feverish soul shivers aglow and
chilled --this was the last pleasure which the ancient world invented,
after it had itself grown indifferent even to the sight of animal and human
To sum up what we have said: that disposition which the saint, or evolving
saint, enjoys is constituted of elements that we all know quite well. However,
under the influence of other than religious ideas, they show themselves in different
colors and then tend to suffer men's censure as intensely as, when decorated
by religion and the ultimate questions of existence, they can count on admiration,
even worship--or at least they could count on it in earlier times. Sometimes
the saint exercises a defiance against himself, which is a close relative of
the love of power, and which gives even the most solitary man a feeling of power;
sometimes his bloated sensibility leaps from the longing to give his passions
free rein to the longing to make them collapse like wild stallions, powerfully
driven by a proud soul. Sometimes he wants the complete cessation of all bothersome,
tormenting, irritating feelings, a waking sleep, a continuing repose in the
lap of a dull, animal-like or vegetative indolence; sometimes he seep
out battle and provokes it in himself, because boredom holds its yawning visage
up to him. He scourges his self-deification with self-contempt and
cruelty; he takes pleasure in the wild uprising of his desires, and in the sharp
pain of sin, even in the idea of being lost; he knows how to set a trap for
his emotions, for his most extreme love of power, for example, so that it changes
over into the emotion of the most extreme humiliation, and his agitated soul
is pulled to pieces by this contrast. And finally, when he yearns for visions,
conversations with the dead, or with divine beings, it is basically a rare form
of voluptuousness that he desires, perhaps that voluptuousness in which all
others are wound together in one knot.
Novalis, by experience and instinct one of the authorities in questions of saintliness, pronounces the whole secret with naive joy: "It is a wonder indeed that the association of voluptuousness, religion and cruelty has not long ago made men take notice of their intimate relationship and common intention.."25
Not that which the saint is, but that which he signifies in the minds of nonsaints, gives him his value in world history. Because people were mistaken about him, interpreting his inner states incorrectly and divorcing him from themselves as radically as possible as something completely beyond compare and strangely superhuman, he acquired the extraordinary strength with which he could control the imagination of whole peoples, whole ages. He himself did not know himself; he himself understood the script of his moods, inclinations, actions by an interpretive art which was as exaggerated and artificial as the pneumatic interpretation of the Bible. The queer, sick elements in his nature, coupled as they were with spiritual poverty, inadequate knowledge, ruined health, overstimulated nerves, were as hidden from his eye as from the eye of the onlooker. He was not an especially good man, and even less an especially wise man. But he signified something that was to surpass human proportions in goodness and wisdom. Belief in him supported the belief in the divine and the miraculous, in a religious meaning of all existence, in an imminent Judgment Day. By the evening light of the apocalyptic sun that shone over the Christian peoples, the shadowy figure of the saint grew to enormous size, indeed to such a height that even in our time, which no longer believes in God, there are still plenty of thinkers who believe in the saint.
It is self-evident that this portrait of the saint, which is sketched
according to the average member of the whole type, can be opposed by other portraits
that might result in a more favorable impression. Isolated exceptions to this
type stand out, whether by their great gentleness and benevolence, or by the
magic of their unusual energy; others are attractive in the highest degree because
certain delusions diffuse streams of light over their whole being, as for example
is the case with the famous founder of Christianity, who thought he was God's
only begotten son, and therefore without sin; so that through a fantasy (which
one should not judge too harshly, because the whole ancient world is aswarm
with sons of gods) he reached the same goal: the feeling of utter sinlessness,
utter freedom from responsibility--a feeling that everyone can now attain
I have also left out the Indian holy men, who are an intermediate stage between the Christian saint and the Greek philosopher, and to that extent do not represent a pure type. Buddhists demanded knowledge, science (as far as there was one), superiority to other men by logical discipline and training of thought as a sign of saintliness, as much as the same qualities are rejected and calumniated as a sign of nonsaintliness in the Christian world.