[I originally posted this on MySpace, 14 Oct. 2007 – but I’m transferring many of my old blogs to this site now]
October 15th is philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s birthday!
Happy birthday, dude!
Nietzsche has always been one of my favorite philosophers to read – often brilliant, sometimes verging on madness. I don’t always agree with him. But he sure as heck tries to cut through the crap and make you think.
To celebrate his birthday, I want to just let him speak. In this selection from his book Der Antichrist, he contrasts Christianity and Buddhism. Although I find his view intriguing, I won’t say I agree or disagree. I just want to offer this as food for thought and (perhaps) discussion. Enjoy… if you dare
[H.L. Mencken translated the following from German into English:]
In my condemnation of Christianity I surely hope I do no injustice to a related religion with an even larger number of believers: I allude to Buddhism. Both are to be reckoned among the nihilistic religions–they are both decadence religions–but they are separated from each other in a very remarkable way. For the fact that he is able to compare them at all the critic of Christianity is indebted to the scholars of India.–Buddhism is a hundred times as realistic as Christianity–it is part of its living heritage that it is able to face problems objectively and coolly; it is the product of long centuries of philosophical speculation. The concept, “god,” was already disposed of before it appeared. Buddhism is the only genuinely positive religion to be encountered in history, and this applies even to its epistemology (which is a strict phenomenalism) –It does not speak of a “struggle with sin,” but, yielding to reality, of the “struggle with suffering.” Sharply differentiating itself from Christianity, it puts the self-deception that lies in moral concepts be hind it; it is, in my phrase,beyond good and evil.–The two physiological facts upon which it grounds itself and upon which it bestows its chief attention are: first, an excessive sensitiveness to sensation, which manifests itself as a refined susceptibility to pain, and secondly, an extraordinary spirituality, a too protracted concern with concepts and logical procedures, under the influence of which the instinct of personality has yielded to a notion of the “impersonal.” (–Both of these states will be familiar to a few of my readers, the objectivists, by experience, as they are to me). These physiological states produced a depression, and Buddha tried to combat it by hygienic measures. Against it he prescribed a life in the open, a life of travel; moderation in eating and a careful selection of foods; caution in the use of intoxicants; the same caution in arousing any of the passions that foster a bilious habit and heat the blood; finally, no worry, either on one’s own account or on account of others. He encourages ideas that make for either quiet contentment or good cheer–he finds means to combat ideas of other sorts. He understands good, the state of goodness, as something which promotes health. Prayer is not included, and neither is asceticism. There is no categorical imperative nor any disciplines, even within the walls of a monastery (–it is always possible to leave–). These things would have been simply means of increasing the excessive sensitiveness above mentioned. For the same reason he does not advocate any conflict with unbelievers; his teaching is antagonistic to nothing so much as to revenge, aversion, ressentiment (–“enmity never brings an end to enmity”: the moving refrain of all Buddhism. . .) And in all this he was right, for it is precisely these passions which, in view of his main regiminal purpose, are unhealthful. The mental fatigue that he observes, already plainly displayed in too much “objectivity” (that is, in the individual’s loss of interest in himself, in loss of balance and of “egoism”), he combats by strong efforts to lead even the spiritual interests back to the ego. In Buddha’s teaching egoism is a duty. The “one thing needful,” the question “how can you be delivered from suffering,” regulates and determines the whole spiritual diet. (–Perhaps one will here recall that Athenian who also declared war upon pure “scientificality,” to wit, Socrates, who also elevated egoism to the estate of a morality) .
The things necessary to Buddhism are a very mild climate, customs of great gentleness and liberality, and no militarism; moreover, it must get its start among the higher and better educated classes. Cheerfulness, quiet and the absence of desire are the chief desiderata, and they are attained. Buddhism is not a religion in which perfection is merely an object of aspiration: perfection is actually normal.–Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it. Here the prevailing pastime, the favourite remedy for boredom is the discussion of sin, self-criticism, the inquisition of conscience; here the emotion produced by power (called “God”) is pumped up (by prayer); here the highest good is regarded as unattainable, as a gift, as “grace.” Here, too, open dealing is lacking; concealment and the darkened room are Christian. Here body is despised and hygiene is denounced as sensual; the church even ranges itself against cleanliness (–the first Christian order after the banishment of the Moors closed the public baths, of which there were 270 in Cordova alone) . Christian, too; is a certain cruelty toward one’s self and toward others; hatred of unbelievers; the will to persecute. Sombre and disquieting ideas are in the foreground; the most esteemed states of mind, bearing the most respectable names are epileptoid; the diet is so regulated as to engender morbid symptoms and over-stimulate the nerves. Christian, again, is all deadly enmity to the rulers of the earth, to the “aristocratic”–along with a sort of secret rivalry with them (–one resigns one’s “body” to them–one wantsonly one’s “soul” . . . ). And Christian is all hatred of the intellect, of pride, of courage of freedom, of intellectual libertinage; Christian is all hatred of the senses, of joy in the senses, of joy in general . . .
When Christianity departed from its native soil, that of the lowest orders, the underworld of the ancient world, and began seeking power among barbarian peoples, it no longer had to deal with exhausted men, but with men still inwardly savage and capable of self torture–in brief, strong men, but bungled men. Here, unlike in the case of the Buddhists, the cause of discontent with self, suffering through self, is not merely a general sensitiveness and susceptibility to pain, but, on the contrary, an inordinate thirst for inflicting pain on others, a tendency to obtain subjective satisfaction in hostile deeds and ideas. Christianity had to embrace barbaric concepts and valuations in order to obtain mastery over barbarians: of such sort, for example, are the sacrifices of the first-born, the drinking of blood as a sacrament, the disdain of the intellect and of culture; torture in all its forms, whether bodily or not; the whole pomp of the cult. Buddhism is a religion for peoples in a further state of development, for races that have become kind, gentle and over-spiritualized (–Europe is not yet ripe for it–): it is a summons ‘that takes them back to peace and cheerfulness, to a careful rationing of the spirit, to a certain hardening of the body. Christianity aims at mastering beasts of prey; its modus operandi is to make them ill–to make feeble is the Christian recipe for taming, for “civilizing.” Buddhism is a religion for the closing, over-wearied stages of civilization. Christianity appears before civilization has so much as begun–under certain circumstances it lays the very foundations thereof.
Buddhism, I repeat, is a hundred times more austere, more honest, more objective. It no longer has to justify its pains, its susceptibility to suffering, by interpreting these things in terms of sin–it simply says, as it simply thinks, “I suffer.” To the barbarian, however, suffering in itself is scarcely understandable: what he needs, first of all, is an explanation as to why he suffers. (His mere instinct prompts him to deny his suffering altogether, or to endure it in silence.) Here the word “devil” was a blessing: man had to have an omnipotent and terrible enemy–there was no need to be ashamed of suffering at the hands of such an enemy.
–At the bottom of Christianity there are several subtleties that belong to the Orient. In the first place, it knows that it is of very little consequence whether a thing be true or not, so long as it is believed to be true. Truth and faith: here we have two wholly distinct worlds of ideas, almost two diametrically opposite worlds–the road to the one and the road to the other lie miles apart. To understand that fact thoroughly–this is almost enough, in the Orient, to make one a sage. The Brahmins knew it, Plato knew it, every student of the esoteric knows it. When, for example, a man gets any pleasure out of the notion that he has been saved from sin, it is not necessary for him to be actually sinful, but merely to feel sinful. But when faith is thus exalted above everything else, it necessarily follows that reason, knowledge and patient inquiry have to be discredited: the road to the truth becomes a forbidden road.–Hope, in its stronger forms, is a great deal more powerful stimulans to life than any sort of realized joy can ever be. Man must be sustained in suffering by a hope so high that no conflict with actuality can dash it–so high, indeed, that no fulfillment can satisfy it: a hope reaching out beyond this world. (Precisely because of this power that hope has of making the suffering hold out, the Greeks regarded it as the evil of evils, as the most malign of evils; it remained behind at the source of all evil.)3–In order that love may be possible, God must become a person; in order that the lower instincts may take a hand in the matter God must be young. To satisfy the ardor of the woman a beautiful saint must appear on the scene, and to satisfy that of the men there must be a virgin. These things are necessary if Christianity is to assume lordship over a soil on which some aphrodisiacal or Adonis cult has already established a notion as to what a cult ought to be. To insist upon chastity greatly strengthens the vehemence and subjectivity of the religious instinct–it makes the cult warmer, more enthusiastic, more soulful.–Love is the state in which man sees things most decidedly as they are not. The force of illusion reaches its highest here, and so does the capacity for sweetening, for transfiguring. When a man is in love he endures more than at any other time; he submits to anything. The problem was to devise a religion which would allow one to love: by this means the worst that life has to offer is overcome–it is scarcely even noticed.–So much for the three Christian virtues: faith, hope and charity: I call them the three Christian ingenuities.–Buddhism is in too late a stage of development, too full of positivism, to be shrewd in any such way.–
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