Apologetics, Philosophy, Theology

Who Is Zarathustra?

Who Is ZarathustraFriedrich Nietzsche was born in Prussian Saxony and his life landed in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was raised in a family of practicing Lutheran’s, and some of his family members were Lutheran pastors. He was educated at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig, and at an unprecedented young age he was appointed as a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel.[1] It is significant to understand the intellectual environment Nietzsche grew up and found himself writing in during his productive years. German philosophy was still very much influenced by Kant’s critical philosophy, Hegel had died only a few years before Nietzsche was born, the Communist Manifesto was published when he was four, and he was fifteen when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published.[2] Nietzsche’s critical analysis and sharp, poignant, rejection of tradition and teleology was the pinnacle of this intellectual current. It is within this historical backdrop that we find the character of Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s prophet. Who was Zarathustra? What was his message? For those who have ears, let’s examine the prophetic message of Zarathustra.

It is important to take note of the rhetorical force of the antichrist narrative Nietzsche develops to counter the revealed truths of Christianity. What Nietzsche’s prophet proclaims is a diabolically satanic attack on truth, but in order to recognize the impact of the message a clear explanation is necessary. If we are to defeat the spirit of Zarathustra, knowledge of his demonic machinations is a requirement that cannot be avoided. To defeat the devil and his evil hordes we must know the rhetorical games they play to confuse even the elect.

A prophet is usually a person that has been given a message from on high, and proclaims the assigned divine dispatch amongst a group of people that are reluctant to accept the truth espoused by the chosen one. Biblically speaking, prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah faced a hostile people that had fallen from the grace of God by turning their back on the Mosaic covenant. Jesus, the final prophet of God, also faced aggressive backlash from the Pharisees he publicly chastised. The difference, however, between Christ and the other prophets is that the latter claimed to be messengers of God, and the former said he is God.

Zarathustra is a prophet of a different sort. He is the recipient of a message that had been developing since the Reformation and Enlightenment. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah all said, “Thus sayeth the Lord;” Jesus said, “The time is now, the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in me!” Zarathustra’s message is this – God is dead and we have killed him.

Zarathustra’s proclamation, revealed to him after many years secluded on the mountain of contemplation, transmits immense shock value. God, Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church, the various Protestant factions, at this point in history, have provided the framework by which people came to view and understand the world. This worldview, that man is specially created and located in a privileged empirical and ontological location in the universe, had been under withering attack reaching its apotheosis in the prophetic voice of Zarathustra. Copernicus started the process by nudging the earth out of the center of the universe. This was supposedly an empirical matter, but it carried with it an unintended ontological consequence as well. Following this was the substance dualism and metaphysical bifurcation of the Cartesian system, where the material world operates by fixed laws, but the soul is mysteriously rescued from determinism. After Descartes came the brilliant Newton. He extended the Cartesian understanding of the natural/material world, claiming that the universe resembles the operation of a machine, or a clock that God starts, but leaves regulated by a set of physical laws with no intervention by the hand of the almighty. Thus understood, God is no longer the pinnacle of a hierarchically structured ontology where he is distinct from, but imminently present in the created order. According to Newtonian mechanism, God is only distinct; God is an add-on to an autonomous material system. Kant once said, “There will never be a Newton for a blade of grass.” Darwin, however, became the master of the blade of grass. His theory, in accord with the projection of history and Enlightenment commitments, hammered the final nail into the coffin of God, his specially created universe, and human persons created in his divine likeness and image.

Zarathustra, high on the mountaintop, received this wisdom. He absorbed into his being this crescendo of declarations against orthodoxy, and realized a startling truth. The delivered truth was the lightning that woke him from his dogmatic slumber, recognizing his natural being full of appetites and a will to power. The unveiling of natural man, of the life affirming, spoke to him as the Serpent did to Eve, “Hath God said?” These three little words are the underlining reality of the development of the Enlightenment message. Although God had been killed, according to the satanic prophet, nobody possessed the courage to say it out loud. It may have been whispered by the timid, but such a message must be proclaimed for all to hear. God is dead. God has been evicted from his creation, kicked out of the culture, and the only thing that keeps him around is the frightened herd clinging to a false narrative. Zarathustra now believes what the serpent has said is true, “ You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Zarathustra speaks, “God is dead.” Long live the Ubermensch!

The Bible is where we can find the words of the divinely appointed prophets, and in the bible you will find history, poetry, proclamations, lamentations, wisdom literature, and parables. It is a divinely inspired book of theology and philosophy. It is a book that contains the most influential narrative the civilized world has ever known. It has the power to proclaim new truths while absorbing the old truths of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. Indeed, has there been a more influential book, carried along by a more influential Church in the history of civilization? Who is Nietzsche to challenge this? Who is Nietzsche to attempt a new narrative, with an inauguration of historic proportions? Pilate once said, “Ecce homo!” when presenting the scourged and beaten Jesus to the ravenous crowd seeking to put him to death. Zarathustra is Nietzsche’s instrument to proclaim “Ecce homo!” when presenting the Ubermensch. The literary feat present in, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is everything you would expect to find in a counter to the biblical story of salvation history. Moreover, Zarathustra is the voice you would expect to hear when challenging the ancient and creating the new. Nietzsche’s mind through Zarathustra’s voice is more than philosophy; it is a work of theology or anti-theology, spirituality, and poetry. Zarathustra is to the Ubermensch, what John the Baptist was to Jesus – a man to prepare the way.

Christianity, according to Nietzsche is anti-life. It is a culminating view of man’s existence that is life denying. The coffin of God has been sealed and put in the hole, but the dirt must be pushed in. A lingering deception that must be exposed by Zarathustra is the relentless onslaught of telos, of purpose. The ‘moment’ for Zarathustra is something that has been explained away in pretentious longing for teleological explanation. Not only is the teleological laden Christianity false, the Geist of Hegel and the material dialectic of Marx are both errors of inverted stylistic fashion. The gravest sin of all, however, is the abdication of the moment. The Alpha and Omega of Christianity, the impersonal Geist careening down the corridors of history, and the economically driven material epochs avoid that most freeing and frightening state of existence – the moment. Each moment is consummate past, impregnated in the now, while the unknown future is an eternity of potential will to power. Zarathustra seeks to deny the notion of a purpose in history or the future waiting to explode into reality according to a telos. There is the moment, relived over and over again. Within this moment is the will to power. Within this moment is the possibility of overcoming and the appetite for powerful creativity, “This is my morning, my day begins: arise now, arise you great noon![3]

The message of Zarathustra is clearly marked by the demonic manifestations of the antichrist. The rhetoric utilized by Nietzsche is the hallmark of satanic obscurantism meant to lead souls to eternal damnation, and yet we have to confront this false prophet with the power of the Gospel.

It is difficult to try and construct a rebuttal of Nietzsche’s thought and prophetic character of Zarathustra, considering the fact that he is not interested in providing argumentative “evidence” for his beliefs because a way of life is something that cannot be proven.[4] To take on Nietzsche’s thought in a contemporary, modernist, academic, analytic, philosophically minded way would be a futile endeavor because Nietzsche would merely shrug those critiques off with the greatest of ease. A mere brilliant sophist is not interested in the truth, they are interested in winning an argument; so it is of little use to think that the devilish story being told by Zarathustra is susceptible to critical scrupulosity. A story borrowing its methods from the father of lies is not something to be merely rebutted, it must be exposed. A modern analytic philosopher utilizing a technical and philosophically sound rebuttal could point out some of the consequences of Nietzsche’s views, namely that if the wrong man adopted his worldview it could lead to extreme suffering for a multitude of people. In response to this charge Nietzsche would simply say, “So what. Struggle and hardship allows for the higher man to overcome. It provides a means for the higher man to further separate himself from the herd.” The philosopher looking to maneuver past this move could argue that Nietzsche is philosophically inconsistent, but Nietzsche would reply by saying, “Consistency is a weakness for those who are bound by a desire to be accepted in academia. My inconsistency is a strength that demonstrates that I am not shackled by the expectations of other thinkers. I seek to live. What are you seeking? Reputation? Acceptability? Money? Nobility? These are mere rags compared to the exhilarating life affirming will to power.” Finally, a philosopher could say that Nietzsche has not properly understood the Christian documents he has critiqued, and misunderstanding them has only resulted in attacking a straw man. Nietzsche would reply by saying, “What makes you think you have understood them? Look at the amount of variety amongst those who call themselves Christians. Do you, the philosopher, seriously think that you have understood their original meaning while all the others have failed?” These examples demonstrate that to try and rebut Nietzsche with modern analytic maneuvers will only feed into what Nietzsche has been attempting to show the philosophers all along. It would be a round about way of giving Nietzsche what he wants, which is the philosophical rope to hang other thinkers that are “so proud of their table of categories.”

The only way to counteract his thought is by utilizing the same method of imaginative proclamation, which exposes, rather than rebuts, the illusion of the will to power. Nietzsche’s writing was aimed at pointing out the hard truths of reality that people are not willing to accept. If atheism, nature, and will are the only fundamental features of the metaphysical void of existence, there are consequences following from these claims. For example, if there is no telos, then there can be no objective moral order discernible to the human intellect. All that would exist is the subjective will to create one’s own values despite knowing that even these subjective projections are ultimately meaningless. The result of this view is an unending circle of momentary emptiness. Nietzsche suggests that despite the existential crisis, a heroic will overcomes the panic. This is delusion, not courage. What Nietzsche has offered through the voice of Zarathustra is madness, not a heroic will.

In order to expose the fantastical sophistry of Nietzsche the Catholic must employ the imaginative tools of the perennial philosophical tradition perfected in the Scholastic era. This tradition confronts the naturalism of Nietzsche’s prophet and undermines the Enlightenment philosophy that created the mess in the first place. This Catholic inheritance not only utilizes the necessary philosophical arguments required to defeat naturalism and atheism, it lays out the Christian faith in systematic eloquence, drawing the person into the reality of the Triune God and the Incarnate Christ. The ways of Aquinas and the journey of Bonaventure illuminates the path to God each person encounters when examining the created order. The Catholic who utilizes the Scholastic tradition allows the reader to contemplate, examine, and possibly accept their systematic portrait not as they dictate, but as the reader is compelled by the awesome and beautiful reality that is God in all His majesty, love, wisdom, and glory. Nietzsche will continue to paint his literary portrait as he views it, and it will be up to the individual thinker to either synergistically unite to the grace of God acting through the presented romantic evangel, or suppress the truth in unrighteousness and collapse into the madness of the deluded will to absurdity. Will it be Nietzsche’s unoriginal Luciferian portrait of reality or the Catholic presentation of the Gospel? Will it be empty abyss of nihilism or the fullness of life in Christ? The grace of God and the power of the Gospel are on the side of the Gospel narrative. We cannot tremble when the satanic Ubermensch is proclaimed; we must stand our ground against this Zarathustrian false prophet and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] All of the historical facts of Nietzsche’s life listed in this paragraph were taken from A History of Western Philosophy: Kant and Nineteenth Century, 2nd ed., Jones, pg. 253

[2] A History of Western Philosophy: Kant and Nineteenth Century, 2nd ed., Jones, pg. 253

[3] Nietzsche, Pg. 281

[4] A History of Western Philosophy: Kant and Nineteenth Century, 2nd ed., Jones, pg. 236

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