October 15, 1844 - August 25, 1900
Critic of Philosophy, Morality and Religionby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
“God is dead.”1 These three short words make up perhaps one of the most-quoted quotations regarding philosophy today. Christians may regard it as arrogant, narrow-minded, or harsh, while others may consider it profoundly insightful. But no matter how one chooses to interpret it, there is no question about it: Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy played an imperative and influential role in our world philosophies today. With such unique and strong views, however, we must ask several questions. Where did these ideas come from? How did Nietzsche's life affect his prevailing beliefs?
On October 15, 1844, Friedrich Nietzsche was born to Carl Ludwig and Franziska Oehler in Röcken, Saxony (present-day Germany). He grew up in a strong Lutheran home, with his father and both of his grandfathers being ordained ministers in the German Lutheran church. Unfortunately, at age 5, Nietzsche lost his father to a brain ailment, and his younger brother one year later. He grew up with his mother, younger sister, grandmother, and maiden aunts. No doubt the loss of such close family members caused him to question God and His divine sovereignty.
Childhood and Schooling
Nietzsche attended a variety of schools throughout his years as a student, including an all-boys school, a private school, and a boarding school. Although he was raised in a Christian home, he was taught contradicting views by many different people. One source notes that "during his childhood he seems to have developed an aversion to such things as piety, nationalism, bourgeois provincialism and domineering women.";2 He seems to have carried these early views with him throughout his life.
He studied theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn for one year. The next year, however, he transferred to Leipzig and dropped his study of theology, focusing mainly on philology, at which point he left all faith completely, much to his mother’s chagrin. Looking back, it is clear that his love of literature and philology comes one of his core beliefs that “there are no facts, only interpretations.” He clearly had a love for different people’s interpretations or reality. His leaving of the faith was influenced greatly by Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea2 and David Strauss’ Life of Jesus Critically Examined.
In 1867, Nietzsche began his required military service, serving at an equestrian field artillery regiment near Namburg. Soon after entering service, he suffered an incurable chest injury while trying to leap-mount a saddle. Because it would not heal, he was given a sick leave and returned to Leipzig during that time. Within a year, this brought him to Basel.
For ten years, from 1869 – 1879, Friedrich Nietzsche taught as a professor in Basel. Upon moving to Basel, he gave up his Prussian citizenship; he never, however, became a citizen in Switzerland or any country for the rest of his life. Nietzsche was quite a brilliant man. In fact, according to one biography, he “was appointed professor of classical philology at the University of Basel at the young age of 24 - at which time he had not yet been awarded a doctoral degree! When his doctoral degree was awarded it was actually awarded without examination!”2 Poor health led to his retirement at age 35.
From 1880 – 1889, Nietzsche lived a nomadic life, in which time he wrote most of his books. Although The Birth Of Tragedy (1872), Unfashionable Observations (1873-76), and On the Origin of Moral Feelings (1877) were written during his time as a professor, he continued to write much in later years. Some of these works include Daybreak, The Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, The Case of Wagner, Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, Ecce Homo, and Nietzsche Contra Wagner. Much of his writing was influenced by other professors and philosophers he met during his previous few years.
Nietzsche never married. He met one girl, Lou von Salomé, on a visit to Rome. She was 16 years younger than him. Nietzsche proposed to her, but she declined. Salomé eventually became an associate of Sigmund Freud. Despite his rejection from her, Nietzsche casually pursued many women throughout life. He once said, “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.”
Friedrich Nietzsche had some unique philosophies, which eventually paved the road for postmodernism and existentialism. He called himself an immoralist, and was very critical of Christianity and Utilitarianism. Although not an atheist, he had a very low view of God and religion. In addition to claiming that “God is dead,”1 he believed that “There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.”1 He often mocked God, saying once, “Is man one of God’s blunders, or is God one of man’s?”1 On another occasion he said, “A great subject for a poet would be God’s boredom after the seventh day of creation.”1 As the father of postmodernism, as some call him, we would be wise take note of his beliefs. It could be very helpful in relaying the Gospel to the postmodernists of today. Nietzsche’s other beliefs, such as the will to power and the eternal return are not known for sure.
Breakdown and Death
On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche had a mental breakdown. The story says that he witnessed a man beating a horse. Upon seeing it, he ran to the horse, threw his arms around it, then collapsed. Nietzsche only went downhill from here. One of Nietzsche’s letters that he wrote in his madness read, “"I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished." Additionally, he commanded the German emperor to go to Rome in order to be shot and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany. Some commentators today consider an STD he got earlier in life as the cause for his madness. He died August 25, 1900 from pneumonia.
Today, some naively dismiss him as a lunatic. Some criticize his criticisms. Some follow in his footsteps of postmodernism. Christians can learn from his beliefs in order to have a better understanding of those today who follow his teachings. Even though Nietzsche held philosophies counter to Christian mindset, his contributions to philosophy bolster the claims of other great thinkers such as Solomon and the Apostle Paul who described the depraved thinking of those like Nietzsche.