Saturday, May 12, 2007

Nietzsche and Slave Morality, Ressentiment and Christianity

I'm writing this in response to this post about morality. Nietzsche's name was mentioned thusly:

Nietzsche attacked the universal principles of Judeo-Christian morality. He said it could not not take into consideration the vast differences of individuality, & although it claims to encompass everyone, it is to the advantage of some & the disadvantage of others. I think some negative parts of Christian history illustrate this.

Nietzsche also suggests Christian morality is a "slave" morality, "vengeful, bitter & filled with self loathing."

That in it's self is a whole nother post because the idea is fascinating. But, here's a link on Ressentiment to get an idea.

I opined that Nietzsche was factually wrong and thus his premises untrue, and L>T disagreed. You can see it on the comments, if you care to look. I said that I could critique Nietzsche at great length and would if the world was given. It was given. So I opine. ;)

For what it is worth, for many years I considered Nietzsche to be my favorite philosopher and writer. I've read everything he's written, most things several times over, and a fair bit of scholarly critiques of his work. About a year ago, Nietzsche fell out of my favor while I reading Lyotard's The Post-Modern Condition. Some of the stuff that Nietzsche said is very interesting, and I consider him the father of deconstruction. He is certainly an absolutely brilliant writer. But he's also a racist, sexist and classist pig, whose work (I feel) supports a totally archaic and backwards ethic that praises brutal force and stupidity. While Nietzsche does not ignore the crimes of the aristocratic class, he does ignore the virtues of the lower class and invents calumnies to support the idea that the lower classes are vicious, cruel and filled with hatred. To the extent the argument works, it does so based on Nietzsche's tremendous wit - he is undoubtedly one of the finest writers in any language and in any period. Still, despite it all, he fell pretty hard from my graces.

In specific, one of the things he says about Christianity is that it is a Jewish religion, and Jews are a slave people, and their priestly society was poisonous to aristocracy, and thus to nobility, truth and beauty. This contains two statements that are ahistorical. The first is that the Jews were a "slave people" and the second is that priestly cultures are somehow uniquely Jewish.

OK, the slave people argument. The calumny that Jews were inherently a slave people is a medieval European invention - during which period the Jews were a fragmented people surrounded by enemies without a homeland. This was not the case during the development of Christianity. Indeed, before 135 CE, the Jews were fairly obviously quite a combative people - and even afterwards, really.

Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, is a primitive Semitic war god, probably of Canaanite origin. This is plausibly supported by the Old Testament. No, excuse me, it is elaborately supported by the Old Testament.

First, because it needs to be dealt with, is the origin of the lie that the Jews were a "slave people" has a tiny bit of support in the OT. Specifically, the time they were in Egypt. They were slaves there. But, y'know, that's just a few brief chapters in Exodus. Once you're out of Exodus you're into the area of PURE JEWISH BLOODSHED.

Seriously, from Leviticus onwards, the Old Testament is filled with one of the most lurid records of absolute brutality ever written. Hardly a page goes by without the Jews fighting some horrible war, slaughtering some people or the other, or being slaughtered after a terrible battle.

The Hebrew Judges were chosen not for their wisdom, but their ability to kick ass. Some very shocking episodes of violence - heads getting nailed to the ground, for instance - can be found, here. And after the kingship is established, it's no better, a relentless record of civil and foreign wars and slaughters.

Even when the Hebrews were conquered by the Babylonians, it was only after an extremely brutal war. And during the Captivity, the Jews were not enslaved. At least some of them served in extremely high positions in the Babylonian court.

The Old Testament rounds itself out with the Maccabees overthrowing the Seleucid Persians and establishing an independent monarchy. That monarchy would, itself, be destroyed by the Roman Empire, at which point we're into history.

Even as members of the Roman Empire the Jews were extremely difficult to control. The history of the area is of a number of petty rebellions to Roman power and two major ones. The first, the Great Revolt, between 66 and 70 CE, took four years to bring to an end, and would have been even more bloody if not for the faction struggles inside of Jerusalem. The second, the Bar Kochba Revolt, from 132 to 135 CE, was worse because the Jews were much better organized. They managed to establish an independent kingdom for a couple of years, and resisted Roman arms so fiercely that the Romans had to engaged in a scorched earth policy to defeat them. Dio Cassius said that, ahem, 580,000 Jews were killed, 50 fortified towns were destroyed and 985 villages were burned to the ground. The Emperor Hadrian attempted to destroy Judaism entirely because of the frequency with which the Jews rebelled! The Temple was destroyed and replaced with a pagan temple, the walls of Jerusalem were torn down and Jews were forbidden from entering Jerusalem.

By 135 CE, Christianity was already distinct from Judaism. None of the persecutions of the Jews after the Bar Kochba Revolt was applied to Christianity. So, given that Christianity was already split off from Judaism by that time, where are these non-martial slave Jews? The Judaism of Jesus' day and the 1st century church was extremely violent, and they considered themselves a warrior people. The history of the Jews before 135 CE is one of almost constant warfare.

The idea that the Jews were not, themselves, a warrior people - with a strong reputation, really, for fighting - simply cannot be supported by history. Since it is not the case that Christianity learned slave habits from the Jews, a person has to question if they existed at all. Which will take me to my second point.

When a society does have a priestly class, it's almost always part of the upper class. Interestingly enough, the best example of this are the Aryans -- the very Aryans that Nietzsche calls the master race, yeah, those Aryans.

Most Aryan tribes were caste based and the priestly caste was not only high class, it was the highest caste. Examples of this are the Hindu brahmin class and the Median and Persian magi castes. The habit of putting priests in charge of society was, quite possibly, an Aryan development and the Jews learned it from the Aryans! When Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonians and freed the Jews, they mimicked the Persians in many ways - including solidifying their hentotheism into monotheism following the model of Persian Zoroastrianism but also in the sense of elevating the priest to the highest of classes.

Nietzsche must have known the power of the priest caste in Aryan history - but he doesn't mention it in his own books, which is an extremely curious lacuna, shall we say. This is even true when he calls Zarathustra - another name for Zoroaster - the wisest of men. Zoroaster was a member of the priest caste and the inventor of monotheism! This also escapes mention in any of Nietzsche's writings.

Also, some of the earliest converts to Christianity were Germanic tribes. In 310 CE or so, Ulfilas was converted to Arian Christianity and he converted the Ostrogoths and Visigoths. Three years later, Constantine would issue the Edict of Milan.

Christianity would not stop the Romans and Germans from tearing themselves apart for the next couple of hundred years. When the Christian barbarians destroyed the Western Roman Empire, the scale of their slaughter was greater than anything they'd ever done as pagans. Then Europe settled into the Middle Ages, which was a thousand years of constant warfare - warfare so complete and total that the development of higher culture was stalled for literally centuries and many technologies were lost to Western Europe. This frenzied orgy of hyperviolence had two nightmarish climaxes. The first were the murderous rampages of the Crusades and the second was the nightmare of the Hundred Years' War.

Nietzsche says that the violence of the Christian aristocracy was a holdover from Hellenic martial virtues. But, like I've already said, the Jews were every bit as much a warrior people as can be imagined, with an elaborate history of intense violence. Who did those medieval knights engaged in their various orgies of slaughter really emulate? Greco-Roman virtues, pre-Revolt Jewish virtues, or barbaric German virtues? As far as I can tell, they were all the same.

Well, Nietzsche might have said, the ideology of Christianity was intrinsically pacifist and weak. L>T said that this was particular to Christianity. Well, that's not true. The idea that the ultimate ruling force of the universe is benevolent is common to most people, not just the Christians. There is nothing, after all, particularly original about any of the ideas inside of Christianity. It was common Greek belief that "God" was a completely benevolent being, as were the gods, and wickedness was a result of human moral degradation. This belief - Epicureans held it - was common in the Roman Empire as well. The promotion of humility as a virtue? All over the ancient world. The Stoics, also popular in the Roman Empire, taught it, for instance, and they weren't the only ones. Everything that Nietzsche and his followers suggest are unique to Judaism and Christianity are also present in Roman philosophy and religion!

Nietzsche might retort that it was the exclusivity of Christianity that enforced "slave virtues". Greeks and Romans might as easily, say, follow the example of Sparta rather than Dionysus. But the same was true of Christianity. Warrior saints and Jesus reified as the "Lion of Judah" appeared almost immediately in Christianity. St. George, for instance, was a soldier who endured torments that made Jesus' look pretty milquetoast in comparison. By the Middle Ages, St. George became a mythic dragonslayer. Christianity started to produce it's own monster slaying superheroes totally in the Hellenic mold immediately. And, just by inspection, it can't be said that Christianity actually stopped people from being violent. The fights between the Christian barbarians and the Christian Romans were not any less vicious because of Christianity - indeed, the violence was probably the greatest seen in Western Europe.

So, historically, the idea that the Jews were a "slave people" doesn't bear up when you study the history of the Jews as informs Christianity. It also neglects the fact that priestly cultures were not in any way uniquely Jewish, or associated with the lower classes in particular. Furthermore, the sustained violence of Christianity puts to a lie the idea that Christians were infected with a pacifist "slave morality" that undermined their martial aristocratic culture. Also, immediately after the death of St. Peter the Christian church came to be entirely dominated by the Greco-Roman upper class.

Okay, now on to ressentiment. Briefly, ressentiment is the idea that the underclass is filled with hatred towards their oppressors and engages in trickery and deceit to overcome their masters, poisoning their glorious aristocratic martial culture with the virtues of slaves - weakness and cowardice. This glorification of aristocracy and vilification of the workers is, again, simply untrue.

First and foremost, aristocrats are some of the most treacherous, back-stabbing bastards there are. Indeed, they're way more treacherous than the working classes. This goes straight back to those Greek epics that Nietzsche loved so much. How can you tell when Odysseus is lying? His mouth is open. Odysseus, one of the paragons of Hellenic aristocracy, was a low-down rotten bastard. He lied, cheated, stole. He possessed all the traits that Nietzsche attributes to the "slaves".

And the real articles weren't any better. For instance, one of the most common things to happen in the internecine warfare of the Greek city-states was for one leader to switch sides (sometimes in the middle of a war), go to Persia and ask for help to overthrow Greece and serve as a Persian vassal, all sorts of craziness.

Alcibiades will serve as an example. During the Peloponnesian War, he switched sides something like four times. He encouraged the Athenians to try to conquer Sicily but when it was obvious it was going badly, he fled to Sparta. In Sparta, he couldn't keep his hands off the Spartan king's wife and then went over to Persia and then he went back to Athens. This is aristocratic loyalty and honor? Not a string of deceptions, cowardice, venality and greed?

I could really go on about aristocrats and their ways for a long time. So, Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman Senate en masse because they knew that if they were all guilty of the crime, none of them would be punished. Foolish men. Because the Triumvirate that came into power after Caesar's death engaged in their own program of assassination to consolidate their gains. Again and again, you see aristocrats behaving in cowardly, manipulative, back-stabbing, venomous ways, you see them holding grudges for literally centuries in some cases, you see aristocrats doing all the things that Nietzsche attributes to the "slave morality" that supposedly Christianity brought to aristocracy in the West. And you see them doing these things again and again before Christianity existed!

In addition to ignoring the fact that aristocrats possessed - and have always possessed - the vices of Nietzsche's "slaves", you've also got to ignore the working classes, themselves. The very idea that a member of the working class, even a slave, spent most of their time plotting the downfall of their "masters" is absurd. It ignores the labor of their hands, their families, and their actual values - which tend to stress the importance of hard work, tending to one's family and things of that nature. The notion of the resentful slave plotting the overthrow of their aristocratic masters is a total caricature. It is quite literally the Nazi's image of the weaselly back-stabbing, squinty eyed Jew - a caricature taken straight from Nietzsche.

Lastly, it also sorta ignores that everything of lasting beauty in this world was created by the very working classes that Nietzsche hated so much. We'll say, nigh constantly, things like, "Lorenzo the Magnificent built this" or "the Emperor Trajan built that", but that's not true, is it? The warrior aristocrat class so beloved by Nietzsche didn't build anything. It was built by the workers, now wasn't it? When a person ignores that - as does Nietzsche, who never talks about work - is the only way to say with a straight face that the working classes are in some way opposed to beauty and culture. You have to ignore that they're the primary builders of beauty and culture, even when they're doing it at the orders of some murderous thug.

So, I think that this pretty much says everything I want to say about why I think that Nietzsche's master-slave morality is ahistorical bunk, and why I don't put any faith in the Nietzschian idea of ressentiment as a class construct.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Confessions of an Atheist #1: Atheists and Morality

This vlog is about how, y'know, us atheists get morality without having a divine force dictate it to us.

And, of course, comments are welcome!

Also, moved the crock pot. ;)

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, May 7, 2007

Justification by Faith Alone

If you want to read something funny, and I'm trying to keep a little bit of humor in my blog under the hypothesis that my readers like a good laugh now and then, then read this critique of a Jack Chick tract from Enter the Jabberwock. It's good stuff.

The satirical critique is about a fairly common interpretation of Matthew 7:22-23:

22: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23: And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

The interpretation is that “good works” don't get a person into heaven, only justification by faith alone. That repentance and “accepting Jesus into your heart” are the only ways to get to heaven.

Enter the Jabberwock gives some of the fairly obvious conclusions to this – that it justifies immorality being at the top of the list. No, really, it scans. If you only need to do something nebulous like “accept Jesus into your heart” (or, more properly called, justification by faith alone) and actively repudiate good works as a means of attaining heaven, you're basically saying the only thing that counts is accepting Jesus. Nothing else you do in this world matters. Just that.

I think it is important to emphasize this selfishness is one of the key tenets of American Christianity and, I think, is probably the key reason why so many of the most utterly backwards organizations in America are so rabidly pro-war, anti-poverty and generally more evil than Satan himself. It's because they believe, truly believe, that all you need to do to get into Heaven (which is the reason why most Christians are Christian, of course – they've been told if they don't believe they'll burn in hellfire forever, which would be a compelling argument if it had even a whiff of truth about it) then there's no reason to do anything else. Faith, alone, justifies oneself. Actions, other than “acceptance” of Jesus – which as I've said elsewhere is little more than the glorification of one's interpretation of the Bible to the point of unimpeachable “fact” – simply do not count.

(Of course, the general Christian response to this, when pointed out, is a big “uh-uh”. But it never stands analysis, because they'll then go on to agree that it is faith in Jesus, alone, that gets people into Heaven, and rejection of Jesus, alone, that condemns them to hell. If you but “accept” Jesus into your heart, he forgives you of all your sins; if you do not accept Jesus, he does not forgive any of your sins, and since you're born in sin, you go to the burning place.)

Since, then, deeds do not count, and a Christian's actions are never seriously held against them, anything is permissible. Oh, they say that isn't the case, but it is – Jesus forgives all sins, and if you join their religion any sinner is welcomed to the company of saints.

Interestingly, of course, is this is what Christians frequently accuse atheists of believing. I think it's a classic case of projection. Atheists – a few of the more nihlistic aside – generally believe that we work with other people to create a generally acceptable code of conduct based on human reason and human needs. American Christians, with their widespread belief on justification by faith alone, accept nothing of the sort. The accept that there is simply one thing a person must do to be righteous, just one, and it comes from a selfish interpretation of an old book.

No wonder Christians have made a mess of morality! From the medieval purchase of indulgences to the more clever justification by faith alone, Christianity has constantly subverted any attempt at all to make a coherent morality. It isn't just that Christianity has struggled with morality, but that it has by and large renounced morality. It is with Christians that anything is indulged, anything possible, because their god will always forgive me, and ever judge them by any act, save a simple statement of faith.

So, remember that the next time a Christian accuses an atheist of immorality. Atheists struggle with the concept of what is really moral, while Christians can just ignore it with, really, the full support of their religion.

None of this is original, but you can't expect me to have an original thought every day, do you?

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Becomin' a Webcam Ho

So, since it's May Day, I'm not really doing any work. It appears I'm becoming something of a webcam ho, however, because I've been doing webcam stuff. I've made two videos today. Both of them are responses to other people's stuff. Heaven knows I love mouthing off. Perhaps after a few more of these I'll actually get good at it.

Here's the first:

This is a response to a Christian who asked questions about the falsifibility of natural selection and DNA as the criteria of life.

Here's the second:

It's a video response to a text comment to my video about if atheists hate god where he proposes stuff like if gay people are allowed to marry it infringes on his rights as a Christian. Which is a silly argument, but common, I find.

Tomorrow I'm going to actually post a short story written in the fashion of Simon Peter, called "Immaculate Conception". It deals with the, ahem, birth of Jesus Christ, told in the way I am telling the story of Simon Peter. Unlike the other things I've posted here, it actually is pretty short, being about 4200 words. And after that, I promise I'll have a few more days of text content.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Karl Popper vs. logical positivists!

I got into a long discussion with a rather nice fellow over at No God Blog, rainbows4dinosaurs. He mentioned one of my favorite things, falsifiability. That's not even irony! To the extent I possess an education, it's actually in philosophy of science and history of science, so it's a very interesting subject to me - how this idea has shaped science and thinking in general, and how society shapes the creation of ideas.

The idea of falsifiability doesn't bother me at all, but there's an interesting way that Popper's scientific philosophy got to be so important to the world.

Karl Popper, like a lot of philosophers of science at the time, was Austrian. However, the Vienna philosophers were massively logical positivist. Indeed, continental philosophy of science at the time was dominated by logical positivists during the first third of the 2oth century. Popper's ideas weren't getting any love from the Vienna Circle.

Then something big happened. The power of Nazi Germany started to rise, and with it came a powerful anti-intellectualism. The logical positivists were, as a group, very much scientific materialists. In 1936, the leader of the Vienna circle of logical positivists was Moritz Schlick and as he was coming to class one day, a former student of his, Johann Nelböck, shot and killed Schlick.

Nelböck was convicted but was paroled after only two years when the Nazis took over. Subsequently he became a good little Nazi.

You see, Schlick had spoken good of Jews, and he was an intellectual, and in conversation he had been oppposed to Hitler (even before Hitler started annexing places and ramping up for open war). So, Johann Nelböck blew him away.

This had a profound effect on logical positivists. Many fled to America or Great Britain (including Karl Popper, I should note). Some stayed behind. They tended to die, both in Austria and Germany (such as Kurt Grelling who died in Auszwitch or, perhaps, in transport to Auszwitch).

What does this have to do with falsifiability?! I'm getting there, I promise.

In Austria, Popper was surrounded by logical positivists. They had their own criteria for the validity of science, verificationism, and Popper couldn't get much traction in that crowd. However, in New Zealand and then England, the Angl0-American philosophers took to him much more than they warmed to the logical positivists. During this time, however, logical positivists were scattered and socially isolated. There were no proponents of verificationism to challenge Popper's falsifiability criteria (or to note that verificationism functionally included falsifiability) because some of them had been murdered by the Nazis and the rest had been flung to the far corners of the world. Logical positivism, until quite recently, was thought dead. Into that void, Popper was able to place his own philosophy.

This isn't to blame Popper for this. Far from it. I like Popper, even as I like Hempel and Carnap. No, no. I'm blame the Nazis.

This also gives me pause to consider how knowledge gets shaped and formed. In the inter-war period, logical positivism was high and Popperism was low. Because of purely political events unrelated to the relative merit of logical positivism vs. Popper the first was suppressed and the second was enhanced. It's part of the reason I strongly believe that the development of ideas is shaped, strongly, by the surrounding culture and events in the world. Logical positivism wasn't discarded because people found it silly or wrong - it was discarded because one of it's key leaders was murdered causing a mass exodus of logical positivists away from their homes, and those that stayed were persecuted, occasionally to their deaths. It was murdered.

Labels: ,