2008 EPS Papers (Horkott)

November 20, 2008
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David F. Horkott

What Nietzsche Can Teach Us about Sin and Holiness

Abstract: It seems like Nietzsche was obsessed with criticizing Christianity. Well, to be fair, we could add the composer Wagner to the list of his obsessions. Perhaps Nietzsche was at his obsessive best on those occasions when he criticized Wagner for pandering a Christian opera such as Parsifal. Be that as it may, this paper will focus on Nietzsche’s criticism of Christian morality with a view toward what Christians may gratefully receive from his sustained and relentless attack on it.

Where did that the concept of guilt originate and what accounts for its intensification and internalization in modern culture? The second essay of On the Genealogy of Morality provides Nietzsche’s answers. In fact, Nietzsche first gives a provisional answer to these questions but concludes his essay with a provocative, surprising conclusion. Nietzsche begins his investigation of guilt consciousness with an analysis of the sovereign individual. The sovereign individual represents a very high type of human being because such a person possesses his/her own conscience. The activity that showcases the high level of conscience possessed by the sovereign individual is promise-making. In promise-making one establishes one’s own conscience toward what the promise encompasses. The capacities required for promise-making were achieved by pain and violence and by what Nietzsche termed the “bad conscience.” The bad conscience was the forerunner of the sovereign individual’s higher conscience. The bad conscience is essentially the redirection of the activity of blaming from others to oneself. Self-blaming was intensified by the notions of a holy God and a sinful nature. One would anticipate that the erosion of God-consciousness in our culture would simultaneously bring about a lesser sense of sin and guilt in members of the modern state. But Nietzsche claims that this is not the case.

This paper will show that Nietzsche’s final hypothesis toward the origin and development of the bad conscience offers Christians valuable insights for new directions in moral thinking. A revised story of the Fall of Man will be presented to illustrate the fecundity of Nietzsche’s psychological insights.