Thinking about American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas

American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His IdeasAmerican Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some time ago I mentioned to my wife that I’d been experiencing strange existential crises, and I had just noticed and it was odd to me. She replied that perhaps I was having a ‘mid-life crisis’, and yep, because she’s smart and that sounds about right. She thought for a moment and asked if I had read any Nietzsche lately. I considered this wonderful advice as she is trained and degreed in philosophy and has a wonderful mind for such things and I respect her opinions greatly. It’s not like she would or could say ‘have you read your Bible lately?’, so I thought ‘read Nietzsche’ was a splendid suggestion worth exploration. So I hunted around for a work that appealed to me, and I settled on American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas. It appealed to me because of the American perspective and academic qualities. At first the reading was ponderous; dense and difficult. I had only vague recollection of ‘Nietzscheism’, a Will-Durant knowledge of his life and philosophy. I recalled that I thought we were in some agreement. He was an Existentialist, maybe a Nihilist, antireligious and smart. But reading American Nietzsche with that knowledge and recollection of the man and his philosophy was what was making the reading difficult and ponderous. I took a break for other books.

2015-05-03_11-55-19When I returned, first I elected to read the surprisingly great Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Tanner. It was an excellent read, great overview, nice balance, and not at all surprising given the good reviews. I thought this would be enough preparation but I became so interested to read Friedrich Nietzsche’s words (or at least a good approximation) I chose to read The Antichrist, as translated around 1920 by H.L. Mencken, whom I have always admired as a great American. This book The Antichrist blew me away and I will never forget it, I will revisit it again and again, and I with any luck I will search for other valuable translations of it to read later. I also was inspired to immediately acquire a version of Thus Spoke Zarathustra that I greatly anticipate consuming later.

So here the digression ends and I return to American Nietzsche, better-prepared for what it contained. I re-read the first 20% #Kindle or so that I had managed to get through and picked it up from there. I found myself consumed by its dense material, and I could barely put it down. I found it then to be a quick read (relatively) and marveled at the scholarship, the minutiae, the great attention paid to every detail and myriad angles. It’s fascinating really and as I understand it a new perspective on an essential philosopher. I loved the book, highlighted it galore and I will refer back to it from time-to-time. I feel like when I read Zarathustra it will be like I’m reading the Bible and it may spiritually fill a cold scientific atheist like myself. And all this to relate that at first, I did not understand my wife’s suggestion that I read Nietzsche of all things to address a midlife crisis. But in the end, I found a meaning and substance that surpassed any expectation I had. I learned about myself and the world we live in and it connected dots in my head that make me feel like a better and more evolved human. It’s like my wife told me to listen to Jesus, but said Nietzsche, because of course.df486242cd5256fb0b2dc07b156e9af1

I’d recommend Nietzsche to anyone. This American Nietzsche book is interesting, certainly dense, academic, dwells on small things, repetitive, but it doesn’t create an outsized view as much as illuminates areas of study, ties in interesting and important figures and relates the explosion of Nietzscheism, not because of propaganda or enforcement but because of obviousness and inevitability. It’s an interesting read if you are into that sort of thing but I’d definitely suggest at least a minimal background or it may feel more a slough.

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Your God Has No Power

I write this from a Christian perspective because I am a Westerner, but the sentiment can equally be applied to Jesus, prophet Mohammed PBUH, Hindu gods, Satan, and should you have one, most certainly your god too. To Buddha’s credit, at least he said himself that he had no power.

No matter what you believe, most of the world does not believe the same. That’s because it’s easy for people who believe in gods to accuse others’ gods of having no power, because they don’t. No one believes in Thor, or Zeus, or Tarhunt, or the thousands of other gods that have littered our evolution. We reject them because they have no discernible power. They can’t do anything. But neither can the current crop of gods. This lack of evidence got many humans down to just one god, basically a “Gaia” all-in-one universalist god. This capital-G god then immediately fractures into thousands of sects, because that one god also has no discernible power. All-knowing, all-seeing god that can’t even clear up basic points of order. Jews, who begat the main monotheistic god that undergirds their beliefs as well as those of Christians and Muslims can’t be convinced Jesus was the Prophet (nor Mohammed PBUH). The Mormons can add another prophet and storyline and tower-babel-space-stationnarrative bits for the same reason the Muslims could a long time ago, because there’s no evidence for any of it. One freaking burning bush that talks pops up in real life and there would be no atheists. But there are no talking burning bushes. No one expects there to be. Because that’s silly.

The faithful say “Jesus is all-powerful! Oh Lord, my life is in your hands! Through prayer anything is possible!” and on and on ad nauseam. The thing is, faith and prayer don’t do anything to make anything possible beyond motivating and focusing the (very human) mind. Your all-powerful deities and prophets can’t do anything that gods should be able to do:

  • can’t perform any miracles
  • doesn’t answer prayers
  • doesn’t grant powers to anyone
  • can’t do anything on demand, even the simplest thing
  • can’t stop death or resurrect anyone
  • can’t heal amputees – not even one
  • can’t heal anything without doctors and hospitals and science
  • can’t sanitize water err make it holy
  • can’t get money without begging for it or requiring it or swindling people out of it
  • can’t do anything even remotely detectable

This lack of efficacy is because it is all made up. You keep saying your god and savior has power because you have to convince yourself, due to the lack of evidence. The only place your god or anyone serving your god has any power is in your old storybooks. Rev. Pat Robertson was asked why we don’t see miracles, and his replies are telling: because we are educated, and because we have cameras – miracles happen where uneducated people don’t have any way to record it. Still, the internet is everywhere (even in poor uneducated places), but not one miracle is posted on YouTube.

Jesus said he was coming right back, never did, generation after generation. Yet 40% of Americans (and more faithful around the world) are sure he’s coming back in their lifetime. Yet another tell as to why religious conservatives are such a sought after voting bloc – because they will believe anything, and order their life around it, but require no positive evidence of it at all and will even believe even in the face of contradicting evidence. They will do the same about economic policy, climate policy, taxation policy, because that’s how they are. They believe in unsubstantiated old goat herder religion but don’t believe all the carbon dioxide we are putting in the atmosphere has ill effects. And it goes on and on.

I most certainly don’t worry the fate of my soul, publishing this – I worry much more about crazy religious fundamentalists than anyone’s god, because gods have no power.