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The Sickness Unto Life: Nietzsche's Diagnosis of the Christian Condition

Shepard, Frank Griffin

Insufficient attention has been given to Nietzsche's critique of Christianity as a disease, while too much has been given to the theme of the death of God. Nietzsche's use of the language of health to describe Christianity is not a mere side-effect of his mid-career embrace of the natural sciences; rather, it develops out of his early investigation of the tragic and Socratic responses to nausea, a debilitating condition of the will. Over the course of his career, Nietzsche turns his focus from Socratism to Christianity, coming to believe that the latter response to nausea is a cure that is worse than the condition it is meant to treat. He comes to see Christianity as more relevant than Socratism to the modern European condition, and he distinguishes the two on the basis of their respective attitudes toward death (the topic of suicide) and pity (metaphysical comfort). Nietzsche develops a broadly naturalistic critique of Christianity that describes it as the lowest possible affirmation of life - something akin to a living death. As such, it is a force that disintegrates and decomposes healthy bodies - both individual and social - and produces a new kind of group - the anarchistic "herd" - that promotes the interests of the "priestly" type of human being. By focusing on the physiological, psychological, and social dimensions of Nietzsche's critique rather than its theological claims, we come to see the extent to which this critique is not limited by - and, indeed, challenges - the secular/religious divide, and how it problematizes long-held assumptions about the essence and identity of Christianity in the modern world.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Religion
Thesis Advisors
Proudfoot, Wayne
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2013
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