Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nietzsche’s pessimism in contrast with Dostoevsky’s optimism

Part II: Alyosha and Zarathustra on Com-passion and a Genuine Embodied Life
[Click here for part I] from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen

We see the manifestations of Nietzsche’s pessimism in contrast with Dostoevsky’s optimism in their widely divergent views of love, compassion and pity. Operating out of a hermeneutic of suspicion, Zarathustra views the Christian teaching of love thy neighbor as inauthentic-a mere mask for self-aggrandizement due to a lack of self-love. In criticism of the teaching, Zarathustra proclaims:

You crowd around your neighbor and have fine words for it. But I say unto you: your love of the neighbor is your bad love of yourselves. You flee to your neighbor from yourselves and would like to make a virtue out of that: but I see through your “selflessness.”[1]

From one perspective, Zarathustra can be seen as challenging Christians to examine their motives and to question themselves as to why they serve, help and spend time with others...

Throughout Nietzsche’s narrative Zarathustra engages in a polemic against any worldview or system of thought that he deems dualistic, that is, one which sets an other-worldly world over against this world. In his critique, Zarathustra rails against both Platonism and Christianity, claiming that both exalt a realm completely separate from our present world, a realm in which all things embodied have no place. The Christian, of course, would want to stress the differences between Platonism traditionally understood and the historic Christian faith.

For example, in Orthodox Christianity, given the centrality of the Incarnation and its emphasis on sacramental life and reality, one could establish a strong argument to the contrary, viz., that embodied living is essential to the Christian in this life. Even so, the Christian ought to pay close attention to Zarathustra’s (and Nietzsche’s) critique of Platonic dualism, being alert to the ways in which such dualistic, dis-emobodied thinking has infected or has the potential to infect its own teachings.

Though we find common ground between Zarathustra and the Christian faith on the importance of valuing physical creation in all its manifestations, or as Zarathustra puts it, remaining “faithful to the earth,” each arrives at this conclusion from completely different motivations.[3] [1] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 172. [2] The Brothers Karamazov, p. 36. [3] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 125. [Cf. Comparing Nietzsche's call for the Overman with that announced by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother 1:16 PM ]

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