Nietzsche Contra God: A Battle Within
Nietzsche’s name has become almost synonymous with militant atheism. Born into a pious Christian family, this son of a Lutheran pastor declared himself the Antichrist. But could this have been yet another of his masks of hardness? Nietzsche rarely revealed his innermost self in the published writings, and this can be gleaned mainly from his private letters and the accounts of friends. These sources bring to light the philosopher’s inner struggle with his own, deeply religious nature. Losing his father at a young age was a calamity from which Nietzsche never recovered, and I argue that his famous thought-image “God is dead” was a transfiguration of the painful memory of this loss. In this essay, I trace Nietzsche’s tortuous path from an ardent devotee of God to a vociferous critic of Christianity, a path that was punctuated with veiled longings for a loving deity. Deep in his heart, he remained faithful to Christian ideals. Rather like Cordelia, the only truly loving daughter of King Lear, Nietzsche refused to utter words of intense affection and reverence, as these had been blatantly devalued and corrupted. Instead, he adopted a mask of a wrongdoer and a blasphemer who took not the punishment but the guilt.
Nietzsche’s attitude to religion is discussed from the perspective of his life, his personality, and his mental condition. The discussion draws on psychoanalytical concepts of Freud, Erikson, Winnicott and Kohut. This is not an exclusive reading, but complementary to other studies in this field.