Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

Wrestling with Nietzsche

Thesis: Nietzsche spurs me to action, with an assist from the blogosphere.

I’ve written about how my identity has changed over time, but I’ve not discussed my “conversion” from Christianity to atheism.  I put conversion in scare quotes because I usually say that I’ve always been an atheist, but for years I tried to be a Christian.  Most of my Christianity died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  After exposure to the devout of a different religion, I really couldn’t say for sure if Christianity was “right.”  The suffering, too, in Afghanistan and Iraq was appalling–what god of any stripe would allow that?  I went through a Rand phase, during which I was the angry atheist.

It wasn’t until I read Nietzsche that things sort of came together for me. Nietzsche famously declared “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”  Nietzsche argued that the death of God leaves us disoriented.  “Are we not perpetually falling?” he asked.  Nietzsche was not only declaring objective moral value dead, he was also arguing that life’s meaning was in question.  Simply put, as is argued in this podcast, people didn’t tether themselves to god for the morality only, they tethered themselves to god for meaning.

When I got back from war, I had this exact feeling.  What meaning do I have if I’m not one of god’s creatures?  How can I make my life meaningful?  For Nietzsche the answer was in his famous, but often misused idea of the ubermensch.  (I should caution the reader here that I may be misrepresenting Nietzsche’s views here.  I’m not an expert.  Any mistakes are mine.)

Nietzsche felt that man desired meaning but that religion could no longer meet his need for it.  This gave a certain type of person the opportunity to create his own meaning; to become the ubermensch.  Now this is can certainly lead down some dark, undemocratic paths.  But what I’ve taken out of this is that the responsibility for my own meaning lies with me.  It is both terrifying and liberating.  That’s a lot of responsibility–if I’m unhappy with my life, my life’s work, or my station, I have only myself to blame.  But conversely, it is freeing.  I can do anything I want–what I accomplish is only limited by me.   An instructor of mine told me that this feeling is not one of picking off a menu, but rather writing the menu yourself.   Liberating responsibility indeed.

I write this in response to Gulliver at Ink Spots, who in response to a despair ridden comment of mine, asked, “If not us, then who?”  Quite right, and the query helped inspire me to write more.  In the context of both this discussion and Gulliver’s, the point is this: I live in the United States.  I am unhappy with the decisions the United States continues to make in regards to foreign policy.  If I care, if thinking about and discussing foreign policy gives my life meaning, then I have a responsibility to myself to do something.   This blog is, admittedly, not much, but it’s something.

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Written by keithboyea

December 14, 2011 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. I am not a Christian; so I’m far from proselytizing. My question is not whether you are a Christian or an atheist but rather are you the same you regardless of your metaphysical commitments. You speak of creating yourself. Which way best expresses yourself?
    BTW it’s nice to see I’m not the only one losing sleep over philosophy

    Howard Berman

    December 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    • That’s a really interesting way to put it. My non-expert thought is that “self” is expressed through the metaphysical commitments you make. I don’t know if we are anything beyond that. But then again, I think my thinking is fluid even on that issue. Convoluted, I know. As far as what the best way to express yourself: Everyone’s got to make that determination for themselves, but it can change over time. Mine certainly has.

      keithboyea

      December 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm

  2. You say that instead of letting religion create meaning for you, you create it for yourself. The problem with this kind of thinking is that your life lasts a very short time, comparatively. If you create the wrong meaning for yourself or chase stupid goals, you could find yourself supremely unhappy. What religion gives one is a life’s meaning that has been refined, debated, discussed amongst thousands of people over generations, so you are drawing on the wisdom of generations, not just your own.

    Of course, for many people modern day religion has failed in its mission because 1) certain individuals have closed the canon and ended the debate, and 2) in many religions, the assholes and idiots have prevailed in the debate.

    But the idea of a religion where one is part of a community still carries value. A Nietzschean world where everybody creates their own meaning (something that he did not even intend) would be a sad apocalyptic landscape of unemployed Women’s studies majors creating sound collages in their parents’ basements.

    For me, personally, the meaning of my life is http://www.todaystechdeals.com.

    Bob Dealalina

    December 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm

  3. Nietzsche’s “The Madman,” wherein the most famous statement of “God is dead” appears (it’s not the only place in Nietzsche), is perhaps one of the world’s darkest fables. I think the main thing Nietzsche was pointing out through it, was what he exasperatedly pointed out in what has to be the most subtle (exactly because it comes off precisely the opposite) polemic on the Christian religion, THE ANTICHRIST. That is this: we live our lives as if God is either dead or never was, while thinking with our minds and professing with our mouths that He is all, and all around us. A grand hypocrisy, he’ll often argue; but here a despairing Nietzsche’s take seems to be that the gaping world is simply lost to its delusion… for now. What happens to the madman in “The Madman” similarly, and eerily happened to Nietzsche himself, when he finally had his sanity-splitting breakdown in the street… dragged away by those who couldn’t understand the total horror of not just suffering innocence, but of being in this very universe, alone. There’s no one “out there” to care for our others, but ourselves — even the Gospels assert that!

    Craig Anthony

    December 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm

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