Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thoughts on Death, Christianity, and Nietzsche

Nietzsche criticizes Christians for being magnetically drawn to suffering and death, arguing that in longing for another world, Christians are giving up the will to life and actually willing death.

I was on a plane yesterday and I couldn't help but think of this. I always get those jittery feelings in my stomach during take-off and brace myself for the possibility of a crash ending in death (this is bizarre, I know...). Anyway, I went through the usual argument I put forth for myself on airplanes-- that I cannot rationally fear death because it opens the door to life in heaven, and heaven is essentially infinitely better than life here (that's the defeater for "fomo": fear of missing out). But I stopped myself in the middle of my premises this time, because Nietzsche, who has moved in to the upstairs of my brain recently, said that I was willing death for myself. My relationship with Nietzsche is a strange one; I really appreciate his criticisms of Christians because I think they are largely right, but I'm also constantly trying to explain and defend real Christianity to him, because most of the time it doesn't really conflict with what he's saying.

So am I willing death by desiring heaven? I'm going to argue no. There are two reasons for this: first, if I believe what Jesus said about the importance of sharing the gospel, then my life on earth has a mission with high stakes, and second, there is an aspect of being human and being fallen that makes for a different knowledge of God than the angels have.

The first point refers to the great commision, when Jesus says, "Go and make disciples of all nations." We are meant to tell the millions of people who don't know God about Him. If we don't, if we really will to die, salvation terminates with this small group of Christians who believe right now, and we are essentially willing the eternal death of the rest of the world. Jesus Himself demonstrates the importance of an earthly life with His coming down into the world and spending time revealing the Father to men. Teachers spend time in the classroom not to relearn the material, but to pass it on, and they value time in the classroom because presumably they realize that they are the best medium for the transfer of vital information. If everyone who had an education went on to his or her own trade or field and no one went into teaching, we would lose the chance of education for younger generations all together, and that's absurd. So we stay on earth while we can; we will our own lives, because we realize that we are teachers and what we're teaching the whole entire world desperately needs.

Secondly, and I'm not as sure that this one holds up such that it could stand alone as a reason, we relate to God differently as fallen beings than as perfect ones. The longer I live, the more aware I become of my own wretchedness, to put it bluntly. Even if I am trying to become a better person, the harder I try, the more I realize how deeply sunk I am and how far I have to go to really "be better." It's like going to the hospital for a headache and the doctor telling you that you have a brain tumor; it doesn't preclude your chances of getting well but it definitely makes the process harder.

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