The atheist German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, claimed in many of his works that “God is dead”. Nietzsche hated religion, and most of all he hated Christianity. He felt Christianity was a “slave morality” designed for losers, which Nietzsche explained its immense popularity. Nietzsche condemned the Christian God for keeping a check on the strong men of this world and exalting the lowly. He developed the concept of übermensch (or “overman”), a type of superior human being, who through his “will to power” could bring down false ideals and moral codes of his day. His ideas had a big influence on Nazi ideology.
I’m reading a wonderful book by Dinesh D’Souza called “What’s So Great About Christianity”. In chapter seven he gives a warning about Europe’s future regarding its increasing secularization and abandonment of Christian beliefs:
The life of the West, Nietzsche said, is based on Christianity. The values of the West are based on Christianity. Some of these values seem to have taken a life of their own, and this gives us the illusion that we can get rid of Christianity and keep the values. This, Nietzsche says, is an illusion. Our Western values are what Nietzsche terms “shadows of gods”. Remove the Christian foundation, and the values go too.
True, values like equal dignity and equal rights will persist for a period out of sheer unthinking habit. But their influence will erode. Consider the example of secular Europe. Secularization has been occurring in Europe for well over a century, and for a while it seemed as if the decline of Christianity would have no effect on Western morality or Western social institutions. Yet if Nietzsche is right we would expect to see the decline of Christianity also result, over time, in the decline of one of the great legacies of Christianity, the nuclear family. We would expect to see high rates of divorce and births out of wedlock. And that is what we do see. Secular trends in America have produced the same results, which are not as advanced in America because Christianity has not eroded as much here as it has in Europe.
As secularism continues, Nietzsche forecasts that new values radically inconsistent with the Christian ones – the restoration of infanticide, demands for radical redefinition of the family, the revival of eugenic theories of human superiority – will begin to emerge. These, too, are evident in our day. And they are some of the motives for attacking Christianity and insisting that its values are outmoded and should be replaced.
Unfortunately for the critics of Christianity, even the values care about will, according to Nietzsche, eventually collapse. Consider our beliefs in human equality and the value of human life. We may say we believe in human equality, but why do we hold this belief? It is product of the Christian idea of the spiritual equality of souls. We may insist we believe that all human life has dignity and value, but this, too, is the outgrowth of a Christian tradition in which each person is the precious creation of God. There is no secular basis for these values, and when secular writers defend them they always employ unrecognized Christian assumptions.
In sum, the death of Christianity must also mean the gradual extinction of values such as human dignity, the right against torture, and the rights of equal treatment asserted by women, minorities, and the poor. Do we want to give these up also? If we cherish the distinctive ideals of Western Christianity, and believe as I do that they have enormously benefited our civilization and the world, then whatever our religious convictions, and even if we have none, we will not rashly try to hack at the religious roots from which they spring. On the contrary, we will not hesitate to acknowledge, not only privately but also publicly, the central role that Christianity has played and still plays in the things that matter to us.
I have to say I couldn’t agree more with D’Souza here. Europeans have been swayed by all sorts of different ideologies that are fundamentally contrary to Christian beliefs over the last century with disastrous consequences. If the current trend of secularization continues in Europe, I fear for its future. Europe will be a far worse place without Christianity.