In Defense of Nietzsche: Reading Nietzsche for Edification as a Christian; by Bob Kovacs

This is a response to a recent article in Commonweal.

FN [Friederich Nietzsche]  was on the Index of Forbidden Books. Very naughty.  Written as a flamethrower, the “errors” in FN are Legion: God-is-dead, atheism, amorality & immorality. Selfishness and self-centered-ness. The Ubermensch or Overman, Super-Man, later picked up by the Nazis. Gee, is this a thinker that we can really cozy up to?

When I first read FN as an undergrad at the School of Philosophy at CUA, we went over the above menu of uglies, but what we were all taught as most irksome about him was his lack of system. Obviously we were all supposed to be good little scholastic Aristotelian-Thomists, but our historic survey had to include the modern and post-modern Germans: Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Wittgenstein. The great idealists got increasingly strange, but at least you had the feeling that their difficulty was the reader’s fault; if only I’d worked harder and closer and paid attention better, maybe I could crack what their projects.

Contrariwise, somewhere in there was FN.

Okay, there is much to be upset about: the whole God question, the moral issues, the individual self, the “I” as primary. A suspicion against rationality, and a real thrust towards irrationality, the primacy of the emotions, rebellion against and hatred of any “teachings” or systems.

The writing though is so good.  It’s obviously not the Liturgy of the Hours or Scripture, but as a bedside book a page or two of FN at random will reliably yield pleasure, albeit a somewhat guilty pleasure.

The mis-readings and abuses of FN by the Nazis aren’t his fault. (Intellectually, are we really going to attempt a deep analysis of so-called “Nazi philosophy”?) And in our own day, Ayn Rand was immensely popular and her books are still all in print. But isn’t her philosophy of selfishness, “objectivism”, another, almost equally entertaining version of the Ubermensch? Zarathustra, meet Howard Roark. John Galt, all too human?

I am not advocating turning to FN as a guide. I recommend against requiring him in high school. Even in college the writings should be approached with caution. His falsehoods and untruths should be identified and called out.

Remember, epics begin as myths, wisdom and Scripture come from stories, art is supposed to enlighten us, even melodrama and best-sellers can point us to truth or God. It’s not just that FN is fun to read, it’s that his mad rantings aren’t so mad, and his rantings are frequently reasoned and, like good stand-up comedy, observational in nature. Compare, the Brit who bothers to consciously reject God and then struggles to re-build exactly the same morality. Or the German (Prussian) who can focus only on obedience and technology and militarism. Among opera fans the Wagnerians are their own cult, but didn’t FN dive right into that mess right at the time, when the follow-up work to the The Ring was the explicitly Christian Parsifal?

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Introduction and Welcome by Robert Kovacs to A Basselin’s Reflections

These are hard times to be Catholic.

The scandals and sad failures of leadership would be enough. The issues that we’re known for have become part of the tiresome noise of the culture wars: “what is it about Catholics and sex, Catholics and homosexuality? Abortion?” In some circles we’re seen as ignorant and backward. Are Catholics “allowed” to believe in evolution? Have we heard about the Big Bang?

It is in this context that Otto Piechowski’s new project is so welcome.

Many many years ago he and I were Basselin Fellows at the School of Philosophy at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  After graduation I went to law school and am now a trial attorney. Otto continued his philosophical and theological studies, has taught, and has written and published a number of textbooks.

Throughout history we’ve seen the effects, both good and bad, of various theories of government and society. As modern Americans not only are we exposed to so many “ism’s” but in a democratic spirit of openness we’re also required to respect and listen to and consider so many different teachings.

As Christians and specifically as Catholics, we are part of a community that is two thousand years old. Moreover, as Pope John XXIII said, “spiritually we are all Jews”, so our roots go back even further. We have an intellectual patrimony from the pre-historic world, through the Greek and Roman empires, and through the Middle Ages. The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment are also part our history, and, believe it or not, so too are the ages of science and the Industrial Revolution. Some of those times were tense; maybe we weren’t always in the right. But I do promise that we’ve learned, and we’re moving forward. Christ, in founding the Church, promised His protection, even until the end of time. The Catholic Church, as the people of God, is to lead “all people of good will”, back to God and perfection.

I have big hopes for Otto’s discussions as this forum launches, and pray for its success and fruitfulness.

[Copyright, © Robert J. Kovacs, Esq., Roseland NJ, March 13, 2014. ]

Introduction and Welcome by Msgr. Roger Scheckel to A Basselin’s Reflections

In his Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger considers the critical decision that was required in the early days of Christianity and the Church as to which God the Christian Faith would embrace: those gods worshiped by the pagans or the God of the philosophers? Ratzinger, who eventually became Pope Benedict XVI states: “Wherever the question arose to which god the Christian God corresponded, Zeus perhaps or Hermes or Dionysus or some other god, the answer ran: to none of them.  To none of the gods to whom you pray but solely and alone to him to whom you do not pray, to that highest being of whom your philosophers speak.  The early Church resolutely put aside the whole of it as deceit and illusion, and explained its faith by saying: When we say God, we do not mean or worship any of this; we mean only Being itself, what the philosophers have exposed as the ground of all being, as the God above all powers – that alone is our God.” Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger, Herder and Herder, New York, 1971 pp. 94-95.

Otto Piechowski is a serious thinker.  I know this from having studied philosophy with him at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. from 1975 -78.  Along with being a serious thinker he is also a serious disciple of Jesus Christ.  By creating this blog, Otto has taken up a most important and serious discussion, a discussion that took place in the earliest days of the Church and in every age that has followed – a discussion that considers the unique Being that is God.  It is a discussion that will involve serious reasoning that is philosophical as well as a passionate love that is theological.

I pray that this blog will have success and that those who read and post on it, will grow in their knowledge of and love for God, the absolute ground of all being.

Monsignor Roger J. Scheckel

A Catholic Priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin