Nietzsche, the cross, and the nature of God

Heythrop Journal 48 (2):243–259 (2007)
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Abstract

In this essay, I treat of a type of moral objection to Christian theism that is formulated by Friedrich Nietzsche. In an effort to provoke a negative moral‐aesthetic response to the conception of God underlying the Christian tradition, with the ultimate aim of recommending his own allegedly ‘healthier’ ideals, Nietzsche presents a number of distinct but related considerations. In particular, he claims that the traditional theological interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus expresses the tasteless, vulgar, and morally objectionable character of God, thus rendering Him unworthy of belief. In response to Nietzsche's worries, I first of all argue that his account of the origins of the belief in God is both prima facie implausible and historically false. At the same time I recognize that Nietzsche is expressing, in his typically bombastic manner, a genuine and widely held worry about what the crucifixion, as an event in salvation history, says about the nature of God. In response to this worry, I draw on the work of Wilhelm Dilthey in order to support the contention that the concept of divine transcendence, which underlies Nietzsche's concern, has its proper place within the Greek metaphysical tradition, rather than in Christian faith. Building on the work of Franz Rosenzweig and Jürgen Moltmann, I outline a conception of God that more accurately reflects the claim that the cross is the definitive revelation of the divine nature while at the same time foreclosing on the possibility of the kind of response that Nietzsche articulates.

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