Part III: God is dead
Friedrich Nietzsche’s view on ‘God is dead’
What Nietzsche diagnosed with a provocative and famous formula: “God is dead” is at the heart of his work ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ and is about the consequences of secularisation, the slow but apparently unavoidable reflux of the Christian religion and of its influence, in European societies of the late nineteenth century. The Gay Science In fact, Nietzsche evoked the death of God already in the Gay Science, a year before him beginning to write ‘Zarathustra’. So, let’s have a close look at Aphorism No.125 of the Gay Science, entitled “The madman”:
The madman. — Haven’t you heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the marketplace crying incessantly, “I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!” Since many of those who did not believe in God were standing around together just then, he caused great laughter. “Has he been lost, then?” asked one. “Did he lose his way like a child?” asked another. “Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone to sea? Emigrated?” — Thus they shouted and laughed, one interrupting the other. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Where is God?’ he cried; “I’ll tell you! We have killed him – you and I! We are all his murderers. But how did we do this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving to now? Where are we moving to? Away from all suns? Are we not continually falling? And backwards, sidewards, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an up and a down? Aren’t we straying as though through an infinite nothing? Isn’t empty space breathing at us? Hasn’t it got colder? Isn’t night and more night coming again and again? Don’t lanterns have to be lit in the morning? Do we still hear nothing of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we still smell nothing of the divine decomposition? — Gods, too, decompose! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How can we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers! The holiest and the mightiest thing the world has ever possessed has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood from us? With what water could we clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what holy games will we have to invent for ourselves? Is the magnitude of this deed not too great for us? Do we not ourselves have to become gods merely to appear worthy of it? There was never a greater deed — and whoever is born after us will on account of this deed belong to a higher history than all history up to now!” Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; they too were silent and looked at him disconcertedly. Finally he threw his lantern on the ground so that it broke into pieces and went out. “I come too early”, he then said; “my time is not yet.” This tremendous event is still on its way, wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder need time; the light of the stars needs time; deeds need time, even after they are done, in order to be seen and heard. This deed is still more remote to them than the remotest stars – and yet they have done it themselves!’ It is still recounted how on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there started singing his requiem aeternam deo.Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but, “What then are these churches now, if not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”[i]
This text is of course a parody of the gospel: it is not an angel who comes to announce the good news – the coming of the messiah – but a madman, who announces the news of the death of God. This text contains several essential theses: the death of God, the fact that these men are the murderers, the fact that these men are not even worthy of the act they perpetrated and, finally, the fact that this death has unforeseen repercussions; indeed it triggers a shockwave and humanity is just beginning to feel its first effects.
God is dead. But what kind of God is dead? The Christian God or the God of Christianity; a religion that according to Nietzsche devalues life. Nietzsche is not against any form of religion or religiosity: to him religion is one of those necessary illusions, one of the typically human inventions that help to live. The problem for Nietzsche is that, in his eyes, Christianity promotes a negative, oppressive form of life. That’s why he rejects it. But, he is willing to adhere to more positive forms of religion – such as ancient polytheism or, in some respects, such as Buddhism or Hinduism. And we will see that his doctrine of the Eternal Return is entirely related to a new belief that he would like to inculcate the coming humanity.
God is dead, announces the fool in the aphorism 125, because mankind has killed him. How to understand this assertion? It is first, on the part of Nietzsche, a twofold statement:
- first, a sociological statement. With modernity (industrial and political), the effects of which are particularly felt in the second half of the nineteenth century, the religious as structuring principle undeniably loses authority. So the slogan of “The death of God” refers, as I have already suggested, to the process of secularization of European societies that Nietzsche has witnessed so to speak;
- secondly, it’s also a philosophical observation. Many philosophers, especially since the Enlightenment, have taken note and have, by their work and their reflections, contributed to this secularization.
Thus, the Christian God has become, to Nietzsche, an object of study, philosophical, philological, historical and an object of antiquity. On this subject, in aphorism 113 in ‘Human, All Too Human’, Nietzsche expresses with some irony his disbelief at the persistence of a belief that seems to him totally anachronistic:
Christianity an antiquity. When on Sunday we hear the bells ringing we ask ourselves: is it possible! This is going on because of a Jew crucified 2000 years ago who said he was the son of God. The proof of such an assertion is lacking. — In the context of our age the Christian religion is certainly a piece of antiquity intruding out of distant ages past, and that the above-mentioned assertion is believed – while one is otherwise so rigorous in the testing of claims — is perhaps the most ancient piece of this inheritance. A god who begets children on a mortal woman; a sage who calls upon us no longer to work, no longer to sit in judgment, but to heed the signs of the imminent end of the world; a justice which accepts an innocent man as a substitute sacrifice; someone who bids his disciples drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sin perpetrated against a god atoned for by a god; fear of a Beyond to which death is the gateway; the figure of the Cross as a symbol in an age which no longer knows the meaning and shame of the Cross — how gruesomely all this is wafted to us, as if out of the grave of a primeval past! Can one believe that things of this sort are still believed in?[ii]
In short, a double observation: sociological and philosophical. But Nietzsche not only takes note of the death of God, he seeks – secondly– the causes. The first cause, which seems rather obvious, is the progress of science, and the dissolving, disenchanting effect of its rational model of explanation of the world. The science which circumscribes ever more the part of mystery. Nietzsche thus speaks of a “scientific atheism” (in Gay Science Aphorism 357). Nevertheless, this is not the main cause, because in the end, belief, according to Nietzsche, is not an affair of scientific knowledge or ignorance, it is above all an affair of need. One can have learned from the discoveries of science and still be believer; as we can be ignorant of these discoveries and be atheist. We must therefore look for the cause elsewhere. In fact, for Nietzsche, the death of God is inherent in Christianity itself. First, Christianity is the victim of its own claim to hold the truth, to nurture an ideal of knowledge, an absolute, an ideal of transparency and morality; in the end, “the lie of belief in God” couldn’t not to be unmasked (says Nietzsche in Gay Science, aphorism 357). Next, Christianity is a carrier of nihilism: it produces mediocre individuals, so cowardly, that they end up not wanting to submit to the prescriptions of a God who seems to them too demanding. Finally, Nietzsche suggests, we have the God we deserve. Hence this crowd of individuals who no longer believe in God, whom we meet in the aphorism 125 of the Gay Science (see above); and of course in the Zarathustra — it’s the crowd that Zarathustra will try to convert, without success, to the ideal of the Superman. To believe or not to believe is not the discriminating criterion for Nietzsche between a superstitious humanity, therefore inferior, and an enlightened and therefore superior humanity. There are petty, mean-spirited, vulgar atheists, and profligate believers, generous and valiant. The atheism of his contemporaries is for Nietzsche the mark of a spiritual laziness, of physiological exhaustion, of creative helplessness. It is this mediocrity, which prevents the birth of new great illusions. And life needs illusions to prosper. Without beautiful and great illusions, and without the strength to believe in it, to adhere to it, one is poured quickly into a kind of indifference, relativism, cynicism. And that is what Nietzsche fears: that cynicism and nihilism become the dominant moral traits of future Humanity.
This brings us to the third thesis contained in the aphorism 125 of Gay Science, men are not worthy of the act they perpetrated. And here we find the typical Nietzschean touch of inversion of valuations. This assassination is not an act of heroism, it is an act of cowardice. Finally, the truly grandiose act is that of creation, not that of the death of God. Men are also compared in an unflattering way to “gravediggers”: an image that suggests anonymous, obscure actions at dusk of the night. We find this image of “gravediggers” especially in the Zarathustra (§8 and 9 of the Prologue); where gravediggers dig the grave of a tightrope walker who has been falling from his rope into the empty space, a funambulist who symbolizes the superior man, the artist, who has the courage to take risks, even at the risk of one’s life. Gravediggers dig, but what are they capable of building or rebuilding? This is obviously the crucial question. Nietzsche places us before the historical alternative: nihilism or renewal of values.
The fourth thesis contained in aphorism 125 of Gay Science concerns the scope of the event. An idea that Nietzsche repeats in different texts; for example, in aphorism 108 of Gay Science. He changes God, this time it is Buddha, but the idea remains the same:
New battles. After Buddha was dead, they still showed his shadow in a cave for centuries – a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way people are, there may still for millennia be caves in which they show his shadow. And we – we must still defeat his shadow as well! [iii]
Here we find the idea that the death of God is an event that is part of the very long span of time of human history and that there is a huge time lag between an act, especially if it is large, and the perception of this act — (let alone the appreciation of this act). The cognitive and cultural upheaval caused by this event requires relearning, a new perception, a new form of appreciative understanding, new habits; in short, a profound cultural change (makes me think of the Crucial Dialogue Model, a lemniscate based on Creative Interchange). All this takes a lot, a very lot of time.
Let’s go back to a portion of aphorism 125 of Gay Science:
“This tremendous event is still on its way, wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder need time; the light of the stars needs time; deeds need time, even after they are done, in order to be seen and heard.”
We note in passing that Nietzsche likes to formulate his ideas with emphasis to produce dramatic effects. This pathos has no doubt helped to establish his reputation as a visionary philosopher. Still, behind the desire to impress the reader, there is in these passages, let’s recognize it, a powerful intuition that has proved to be accurate, when one takes a retrospective look at the 135 years that separate us from Gay Science and Zarathustra. This is what the sociology of religion teaches us in the last twenty years or so. Undeniably, European societies have become secularized, but nothing is not settled so far. On the one hand, sociologists of religion agree to talk about a redevelopment of the religious, and no longer of a reflux; on the other hand, the famous religious exit is endlessly payed by a prize: social and political blockages. It seems not so easy to find new forms of social organization entirely secularized, as it is not obvious to find an orientation in existence disconnected from all transcendence. Moving from a millennial heteronomy to a radical autonomy requires a process of cessation, which can only be slow and chaotic.
In this sense, the shadow of God continues to hover over Europe, as predicted Nietzsche in the Gay Science (especially in the aphorism 343). In this aphorism, Nietzsche points out a paradox created by the news of the death of God.
[…] — Why is it that even we look forward to this darkening without any genuine involvement and above all without worry and fear for ourselves? Are we perhaps still not too influenced by the most immediate consequences of this event – and these immediate consequences, the consequences for ourselves, are the opposite of what one might expect – not at all sad and gloomy, but much more like a new and barely describable type of light, happiness, relief, amusement, encouragement, dawn . . . [iv]
What Nietzsche describes here is a paradoxical reaction following the death of God: on the one hand, of course, the feeling is intoxicating, galvanizing with an unheard, unprecedented liberation; we have all reasons to rejoice wholeheartedly the death of the old Christian God; on the other hand, a form of unconsciousness, carelessness that could have serious consequences. For the space liberated will have to be occupied. The horizon that has been erased will have to be redrawn in one way or another.
The philosopher, the free spirit, can feel an exaltation, a joy (the famous ‘Heiterkeit’ — Nietzsche uses the word later in the text) and nurture some confidence in his abilities to find a new direction, new cardinal points on the “vast sea” which now opens before him; remains that humanity is not just constituted by free spirits – far from it. And that’s where the concern comes up. And this anxiety, the madman of aphorism 125 expresses it with clairvoyance; ironically, a demented person who sees crystal clear. Remember: “Where are we moving to? Away from all suns? Are we not continually falling? And backwards, sidewards, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an up and a down? Aren’t we straying as though through an infinite nothing? Isn’t empty space breathing at us? “ “An infinite nothingness,” says the madman.
The question of nihilism is central in Nietzsche’s philosophy (Nihil est: it’s “nothing”, in Latin, nihilism; it’s not believing in anything, in any value). It is essential to clarify Nietzsche’s position because the claim that Nietzsche is a nihilist philosopher is certainly one of the biggest misunderstandings of the history of philosophy. So, is Nietzsche a nihilist philosopher? The very term “Nihilismus” appears abundantly in Nietzsche’s texts, especially in unpublished fragments, written from the years 1885, 86, 87 and 88, therefore rather late. In a fragment of 1887 precisely, Nietzsche gives the following definition of nihilism: “Nihilism: the goal is lacking; the answer to ‘why?’ is missing. What nihilism? the fact that supreme values are devalued.” So nihilism is a loss of meaning, of references; as if the transmission is not done, or better, is no longer done, between individuals, mind, body, and ideals external to them. A loss of adequacy. The cause of this loss of orientation is that the highest values of the culture concerned are weakened, devalued. They lost their motivation power.
To understand this idea, one must understand what a value is for Nietzsche. Values are not disembodied moral and intellectual constructions. Of course, they exist outside individuals, pre-exist, and survive, but they have a reality only if they are incarnated, carried, by persons, or institutions, social and cultural practices. They are literally “incorporated” (“einverleibt” says Nietzsche – same lexical and semantic construction – inserted inside the body). Values are preferences that engage us, our minds, our bodies (Nietzsche does not separate the two) with the strength of evidence, often in a unconscious way, which make us make choices and shape our existence in a particular way. Another element of definition: values, which are necessarily plural, are not isolated from each other, but organized at the individual level and at the collective level, in a structured and hierarchical way (“Rangordnung”). They form ‘leveled’ systems; with dominant, superior, primordial values and less important, subordinate values. This hierarchical organization of values produces, at the individual level, particular human types; and at the collective level, particular types of culture. These ‘leveled’ systems are bound to, sometimes over very long periods (for example in Christian Europe: over 2000 years), evolve or even to decline, to lose their power of regulation.
And how is this loss of authority of values translated? On one hand, by a lag, a discord, disharmony between these values and the goals that they set, and on the other hand, the instinctive organization of individuals (the way in which they have incorporated these values), their strengths, their aptitudes. From the moment individuals no longer recognize the motivating and constraining power and persuasion of values, those lose their credibility and individuals no longer adhere to them. So much for the general process of devaluation of values and disaffection vis-à-vis of them, proper to nihilism.
But, and this is where Nietzsche’s approach is original, this lag is not always harmful. In fact, there are, according to Nietzsche, two types of nihilism: active nihilism and passive nihilism. Passive nihilism, the one Nietzsche fears and fights, is due to physiological and spiritual exhaustion of individuals for whom cultural ideals become inaccessible. They no longer believe in these ideals, feel a feeling of fatigue and emptiness. They no longer have the will to meet the requirements set by the higher values of their culture. Let me quote Nietzsche, still in this fragment of 1887:
“Nihilism as a decline and regression of the power of the mind is passive nihilism. It’s a sign of weakness: the strength of the spirit is so tired, exhausted, so that the goals and values until then so prevalent are nowadays inappropriate, inadequate and no longer believed in.” And these values that individuals can not honorably honour any more end up appearing to them not only subjectively but also objectively inappropriate, artificial, and ultimately inconsistent.
The speculative audacity of Nietzsche, perhaps his imprudence, drives him to consider his analyzes on very large scales: he does not hesitate to speak of European nihilism. For him, European culture (which includes Russia) is unified by Christianity and suffers as a whole from nihilism. He sees signs, for his century, in the literature, of German romantics, to the novels of Tolstoy, passing by the poetry of Leopardi, Baudelaire or the Flaubert’s novels – all presenting symptoms of decadence (feeling of distress, weakness of the will, pessimism and disenchanted dilettantism). Nihilism is thus a slow process of cultural decomposition produced by two thousand years of Christianity. Nietzsche’s epoch is an advanced form, but not yet completed. This decomposition may well become worse in the future: “What I’m telling is [in fact] the story of the next two centuries,” he writes in 1887.
Beside this passive nihilism, there is an active nihilism. Discrepancy, specific to nihilism in general, between dominant social values and organization. Individual drive can be a chance, the symptom of something great who is preparing, the symptom of a renewal: the fact that the supreme values can no longer find credit from individuals can be the sign, not of exhaustion of those, who would no longer live up to the ideals consecrated, but on the contrary, a strength, independence, creativity, on the part of individuals who no longer find fulfillment for the purposes set by the value system of a given culture, who consider these goals, these ideals as henceforth unproductive, infertile. Let me, once more, quote Nietzsche: “Nihilism as a sign of increased power of the mind: as active nihilism. It can be a sign of strength: the strength of the spirit has been able to increase. So that the goals set so far (“convictions”, articles of faith) are no longer to his measure.”
I think we can now answer the question: Is Nietzsche a nihilist philosopher? If we take the term “nihilist” in its most common sense (Someone who no longer believes in anything, does not have the taste to action anymore, or when acting he/she is moved by death instincts), Nietzsche is the opposite of a nihilist philosopher. What can be said, on the other hand, is that he is a philosopher who theorizes ‘Nihilism’, and that in his theoretical scheme he identifies an active nihilism, a “good” nihilism, that is to say an aptitude, a force capable to get rid of old values and to establish new ones. In this sense, and in this sense only, we can say that Nietzsche is a nihilist philosopher. So one has to be very careful with this formulation. Now, we are able to better understand what “the death of God” means to Nietzsche. This death is not a theological question (whether one can prove the existence or not of God); it has something to do with the weakening of Western culture, the fading of its cardinal values, those which were put in the spotlight by Christianity for nearly twenty centuries: love of neighbor, charity, pity, the ideals of chastity, purity, disinterestedness, truth, justice, kindness. In his Zarathustra, Nietzsche will continue his criticism of Christian values, and call for a creative, transformational and evaluative surge to a renewal of Western values.
Thus spoke Zarathustra: genesis of the work
Nietzsche’s Zarathustra strucks the minds, unquestionably, and inspired many artists, writers, and even politicians. This success is due to the undeniable originality of this work.
First, originality of the form: absolutely atypical form, which detonates and in Nietzsche’s production, and in the history of philosophy. Here is a succession of sermons, speeches, and parables, given by a character, for the least eccentric, a prophet from whom one does not know where. A philosophical poem written in a language saturated with images and metaphors. It is not entirely clear whether it is a pastiche, a parody or an absolutely serious text. It is a work that is philosophical but deliberately breaks with the Western philosophical tradition based on rational demonstrations, well-constructed reasoning, a well-argued language. Secondly, the singularity of this work also lies at the heart itself, the themes it addresses and the motives, the concepts it introduces: the death of God, the superhuman (the famous “Übermensch”), the transmutation of values, the eternal return … So many concepts that are original, intriguing and disconcerting, which gives Nietzsche’s work a special aura. This work is finally singular by the megalomaniac goal it pursues. Nietzsche’s ambition is indeed to provoke a cultural and civilizational change by re-educating old Europe and winning it to new values, substituting to Christian morality an “active immoralism”. This book is according to Nietzsche “the first book of the reversal of all values.” (“Das erste Buch der Umwertung Werte”)
Nietzsche himself has not lost any praise for his work. You should read the pages of his autobiography Ecce Homo which are devoted to Zarathustra. To our delight, it must be admitted, he does not bother with false modesty: “My Zarathustra has a special place for me in my writings. With it, I have given humanity the greatest gift it has ever received.” [v]Or again: “[My book, Zarathustra] cuts the history of humanity into two pieces. One lives before him, one lives after him.” [vi]The reference to Jesus and to Christianity is obvious. Just as Jesus inaugurated a new era, there is a before and after Christ, Nietzsche claims to embody a new break and a new beginning in the history of humanity.
By the way, who is Zarathustra? Zarathustra is Zoroaster, a character whose existence is historically attested, a priest of the god Mazda. In the religion of Mazdeism. He founded his own religion – so-called Zoroastrianism. He would have lived, somewhere between the 10th and 6th centuries BC, in Persia, in a part of present-day Iran, or perhaps Uzbekistan or Afghanistan. We will not go into the details of his doctrine; what matters is what Nietzsche decides to retain from it. Nietzsche retains two main ideas: First, Zoroaster is the founder of a moral dualism. He develops a doctrine where Good and Evil appear as two poles who determine everything that happens in the universe.The whole philosophy of Nietzsche is certainly opposed to this dualism, but precisely, Nietzsche’s rather brilliant idea is that it is up to Zoroaster to deny his own doctrine, to break the tables of his own laws, of some sort, and to found a new world order. I quote: “Zarathustra created this most fateful of errors, morality: consequently he must also be the first to recognize it as such.”[vii]
And, second idea, Zoroaster has for this a rare and indispensable quality: truthfulness says Nietzsche (“Wahrhaftigkeit”). The ability to see clearly in one’s own intentions, not to be deluded, to show intellectual courage: veracity. According to Nietzsche, it is the antidote to idealism.
Let us add that Nietzsche is certainly seduced by the strength of a man capable of imposing his own vision of the world, his own moral doctrine to his contemporaries, able to found a religion – he is fascinated by the founders, the “legislators” as he says. He is fascinated at bottom by their will to power; and then he is also seduced by Eastern religions, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, which are not religions of capital sin and fault. So, for once, we stay in the horizon of Christian culture with Zarathoustra (and we must confess that this association of a Persian prophet and Christian themes sometimes gives an impression of kitsch). There are many references to the Bible, places familiar to the Christian reader (for example, the Mount of Olives), ritual formulations, the very form of the text, made of sermons, prayers, allegorical stories … remind us of the Bible. The fact that Zarathustra speaks to his ‘folowers’ or to disciples, even if he urges them to emancipate themselves; even if he refuses to be held for a prophet, for a guru, all this obviously recalls the figure of Jesus and his apostles. Nietzsche has also described his work as “the fifth gospel” (Letter to his publisher 13.02.1883). And indeed, Zarathustra brings good news, a gospel. In this case the death of God and the coming of the Superhuman; the Superhuman being not a Messiah, a single God, but, let us say it immediately: “humanity in what it has the best.”
A word on the biographical context of the writing of Zarathustra. The Zarathustra revolves around three main ideas or concepts: death of God, the superhuman and the eternal return. (this part of this essay and the next two). According to Nietzsche, it was the idea of eternal return that gave the decisive impetus to the work. This idea would suddenly come to him, as an inspiration, on a summer day when he was walking around Lake Silvaplana near the village of Sils-Maria, Switzerland. Nietzsche reports the episode in Ecce Homo, with, as always, a keen sense of the staging:
Now I will tell the history of Zarathustra. The basic idea of the work, the thought of eternal return, the highest possible formula of affirmation -, belongs to August of the year 1881: it was thrown onto paper with the title ‘6,000 feet beyond people and time’. That day I went through the woods to the lake of Silvaplana [Engadin, between St. Moritz and Sils-Maria];I stopped near Surlei by a huge, pyramidal boulder. That is where this thought came to me. [viii]
But Nietzsche does not start writing the Zarathustra yet. What occupies him in 1881 and 1882 is the Gay Science, a work that contains some warning signs of Zarathustra: §125, which we presented “The Madman”; § 341, entitled “The most heavy weight” and which states the idea of eternal return and § 342, entitled “Incipit tragoedia” – “tragedy begins”, which is the last paragraph of book 4 of Gay Science, and which contains only a few words. The Incipit of Zarathustra: this text is about the decision of Zarathustra to return among men and teach them the superhuman. Nietzsche will write his Zarathustra in stages, in four parts, written between January 1883 and January 1885, while in different places, Genoa, Rapallo, Rome, Sils-Maria, Menton and Nice. He does not have a clear vision of the overall composition: he even thinks that he must stop after the first part; then, after the first three parts, he plans to resume everything to zero; the fourth part will be refused by its publisher; Nietzsche will publish it in forty copies at his own expense. Later, he will even consider a 5th or 6th part. He will, in any case, oppose the publication of the four parts in one set – and that is yet the version we have today. The Zarathustra is therefore an unfinished work. Which is finally in adequacy with its subject: the superhuman is a promise open on the future, a path – steep – without a predefined goal, it is an “arrow” that we draw, says Nietzsche.
The important biographical fact that forms the backdrop of Zarathoustra is his meeting at the end of April 1882, in Rome, with Lou Salome. “What stars did we fall to meet us?” He would have asked her at their first meeting, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Nietzsche was in fact in Rome in the spring of 1882, at the invitation of the two friends with whom he had stayed in Sorrento a few years earlier: Malwida von Meysenbug and Paul Rée. Lou is a Russian girl in her twenties, who moved from Russia with her mother, after the death of her father who was a general, to Zurich to study. And then, because of health problems, she was recommended an extended stay under a more favorable climate, a Mediterranean climate. It is in Rome that she comes into contact with the circle of Malwida. Malwida and Paul Rée, who is also present, are immediately conquered, subjugated by the exceptional intellectual maturity of the young woman. Paul falls in love with her immediately. And both Malwida and Paul are convinced that Lou is the right sparring partner To Nietzsche, since she is, like him, a Free Spirit.Nietzsche responds to the invitation, his curiosity is stoked by the praise of the young woman that his friends make in their mail and he goes to Rome. And indeed he too will fall in love with Lou. He does not hesitate to ask her to marry him. Twice even – requests that the young woman rejects. Never mind, so that their intellectual complicity can continue to grow and flourish, Lou, Paul and Friedrich consider forming an intellectual household of three, a community of work and studies. They think about Paris, Vienna. I pass the details: it will not succeed. Worse, relations will quickly fester between Nietzsche and his two friends, Lou and Paul. Nietzsche developing jealousy regarding Paul and suspecting Paul and Lou of getting along behind his back and betray their three-way community project. What is certain, Nietzsche’s sister, who had the opportunity to meet Lou during the summer, in Germany and who did not like her at all, played a harmful role in this story, whispering in her brother’s ear that Lou would have publicly suggested that he was suffering from a form of madness. The episode, in any case, will leave traces, all the more profound. The hopes Nietzsche had placed in this relationship, perhaps in a rather candid and precipitated way, were great. It is this terrible disappointment that he confesses to his friend Overbeck in a letter of December 1883 (6.12.1883): “The real misfortune of this year and last year was the fact that I thought I had found a being who had exactly the same mission as me. If I had not believed that too quickly, I would not have suffered and would not suffer at this point a feeling of extreme loneliness, as I did and as I do: because I am and I was prepared to complete my journey of discovery alone. But as soon as I had once dreamed of not being alone, the danger was frightening. There are still hours today when I do not know how to support myself.”
The disappointment, the difficulty of making lasting contact with one’s surroundings, the feeling that he will have to carry out alone his philosophical enterprise, undoubtedly constitute the biographical and existential of Zarathustra. At Overbeck, still writing his book in February 1883, he writes: “This book […] is a bit like my testament. It contains an image of my being (“ein Bild meines Wesens”), perfectly clear, and shows what it looks like as soon as I manage to put down my whole burden.” (10.02.1883).
The prologue: Zarathustra descends into the valley
Let’s go back into the work. Does this work have a unity, is there a common thread? Not really. The plot is very tenuous. The book starts when Zarathustra decides to leave the loneliness of his mountain and to go in front of men to lavish his wisdom on them. Men are indifferent to what Zarathustra wants to teach them and he chooses to address himself only to a small number of disciples, whom he often calls “Brüder”, my “brothers”. The main subject is formed by the speeches of Zarathustra; his teaching. We’ve already said that this teaching consists of parables, sermons, oscillating between imprecations and exhortations. On several occasions, tired of his teaching, Zarathustra returns to his loneliness and holds a monologue. Zarathustra’s speeches are in reality self-sufficient. These are style exercises on a particular theme, for example: on moral preachers, on the deniers of the body, on chastity, on charity, on new idols (state, nation), on egalitarian ideals, on war, on marriage and on friendship. Topics that affect, in fact, the organization of society in its moral and institutional dimension. And then there are amazing encounters, for example, in Book IV: with an old magician, a Pope, a sad devine, a shadow, a volunteer beggar and even a donkey … Is there a progression through these discourses? Very light. We can consider that the third book forms the heart of the book, with the revelation of the eternal return. Is there an outcome? Not really. As we have said, Nietzsche had even thought of writing a sequel, a 5th or even a 6th part. The superhuman does not appear, because it’s not the messiah, it’s more of a process, a tension, an attempt, than a clearly determined goal.
I have presented so far the four books that make up Zarathustra; the prologue must be added. The prologue is composed of 10 small chapters that condense the essence of Zarathustra. Ultimately, if only one part of the book were to be read, that would be this prologue. Everything is there: the death of God, the superhuman, the eternal return, the last men, etcetera. On top of that, the text is very pleasant to read, lively, a true narrative (the only true narrative of the book, by the way), organized around a plot – which intrigues Zarathustra in miniature: Zarathustra’s attempt to convert the inhabitants of a small town with the superhuman ideal and his decision, in the face of its failure, to address his teaching only to a few disciples.
So, I propose to present in what folows several excerpts from the prologue.
1st excerpt: These are the very first lines of ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ (I specify that I made some cuts).
“When Zarathustra had reached his thirtieth year, he left his home and the lake of his home and went into the mountain. Here he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not tire of it. But at last his heart transformed, – and one morning, he arose with the dawn, stepped before the sun and spoke thus to it: “O great star! What would your happiness be, if you had not those for whom you shine? For ten years you have come up here to my cave: You would have tired of your light and of this route without me, my eagle and my snake. But we awaited you every morning, we took your overflow form you and we blessed you for it. Behold! I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that has gathered too much honey. I need hands that reach out. I want to bestow and distribute until the wise among human beings have once again enjoyed their folly, and the poor once again their wealth. For this I must descend into the depths […] Zarathustra wants to become human again.” – Thus began Zarathustra’s going under.”[ix]
So, let’s try to explain this passage. It is difficult at first not to guess autobiographical motives behind the frame of the narrative. A lake, a mountain, a stateless person: these are the living conditions of Nietzsche himself for several years. Zarathustra descends to his fellow men at forty; this is Nietzsche’s age when he composes his work. Beyond biographical comparisons, there is of course a symbolism, which goes beyond Nietzsche’s person. Zarathustra retired to solitude at age 30 about the same age Jesus exercised his teaching before being sentenced to death. For 10 years, Zarathustra will meditate on the death of God. Zarathustra appears here as a worshiper of the sun: facing the sun, he experiences a feeling of happiness, gratitude, overflow of life. It is a form of paganism assumed, joyful and dispenser: his happiness must be shared. The sun is also a kind of metonymy, midday, the sun at its zenith, who comes back every day, eternally – so from the beginning of the book an allusion to the doctrine of eternal return. The serpent and the eagle, the two animals of Zarathustra, symbolize the earth and the heaven, the bodily and the spiritual, the sensible and the intelligible. The two aspects are not mutually exclusive; they complement each other, without one prevailing over the other.Zarathustra’s paganism is directed against the dualism of Western culture, and in particular the Platonic dualism which is based on a series of oppositions, the second term being each time devalued: intelligible vs. sensitive, know vs. opinion, spirit vs. body, being vs. phenomenon, etcetera. By praising madness (Zarathustra says “wise men must become again happy with their madness “), Zarathustra engages a criticism of conformism and rationalism; and while in Matthew’s gospel, the poor are rewarded the Kingdom of Heaven, it is here below that it must happen (“the poor [must be] happy with their wealth”, says Zarathoustra) And the values to be promoted are fundamentally human, They owe nothing to an afterlife. The higher value is humanity. “Zarathustra wants to be human again” (“Zarathustra will wieder Mensch werden!” writes Nietzsche). One more word on the phrase: “Thus began Zarathustra’s going under.” Going under, “Untergang, in German”, is an idea that is at the heart of the life experience and thought of Nietzsche. It is a necessary moment of denial of self, of self-transcendence, usually associated with a new start. “I am at once decadent and beginning,” Nietzsche will thus assert in Ecce Homo [x].
Let’s continue reading the prologue. On his way, as he descends into the valley, Zarathustra meets a hermit, leading, far from men, an existence of religious meditation:
“But when he [Zarathustra] came in the wood, suddenly an old man stood before him, who had left his saintly hut in search for roots in the woods. And thus spoke the old man to Zarathustra:
“This wanderer is no stranger to me: many years ago he passed by here. Zarathustra he was called: but he is transformed.
Back then you carried your ashes to the mountain; would you now carry your fire into the valley? Do you not fear the arsonist’s punishment?
Yes, I recognize Zarathustra. His eyes are pure, and no disgust is visible around his mouth. Does he not stride like a dancer?
A few words of explanation. The ashes: undoubtedly symbolize the beliefs of before, belief in a Christian God, in Christian values and morals – these beliefs are now consumed, destroyed, they die slowly. Zarathustra went to the mountain to meditate on the death of those values of which he himself was a heir, and on the death of God and its consequences. And he comes back with a new fire: new values, synonymous this time vitality, energy, creativity. His gaze is limpid, says the old man: he is not troubled by bad passions; his mouth is not distorted by contempt, resentment. He is “awake,” said the hermit. There is certainly an allusion to Buddha, who is just “the awakened, “Erwachte “. Why this reference? Because Buddha managed to expel all toxic feelings, such as resentment, guilt, bad conscience. Another image used by the hermit, is that of Zarathustra as a child. The child represents the absence of prejudices, it is not yet formatted by the conceptions good and bad of its culture. The child is also joy, exuberance, curiosity about life and lightness. But be careful, it’s not the child, synonymous with innocence and purity, as represented in the Christian tradition, especially through the image of the child Jesus – one would otherwise remain in a moral register; it’s the child as Heraclitus puts it: Heraclitus – a great reference for Nietzsche, as we have seen – evokes the child who tirelessly made and destroyed sandcastles on the beach. A child who has a jubilation to destroy what he has just built. The child of Heraclitus thus incarnates, says Nietzsche, the “innocence of becoming”. Let’s say it right away: the child is one of the representations of the superhuman. We are far from the wild beast thirsting for conquest and domination (representation, which is also found in other texts, we will refer to it later, but who has had tendency to conceal everything Nietzsche says is more subtle about the superhuman). In the text “The Three Metamorphoses”, which is, in fact, the first speech of the first book of the Zarathustra, just after the prologue, Nietzsche stages three figures: the camel, the lion, the child. Each figure symbolizes a modality: the camel is the man who bears the burden of moral requirements; the lion embodies the revolt against these prescriptions; the child is the end of the process of transformation and therefore represents the eternal recommencement, below the moral categories of good and evil. It represents the unreserved adhesion to life. Now that we understand why the hermit told Zarathustra that he has been transformed; let’s continue:
[…] Zarathustra answered, “I love mankind.”
“Why,” asked the saint, “did I go into the woods and the wilderness in the first place? Was it not because I loved mankind too much?
Now I love God: human beings I do not love. Human beings are too imperfect a thing for me. Love for human beings would kill me.”
Zarathustra replied, “Why did I speak of love? I bring mankind a gift.”
“Give them nothing,” said the saint. “Rather take something off them and help them to carry it – that will do them the most good, if only het does you good!
And if you want to give to them, then give nothing more than alms, and make them beg for that too”
“And what does the saint do in the woods? ” asked Zarathustra.
The saint answered: “I make songs and sing them, and when I make songs I laugh, weep and growl; thus I praise God.
With singing, weeping, laughing and growling I praise God who is my god. But tell me, what do you bring us as a gift?”
When Zarathustra had heard these words he took his leave of the saint and spoke: “What would I have to give you! But let me leave quickly before I take something from you! “ – And so they parted, the oldster and the man, laughing as two boys laugh.
Nietzsche suggests that the ascetics, self-denying, renunciation ideals claimed by the hermit, are, in fact, expressions of cultural nihilism. Christianity has gradually decomposed under the effect of the reactive forces and Christian morality eventually fell short of its founder who preached ‘Love your Neighbor’. Zarathustra loves humanity, he wants to give him a gift, he is in the prodigality, generosity, and affirmation. He refuses to play the role of scapegoat, the one that Jesus played: unburden men of their sins and take care of them. Of course, the teaching that Zarathustra brings, the gift he wants to give to men, is to make life easier. This relief can only be total and definitive if those men themselves are actively engaged in their inner transformation. To forgive is a fault to keep believers guilty. What Zarathustra and Nietzsche want is basically to return to a philosophy of before the original sin: pre-Christian philosophy. It is, to use his parable, to go from camel to lion and from lion to child.
When Zarathustra came into the nearest town lying on the edge of the forest, he found many people gathered in the market place, for it had been promised that a tightrope walker would perform. And Zarathustra spoke thus to the people:”I teach you the overhuman. Human being is something that must be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? [xiii]
I pass on this speech and will come back to it in the next part devoted precisely to the superhuman. In any case, the crowd does not take Zarathustra seriously, is not interested in what he says and since it is not sensitive to the ideal of the superhuman, Zarathoustra attempts another strategy: he tries to scare them, to disgust them by making them a very unflattering portrait of the antithesis of the superhuman: the last man – the last men are actually those who form this crowd and who represent the image of cultural nihilism:
Thus I shall speak to them of the most contemptible person: but he is the last human being. And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: “It is time for mankind to set themselves a goal. It is time that mankind plant the seed of their highest hope. Their soil is still rich enough for this. But this soil will one day be poor and tame, and no tall tree will be able to grow from it anymore. Beware! The time approaches when human beings no longer launch the arrow of their longing beyond the human, and the string of their bow will have forgotten how to whir!I say to you: one must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star. I say to you, you still have chaos in you.Beware! The time approaches when human beings will no longer give birth to a dancing star. Beware! The time of the most contemptible human being is coming, the one who can no longer have contempt for himself.Behold! I show you the last human being.” “What is love? What is creation ? What is longing? What is a star ?“ thus aks the last human being, blinking.Then the earth has become small, and on it hops the last human being, who makes everything small. His kind is ineradicalbe, like the flea beetle; the last human being lives the longest. “We invented happiness” – say the last human beings, blinking. They have abandoned the regions where it was hard to live: for one needs warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs up against him, for one needs warmth. Becoming ill and being mistrustful are considered sinful by them: one proceeds with caution. A fool who still stumbles over stones or humans!A bit of poison once in a while; that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end, for a pleasant death.One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one sees to it that the entertainment is not a strain.One no longer becomes poor and rich: both are soo burdensome. Who wants to rule anymore? Who wants to obey anymore? Both are too burdensome.No sheperd and one herd! Each wants the same, each is the same, and whoever feels differently goes voluntarily into the insane asylum. […]” And here endded the first speech of Zarathustra, which is also called “The Prologue’’, for at that moment he was interrupted by yelling and the merriment of the crowd. “Give us this last human being, oh Zarathustra,” – thus they cried – “make us into this last human beings! Then we will mak you a gift of the overman!” And all the people jubilated and clicked their tongues.[xiv]
This text expresses urgency. Humanity – at least Western civilization – is at a crossroads. After the death of God, two ways are open: a) humanity can take advantage of the chaos provoked by the dissolution of Christian belief and give birth to new expectations – to give birth to a “dancing star”, says Nietzsche nicely; for there is still time, says Zarathustra or b) humanity sinks into this chaos and remains in an attitude of passive nihilism. “Woe, the times of such immoralism are close,” warned Zarathustra. The last men, painted by Zarathustra, embody this nihilistic attitude. We find once again the theme of § 125 of The Gay Science: The last men killed God, because God is too demanding, has set too high ideals. They do not deny God because God shortens them, but because God is growing them. They prefer to spoil themselves in ease, comfort, mediocrity. Nietzsche describes a very conformist society, sanitized, a therapeutic state where everything is taken care of instead of individuals; no struggle, no effort, no surpassing oneself, no courage. Happiness, one of the great promises of moral philosophy, from Aristotle to the philosophers of the Enlightenment, is lowered to the level of a selfish comfort. Love, the cardinal value of Christianity, is misguided in search of a little emotional security. The last men swarm and stifle the desire for greatness: this is the greatest danger, according to Nietzsche, for the superhuman. The strong are constantly in danger of being vanquished, broken by the conspiracy of the weak, the jealous, the vindictive. Here there is a violent criticism of democratic and socialist ideas that then progress throughout Europe, and especially in Germany. For example, Karl Marx writes his Capital between the 1860s and the 1880s, the First International Labor was founded, in London, in 1864 and the German Socialist Party was constituted in 1875.
Henry Nelson Wieman’s Creative Interchange
Nietzsche’s point of view regarding “God is dead” brings me to Henry Nelson Wieman’s view of “Creative Interchange”. For Wieman, God is better thought of as a verb rather than as a noun.
Let’s go back to Wieman’s Epiphany: as he sat alone looking over the Missouri River in the faint light of dusk, a sudden conviction came over him – a conviction that he should devote his life to religious inquiry and its central problem.
The central problem of religious inquiry, as it presented itself so forcefully to him that evening, was to seek a better understanding of the nature of whatever it is in human life and experience that transforms us in ways that we cannot transform ourselves, that rightfully deserves the kind of ultimate commitment and total self-giving that we associate with ‘religious faith’. What is the nature of that process or structure of events or reality actually at work in the universe, which, in religious language, has been, designated “God”? And how can human lives be so adjusted to this reality that the power of Creative Good can be unleashed and thereby human life enriched? It was this problem, and the attendant questions which emerged from it, that came to consume Wieman during all the rest of his life. He ultimately coined that process: Creative Interchange.
During his ‘Chicago’ years in the 1920s Henry Nelson Wieman proclaimed that “God is an object of sensuous experience,” that God is “as real as a toothache,” and therefore that religious inquiry should not be focused on socio-historical issues or on human ideals. Thus, he sought to clarify the nature and workings of “God,” which Wieman defined as “that ‘something’ upon which human life is most dependent for its security, welfare, and increasing abundance”:
Whatever else the word God may mean, it is a term used to designate that Something upon which human life is most dependent for its security, welfare and increasing abundance. That there is such a Something cannot be denied. The mere fact that life happens, and continues to happen proves that this Something, however unknown, does certainly exist.[xv]
For Wieman, that ‘Something’ for which he is trying to find empirical evidence is a process within nature, along with, over and against other processes that either sustain and destroy human thriving. His quest gave centrality to sense experience, guided by reason, his goal was to discover how we can put ourselves in the keeping the Creative Good, that power which is the integrative activity at the heart of the cosmos.
His major books include Religious Experience and Scientific Method(1926), The Wrestle of Religion with Truth(1927), The Source of Human Good(1946), Man’s Ultimate Commitment(1958), and Creative Freedom: Vocation of Liberal Religion(posthumous – 1982). In these works Wieman developed his defense of naturalism and empiricism in religion, his opposition to humanism, his assurances concerning the reality of God, and his focus on creativity and Creative Interchange. He embodied a naturalistic world-view. In religion, just as in science, said Wieman, there are not two realms of reality, namely, natural and supernatural. There is but one dimension of reality, and it must be studied through the observations of the senses. So God, for Wieman, is a natural creative process or structure—superhuman, but not supernatural. Our supreme devotion, then, must be to the Creative Good that is the activity of Creative Interchange, not to the created relative goods of human construction or the social ideals of the human mind. For Wieman, this was an ultimate commitment to what in his later years he increasingly came to label ‘Creative Interchange’.
So ‘God’ isn’t dead for Wieman; on the contrary Creative Interchange is alive and kicking. If God would be dead, Creative Interchange would have stopped living too and, as a consequence, there wouldn’t be Human’s any more. Conclusion: Man’s Ultimate Commitment to Creative Interchange is a condition sine qua non for the survival of mankind.
Henry Nelson Wieman gave to the fruit of his – what he called – ‘religious inquiry’, different names during the years of that quest: his particular take on ‘creativity’, creative event, creative transformation, … and, as being already stated, ultimately Creative Interchange.
In the introduction of his perhaps most readable book ‘Man’s Ultimate Commitment’ he explains his take on creativity:
Creativity is the central theme of this book. […] By creativity I do not mean creative work whether in art or science or technology or social organization or in any other area of human achievement. To be sure, creative work may accompany the kind of creativity, which I shall discuss. But I shall examining not creative work but the creative transformation of the individual in the wholeness of his being[xvi].
Thus, Henry Nelson Wieman does not mean by creativity the activity by which the individual produces innovations, but the creative transformation of the individual himself. He goes on to present the four characteristics that distinguish the creative transformation of the individual from any other kind of change:
 Creativity is an expanding of the range and diversity of what the individual can know, evaluate, [imagine], and control.  Creativity is an increasing of his ability to understand appreciatively other persons and people across greater barriers of estrangement and hostility. Creativity is an increasing of the freedom of the individual, when freedom means one’s ability to absorb any cause acting on oneself in such a way that the consequences resulting from it express the character and fulfill the purpose of the individual himself. […] Increasing the capacity of the individual to integrate into the uniqueness of his own individuality a greater diversity of experiences so that more of all that he encounters becomes a source of enrichment and strength rather than impoverishing and weakening him. [xvii]
Henry Nelson Wieman made his unique point of view that God is Creative Interchange clear in a metaphorical way when he described the working of Creative Interchange within the group of people formed by Jesus and his disciples:
Jesus engaged in intercommunication with a little group of disciples with such depth and potency that the organization of their several personalities was broken down and they were remade. They became new man, and the thought and feeling of each got across to the others. It was not merely the thought and feeling of Jesus that got across. That was not the most important thing. The important thing was that the thought and feeling of the least and lowliest got across to the others and the others to him. Not something handed down to them from Jesus but something rising up out of their midst in creative power was the important thing. It was not something Jesus did. It was something that happened when he was present like a catalytic agent. It was as if he was the neutron that started the chain reaction of creative transformation. Something about this man Jesus broke the atomic exclusiveness of those individuals so that they were deeply and freely receptive and responsive to each other. He split the atom of human egoism, not by psychological tricks, not by intelligent understanding, but simply by being the kind of person he was, combined with the social, psychological, and historical situation of the time and the heritage of Hebrew prophecy. Thus arose in the group of disciples a miraculous mutual awareness and responsiveness toward the needs and the interests of one another.
But this was not all; something else followed from it. The thought and feeling, let us say the meanings, thus derived from each other, were integrated with what each had previously acquired. Thus each was transformed, lifted to a higher level of human fulfillment. Each became more of a mind and a person, with more capacity to understand, to appreciate, to act with power and insight; for this is the way human personality is generated and magnified and life rendered more noble human.
A third consequence followed necessarily from these first two. The appreciable world expanded round about these men, thus interacting in this fellowship. Since they could now see through the eyes of others, feel through their sensitivities, and discern the secrets of many hearts, the world was more rich and ample with meaning and quality.
Also – and this might be called a fourth consequence – there was more depth and breadth of community between them as individuals with one another and between them and all other men. This followed from their enlarged capacity to get the perspectives of one another and the perspectives of all whom they might encounter. [xviii]
I’m sure you have recognized the four characteristics of Creative Interchange in the text above.And Henry Nelson continuous:
Thus occurred in the fellowship about Jesus a complex, creative event, transforming the disciples as individuals, their relations with one another and with all men, and transforming also the appreciable world in which they lived.
Let us not be misunderstood. The creative transformative power was not in the man Jesus, although it could not have occurred apart from him. Rather he was in it. […] The creative power lay in the interaction taking place between these individuals. It transformed their minds, their appreciable world, and their community with one another and with all men. [xix]
So, Henry Nelson Wieman repeated in several of his writings that, to him, God was that creative transformative power, which he ultimately coined Creative Interchange. To Wieman, Jesus was living Creative Interchange from within; a living role model, so to speak, that ‘taught’ Creative Interchange by example and experience to his disciples. The Story of Jesus and his disciples continued of course and Jesus was crucified. To many of his followers he was not THE messiah they had expected, and as far as they could see, he was no messiah at all. This was the immediate consequence of the Crucifixion. But Henry Nelson Wieman’s interpretation of the New Testament continuous as follows:
After the third day, however, when the numbness of the shock had worn away, something happened. The life-transforming creativity previously known only in fellowship with Jesus began again to work in the fellowship of the disciples. It was risen from the dead. Since they had never experienced it except in association with Jesus, it seemed to them that the man Jesus himself was actually present, walking and talking with them. Some thought they saw him and touched him in physical presence. But what rose form the dead was not the man Jesus, it was the creative power. It was the living God that works in time. [xx]
“If God is understood the creator of the universe known to mankind” wrote Henry Nelson Wieman, “then creative interchange is God’.
So to Henry Nelson Wieman, the God of Christianity is not dead; that God is alive and working as Creative Interchange! In Wieman’s thought, God is an object of experience as well as thought. God is perceived and conceived:
God must be found at the level of sensation as well as at the level of thought if God is that creativity which creates our own minds in community with others. This is so because sensation can reach consciousness only when it takes on meaning; and the meaning which sensation has at the level of perception is the anticipations of further sensations which will occur if I gaze more intently, or change my position, or listen or approach or touch or perform any of the innumerable activities by which sensations follow one another according to an anticipated sequence. If sensations do not occur in the sequence anticipated, I recognize that my perception was mistaken.
Of all the sensations I am able to have, only those are selected which association and cooperation with other people have endowed with anticipation of an orderly sequence of further sensations, when appropriate actions are performed. […]
If the name of God is given to that kind of interchange between individuals which leads people to cooperate and understand each other and share a common vision to which each unique individual can make his own contribution, then God is found at the level of sensation because only those sensations develop into perceptions which are endowed with anticipation of a further sequence of sensations, and this comes from communication with others and from cooperation with them. The spontaneous responses of the organism play a part in this selection, but these responses are profoundly shaped from early infancy by intimate association with other human beings. The shaping of perception by interaction with others is that creativity which creates my mind in community with others and also creates what we call nature. In this sense God is found at the level of sensation, if God is identified with this creativity. [xxi]
This text underlines, to me, the importance of Awareness and Consciousness during the operation of Creative Interchange. Awareness, which is observing clearly, is called here sensation. I sometimes call Awareness ‘Uncolored Consciousness’. Nevertheless, what is observed takes indeed meaning when it is interpreted at the level of perception; coloring what is observed so the speak. This ‘Colored Consciousness’ leads to further Awareness, which will occur if I observe more intensely, or change my position. In fact I question my ‘Mindset’ asking the following questions: “Do I interpret what I see through Awareness correctly? Are their other interpretations of that perceived reality possible?” I know that my interpretation feeds my appreciation of reality, so it’s useful to use some other mindsets during Creative Interchange to enhance our vision, which is our common appreciation of reality.
And Wieman pleads for an ultimate commitment to Creative Interchange. He further states that Creative Interchange cannot be controlled from the outside in:
Indeed it should not be sought directly. When it occurs, it will always be spontaneous. The commitment to this kind of interchange [read Creative Interchange] means that one will always seek to provide those conditions that are most favorable for this relation between individuals and peoples. These conditions are not only those prevailing in the immediate situation of interpersonal relations. The prevailing conditions of the entire culture are involved.[xxii]
One has to be open and install the necessary conditions so that Creative Interchange can happen! Wieman did not identify all possible conditions and Charlie Palmgren devoted most part of his life, after having met, studied and collaborated with Wieman, to his quest to identify those conditions and connected behaviors to enhance the probability that Creative Interchange will happen. And this is in fact also the reason that I’ve been talking for the last twenty years about the necessity of a new organizational paradigm, a new organizational culture, which I finally coined the ‘Creative Interchange’ culture, where those conditions are provided and those behaviors are sought after.
Creative Interchange and values
Where Nietzsche has a tremendous problem with the Christian values and has spend a good deal of his life inventing ‘new’ values and trying to proof that ‘his’ values were of more value than the despised Christian one’s, Henry Nelson Wieman has a more pragmatic view (and I adhere to his view):
Creative interchange creates appreciative understanding of the diverse perspectives of individuals and peoples. It also integrates these perspectives in each individual participant. Thus commitment to creative interchange is not commitment to any given systems of values. It is the commitment to what creates ever-deeper insight into the values that motivate human lives. It creates an ever more comprehensive integration of these values so far as this is possible by transforming them in such a way that they can mutually enhancing instead of mutually impoverishing and obstructive. This commitment is not to any one perspective on self and the cosmic whole of things but to an ever more comprehensive and penetrating perspective gained by integrating many perspectives. This kind of commitment is not to what is objective merely, or to what is subjective only, but to what unites the subjective and objective by interchange and communion between the two. In sum, this kind of commitment keeps the mind open to new insights concerning the ultimate determinants of good and evil. [xxiii]
I call that kind of commitment CI2: Continuous Improvement through living Creative Interchange.
Creative Interchange a natural process
Henry Nelson Wieman goes further with his description of Creative Interchange as a natural process:
The kind of interchange between individuals and peoples calling for this kind of commitment with these consequences is here given the name of creative interchange to distinguish it from many other kinds that are opposed to it. It is that kind of interchange; perhaps better called that kind of communion, that does two things. First, it creates appreciative understanding of the perspective of the other person or other people. By perspective is meant the way the other person sees things, feels things, values things – in a word, what life means to him. This understanding of the other may be very imperfect and very limited, and it may be mistaken. But it can be more or less correct, profound, and comprehensive. If the apprehension of the perspective of the other person, and its integration with my own, did not occur with a high degree of correctness, no infant could ever acquire the culture into which it is born because his precise the way every individual comes to embody the culture which history bestows on him. [xxiv]
Therefor, I often say that we are born with that natural process of growth, Creative Interchange. And Henry Nelson Wieman made it in the next paragraph of “Commitment for Theological Inquiry’ crystal clear that this process is more than a mere interchange of facts and ideas:
This internal integration within each individual, which occurs in creative interchange, is essential to the creativity of it. Yet this creativity is always in danger of being concealed in the word ‘interchange’. Interchange provides the diverse perspectives, but they must be integrated in the personality of the individual if there is to be any creative transformation of his own perspective. When this integration occurs, it expands the range of what the individual can appreciate as good and distinguish as evil. This expansion may continue indefinitely, widening and deepening the sense of values involved in human existence. [xxv]
That’s why my Crucial Dialogue Model, that is based on Creative Interchange, has four phases: the first phase is communication, which is the interchange part of Creative interchange; the next two phases – appreciation and imagination – are the creative part of Creative Interchange and finally the fourth phase – transformation – is the creative transformation part of the Creative Interchange process. In the next paragraph of the same article, Henry Nelson Wieman explains what he means by ‘appreciative understanding’:
This integration of perspectives does not mean, necessarily, that I agree with the other person, although agreement may be attained. It does mean that I comprehend his way of valuing, even when I judge to be evil what he calls good and judge to be good what he calls evil. This creative communion with the other party, when in opposition to him, yields a greater good than agreement. It is the good of learning from the enemy. It is the good of being corrected by conflict and deepening my sense of good and evil by comprehending the values of my opponent. In the Christian tradition this is called “loving your enemies.” It saves man from the self-destructive propensity out of arrogance, tyranny, and being un-teachable. [xxvi]
Creative Interchange and Authenticity
One of the basic conditions that Creative Interchange needs in order to thrive is Authenticity. Therefor one has to be open and trust others; openness and trusting being the two sides of the same Authenticity coin. When one is open, one will be trusted and when one trusts the other one will be open. Henry Nelson Wieman understood that authenticity is needed:
Creative Interchange meets the deepest need of each individual because the deepest need of each is to be appreciated and understood for what he truly is and not be compelled to put on a false front and pretend to be something other than he is in order to win acceptance from others. [xxvii]
Creative Interchange and its required conditions
Creative Interchange is greatly working if the conditions are present to make it thrive. Henry Nelson Wieman started the quest for those conditions; quest that was, as already said, continued by Charlie Palmgren, after Wieman’s death in 1975:
So far two of these required conditions have been indicated. One is that the commitment be to something that is accessible to empirical inquiry because only in such case can our commitment be corrected by what we experience. The second required condition is that our commitment be to what creates in us the most profound appreciative understanding and integration of the values that motivates the lives of others. This is required because only in this way we can learn […] more profoundly and more comprehensively.
The third condition is known as the two-level commitment and was expressed by Henry Nelson Wieman in the form of a prayer. Here, I prefer to stick to the interpretation given by Charlie Palmgren. He paraphrases the two-fold commitment as follows: “A commitment to act on the current bestwe know and a commitment to remain open to what in truth can transform our current best to what is better.” In fact my preferred formulae – CI2: Continuous Improvement through living Creative Interchange – is nothing more and nothing less than paraphrasing Charlie Palmgren’s interpretation of Henry Nelson Wieman’stwo-fold commitment.
Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ vs. Wieman’s ‘Creative Interchange’
For Friedrich Nietzsche, the God of Christianity is dead; to him Christianity is a religion that devalues life. For Henry Nelson Wieman, the God of Christianity is Creative Interchange, not a religion but a process that enhances life.
For both, Nietzsche and Wieman, the Christian God has become an object of study. To Nietzsche as an object of antiquity, to Wieman as an actual living reality.
For Nietzsche Jesus of Nazareth did not proof he was the Son of God and that therefor the Christian religion is a piece of antiquity. For Wieman, Jesus Christ is a (the?) role model of living Creative Interchange, the process being God. In the following paragraph Henry Nelson makes this, once more, very clear:
The creative communion between individuals and people, when lifted to a high level of dominance with saving and transfiguring power, is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Was not the revelation of God the saving and transforming power of the kind of interchange that occurred between Jesus and his disciples? The power lay neither in the man Jesus nor in any of the individuals that they transmitted from person to person and group to group and age to age. This kind of interchange is sometimes called love, but the prevailing idea of love is hopelessly inadequate to comprehend the depth and power of it. The Power of God unto salvation is the most fitting name for it.
This revelation of the saving power of God in the form of creative interchange has been called the “Word”, with a capital “W”. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. […] [xxix]
Nietzsche suggests that we have the God that we deserve and Wieman suggests that we should ultimately be committed to Creative Interchange so that we can deserve the fruits of that life giving process; thus can be said that we have the God that we deserve.
Nietzsche states that the atheism of his contemporaries is marked by creative helplessness and a lack of what he calls ‘great illusions’, and that cynicism and nihilism will be the moral traits of the future Humanity; while Wieman definitely hopes that Creative Interchange will not become a ‘great illusion’ but a ‘splendid reality’ and will play a dominant role for future Humanity.
In fact, Nietzsche underlines that not the ‘death of God’ is the truly grandiose act, but creativity; creativity which is at the heart, at the center of Wieman’s philosophy. Nietzsche stated, “the horizon has to be redrawn”, which Wieman did discovering Creative Interchange.
To Nietzsche, nihilism is a loss of meaning, as if the transmission is not done, or better, is no longer done, between individuals, mind, body, and ideals external to them; in Wiemanian terms, nihilism, could be defined as the loss of Creative Interchange and being the prisoner of one’s own Vicious Circle.
Nietzsche searched during his life to obtain a renewal of values, Wieman found that renewal of values in Creative Interchange. They both agree somehow on the definition of a value; to Nietzsche a value is only a reality if it is incarnated and carried and to Wieman “a value is a goal seeking activity.”
Nietzsche searched continuously to occupy the space liberated by the death of God; Wieman filled that void from the very start having understood that God is Creative Interchange.
Nietzsche and Wieman use very different writing styles. Nietzsche’s is atypical for a philosopher, since a succession of aphorisms and, in the case of Zarathustra a succession of sermons, speeches, and parables given by eccentric prophets, while Wieman’s style is in line with the Western philosophical tradition based on rational demonstrations and well constructed reasoning.
While Nietzsche introduces a lot of themes and concepts: the death of God, the Superhuman, the transmutation of values and the eternal return, Wieman introduces and sticks to one concept – the creative event (i.e. Creative Interchange) that encompasses all Nietzsche’s themes.
According to Nietzsche, the ‘last men’ do not deny God, because God shortens them, but because God is growing them. They prefer to spoil themselves in ease, comfort, mediocrity. In Wieman and Palmgren terminologie this reads: the ‘last man’ do not deny Creative Interchangee, because Creative Interchange shortens them, but because Creative Interchange is growing them. The last men prefer to spoil themselves in their ‘cage’ (Wieman)/’Vicious Circle’(Palmgren).
Basically, Nietzsche and Wieman have a similar goal and the same ambition; to provoke a social, cultural, organizational and institutional paradigm shift. Nietzsche wants to obtain that goal by transforming Christian morality in an “active moralism” and Wieman by giving new meaning to Christianity through the creative event, through Creative Interchange.
While Nietzsche is not afraid to praise his own work, Wieman is more humble and testifies that a lot can still be discovered about his major concept Creative Interchange. Nietzsche described his work as “the fifth gospel”, and Wieman writings are in fact the answers to his crucial question he finds during what he called his Religious Inquiry. Both bring good news, thus a gospel; in Nietzsche’s case the death of God and the rising of the Superhuman, in Wieman’s case the identification of the life transforming process which he coined Creative Interchange and men, committed to Creative Interchange, becoming each a Superhuman, not a single god, but humanity what it has the best.
Perhaps less known is that both, Nietzsche and Wieman, had a ‘link’ to Zoroastrianism in common. Of course, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is Zoroaster and dr. Martin Luther King quotes in his dissertation “A comparison of the conceptions of God in the thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman” Paul Tillich who “commented on dr. Wieman’s complete break with the Christian tradition and Greek philosophy, and characterized his position as in direct line with Zoroastrianism.” [xxx]
Like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, the work of Henry Nelson Wieman regarding Creative Interchange is unfinished; as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Wieman’s Creative Interchange is a promise open on the future, a path – steep – without a predefined goal; it’s a direction that we take, says Henry Nelson Wieman.
[xxi]Wieman, Henry Nelson. Seeking the Faith for a New Age. Essays on the Interdependence of Religion, Science and Philosphy. Edited and Introduced by Heppler, Cedric. L. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1975. Page 159.
[xxx]https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/chapter-i-comparison-conceptions-god-thinking-paul-tillich-and-henry-nelsonChapter I, Introduction, Statement of the Problem.