Friedrich Nietzsche vs. Henry Nelson Wieman (I)

 

Part One – Introduction

 

How I ‘met’ Nietzsche and Wieman

In this essay I’ll treat some concepts of two philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche and Henry Nelson Wieman, who both have influenced my thinking.

Let me start by stating that I’m not a philosopher myself. During the publication process of my latest book I liked to call myself a ‘thought philosopher’, but my publisher refused to put this into print on the back cover of ‘Cruciale dialogen’. This because, to him, I had no right to call myself a philosopher (having not done the proper studies); so I switched to the label: ‘thought engineer’ (being a civil engineer twice and doing a lot of thinking, I assumed I could do that)[i]. So, I’m not a philosopher and did not study philosophy at all; nevertheless I have been intrigued by Friedrich Nietzsche and strongly influenced by Henry Nelson Wieman.

I was introduced to Friedrich Nietzsche through reading Milan Kundera’s bestseller ‘The unbearable lightness of being’[ii] in which he quotes Friedrich Nietzsche and uses the German proverb: “Einmal ist keinmal’. Gallimard first published this book in 1984, although originally written in Czech two years before, in French: ‘L’insoutenable légèreté de l’être’. I bought this French edition in Paris in the fall of that year and I enjoyed it that much that I read it in one sitting.

The phrase “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is Kundera’s own, but to understand it one actually has to start with Friedrich Nietzsche and the idea of eternal return. Eternal return is the idea that our universe and our existence has occurred an infinite number of times in the past, and will continue to occur ad infinitum. In this theory, time is cyclical rather than linear. The idea of eternal return is an ancient one, but Nietzsche popularized it for modern times. That’s why the narrator of Unbearable Lightness refers to it as Nietzsche’s concept. Nietzsche explored what the consequences of such eternal return would be. In his eyes, eternal return was das schwerste Gewicht, or “the heaviest weight.” It was a petrifying concept to imagine that our lives have been and will continue to be repeated endlessly. But one could learn, through philosophy, to love the idea. The proper mind can embrace this weight, rather than be terrified by it. Nietzsche seems to conclude in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that we must live and act as though our lives functioned in eternal return, suggesting that we give our own lives meaning and weight by behaving this way. Kundera argues that Nietzche was wrong and states: “Human time does not turn in a circle,” he argues; “it runs ahead in a straight line”. This is where Kundera’s use of the phrase einmal ist keinmal comes into the picture. And Tomas, one of the main characters of the book, translates this for us: “What happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all”. Nietzsche said that eternal return gives our lives the heaviest weight. So if our lives only occur once, it must mean – according to Kundera – that they are filled with lightness.

For what it’s worth, let me express my view on Kundera’s argument. I agree: ‘Einmal ist Keinmal’; you simply cannot live two lives in parallel. I cannot, at the same time, be married to Rita and be single. The consequence of this fact is that I cannot compare those two ‘lives’ the moment of the decision and throughout my whole married life, neither can Rita. Regarding Kundera’s question: “Is ‘being’ light or unbearable?” the only right answer is, as I learned from my mentor Charlie Palmgren, since the question is a ‘or’ question: YES![iii] Finally I really can’t say Amen to Kundera’s statement “that because we cannot judge we are not responsible for the consequences of our decisions.” To me we definitely are responsible for those consequences and what’s more they become bearable if we live Creative Interchange from within. In other words we should stay aware of the unfolding of our lives and take the right measures and decisions when needed. Let me be clear: we are responsible for our actions, period.

Beginning this year, 2018, I enrolled in a MOOC course: “Introduction à la Philosophie de Friedrich Nietzsche” proposed by the University of Sorbonne (Paris). During this course it struck me that Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy made me almost continuously think of Henry Nelson Wieman’s Creative Interchange. At the end of the course I got the idea to write this essay.

I was introduced to Henry Nelson Wieman in the early nineties of last century through my mentor Charlie Palmgren. At that time Charlie was one of the two senior consultants of Daryl Conner’s ODR. It happened during a five day course in the fall of 1992 in Atlanta’s Swissotell. Charlie labeled Wieman’s Creative Interchange process in those years the Synergistic Process, although he called it, ‘off the record’, by its genuine name: Creative Interchange and disclosed at the same time the name of its discoverer: Henry Nelson Wieman, who had been his mentor. I became a follower of Charlie Palmgren in 1994 and learned more about Creative Interchange and slowly started to live it. In January 1995 I attended a conference “From Drift to Direction’ (as the title of chapter 2 of Henry Nelson Wieman’s book ‘Man’s Ultimate Commitment’[iii]) and learned more about the Religious Philosopher Henry Nelson Wieman. I did not dig deep in the overall philosophy of Henry Nelson though; appreciatively understanding and living Creative Interchange from within stayed my focus. So the Wieman part of this essay is essentially built on my actual understanding and living of Creative Interchange thanks to my mentor Charlie Palmgren, whith whom I still have regularly Skype meetings around Creative Interchange.

 

Philosophers of Religion

The two philosophers had a particular relation towards religion. Friedrich Nietzsche(1844-1900), the German philosopher, is still famous for his attempts to unmask the motives that underlie Western religion, crystalized by his observation: “God is dead”[iv].

Henry Nelson Wieman (1884-1975), the American philosopher of Religion, is known for discovering and coining the unique living process of transformation we’re all born with: “Creative Interchange”[v], which rings to me as “God is alive and kicking”. Indeed, Wieman’s God is transpersonal but not supernatural, it’s a process within the universe rather than the universal creator.  So for Wieman, God is the character of the universe – creating, integrating, transforming into greater wholes of greater value.

Friedrich Nietzsche taught philology at the University of Basel (1869-1877) and had to take leave due to serious health problems.  Most of his work at the university was in philology although he was very interested in philosophy. Nevertheless, his plan to pursue a (second) ph. D. in philosophy was cancelled due to his unforeseen appointment at the University of Basel. 

Henry Nelson Wieman taught at many universities: philosophy at Occidental College in Los Angeles (1917-1927), professor of philosophy and religion at the Divinity School of University of Chicago (1927-1947) and philosophy at Southern Illinois University (1956-1966).

Friedrich Nietzsche’s father was a Lutheran minister and Friedrich himself published during his leave from university of Basel ‘Human, All too Human’ (1878) introducing his readers to corrosive attacks on Western Religion for which he became famous.

Henry Nelson Wieman’s father was a Presbyterian minister and Henry Nelson planned for a career in journalism, but in 1907 he had an epiphany that sealed his new vocation and he became first minister himself and later professor in philosophy.

So both young man were raised in a clerical atmosphere and family and social intercourse compelled both to religious practices and the pursuit of theological studies. Nietzsche detached himself being a young adult and left the Burschenschaft and switched from the study of theology to philology, while Wieman continued troughout his whole life what he called his “Religious Inquiry”.

 

Their Epiphany Experiences  

Friedrich Nietzsche had his ‘epiphany experience’ in August 1881 in Sils-Maria, in the Swiss Alps. In ‘the middle of life’, like Dante, he walked down the wooded Alpine slope and entered his own Inferno. On the anniversary of long-buried loss and pain, his psyche was temporarily flooded by archetypal imagery. From the turbulent and frightful experience, a symbol of transfiguration emerged in the shape of Eternal Return. To Nietzsche an Epiphany is to be understood as a ‘monumental’ great moment that leave a lasting impression and are striking for their perfection:

That the great moments in the struggle of the human individual constitute a chain, that this chain unites mankind across the millennia like a range of human mountain peaks, that the summit of such a long-ago moment shall be for me still living, bright and great – that is the fundamental idea of faith in humanity which finds expression in the demand for a monumental history.[vi]

Henry Nelson Wieman enrolled in Park College, as both his parents before him, intending to become a journalist and right before graduation in 1907, he had an epiphany that would shape the rest of his life:

“I came to my room after the evening meal and sat alone looking at the sunset over the Missouri River. Suddenly it came over me that I should devote my life to the problems of religious inquiry. I never had a more ecstatic experience. I could not sleep all night and walked in that ecstasy for days.”[vii]

Although he had little interest in becoming a minister, he then enrolled in San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California, and later attended Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. and started his quest to solve the problems of religious inquiry, which ultimately brought him to discover Creative Interchange.

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[i]Roels Johan, Cruciale dialogen, Het dagdagelijks beleven van ‘Creatieve wisselwerking’[Crucial dialogues, the daily living of creative interchange]. Antwerpen-Apeldoorn: Garant, 2012.  Back cover.

[ii]Kundera Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1984.

[iii]Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America ®, Inc. Reprint, Originally published: Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958, pp. 36-55.

[iv]Nietzsche first used the term ‘God is dead’ in the Madman, aphorism 125 of the Gay Science [Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Gay Science.Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 119-120].

Haven’t you not heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern hours and ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!”… “Where is God?” he cried; “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are all his murderers.”… “ God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

[v]Wieman’s doctoral thesis ‘The Organization of Interests’can be seen as the seedbed for the basic principle of his naturalistic metaphysics – the creative event – as exemplified in creativity as creative interchange. Wieman analyzed creative interchange brilliantly in important books as The Source of Human Good, Man’s Ultimate Commitmentand Religious Inquiry: Some explorations [Wieman, Henry Nelson. The Organization of Interests, Originally presented as the author’s thesis (Ph. D. – Harvard University, Department of Philosophy, 1917), Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.; Edited by Hepler, Cedric Lambeth, 1985, pp. iii-iv].

[vi]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265380143_Sociological_Epiphanies_The_Search_for_the_Existential_and_Monumental.

[vii]http://iichange.net/uploads/docs/Henry%20Nelson%20Wieman.pdf

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