Nauseous Nihilism or Divine Rest?

– Matthew R. Crawford –

Recently I’ve been reading some of Nietzsche’s first work, The Birth of Tragedy. It is not his most significant book, but it does contain elements that are central to his philosophy. Nietzsche’s central argument is that Greek tragedy arose from a combination of two impulses – the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The Dionysian element is the untamed force of intoxication and war, the opposite of the restrained rationality of the Apollonian.

I thought that I would share with you one of the most memorable quotes from the book. Some would argue that reading philosophers like Nietzsche is not worth the time. I would respond that reading Nietzsche is useful for, among other reasons, he shows us what is the logical result of the Enlightenment reliance upon autonomous reason. When was the last time that you stopped and considered what the implications would be if God had not spoken and we were left with only our own reason and creativity to make sense of the universe? Have you ever really stared into the void of meaninglessness that must be true if there is no God? I’m not encouraging you to doubt your faith. Rather, I am saying that we should not forget what it is like to be apart from Christ. Nietzsche’s quote below illustrates what every thinking atheist must come to, if he is consistent in his beliefs. He states,

“Now no comfort avails any more; longing transcends a world after death, even the gods; existence is negated along with its glittering reflection in the gods or in an immoral beyond. Conscious of the truth he has once seen, man now sees everywhere only the horror or absurdity of existence; . . . he is nauseated.” (Section 7)

To merely conclude with what Nietzsche says above and say no more would drive someone mad. In fact, it is likely that it did eventually have this effect on Nietzsche himself. Man cannot live long conscious of his complete lack of teleology, the purpose of things. What then is Nietzsche’s proposed solution to the problem of man? He says in the next paragraph,

“Here, when the danger to his will is greatest, art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing. She alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror or absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live.” (Section 7)

Art is Nietzsche’s answer. He thought that art was sufficient to enable man to reckon with the absurdity of his existence. Art is powerful, but art separated from metaphysics is still unable to give any higher meaning and purpose to life. The outrage of death screams in our ears, demanding an answer. Art merely distracts us from its cries until that point when we can no longer ignore the reality of our own impending death and the death of those we love. Let us be those who loudly proclaim that across the void of nothingness God spoke into the apparent horror or absurdity of our existence. He himself experienced death, and, by so doing, brought about the death of death itself. In the end there are only two ways to live consistently – with the nauseous nihilism of Nietzsche or, as Augustine put it, rest in the divine. “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”

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2 responses to “Nauseous Nihilism or Divine Rest?

  1. Benjamin

    Hey Matt,

    Thanks for the post. In college, I had to study a LOT of philosophy… and I have found that Nietzsche is in many ways the most consistent atheist I’ve ever read. His worldview is a powerful contrast to Christianity. In my classes, I was known to be “the Christian,” and in discussing Nietzsche’s work my classmates had to admit again and again that Christianity and Nietzsche were the two worldviews that offered the most consistent answer to how we should deal with the world, and sharpened their understanding of the implications of their own belief-choices. Studies like this can greatly help Christians in their apologetics and in cultivating their love for the glory of God’s truth over and above the “truths” the world hopelessly clings to.

  2. Dad

    Matt, good post, thanks. I think there are two groups that need to be educated along these lines. Certainly the Church, but also the world.

    Often times the world will cry ‘hypocrite’ to the church, but all the while many in the world are not living, truly, like there is not God. They are very hypocritical. Many in the world do not know what they believe.

    May we push the world to be more consistent, while striving to be consistent in the Truth ourselves.

    Thanks.

    Al (Not Owen’s dad or that other “Al”.)

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