Antichrist to an Antichrist

August 2, 2010 | 26 comments
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800px-Nietzsche_Olde_06I’m currently through the beginning of Nietzsche’s The Will to Power. I like what I’ve read, and I’ve identified a few possible Nietzschean approaches to Mormonism.

  1. Joseph and Neitzsche as two men whose respective philosophies are fundamentally similar.
  2. Latter-Day-Saintism as Nietzsche’s “Revaluation of All Values”.
  3. Joseph as a realization of Neitzsche’s ubermensch.

Now I’m no educated philosopher, and I’m only basically familiar with Nietzsche’s work. That said, here we go.

1. Joseph and Neitzsche as two men whose respective philosophies are fundamentally similar. Nietzsche’s states that “it is in one particular interpretation, the Christian-moral one, that nihilism is rooted” (1.1), and that “the sense of truthfulness, developed highly by Christianity, is nauseated by the falseness and mendaciousness of all Christian interpretations of the world and of history” (1.2). Joseph expresses similar feelings in his youthful response to Christianity, saying, “[N]otwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths [Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist] expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy…it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real…that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions” (JS-H 1:6). More powerfully, Joseph relates the words of God Himself, saying, “the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof’” (JS-H 1:19).

In both men’s viewpoints, I identify the fundamental complaint as being the perceived moral bankruptcy of contemporary Christianity. Nietzsche responds by explicitly declaring himself antichrist. He gives one possible reason for this reaction when he states, “Radical nihilism is…the realization that we lack the least right to posit a beyond or an in-itself of things that might be “divine” or morality incarnate” (3). In other words, I believe he is stating that no man — be it clergy or layman — has any divine communication, and so all theological interpretations are equally groundless. Joseph, on the other hand, responds to apostate Christianity in the opposite way — he obtains direct revelation from God. Since the lack of revelation is (in my mind) the grounds whereon Nietzsche rejects his contemporary Christian sects, Joseph solves the problem of Christianity in the only way Nietzsche could find valid.

The crux of all this is that, while Nietzsche has declared himself an enemy to Christianity, if it turns out that the Christianity he opposes has itself rejected Christ, then Nietzsche is not an antichrist against Christ, but an antichrist against an antichrist.

2. Latter-Day-Saintism as Nietzsche’s “Revaluation of All Values”. One of Nietzsche’s stated intended goals with The Will to Power was to “attempt a revaluation of all values.” One reason he gives for this is that, “[T]he highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; ‘why?’ finds no answer” (2). I understand that to mean that the stated goals, purposes, and reasons provided to man in sectarian Christianity are, in Nietzsche’s estimation, fundamentally absurd. They do not ultimately lead to a goal that is valuable to the individual for its own sake.I believe that the doctrines Joseph taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints effectively revalue many of the values that Nietzsche saw as untenable in his contemporary Christian sects, restating the purposes of Christianity in terms that make religious adherence individually meaningful.

Nietzsche more explicitly states the claim I make for him above:

We deny end goals; if existence had one it would have to have been reached.

So one understands that an antithesis to pantheism is attempted here: for “everything perfect, divine, eternal” also compels a faith in the “eternal recurrence.” Question: does morality make impossible this pantheistic affirmation of all things, too? At bottom, it is only the moral god that has been overcome. Does it make sense to conceive a god “beyond good and evil”? Would a pantheism in this sense be possible? Can we remove the idea of a goal from the process and then affirm the process in spite of this? …

…Every basic character trait that is encountered at the bottom of every event, that finds expression in every event, would have to lead every individual who experienced it as his own basic character trait to welcome every moment of universal existence with a sense of triumph. The crucial point would be that one experienced this basic character trait in oneself as good, valuable — with pleasure (55.3-5).

I believe that Joseph goes straight to the heart of this in what I consider to be the most explicit description of the afterlife given in any belief system: “When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves. And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:1-2). In other words, Joseph describes eternity not as a goal and a reward, but as an eternal now, inhabited by a God who is a man. His heaven has no end goal, but is an eternity of being who we are (“coupled with eternal glory,” however that might be interpreted,) which is directly in line with Nietzsche’s rational heaven, as depicted in the quotations above.

The correlation continues in Nietzsche’s following paragraphs, including, “There is nothing to life that has value, except the degree of power — assuming that life itself is the will to power.” Joseph interprets Abraham as conversing with God, who states, “These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all” (Abr. 3:19). To me, the important distinction here is that secular Christianity defines God as powerful in an absolute and abstract sense, with terms like “all-knowing” and “omniscient”. In contrast, Joseph’s God’s power is not abstractly great, but comparatively great. He is not God because He knows all, but because He knows more than anyone else. In Joseph’s own teachings (I’ll need to find the source on this) Joseph defines Godhood as essentially being beyond the power of any other person or party.

3. Joseph as a realization of Neitzsche’s ubermensch. Nietzsche’s nihilism is not a fundamental pessimism toward existence, but rather a specific pessimism toward the worldview projected by his contemporaries: “Modern pessimism is an expression of the uselessness of the modern world — not of the world of existence” (34). He also states that this nihilism/pessimism is not an ultimate philosophy, but rather one that will necessarily be adopted by the world until it can dissociate itself from traditional Christian values and develop a new system that actually makes sense: “Now that the shabby origin of these [moral] values is becoming clear, the universe seems to have lost value, seems “meaningless” — but that is only a transitional stage” (7).

While I don’t have the sources on hand, I believe that Joseph-the-individual could qualify as Nietzsche’s ubermensch described in Thus Spake Zarathustra, the kind of person he imagined inhabiting the world-beyond-nihilism. Joseph was immensely life-affirming, he defied social convention to extremes, claimed and obtained power, and accomplished great works, not only in a moral sense but in a this-worldly physical sense — things like city-building, religion-making, and identity-defining. I’ll have to look back at Thus Spake Zarathustra for details, but I think this could be an interesting vein to follow.

26 Responses to Antichrist to an Antichrist

  1. Dan on August 2, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Nietzsche is pretty cool. I won’t add anymore. Apparently I can’t comprehend these “deep” philosophical posts or something…

  2. Dave on August 2, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I think you are overstating the similarities. Nietzsche rejected Christianity categorically, whereas Latter-day Saints reject only certain claims of mainstream Christianity while, at the same time, affirming other Christian claims and embracing the label “Christian.” We call ourselves saints of the latter-days to emphasize a sense of continuity with early Christianity; I think Nietzsche would have termed himself a latter-day unsaint.

    Nietzsche’s nihilism is rooted in a rejection of any transcendence to the world we live in (which is why he thinks we are free to recreate our own novel values), whereas Latter-day Saints affirm a transcendent God and a variety of eternal principles, values, and commandments.

    Nietzsche’s Overman was, at the very least, an elitist type (implicitly contrasted with a mass of Undermen who aren’t as bright or daring as Nietzsche or his Overman). It’s an idea that seems completely foreign to the democratic concepts that animated Joseph’s loftier thoughts such as a lay clergy that extends to almost all males in the Church and a salvation theology that offers a piece of heaven to all mortals except those few unfortunates who are consigned to Outer Darkness.

    Nietzsche proclaimed that God is dead (or at least he portrayed in striking terms a prophet that announced to his uncomprehending fellow citizens that God was dead). Joseph proclaimed that God lives.

  3. Dane Laverty on August 2, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Dave, you present the arguments I hear most commonly used against associating Nietzsche with Christianity — that he categorically rejected Christianity, and that he said “God is dead”. As for the first, I don’t know what the Christianity of Nietzsche’s Germany was like, but he describes it as sickly, passive, and glorifying weakness as virtue. I am happy to stand by Nietzsche in rejecting that sort of Christianity.

    As for “God is dead”, my understanding from the context is that he’s saying that, “You people have made God dead by your treatment of Him” — not unlike Nephi saying that the unrighteous “trample [God] under their feet”. I don’t sense that Nietzsche is glad that the people have killed God.

  4. James Olsen on August 2, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    All but Dave’s last points are important one’s to deal with (or, his last point is also important, it’s just that the phrase “God is dead,” and Joseph’s proclamation that God lives are simply not exclusive). I agree that as you’ve put it, the similarities are overstated. Nonetheless, I think Nietzsche and Mormonism have a lot of potentially deep similarities and unintuitive compatabilities. It would take a lot more time and analysis to go into than I can here. But I think that an in-depth project of examining Nietzsche’s philosophy and Mormonism’s claims would be fascinating and worthwhile.

  5. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on August 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I have great difficulty accepting both men as being “anti-christ”; to do so means justifying Christianity as the true expression of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Neither men believed that Christianity is the answer to the challenges of cultural and religious behavior.

    However, Joseph Smith concept’s of the veil, indicating the temporary absence of God, Father of our spirits from the day to day affairs of governance His children. That leaves the governance in the hands of the Son of Man, the Holy Spirit, the prophets; thereby giving a freer hand to others to lead His children.

    From the Father’s perspective heaven remains pure and unpolluted and Jesus, Christ becomes the God of Judgment over the outcomes.

  6. Ben H on August 2, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Whoa! Peace as a means to new wars! Bravo for a very bold post. I think you’re absolutely right that Nietzsche’s criticisms of Christianity have a lot of similarity in spirit to Joseph’s, and that the new understanding of God which Joseph delivers addresses Nietzsche’s primary criticisms. As important as anything (to put your point in other words), Joseph affirms life, this life, this embodied, finite life, and envisions eternity as being good in many of the same ways, only better. I would highlight on the one hand the role of struggle and progress, as opposed to timeless, static “being”, and on the other hand the emotional dimension of a life of struggle, including the potential for loss. In the closing pages of Book IV of Die Fröliche Wissenschaft, Nietzsche expresses the desire for a God of laughter and tears . . . Moses 7 of course describes a God who weeps (though Christ also weeps in the NT, e.g. when Lazarus dies). Do we have a Mormon account of God laughing?

    I will say that I’m not sure The Will to Power is the best way to get to know Nietzsche. As I understand, he didn’t really write it; it was compiled by his sister, after his death, from various notes he left behind, and may in some ways reflect her viewpoint rather than his. Obviously there is a lot of interesting material in there nonetheless, but I would recommend his “middle works”, especially Beyond Good and Evil.

  7. Ben H on August 2, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Obviously there is a lot more to the story, and so to refer to “Joseph and Nietzsche as two men whose respective philosophies are fundamentally similar” is to make a claim that sweeps up all kinds of stuff you may not want to take on board! not least because it is so hard to sort out just what Nietzsche was really thinking in the first place on a host of issues.

    In particular, you are tossing around the word “antichrist” in a rather carefree manner, without really making it clear what you mean. Eduard’s point is well taken here: to be against a certain portrayal of Christ is not to be anti-Christ, especially if the portrayal one opposes is false. Joseph was against falsifications of Christ. Perhaps you mean “anti-anti-Christ”?

  8. Dane Laverty on August 2, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    I’ve heard it said that “ubermensch” is a convenient, useless term that means whatever a person wants it to mean. I suppose the same could be said for “antichrist”. I’m sure that Joseph Smith has been called an antichrist on more than one occasion — the term “antichrist” functionally refers to “someone with whom I really disagree”.

    James and Ben, you’re right that I’m glossing over a lot here — a lot more than I know, I’m sure! But it’s an interesting place to start (for me at least), especially in my desire for Mormonism to be a life-affirming, joy-fulfilling, and relentlessly truth-seeking practice.

  9. Jeremiah J. on August 2, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    I’ve heard rumors that many dead, famous non-Mormons have been baptized–many times over in some cases–by proxy in the temples. I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t pass judgment on any of them. After all, who am I to object to anyone coming to Christ? I don’t object to Nietzsche being baptized either. But he’ll have to repent first. This is not my rule.

    I think there are quite a few ways to attack Dane’s interpretation. The best and simplest one I know, however, is to point out that Joseph Smith treasured the New Testament. His sermons, revelations, and conversations were laced with its parables, ideas, and turns of phrase. The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants quote its passages and echo its teachings. Joseph loved the New Testament. Indeed, he claimed to be restoring its message to the world after a long period of neglect. Nietzsche hated the New Testament. He thought the basic message of Christianity was disgusting—even filthy and ugly (not that it was good but had been corrupted). He thought its teachings of humility and charity were “sickly, passive and [weak]”. Indeed, he thought the command to always forgive was in fact a product of the spirit of revenge. He praised Christ, but never praised primitive Christianity. But Joseph revealed that God will lead the humble by the hand, and give them answers to their prayers. There is a little bit of enemy-of-my-enemy going on with Nietzsche, I think. He bashes Plato. He bashes Christendom (brilliantly). So do we! (Or we used to.) But this is like going in for drowning to cure hiccups.

    But for the sake of argument, we could say that the “slave morality” Nietzsche hates only applies to some particular version of Christianity (definitely not us, though) which glorifies the poor and the weak, the passive and the put-upon, and pulls down the strong and vigorous. Which version, though? I really doubt it’s the creedal, statist, priestcraft-ridden, oppressive, intolerant Christendom Joseph decried all his life. Christianity became *less* a religion of the weak, not more, when it apostatized, if the apostasy has any political and social dimension at all. If it corresponds to any narrow version, Nietzsche’s attack on Christianity surely corresponds in the 19th century to the Christianity of *actual, literal slaves*, and the Christianity of the abolitionists and the humanitarian reformers (whom Nietzsche called out by name and hated). These were actually pretty decent versions of Christianity! I’ll a happily stand by the suffering, dying God who brings comfort to the poor any day, and reject Nietzsche’s claim that His faith is sickly, passive and weak. Nietzsche hated and caricatured *a lot of the good parts* of Christianity.

    There is a big, important difference between rejecting a particular moral system and rejecting the moral perspective as a whole. Nietzsche emphatically did the latter. He wasn’t a moral reformer. He was a philosophical immoralist. I think part of the reason people confuse the two in his case is because it’s hard to say in an everyday sense what it would mean to reject “morality” as a whole. It’s perhaps too radical or unthinkable for people to fathom. But this position meant something recognizable in the context of the German tradition of the 19th century–something more than not caring for Kant, traditional Christian morality, or European mores of the day. Of all the post-Kantian critics of morality (or of contemporary Christianity for that matter) in that tradition, all of the ones I know of are less radical and far more Christian (in the genuine sense) than Nietzsche.

    I’ve noticed that some people get annoyed by these kinds of objections. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe they think I’m glibly dismissing one of the philosophical giants of the past 200 years (which he probably is, but I don’t think I am). What I hope is that they don’t hate these arguments just because they reflect a too-obvious, boring interpretation. Because that would indicate a disturbing (Nietzschean?) disinterest in what’s actually more likely to be true. There should be a high level of evidence required for baptizing one of the most notorious atheists in the Western tradition as a thinker friendly to Mormonism. The fact he is said to be “life-affirming”, power-claiming and social-convention-defying doesn’t strike me as nearly enough.

  10. CT on August 2, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Perhaps they’re both similar in that they were critical of what went before, but I’m with Dave amd Jeremiah J–similarities are only superficial; they are up to radically different tasks based on radically different assumptions. As for “God is dead,” I think it has broader implications than you’re granting. The phrase suggests a key aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy–his historical atheism. God may have existed in the past but not as the believer’s believed; that belief is revealed to be a temporary horizon that must now be moved beyond. The dawning awareness of this historicity (and the creativity it implies) is produced by in party by Christianity turning against itself. Nietzsche’s rejection of his contemporaries and modern christianity and philosophy is really a rejection of the whole history of philosophy and religion as they understood themselves. He looks towards the future when the ubermensch will embrace this creativity with self-awareness and self-consciously create new gods, new morality, creations for which they are wiling to fight and die. I sincerely hope this does not describe Joseph Smith.

  11. Ben H on August 3, 2010 at 5:03 am

    Part of the difficulty with this discussion is that Dane mostly talks about how X, Y, and Z in Joseph’s thought or theology seem to respond (before the fact) to various points of Nietzsche’s thought, without really spending very long laying out how he understands Nietzsche’s thought. With authors whose thinking is relatively straightforward and consistent, this will usually work. With an author like Nietzsche, though, whose work ranges over a huge array of topics, who works hard to offend nearly every conceivable reader, makes extensive use of parable, satire and irony, and rarely spells out straightforwardly what he himself actually thinks, one can’t assume that one’s readers have anything remotely resembling a similar interpretation of Nietzsche to one’s own.

    For my part, I think it is quite clear from his work that much of what people usually say about Nietzsche, including much of what Jeremy says here, is way off track. On helping the poor and weak, for example, one has to read what he says in Thus Spake Zarathustra about love and generosity, “the bestowing virtue,” and then reassess what one thought he was saying elsewhere. But these are the kinds of misunderstandings that Nietzsche more or less knowingly invited, so it is hard to blame people. Especially when misreadings of Nietzsche become standard among scholars.

    Jeremy, I would love to talk to you more about Nietzsche if you’re interested in following up, but we should talk on the phone; there’s no way we’ll sort it out on a blog!

  12. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on August 3, 2010 at 8:11 am

    The road to “Ubermensch” and “war” comes through another 19th century thinker; Karl Marx’s communist dialectic,”Das Kapital”. His prediction for a socio-political solution did not pan out. {Joseph Smith revealed doctrines have become a lasting reality]

    Lenin and Stalin never believed in the dialectic and resorted to force by forging the communist revolution in Russia. I believe Marx was looking at the social repression caused by the industrial revolution on the labor force in England. Marx’s influence on English and European politicians was longer lasting. It brought Socialism, a more watered down version of social oppression.

    In China, at the end of their dynastic cycles, General Chang Kai shek was a believer of the dialectic, but the socio-cultural enviroment there was different. China was an isolated, basically agricultural society and was not industrialized as Europe. The General was a Moscow educated Communist, who identified himself as a nationalist. Instead of ceasing the day by solving the challenges of excessive taxation in that agricultural country, he waited – too long.

    Mao Tze Tung, a librarian, also a Moscow educated communist sensed the brewing unrest among the peasants. He also resorted to force by leading attacks on nationalist strongholds and was nearly defeated, when he made that famous “Long March” to the mountains. That captured world-wide attention among the political literati and brought support of all kinds to his band of brigands. In 1948 saw the reality of his communist vision.

    Marx’s “Das Kapital” predicted a historical socio-political evolution, which never took place. It seems that the oppressed will always remain so. That is why Jesus likened the the people to lost sheep from His Fold.

    The concept of political power creates oppression, but all social concepts create movement, which cause the people to move one way or another. The family is an idea that people understand, but politicians don’t.

    Joseph’s revelations will not fail, because it is not founded on power, but on the Authority of Father in heaven. It moves slower and it is more compatible with the mindset of the common people rather than the moving and shaking politicians.

  13. Dane Laverty on August 3, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Ben and Jeremiah, perhaps I’ve stepped into something bigger than I realized with this piece. I’m not ready to give up my approach just yet, but I don’t have enough familiarity with Nietzsche to respond effectively to the valid concerns you express.

  14. Clark on August 3, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    There was actually an old issue of Dialog from the early 90′s that made similar claims. I think one has to be really, really careful with the parallels, although there are definitely some there. While Nietzsche was no fan of Christianity one must also recognize that he was familiar with the German Lutherism of his era which was heavily dominated by what a Mormon would call the God of the Philosophers.

    Nietzsche’s definitely an atheist and as such hard to ultimately reconcile with Mormonism. I often think of him more as what I’d be if I didn’t know about God. There’s an interesting move to see Nietzsche as bringing out a criticism of the idolatries within Christianity. (See my post about a book on this)

    The biggest problem I see in Nietzsche though is the place of love. Kind of a key element in the gospel. Will to power simply isn’t love. Yes Nietzsche talks about love but is it a view of love compatible with Mormonism?

    “Everyone thinks that people in love are selfless because they want to advance the interest of another person, often at their own expense. But in return they want to possess that other person… Even God is no exception here. He is far from thinking ‘what difference does it make to you if I love you?’ He becomes terrible if you do not love him in return” (CW 236).

  15. CT on August 3, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Ben H: I would think it moves in the other direction–one should read Zarathustra’s teachings on what the future should bring in light of Nietzsche’s virulent criticism of those virtues elsewhere (and in Zarathustra’s in Zarathustra). The love and generosity he preaches are post-Christian, post-modern virtues. Even within the chapter on “The Bestowing Virtue,” Zarathustra indicates that the generosity and love he’s speaking about are dangerous, exist beyond praise and blame, are part of a new good and evil, and entirely earth-bound (“Let it not fly away from the earthly and beat against eternal walls with its wings! Ah, there hath always been so much flown-away virtue!”). It is certainly possible to cherry-pick criticisms and arguments from Nietzsche, but I think the effort doesn’t do full justice to the depth and breadth of Nietzsche’s disagreement.

  16. Jeremiah J. on August 4, 2010 at 12:25 am

    “On helping the poor and weak, for example, one has to read what he says in Thus Spake Zarathustra about love and generosity, “the bestowing virtue,” and then reassess what one thought he was saying elsewhere.”

    To be fair, Nietzsche is notoriously complex and self-contradictory–I agree it should be hashed out more carefully that we can do here. He also wrote some beautful passages that can be appealling to what is decent in people (though I also think he’s great at flattering my vainity). What I’m mainly bugged by (aside from really believing that he’s a deeply anti-Christian thinker) is siding with him in a radical attack on the rich, largely valuable Christian tradition, and siding with him against the great bulk of the tradition of moral philosophy, which–I agree with Aquinas–shares a substantial amount of common ground with the Christian message. Perhaps I also have this sense of unfairness, that being old, censorious, difficult-to-read institutions of civilization makes Plato, Augustine and Kant distasteful to people without good reason, while being a great writer, as well as dazzling and iconoclastic, makes Nietzsche loved by people who don’t really share his values (leaving aside Nietzschean Mormons, there are countless Niezschean socialists and feminists out there!).

  17. Ben H on August 4, 2010 at 2:04 am

    Fair enough, Jeremy. I do think part of what is happening is that Dane is responding to certain elements of Nietzsche’s thought, without being ready to take a position on the rest of it. I agree there is much that is beautiful in Plato, Augustine, and the larger Christian tradition. There is much that is appalling, too. To seriously maintain that infants who die without being unbaptized will burn in hell forever, for example, makes God into an amoral monster, derailing the entire moral content of Christianity, and a number of Christian (in the sense of the tradition) thinkers embrace this amorality (Augustine, Luther, Calvin . . .). Many standard Christian teachings on the body have similarly catastrophic implications. It takes either a genius or a prophet to see all that is appalling there and yet somehow transform Christianity so as to retrieve what is beautiful and render it a whole point of view while leaving the appalling behind. Nietzsche puts his criticisms in the foreground and leaves only hints or veiled expressions of his admiration (though things become a bit more overt at times in Thus Spake Zarathustra). Hardly anyone can get past the criticism. Mormons, however, have already seen how Christianity is transformed and redeemed in the Restoration, so it is easier to take an optimistic angle on Nietzsche.

  18. Dane Laverty on August 4, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Clark, you present Nietzsche’s view on love as thought it contradicted Mormon (or even just Christian) thought. As far as I can tell, he’s making a solid point in the passage you quoted. Elder Nelson’s controversial Ensign article on the conditional nature of God’s love confirms that Mormon theology has room for the God Nietzsche depicts there.

    Nietzsche’s definitely an atheist and as such hard to ultimately reconcile with Mormonism. I often think of him more as what I’d be if I didn’t know about God.

    I’m not making the case that Nietzsche’s views are compatible with Joseph’s, but rather observing that both of them affirmed similar fundamental values from very different worldviews.

    CT, your quote from Nietzsche illustrates my point: “Let it not fly away from the earthly and beat against eternal walls with its wings! Ah, there hath always been so much flown-away virtue!” I understand that statement to be a criticism of the sorts of “righteousness” that yield no tangible fruit in this world — ascetic suffering for the sake of suffering, where the suffering itself is the righteousness offered to God. In contrast, Joseph’s Mormonism paints a physical, visceral, material heaven like the here-and-now. Mormonism doesn’t have a tradition of suffering for the sake of suffering, but we are willing to do hard things with an eye toward accomplishing tangible results — a guard against “flown-away virtue”. The biggest exception to this is our work for the dead in the temple.

    Jeremiah and Ben, I love Christ and His teachings, but I’m still working out how I feel about the Christian tradition that has assumed those teachings. Perhaps my own upbringing in the LDS church has unfairly colored my views of the wider community of Christian faiths. I guess it’s time for me to start getting out more!

  19. Carl Youngblood on August 4, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Dane, I believe this is the reference you were looking for:

    “Salvation means a man’s being placed beyond the power of all his enemies.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 301)

  20. John C. on August 4, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Dane,
    I really like this approach. I also have a couple of questions:
    For many Mormons, the idea that the Plan of Salvation gives their life a purpose (usually drawn from Moses 1:39) is very important. How would you explain your second point to those folk?
    Although there is an anti-pride bias in the church, I think that thinking of people as essentially value-generating could become important for conceptualizing what we will be up to eternally. That said, there is a strong tradition of viewing membership as discipleship. That would seem to mean that we are here to do the Lord’s will, not to follow our own self-generated notions of proper behavior. How would this integrate with your second and third points?
    Setting aside those two potential criticisms, I think that there are more parallels than we care to admit. For instance, the democratic impulse in the church (then and now) is leavened generously with a kind of theocratic aristocracy. Consider Council of Fifty era Joseph and democracy isn’t really what comes to mine (perhaps enlightened theocracy, instead).
    Finally, I’m really intrigued by your notion of exaltation, as expressed in this post. Would you care to comment on that further?

  21. Clark on August 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Dane, saying that the way we love is tied to our relations with each other seems uncontroversial. We talk about God loving unconditionally and its true. Yet the nature of his love for say his fallen son Lucifer is different from his love for Jesus in key aspects. That said it doesn’t follow that God’s love is merely the will to possess the other (i.e. domination) which is Nietzsche’s view and is what I was objecting to. Unless you think that is the view of love within Mormonism in which case I’ll just disagree with you there. (grin)

  22. Dane Laverty on August 4, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks Carl, that’s the quote!

    John C., the short of my view on exaltation is that heaven is literally what we build it to be. It is not a gift, but a project. Hopefully I’ll have time later to expand on that.

    Clark, I don’t know if this is relevant to our discussion, but the most useful definition for love I’ve found is the desire for another person’s happiness — I love someone to the extent that I will (in thought, word, and deed) their happiness.

  23. Adam Greenwood on August 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    “most useful definition for love I’ve found is the desire for another person’s happiness — I love someone to the extent that I will (in thought, word, and deed) their happiness.”

    This is the traditional Christian definition for love. Wouldn’t it be part of what Nietsche was rejecting?

  24. John C. on August 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Nietzsche would argue that traditional Christians wouldn’t know love if it slapped them in the face, no matter how they defined it.

  25. Chris H. on August 4, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    John,

    But doesn’t true love involve slapping?

  26. Clark on August 5, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    I think, John, that in terms of the formal Christianity he knew of the time that was probably true. (i.e. speaking of the society rather than individuals) That said I don’t think Nietzsche would know what love was either. His view of love always struck me like a young adolescent fixated on some girl for his own desires caring little about them as a person.

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