93. Retreat (IV)
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
As I walked home, I saw a house decorated with a large banner that read: “Jesus is the reason for the season.” This provoked inchoate rage and anger in me. If I expressed my anger, no doubt, the owners of the house would say: “Oh, the anger of the atheist! If he really thought God didn’t exist he wouldn’t be angry! Don’t you know Jesus loves you, just as you are.” It is such people that caused Nietzsche to rage against the ascetic, the Christian, and the priest; for it is obvious that behind these pious words lurks the desire to dominate, manipulate, and control.
Nietzsche misunderstood the ascetic, but he understood the hypocrite very well indeed. Regarding the banner, there is a hypocrisy involved: Jesus made a point of condemning ostentatious prayers. It follows, therefore, that to make an extraordinary fuss about your love of Jesus is to act against the very spirit of what Jesus taught. This house with the Jesus banner was the most modest on the street; their neighbours had bigger homes and several Bentleys on the drive. It is not hard to see the motivation for advertising superior holiness; they have less than their neighbours, but they can always act as if they are above materialism—secretly their supposed spiritual devotion is a form of competition and envy. Jesus is not the “reason for the season”: we had winter festivals to cheer us up in the dark months for thousands of years before Jesus, and, if his name is ever forgotten, we will continue to do so.
This behaviour enflames in its sanctimony; but your anger, if expressed, will be turned against you—and all will cry, “What an unholy man!” To resist such hypocrisy would lead a person to be, rather like Jesus, socially crucified. So kiss my holy ass and eat and drink and fuck—and drive a Bentley, whether you can afford it or not.
Nietzsche thought all ascetics are as described above; it is all a resentful game to pull down the aristocrat. He admired the attitude of Pilate: a man who “washed his hands” with indifference regarding the guilt or innocence of Jesus; the Roman aristocrat was above the rabble and their cult. In this he followed Machiavelli and Spinoza: the moraliser lies; simply act to increase your power of action, be a realist. The ascetic is an unhealthy person trying to kill desire because they cannot compete with real power; hence they deny sex and starve themselves on vegetables, trying to shame carefree Pilate.
The true ascetic constrains himself, not out of a desire to punish, but rather to attain a particular form of joyful power. Buddhist morality matches the aristocratic indifference Nietzsche admired: morals are a raft to cross the river, when the river is crossed the morals can be left behind. This is the attitude of Machiavelli or Spinoza—and the great practical trickster Odysseus. If an action ceases to expand power, cast it away and forget it: the powerful man does not remember; he harbours no poisonous longings for revenge. Similarly, the ascetic’s practices are aimed at cultivating detachment towards all events; his goal is to return to society so that he can pursue power, women, and money without being owned by them. The ascetic should be able to smoke twenty cigarettes a day for a year, then give them up and never look at a packet again.
Worldly power can always be taken away; thus the overman’s enemies always have something over him. The ascetic cannot be manipulated; if he has trained correctly he can lose everything and still burn with the light of enlightenment. It is only a botched ascetic who manipulates with morals and punishes himself to proclaim holiness: the true ascetic abounds with overflowing joy, actionless action. The overman, by contrast, is still bound by the passions of defeat and victory—emotions Nietzsche invites us to revel in, a little womanishly, but actually bind us to other men.