96. Biting through (IV)
It is a fairly typical path for a person who embraces Nietzsche to come full circle and move from strict atheism to belief in religion. The reason for this lies in the contradictory nature of Nietzsche’s thought; it is part of the strength and delight of the will to power for a person to make an assertion and then turn the assertion on its head. There is a thrill to doing so; hence Nietzsche had a particular admiration for the mask: the overman wears many masks in his time, but behind them all he is overflowing with abundant joy.
At first, Nietzsche’s radical honesty means penetrating the rank psychological motivations behind religion. Nietzsche identifies religion—particularly the other-worldly Platonic-Abrahamic religions—as a crutch for those who cannot face the fall from the cliff tops of illusion onto the liver-shredding rocks of life. There is no beyond; and the priest only pretends there is a Heaven above us and a Hell below to exploit and revenge himself on the vigorous and manly through shame. The real man has no time for womanish shame; he is eminently practical, expanding his power through disinterested action. He feels his passions—his anger, his cruelty, his sexual desire—fully; he does not wish nothingness: he wants to feel everything, painful and exulted.
Yet Nietzsche also celebrates the honest liar; and what, precisely, is that? It is something like a magician, a person who uses technique to create beautiful illusions that the masses believe. The man behind the mask is honest with himself; but he uses his understanding to create illusions, and those illusions may, perhaps, give others a reason to live. The will to truth found in Christian-Platonism kills itself: investigating the world until it destroyed the God that demanded the truth; after that, nihilism. We arrive at the modern world: why should I tell the truth when the God that commanded me to seek the truth has eaten himself? Zarathustra comes first to command us to seek the true and then, later, returns to tell us to lie.
The overman realises that the illusions of religion, having survived thousands of years, embody certain truths that augment his power. Nietzsche admired the Old Testament: the old religion of peoples and heroes does not feature Heaven or Hell, and this pleased Nietzsche—he preached the testament of power. The overman returns to a second religiousness; he wears the mask of religion but not from sincere belief; he wears it because it is useful. The liberal interpreters of Nietzsche only go so far as honest destruction, but they never experience the return of Zarathustra: the return of the myth-maker.
Without religion, the underman falls apart; he cannot work, even as a slave. Without the underman, the great projects of the overman cannot be accomplished. Elon Musk may not believe in God but his projects depend on an intelligent workforce that, without the constraints of tradition, will eventually drain away in hedonistic excess. The IQ shredder: intelligent people move to the cities for work and, caught in the expense and the ideology of liberalism, fail to reproduce. The hedonistic treadmill exhausts its best material; so the overman, keen to husband his resources, to reach the stars, supports traditions to defend the root that sustains. The Roman magistrates always thought like this; every religion was equally useful to them.
Thus Leo Strauss observed that the combat of nihilism would require an overman elite who could look dispassionately on the cold, but would maintain the old rites to keep the social structure intact. Exoteric and esoteric: their cold honest thoughts would pass between each other as the interpretation of scriptures, the true meaning of which would be apparent through omissions and ellipses only detected by the initiated—you will know what I mean when you understand what I do not say. What starts as a critique of belief becomes a defence; but it is now a question of crafting the right mask, at the right time.