Nietzsche’s challenge: Faith means the will to avoid knowing what is true.

(This usually appears on the Internet as: “Faith: not wanting to know what the truth is.”)

The quote, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him” is from Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” (or “The Joyful Wisdom”). “Faith means the will to avoid knowing what is true” is from Nietzsche’s “The Antichrist”.

When Nietzsche says that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him”, although he is an atheist, he is not referring to the actual reality of God. He is referring to the fact that in the hearts of men and women, God no longer has a presense. Regardless of whether God is a reality or not, we have killed him in our hearts. Nietzsche is saying that we can no longer derive our morals and ethics from our outmoded notion of God. We don’t need God anymore.

This is a huge calamity for a considerable period of time, even if God is not a reality. We are still well within this period of time. It is a much greater calamity if God is a reality, for then we are denying the moral authority of the source of all. This is downright suicidal.

Nietzsche asserts in various places the equilvalent of “Faith is not wanting to know what is true“, and he is certainly not always referring to religious faith when he says it. He spent a lifetime referring to misguided faith in politics and in societies, referring with scorn to the notions of a secular German beer-drinking public. However, in “The Antichrist” he is referring specifically to faith in Christ.

Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, the first two “existentialists”, have scorn for Christendom. But whereas Nietzsche scorns religious faith, Kierkegaard defends the Christian faith in God. For Kierkegaard, contra Nietzche, faith is a passionate longing to know what is true. Both think of Christendom as being in a rotten state, but whereas Nietzsche is an atheist, Kierkegaard is a believer in the Son of God, in the reality of Jesus as being a true and faithful sign into the nature of God.

We are all children of the Enlightenment. We have been taught to believe in Reason, and that the pursuit of Reason will lead us to the truth. Does reason have its limitations? And whether reason has limitations or not, are humans unable to utilize it to find truth that is undistorted? Certainly humans have used reason to discover an astounding amount of objective truth about the world. But we have been far less successful in discovering subjective truth, in explaining our inwardness, in discovering who we are. We have lifeless, textbook speculations on our inwardness that are reductive of who we are. Is reason incapable of discovering truly who we are? For perceiving our essence, our inwardness? If reason is incapable of that, is there another mode for perceiving truth?

Kierkegaard believed so.

C. Stephen Evans, in his book “Faith Beyond Reason: a Kierkegaardian Account”, has a brilliant discussion of these questions. In it he asserts that Kierkegaard’s main concerns are twofold: “an emphasis on the ways that sinfulness and finitude limit human thinking, and on the ways that certain emotions and passions are necessary in order to get at religious truth. If Kierkegaard is right, then a good deal of the intellectual practices and attitudes that are taken as ‘reasonable’ by sinful human beings do not in fact help us get on track with truth. To make contact with truth we need to be reshaped from the ground up, and for Kierkegaard that requires a reorientation of our deepest desires.” 

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