Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

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Before we examine the further consequences of this mental state, let us acknowledge that it is not through his "guilt" and "sin" that man has got into this condition, but through a series of errors of reason; that it was the fault of the mirror if his image appeared so dark and hateful to him, and that that mirror was his work, the very imperfect work of human imagination and power of judgment. In the first place, a nature that is only capable of purely un-egoistic actions is more fabulous than the phnix; it cannot even be clearly imagined, just because, when closely examined, the whole idea "un-egoistic action" vanishes into air. No man ever did a thing which was done only for others and without any personal motive; how should he be able to do anything which had no relation[Pg 135] to himself, and therefore without inward obligation (which must always have its foundation in a personal need)? How could the ego act without ego A God who, on the contrary, is all love, as such a one is often represented, would not be capable of a single un-egoistic action, whereby one is reminded of a saying of Lichtenberg's which is certainly taken from a lower sphere: "We cannot possibly feel for others, as the saying is; we feel only for ourselves. This sounds hard, but it is not so really if it be rightly understood. We do not love father or mother or wife or child, but the pleasant sensations they cause us;" or, as Rochefoucauld says: "Si on croit aimer sa matresse pour l'amour d'elle, on est bien tromp." To know the reason why actions of love are valued more than others, not on account of their nature, namely, but of their usefulness, we should compare the examinations already mentioned, On the Origin of Moral Sentiments. But should a man desire to be entirely like that God of Love, to do and wish everything for others and nothing for himself, the latter is impossible for the reason that he must do very much for himself to be able to do something for the love of others. Then it is taken for granted that the other is sufficiently egoistic to accept that sacrifice again and again, that living for him,—so that the people of love and sacrifice have an interest in the continuance of those who are loveless and incapable of sacrifice, and, in order to exist, the highest morality would be obliged positively[Pg 136] to compel the existence of un-morality (whereby it would certainly annihilate itself). Further: the conception of a God disturbs and humbles so long as it is believed in; but as to how it arose there can no longer be any doubt in the present state of the science of comparative ethnology; and with a comprehension of this origin all belief falls to the ground. The Christian who compares his nature with God's is like Don Quixote, who under-valued his own bravery because his head was full of the marvellous deeds of the heroes of the chivalric; romances,—the standard of measurement in both cases belongs to the domain of fable. But if the idea of God is removed, so is also the feeling of "sin" as a trespass against divine laws, as a stain in a creature vowed to God. Then, perhaps, there still remains that dejection which is intergrown and connected with the fear of the punishment of worldly justice or of the scorn of men; the dejection of the pricks of conscience, the sharpest thorn in the consciousness of sin, is always removed if we recognise that though by our own deed we have sinned against human descent, human laws and ordinances, still that we have not imperilled the "eternal salvation of the Soul" and its relation to the Godhead. And if man succeeds in gaining philosophic conviction of the absolute necessity of all actions and their entire irresponsibility, and absorbing this into his flesh and blood, even those remains of the pricks of conscience vanish.

[Pg 137]


Now if the Christian, as we have said, has fallen into the way of self-contempt in consequence of certain errors through a false, unscientific interpretation of his actions and sensations, he must notice with great surprise how that state of contempt, the pricks of conscience and displeasure generally, does not endure, how sometimes there come hours when all this is wafted away from his soul and he feels himself once more free and courageous. In truth, the pleasure in himself, the comfort of his own strength, together with the necessary weakening through time of every deep emotion, has usually been victorious; man loves himself once again, he feels it,—but precisely this new love, this self-esteem, seems to him incredible, he can only see in it the wholly undeserved descent of a stream of mercy from on high. If he formerly believed that in every event he could recognise warnings, menaces, punishments, and every kind of manifestation of divine anger, he now finds divine goodness in all his experiences, —this event appears to him to be full of love, that one a helpful hint, a third, and, indeed, his whole happy mood, a proof that God is merciful. As formerly, in his state of pain, he interpreted his actions falsely, so now he misinterprets his experiences; his mood of comfort he believes to be the working of a power operating outside of himself, the love with which he really loves himself seems to him to be divine love; that which he[Pg 138] calls mercy, and the prologue to redemption, is actually self-forgiveness, self-redemption.


Therefore: A certain false psychology, a certain kind of imaginative interpretation of motives and experiences, is the necessary preliminary for one to become a Christian and to feel the need of redemption. When this error of reason and imagination is recognised, one ceases to be a Christian.


Of Christian Asceticism and Holiness.—As greatly as isolated thinkers have endeavoured to depict as a miracle the rare manifestations of morality, which are generally called asceticism and holiness, miracles which it would be almost an outrage and sacrilege to explain by the light of common sense, as strong also is the inclination towards this outrage. A mighty impulse of nature has at all times led to a protest against those manifestations; science, in so far as it is an imitation of nature, at least allows itself to rise against the supposed inexplicableness and unapproachableness of these objections. So far it has certainly not succeeded: those appearances are still unexplained, to the great joy of the above-mentioned worshippers of the morally marvellous. For, speaking generally, the unexplained must be absolutely inexplicable, the inexplicable absolutely unnatural, supernatural, wonderful,—thus runs the demand in the souls of[Pg 139] all religious and metaphysical people (also of artists, if they should happen to be thinkers at the same time); whilst the scientist sees in this demand the "evil principle" in itself. The general, first probability upon which one lights in the contemplation of holiness and asceticism is this, that their nature is a complicated one, for almost everywhere, within the physical world as well as in the moral, the apparently marvellous has been successfully traced back to the complicated, the many-conditioned. Let us venture, therefore, to isolate separate impulses from the soul of saints and ascetics, and finally to imagine them as intergrown.


There is a defiance of self, to the sublimest manifestation of which belong many forms of asceticism. Certain individuals have such great need of exercising their power and love of ruling that, in default of other objects, or because they have never succeeded otherwise, they finally ex-cogitate the idea of tyrannising over certain parts of their own nature, portions or degrees of themselves. Thus many a thinker confesses to views which evidently do not serve either to increase or improve his reputation; many a one deliberately calls down the scorn of others when by keeping silence he could easily have remained respected; others contradict former opinions and do not hesitate to be called inconsistent—on the contrary, they strive after this, and behave like reckless[Pg 140] riders who like a horse best when it has grown wild, unmanageable, and covered with sweat. Thus man climbs dangerous paths up the highest mountains in order that he may laugh to scorn his own fear and his trembling knees; thus the philosopher owns to views on asceticism, humility, holiness, in the brightness of which his own picture shows to the worst possible disadvantage. This crushing of one's self, this scorn of one's own nature, this spernere se sperm, of which religion has made so much, is really a very high degree of vanity. The whole moral of the Sermon on the Mount belongs here; man takes a genuine delight in doing violence to himself by these exaggerated claims, and afterwards idolising these tyrannical demands of his soul. In every ascetic morality man worships one part of himself as a God, and is obliged, therefore, to diabolise the other parts.

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