No, no, a thousand times, no. Idiot! I’m going to have to officially become a Zen Buddhist just so I have a socially acceptable excuse to go around whacking imbeciles over the head with a bamboo stick every time they let their cleverness prevent them from seeing what’s right in front of their nose and thinking clearly about it. And this, this is not “thinking.” This is more like someone mindlessly connecting dots, hoping a coherent pattern emerges. “If you’re not 100% for, you should be 100% against.” There’s an intuitive rhetorical symmetry to “thoughts” like this that make them appealing despite their utter stupidity. They’re not even unreasonable so much as pre-reasonable. That’s why you don’t argue them out of someone’s head. You just…*whack*

I assume this is in response to the recent thing about Richard Dawkins declaring himself a “cultural Christian.” I’m not interested in any of that, but until I’m ordained and receive my bamboo stick, I feel like I should do my part to demystify the atheist perspective. Otherwise, fatheads like this will be presumed to speak for me.

Morality, like all human traditions, is a hodgepodge derived from our nature as a social species, refined over the eons through trial and error. As the late, great, Frans de Waal wrote about in many books, the rudiments of morality are present and obvious in many other species. You don’t need to accept, reject, or, indeed, have any opinion at all about virgin births, resurrected God-men, immortal souls, or afterlives to recognize morality and participate in the maintenance of it. You don’t simply “chuck it out” any more than you change into another species through an act of will. That’s one of those notions that only an intellectual could be stupid enough to believe. The kind of moron who says, “I reject Christian dogmas, so I guess I have to become a psychopath” is not thinking about what morality and immorality mean; he’s just bouncing between logical axioms like a pinball. He’s still reflexively allowing others to determine his response. He’s practicing what we might call “herd morality.” Speaking of which…

“Be like Nietzsche.” Now, this is the part where I storm the stage like Will Smith and slap my philosopher’s name out of FischerKing’s effing mouth. Here’s what the man himself had to say about what it means to “deny morality.” You can tell this was important to him, because he went to much greater effort than usual to idiot-proof his perspective (not that it helped):

Thus I deny morality as I deny alchemy, that is, I deny their premises: but I do not deny that there have been alchemists who believed in these premises and acted in accordance with them.  I also deny immorality: not that countless people feel themselves to be immoral, but there is any true reason so to feel. It goes without saying that I do not deny — unless I am a fool — that many actions called immoral ought to be avoided and resisted, or that many called moral ought to be done and encouraged, but I think the one should be encouraged and the other avoided for other reasons than hitherto. We have to learn to think differently in order at last, perhaps very late on, to attain even more: to feel differently.

“I do not deny — unless I am a fool — that many actions called immoral ought to be avoided and resisted, or that many called moral ought to be done and encouraged…” That, right there, could immediately shut down most of the nonsense, pro and con, that you read about Nietzsche. I’m not saying this is a definitive representation of his true or ultimate view on morality — for that kind of text-obsessed dogmatism, one would need to be an academic — but it goes to show that it was part of his perspective, one that always gets overlooked in favor of the more dramatic utterances of his later years when the tumor was destroying his brain. (Dominic Green, for what it’s worth, advances the view that all of Nietzsche’s bombast about “immorality” was just the overheated self-aggrandizement of a closet case.)

Nietzsche has been one of my closest literary companions for over thirty years now. I’ve returned to his books over and over because of the exquisite prose and the constant thought-provocation. I write about him here because, as with lifting weights, it’s a fun challenge to try to focus on a topic that a dozen other bookish bloggers haven’t already covered in depth, and to emphasize some under-appreciated aspects of his thought. And yet, I would never, except maybe in jest, tell anyone to “be like Nietzsche.” Read him, think with him, argue with him, but slavishly imitate him? Especially when you clearly don’t even understand what you’re imitating? “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.”