The Antichrist Themes and Analysis

‘The Antichrist’ explores a range of themes that were presented with an equally varied array of stylistic choices. We take a look at some of the most important themes in the Antichrist.

ee 50-100 words

The Antichrist Themes and Analysis

Falsification of History

In “The Antichrist”, Nietzsche accuses the priestly class of engaging in historical falsification. In tracing the history of events in both the Old Testament and the New, Nietzsche becomes convinced that both the ancient Jewish priests of the Old Testament and the Apostles and Church leaders of the New Testament falsified history to suit their purposes. The Jewish priests reinterpreted the nature of God, as well as the events of the Old Testament to suit their power-seeking purposes.

From a proud and powerful God who represented the vitality of the Jews, they reworked him to be a vengeful and moralizing deity who is against any expression of pleasure or the gratification of any instinct towards life preservation and enjoyment. God was angry and would swiftly punish sin. They also conveniently “suddenly” discovered the laws which represent God’s wish. But incidentally, these are fabrications that instead reinforce the power and authority of the priests themselves.

The same thing happens in the Gospels of the New Testament. Because they could not adhere to it, the Apostles inverted the original gospel of Jesus away from its blissful accepting and non-resentful nature into one motivated by resentment, dishonesty, and incapability. Jesus was imbued with features that were foreign to his nature. The Apostles turned Jesus against their enemies- the Jewish priestly class- when in reality he bore no ill-will against them.

Decadence

Another major theme in “The Antichrist” is that of decadence. For Nietzsche, the endpoint of Christianity would be the elevation of the base, anti-life values of the weak- values he sees as decadent. The strong represents humanity’s best chance of survival. Their morality arises out of natural instincts and this uniquely positions them for survival. The morality of the decadent however is a response to their low station in life, their impotence. Not being able to reach out and claim the world, they seek to limit the capacity of those who can. They seek to reduce humanity’s full potential. Powerful and healthy instincts are suppressed in favor of tame instincts. 

Christianity encourages decadence through its opposition to nature and the flourishing of natural human instincts. The endpoint of this is that the strong are coerced or guilt-tripped into believing their behavior is sinful and undesirable, meaning the morals and values of the weak will reign and humanity will not be able to reach its full potential. With such resultant general weakness, humanity is then primed for degradation. 

Ressentiment

The theme of ressentiment is a dominant one in “The Antichrist”. Ressentiment is a strong feeling of resentment among the lowly and weak that is mixed with an instinct for vengeance against their superiors. Ressentiment arises out of envy and impotence. Having watched their leader crucified on the cross by the Jewish upper class as well as the Romans, the apostles were consumed with ressentiment and so sought revenge against their oppressors by fashioning a religion that opposes the instincts that makes their oppressors or superiors great, or that gives them the advantage.

So, sentiments that make sin out of the dominant instincts of the upper class are designated as sin. These instincts are then collected and planted upon a new evil God for the strong- Satan. Satan is made to be the originator and inspirer of these instincts. Hell is constructed to assure the weak of the pleasure of knowing that the strong will face punishment in some otherworldly realm. The strong are made to feel guilty, filthy, and condemned and the revenge is complete when the strong believe all these. 

Figurative Language and Symbols

Nietzsche enjoys a reputation as one of history’s better philosophical writers, and in “The Antichrist“, there is evidence of his wit and mastery over style.

Style and form

Although Nietzsche writes clearly and lucidly, his ideas are often hard to follow not because his writing is murky, but because he packs a lot into small sentences. Nietzsche does not write in a very accessible manner and does not intend his book to be received by everyone. He has a select audience of like minds whom he hopes will be dedicated enough to grasp his ideas and hints. 

Unlike other philosophers, Nietzsche does not ground his ideas under a systematic and consistent system but instead relies on aphorisms. In “The Antichrist“, the aphorisms consist of chapters of varying length that sustains his criticism of Christianity, Christian characters, and Christian morals. 

The Antichrist” was written in a language designed to shock the readers. He condemns Christianity in the strongest terms and declares that the “botched shall perish” in typically brutal, no holds barred fashion. His tone is one of disgust and anger at Christianity and other targets who exemplify his much-condemned notions of decadence, intellectual dishonesty, weakness, and falsehood. 

Charged vituperative statements are typical in the book. Nietzsche’s disgust is palpable and his condemnation makes use of the strongest words, like the ones he used when condemning Christianity thus: 

“To me, it is the extremist thinkable form of corruption, it has had the will to the ultimate corruption conceivably possible. The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its depravity . . .” 

The Antichrist” is a work where Nietzsche stays true to a central idea, rather than splattering a series of seemingly disparate and unrelated aphorisms like was prevalent in his earlier works. “The Antichrist” is paced in a varied manner, with Nietzsche interspersing short observations and ideas with longer analysis and polemics. However, they all present a smooth, sustained, and well-argued charge against Christianity. 

Allusions

In writing “The Antichrist“, Nietzsche leans onto texts of varying origins and periods which either illuminates his idea better, illustrate a point he is making, or stand highlighted for praise or criticism as it relates to the ideas he is espousing. 

For example, Nietzsche’s idea that the Jews and Christians projected an exaggerated version of their desires and spiritual impulse into their God arises from the work of Ludwig Feuerbach’s “The Essence of Christianity”, where Feuerbach, an outspoken atheist, argued that God is the projection of human characteristics onto something external, outside the self. Thus, Nietzsche references this concept when he urges that we remember our transformed situations should we cease to “flow out into a god”. 

Also, if one does not have some familiarity with the Fyodor Dostoevsky work titled “The Idiot” he would associate Nietzsche’s designation of Jesus as being an “idiot” with a deficiency of intellect, rather than that childlike acceptance and general love and tolerance even to the point of personal disadvantage that typifies the principal character of the Novel, Prince Myshkin. 

A book that critiques Christian morality should feature copious allusions to the Bible, and one would need an understanding of the book to help in understanding the central points within which Nietzsche attacks and references, such as Jesus’ “glad tidings” and Paul’s “justification by faith”. 

One cannot understand Nietzsche’s condemnation of Martin Luther as dishonest if he is not familiar with Luther’s doctrine of elevating and separating faith from reason. 

Figurative Expressions

Nietzsche utilizes a number of literary devices to help make his various arguments. Among them are hyperbolic statements meant to ridicule targets of his attacks and convey his fury, puns, imagery.

In outlining Christianity’s tendency to glorify suffering, Nietzsche notes that “The most famous formula for this is to be found in the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount, where, incidentally, things are by no means looked at from a height.” Here the smooth use of the idea of “heights” facilitates the ironic juxtaposition of the elevated position on which Christ sat to deliver the sermons, with the deficiency of the sermons itself.

Immediately following that statement, Nietzsche quotes one of the sermons, noting with cutting sarcasm that;

“There it is said, for example, with particular reference to sexuality: “If thy eye offends thee, pluck it out.” Fortunately, no Christian acts by this precept.”

The inability of Christians to act out the commandment exposes both its unreasonableness and impracticality as well as the hypocrisy of the Christians themselves. Another instance is where Nietzsche was showing, through quotations in the new testament, how Christianity is fired up by a most ironic feeling of vengeance and resentment translating into a wish that the dominant class is punished in the “new Kingdom”. 

Nietzsche deftly reveals the paradox and contradictions between Christian principles and reality. While Christians would like us to believe that they stood for truth, it is in fact dishonest. And while it would preach the doctrine of forgiveness, it is in fact powered by an instinct of vengeance and resentment. While Christian ideas of charity and pity appear to look out best for the weak, they actually do more to keep the weak in his place, rather than inspire his rise away from that unfavorable situation.

FAQs

Did Nietzsche hate Jews?

Although Nietzsche was critical of certain aspects of historical Jewish sensibilities like the tendency of its priestly class during Old Testament times to falsify history, he did not hate Jews. It is perhaps more accurate to describe Nietzsche as an anti-antisemite- a position made more remarkable when one considers that Nietzsche lived during a time when

Was Nietzsche a Nazi?

Certain of Nietzsche’s ideas have been misinterpreted as an endorsement of fascism, cruelty, and “might makes right” Machiavellianism. However, Nietzsche did not defend these ideas in truth and would have been repulsed by the Nazis had he lived to see them.

He decried hard, religious allegiance to the State in a way that sprouts forth the fanaticism that leads to wars as we saw during the first and second World wars. He railed against concepts that were the cornerstone of Nazi ideology like racial purity and exclusion, anti-semitism, political parties, among others.

Did Nietzsche’s sister alter parts of ‘The Antichrist?’

Yes. Nietzsche’s sister, Elizabeth Forster-Nietzche edited his work. In the Antichrist, being in control of Nietzsche’s literary estate after her brother’s mental incapacitation, she suppressed a number of passages which she deemed too blasphemous or critical of Jesus or Christianity or in at least one case, on famous personalities which she admired.

Did Nietzsche admire Jesus?

Compared to his characterization of other Christian figures like Apostle Paul and other Apostles, Nietzsche’s passages on Jesus are almost entirely glowing. While he does infantilize Jesus by seeing him as a not yet fully mature, childish, and fully mortal prophet, he also characterized Jesus as sincere and pure as opposed to the apostles whom he describes as sneaky and dishonest.

About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
Send this to a friend