The writer Friedrich Nietzsche (d.1900), when commenting about religious matters, was by no means a friend of Christianity. Living in Christian-influenced Europe, he taught that those who do not conform to society’s norms, including the moral norms, were the ones who ultimately advanced civilization. He spoke of “the possibility of reaching higher goals through the appearance of degenerate types” and “it is precisely the weaker natures who, being more delicate and freer, make progress possible” (The Portable Nietzsche, W. Kaufmann, trans., p.55-56). Though not directly lobbying for a degenerate lifestyle, he nevertheless held that restraining moral freedom was an evil, and allowing it would ultimately make a society stronger. In one passage while he was speaking about Jesus’ words in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 ff), Nietzsche claimed that the principles given by Jesus to restrain human passions were an evil. At the end of a couple of pages speaking against the moral restraint taught by Jesus, he claims “an attack on the roots of passion means an attack on the roots of life: the practice of the church is hostile to life” (Ibid., p.487, italics in original).
Such thoughts bring an interesting parallel with our day. Nietzsche was an influential writer who spent considerable ink speaking against religion in general and Christianity in particular, so much so that his family hesitated to publish his works for fear of being charged with blasphemy. Modern atheists have no such fear, and speak against Christianity openly, having a good laugh at anyone who would charge them with blasphemy.
Yet we also have an interesting contrast. Nietzsche says in the passage above that God’s teachings in the Bible were too morally restrictive. He held that if we are to allow life to thrive, we must ignore the moral restraint given in the Bible. The Biblical moral codes that were held by the church were too straight and narrow. They were, so to speak, too good. For individuals and society to improve, Nietzsche held that we must ignore such high morals given in the Bible and allow more freedom.
By contrast, today’s atheists have latched on to just the opposite view of the Bible. They tell us the Bible teaches moral evil, with passages filled with murder, rape, and pillage. Our modern atheists tell us that the Biblical moral codes are too loose, and must be tightened up. Richard Dawkins and his disciples seem to make this a major point.
One thing is clear: the Bible cannot be both too restrictive and too licentious at the same time and in the same sense. It cannot be true that we need to have both looser morals and tighter morals. What can be true is that the atheists and critics of Christianity put us in a no-win paradox, criticizing what they disagree with and looking for proof texts to support their biases.
We do not hear much these days about the Sermon on the Mount from within the church or without. We would all do good to read Jesus words in Mathew chapters 5 to 7.