What did Nietzsche mean by accusing Christianity of slave-morality?


In a piece of journalism I read today

But I've come to believe that there's also something deeper at work: that most of the world's people live with the legacy of slavery. Even in a nominal democracy like the United Kingdom, most people were more or less in bondage until little more than a century ago: on near-starvation wages, fired at will, threatened with extreme punishment if they dissented, forbidden to vote. They lived in great and justified fear of authority, and the fear has persisted, passed down across the five or six generations that separate us and reinforced now by renewed insecurity, snowballing inequality, partisan policing.

I don't want to consider the theological truth of Christianitys central claim, but as a social force. Nietszche accuses it of fostering a slave morality, but it seems that the slavery is enforced by a political class. Surely then Christianity provides a morality/ethics that sustains a populace under such a burden. Of course one could argue that sustaining can decay into enforcing; can one say that Nietschze is asking that this compact should now be overturned? That is if the 'meek are to inherit the earth' they cannot do this by remaining meek.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2013-04-01T23:26:58.920

Reputation: 1

4I'm not connecting the dots here. First, I'm not sure the quote from the Guardian is historically accurate. Second, I don't see what it has to do with Christianity or Nietzsche. Third, I think the question would be stronger if you quoted Nietzsche rather than paraphrased him. – Jon Ericson – 2013-04-01T23:51:22.693

ok. Good points. Journalism isn't history. I should back it up with some sources. The same goes for what you said about Nietszche. Although these points need more evidence to sustain them, I don't see why you feel the question hasn't anything to do with either Christianity or Nietschze. I may of course be mischaracterising entirely what Nietschze may have meant by slave-morality and accusing christianity of embodying it. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-02T00:07:42.170

1My (somewhat scant) reading of Nietsche suggests that he is concerned with the ways in which "slave morality" serves to inhibit self-actualisation of people who would otherwise break free. In particular, esp. in view of his position in "The Antichrist", he seems to think that it is slave morality which inhibits (deleteriously!) the ability of self-actualizing people from doing all that they could do, rather than the masters who impose a "slavish morality" upon "lower" classes. – Niel de Beaudrap – 2013-04-02T00:11:09.300

1I might put some of this in an answer if we can clarify the concern a bit further, but just some immediate thoughts. The "slavery" here is psychic and social at once -- taking generalized repression as a sublime object of ideology, castration deified; Deleuze puts it this way: "A 'disinterested' love for the oppressive machine: Nietzsche said some beautiful things about this permanent triumph of slaves, on how the embittered, the depressed and the weak, impose their mode of life upon us all". – Joseph Weissman – 2013-04-02T01:43:56.560

1Slave morality not a matter of masters imposing limiting-repressive manners, law or policy (that they themselves would trangress and so enjoy pleasures prohibited to "the rest of us"); to my mind the master is in reality the one who is prohibited from desire/castrated/incapable of evil -- in short, the lamb is setting a table of laws over the eagle, denying for everyone the expression of passions that are not present in them anyway (or attenuated/decayed/made fragile, etc.) – Joseph Weissman – 2013-04-02T01:44:07.217

2Spinoza is acutely aware of this problem as well; recall in what way he says kings and priests are similar: they use sad passions (bitterness, grief, guilt) to diminish our power of acting... – Joseph Weissman – 2013-04-02T01:46:48.337

@weissman:Isn't your paraphrase of Spinoza part of what I'm illustrating above - that 'slavery is enforced by a political class'? Are not 'Kings and priests' archetypes of the political class? Presumably you're using repression as you are talking of 'psychic and social' slavery - the gesture is towards Freud here. But why sublime - isn't this an aesthetic term? – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-02T06:32:05.657

(Note these are just two psyschosocial types that we could have mentioned here: not just kings and priests, but psychoanalysts, cops, etc...) – Joseph Weissman – 2013-04-02T16:23:15.853

@weissman: Well, yes; that structure reproduces itself throughout the social body. Kings & priests also use positive emotions also to enhance our power for acting. ie pride in fascism. pride in nationalism. But then this brings us back to the question of the Good. Is fascism part of the Good? Is nationalism part of the Good? Or am I completely wrong here? – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-03T00:29:45.963

@deBeaudrap: I agree with you there (also given my meagre reading of Nietzsche). Nietszche is keen on the idea of flourishing. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-03T00:32:03.363



What did Nietzsche mean by accusing Christianity of slave-morality?

“I finally discovered two basic types and one basic difference. There are master morality and slave morality. . . . The moral discrimination of values has originated either among a ruling group whose consciousness of its difference from the ruled group was accompanied by delight - or among the ruled, the slaves and dependents of every degree.” ... “The Christian faith is from the beginning a sacrifice: sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit, at the same time enslavement and self-mockery, selfmutilation … Modern men, with their obtuseness to all Christian nomenclature, no longer sense the gruesome superlative which lay for an antique taste in the paradoxical formula ‘god on the cross’. Never and nowhere has there hitherto been a comparable boldness in inversion, anything so fearsome, questioning and questionable, as this formula: it promised a revaluation of all antique values. – It is the orient, the innermost orient, it is the oriental slave who in this fashion took vengeance on Rome and its noble and frivolous tolerance, on Roman ‘Catholicism’ of faith – and it has never been faith but always freedom from faith, that half-stoical unconcern with the seriousness of faith, that has enraged slaves in their masters and against their masters. ‘Enlightenment’ enrages: for the slave wants the unconditional, he understands in the domain of morality too only the tyrannical, he loves as he hates, without nuance, into the depths of him, to the point of pain, to the point of sickness – the great hidden suffering he feels is enraged at the noble taste which seems to deny suffering.”
Nietzsche - Beyond Good and Evil.

“The act of most spiritual revenge. It was the Jews who, with awe inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of God) and to hang onto this inversion with their teeth, the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred of impotence), saying, "the wretched alone are the good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious, alone are blessed by God . . . and you, the powerful and noble, are on the contrary the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity, and you shall be in all eternity the unblessed, the accursed, and damned!"
Nietzsche - Genealogy of Morals

Nietzsche traces the master and slave morality back to the masters and slaves of ancient times. He suggests that our most cherished values originated not among those who were the best and brightest of their times, but among those who were the most oppressed and impoverished. The dominant emotion in the evolution of morality, in other words, was not pride in oneself or one's people, but a defensive prejudice against all of those who succeeded and achieved the happiness that one could not oneself achieve. Nietzsche argues that the roots of ressentiment morality are to be found in the history of the Jews. In ‘Jewish hatred’ for the Roman oppressor lie the seeds of Christian faith and morality. The ancient Hebrews and then the early Christians simmered with resentment and concocted a fabulous philosophical strategy against their ancient masters. Instead of seeing themselves as failures in the competition for wealth and power, they re-valued their values and turned their resentment into self-righteousness. Morality is the product of this self-righteous resentment, which is not nearly so concerned with living the good life as it is with chastizing those who do live it. In its extreme form - asceticism - it is the active denial of the good life, the ultimate outlet of resentment as self-righteous self-denial.

Nietzsche suggests then, on the basis of this analysis, that Christian morality is inherently structured as a form of slave morality's ressentiment toward the masters, and it accomplishes revenge imaginatively, by means of passing judgment. The strong, active traits of the masters are vilified by the slavish, who come to regard their own passivity and weakness as virtues. This pattern pervades the moral ideals of Christianity. Many modes of self-assertion and self-expression are analyzed as sins on the Christian scheme, while passive suffering is deemed characteristic of the blessed. Since Christianity is based on "slave morality' it must be a point of honor for the "strong" to overcome it. For them it is"indecent" to still be Christians. Nietzsche assert with regularity that religion is necessary primarily or solely for the weak.


Posted 2013-04-01T23:26:58.920

Reputation: 3 058

1I do not agree: since even Roman critisists of Christianity, such as Celsus, noticed bravery of Christians in face of death. And bravery in face of death was between Roman values. – Josef Klimuk – 2018-10-21T14:06:00.173

I think this simplifies a complex historical phenomenom. In recent times, one only has to see the example of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. These were all religiously inspired men. How do you explain this given your analysis above? These, I think were all strong active men - unless you beg to disagree? – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-05T00:28:02.970

Lets take an example of an army under the command of a general. Surely the general commands his men. Are his men free or are they slaves? Or is this far too simple a characterisation? – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-05T00:33:57.093

I understand, I think Nietzsches analysis. But I fail to see how it didn't work. It appeared to do so. After all you call the strategy 'fabulous'. When Nietszche says that morality must be revalued in the contemporary situation, it appeared that they did exactly this then. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-05T00:37:53.393

1@MoziburUllah You asked "What did Nietzsche mean by accusing Christianity of slave-morality?" My answer is basically the own words of Nietzsche. The term "fabulous philosophical strategy" is a description of the vision of Nietzsche. – Annotations – 2013-04-05T01:09:13.443

@MoziburUllah Many of us see religion as harmless nonsense. If people need a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. We have a choice between conversation and violence. And faith is a conversation stopper. If someone doesn't value evidence, what evidence would you invoke to prove he should value evidence? Faith is the prime aggravator of violence in Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims);Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus), Iran and Iraq (Shiite vs. Sunni Muslims) etc – Annotations – 2013-04-05T01:11:36.033

@MoziburUllah Just think about the Muslims who are blowing themselves up, convinced that they are agents of God’s will. There is absolutely nothing that Christians can say apart from that they’re praying to the wrong God.Faith makes moral geographical. Faith leads people to believe in something, it doesn't matter what, without a whisper of doubt, or a whiff of evidence, and believe so strongly in some cases, that they are prepared to kill and die for it, without the need for further justification. It is the true horror of faith. The first sin of humanity was faith, the first virtue was doubt. – Annotations – 2013-04-05T01:15:55.567

@MoziburUllah God’s counsel to parents: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 20:30, and 23:13-14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Mark 7:9-13, and Matthew 15:4-7). The Bible even tells us we are free to sell our daughters into slavery(Exodus 21:26-27). If a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). Unfortunately this is not a discussion forum and the debate should end here. – Annotations – 2013-04-05T01:25:45.967

@Bevilaqua: Putting aside the political situation, I fail to see the difference, say between Muslims blowing themselves up, and trench warfare in the first world war where soldiers were ordered into certain death. Think about the provenance of the term 'cannon-fodder'. They're both horrific. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-05T01:26:44.023

@Bevilaqua: Yes, quite. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-04-05T01:29:24.487


Nietzsche realized that christianity raises the weak and put focus on weak, poor and low people. This culture implicites that a good christian - in the meaning of the church - is a mentaly and physical weak person. Weak persons bow their before power - that was the aim of the church. By the way the church and christianity has nothing to do with the substance of the bible. This is an institution to keep people as group in a ordered way of life. That helps the elite to enslave people. Strong people think themselfs, stand for their found knowledge and are not influenced by church or any other institution like state or media. Nietzsche wanted an Übermensch who is mentally and physically strong, a new race of selfthinking truth-loving humanity and does not obey the authorities just because to feel comfortable. "Destroy the tables of the authorities" and make new ones which the humans have found themselfs, not brought by a enslaving elite or institution who follows their will. The Übermensch or the New humans should use their one will and mind.

This is contrary to the aim of the church and therefore the aim of christianity.


Posted 2013-04-01T23:26:58.920

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