Faith in the Earth

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"Faith in the Earth" is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's mytho-poetic formulation of his re-valued conception of our possible experience of divinity as contained in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra.[1] Although not traditionally religious in the sense of positing the existence of a divine entity or entities, Nietzsche's way of thinking is just as far removed from atheistic materialism as it is from theistic spiritualism. Closely related to the tradition of negative theology, Nietzsche confesses his own oblique form of belief, from his early poem "Dem unbekannten Gott," to the deep meaning of the Dionysian Dithyrambs.[2] Put simply, we speak least erroneously when we observe a strict adherence to the use of the word "divine" as a verb, and not a noun. To divine is to orient without teleology: we can divine the way without knowing where we are going, while yet still being oriented. Nietzsche's name for this uncanny experience is "amor fati," and it names not things, but a way things can change.

Thus the "faith" in Nietzsche's formula is not an epistemic state concerning supernatural entities or metaphysical propositions. It is a fidelity to sublimated instinct - an "ethos" in the sense of knowing where you are coming from. And all earthlings come from the Earth. Religions have traditionally devalued "the world" and valued instead certain dreams of other so-called "perfect" worlds. There is no planet in our solar system even close to supporting plant life, let alone our more complex forms. To think that we can leave the Earth and go somewhere else is no less a form of reality-denying nihilism than traditional religious beliefs. In either case, Nietzsche's warning that we maculate conception with the doctrine of immaculate conception resonates across all sorts of nihilisms, religious and secular.[3]

"Remaining true to the Earth" means admitting that either we get things right on this planet, or we don't get things right at all. The Earth represents our one and only window of opportunity, at the same time as it symbolizes all of our unknown higher potentials. Neither spaceman nor God will come to save us. But this is not a bleak dystopian materialism, because just as our simian ancestors couldn't realize that the development of their vocal cords (something they already had at least in rudimentary form) would open up those new dimensions of reality that we call language, civilization, and culture, just so we ourselves cannot yet get our minds around what we might be able to do already in rudimentary form - both with our own bodies and with the planet as a whole. "Faith in the Earth" means always remembering that whatever developments might lay in store they will exist in this world, so their very possibility depends entirely upon each generation's maintenance of the biosphere, including the atmosphere. An amazing future is depending upon us.[4]

Thus Faith in the Earth takes the old conception of religious faith - that we are the love objects of a divinity - and replaces it with a higher, less servile conception of our proper dignity - that we are links in the chain connecting our simian ancestors with a higher type of descendant, or Übermensch. We can no more understand what that will be than they understood us. But we can understand that just as our arrival depended upon our simian ancestors, likewise the Übermensch is depending upon us. This higher sense of dignity fits in with Nietzsche's general revaluation of those values distorted by religion's otherworldly delusions: love becomes love for Earthlings (both animals and Übermenschen included along of course with us); hope becomes hope for this Earth, and the hope that we Earthlings will not ruin it; charity becomes the overflowing virtue of generosity linked inextricably to amor fati and to creativity itself; and faith becomes remaining true to the Earth, and faithful to its unfathomed possibilities.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "... remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of superterrestrial hopes! [bleibt der Erde treu und glaubt Denen nicht, welche euch von überirdischen Hoffnungen reden!]"—Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Part I, 1961, p. 42; English translations: Thomas Common in Levy edition, 1905; Tille & Bozman Everyman, 1933; Walter Kaufmann, Viking, 1954; Reg Hollingdale, Penguin, 1961; Graham Parkes, Oxford, 2005; Pippin & DelCaro, Cambridge, 2006
  2. ^ http://www.nietzschesource.org/texts/eKGWB/DD
  3. ^ Thus the concept of morality falsifies ethics just as the concept of God falsifies the experience of divinity - see The Antichrist section 26
  4. ^ "One is necessay [sic], one is a piece of fatefulness, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole ... there is nothing beside the whole." Twilight of the Idols "How the true world became a fable", section 8