Have I Been Understood?

The Shadow of the Antichrist examines Nietzsche's animosity toward Christianity.

As the closing line of his last work, Ecce Homo, which was edited into final form just weeks before his mental collapse, Friedrich Nietzsche asked the question: "Have I been understood?" Much of the last century of thought can be read as wrestling with that question, and now Stephen N. Williams, professor of systematic theology at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, picks up that discussion with The Shadow of the Antichrist: Nietzsche's Critique of Christianity.

The Shadow of the Antichrist is an academic work, not a layman's introduction to Nietzsche. The 725 footnotes in Williams's text should make that abundantly clear. Nonetheless, there is benefit here for us all.

Williams's aim is primarily descriptive—he wants to achieve a clear understanding of what it was about Christianity that agitated Nietzsche. To get at this, Williams ranges thematically across Nietzsche's corpus, setting his overtly anti-Christian writings in the context of his interaction with figures such as Blaise Pascal, Laurence Sterne, Richard Wagner, and Arthur Schopenhauer. Williams also surveys twentieth-century thinkers from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Jacques Derrida who, as Williams puts it, write in Nietzsche's shadow.

What emerges from this thematic survey is a clear picture of Nietzsche's essential charges against the church: Christianity is both anti-human and anti-creation, longing for redemption from this world and life. Thus, says Nietzsche, Christianity is fatal to genuine life, thriving in a soul-killing atmosphere of shame, guilt, and mediocrity. Nietzsche attacks Christianity not for being false but for being a dishonest way of life. He hopes that his readers will find Christianity not so much to be in error as to be ...

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