Growing up in my family, religious autonomy wasn’t simply stressed, it was practiced. My mother did her best never force her religious beliefs on my siblings or me. While, this was a good thing, we were still raised Christian, after all, we had very little freedom in terms of our social and moral conduct. Our complete understanding of ‘right and wrong’ had been a construct of what the Bible said was acceptable. It wasn’t until I became aware of the absolute, death, that I started to challenge the values I had been raised on. A close cousin of mine, Brian, died from a heart attack at the age of eighteen when I was fourteen. Although his death came as a major shock to me due to his age, I recall being more stunned by my mother’s reaction. I had been raised to believe that death was good. When someone died who lived a healthy, peaceful, and God fearing life, that person would essentially be ‘guaranteed’ a spot in heaven, the ultimate salvation from pain. So, why was my mother reacting so out-of-character for someone who truly believed in this? This question haunted me everyday for months, until I came to the conclusion that her religion prescribed this reaction.
Religion, more specifically Christianity, prescribes to us that many life affirming values, as Nietzsche would say, aren’t good because they are a part of the masses. So, in regards to the aforesaid story, my mom’s conclusion was that, Brian died because God ‘willed it’. What she meant by this was that, God was so benevolent that he took Brian away from the world because his future was potentially promising. Had God not done this, his enemies may have had been too great for him to handle, and the bad could have potentially overwhelmed him.
The conclusion that my mother and her religious friends came to frustrated me beyond comprehension. I questioned rather rationality had anything to do with beliefs, and determined that it didn’t. That is when I lost my faith, and began to see things in a similar fashion to Nietzsche. Being said, I had never read Nietzsche until class, but his idea of slavish values being linked to religion is something I had always thought about, I just wasn’t able to vocalize my thoughts in as clear and concise of a manner as he. This doesn’t leave me with some criticisms of Nietzsche’s philosophy though; in his, “The Genealogy of Morals” he presents what life affirming principles should be but also makes it impossible to truly possess these Noble values, citing the ancients as the last to have them. I simply can’t agree with him here. Thinking back to some famous individuals in history I can’t find a single person who has ever been a nobleman. This is, due in part to the fact that the nobleman has neither ever existed nor will this imaginary breed of superman exist. Why you must ask? Because like my mom and me, people will always have some form of sympathy for each other. This is true, simply due to our nature. We are innately connected to others because of our awareness of our surrounding; and, I believe, that it’s not practical to think the human animal can turn that affection off. Maybe this is the view of the herd, and if so, I’m okay with that. So then, what can we do? This answer is simple but the change seems nearly impossible. The herd needs to break free from their reactive lifestyle and embrace death, the one absolute for every living thing. By doing so, people would be on a constant search for a meaningful life over a purpose filled one. In which case, my mother’s reaction would have been different after the news of Brian’s death. Rather than be sorrowful, she would have been reminded that death comes to us all, and life is short, why not make the most of it.