Unending Horror?

Michael Metzger

Worldview and way of life.
Today is the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre of 1999. Now the Virginia Tech slaughter dwarfs it as the worst massacre in U.S. history. Today also marks the anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler in 1899. Hitler, Columbine and Virginia Tech share a common ancestor – Friedrich Nietzsche. But who cares what a German philosopher said?

We’re like Andy Sachs, the young assistant to Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada. Skeptical that Paris fashion trends dictate her wardrobe choices, Andy smirks at the fancy belts that “all look the same to me.” Miranda, one of New York’s biggest fashion magazine editors, overhears the remark and wheels around to Andy who backpedals by saying she’s “still learning about this stuff.” Oops. “This… “stuff?” asks Miranda, “Stuff?”

“Oh… Okay. You think this “stuff” has nothing to do with you. You… go to your closet and select – I don’t know – that lumpy blue sweater for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that sweater is not just blue, its not turquoise… its not lapis… its actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002 Oscar De la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Eves Saint Laurent who showed cerulean military gowns… and then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through the department stores… and then trickled on down to some tragic Casual Corner where you no doubt fished it out of some clearance bin. However that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs… and its sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of… stuff.”

Too many Christians dismiss Nietzsche because he wrote “stuff.” We see no connection between philosophy and terrorism – between worldview and way of life. Yet Nietzsche predicted unending horrors like Hitler and Columbine and Virginia Tech. He said people cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a God who points at us with his fearsome forefinger and says “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.” Yet God is dead, Nietzsche said. Our problem is not seeing the inevitable consequences. Without God, life has no meaning or morality. Might makes right. Whoever has the biggest gun wins.

Nietzsche’s ideas filtered down through Adolf Hitler’s 1925 signature work Mein Kampf. The brutality Hitler referred to as necessary destruction to refine the masses was inspired by Nietzsche’s inevitable horrors. Yet Hitler might have never heard of Nietzsche’s worldview had it not trickled on down through sister, Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche. She was a central player in the literary and political circle known as the “Nietzsche cult” that moved Nietzsche’s ideas off the shelves and into the stores. Elizabeth’s influence was so remarkable that her name was proposed to the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize in Literature on three occasions. In 1934, Adolf Hitler paid a much-publicized visit to the Nietzsche archives where Elisabeth was the director. Later Hitler himself attended Elisabeth’s funeral and laid a laurel wreath on her coffin. She connected worldview and way of life.

The connection between Hitler and Nietzsche’s ideas became clear in 1945. Two weeks ago today marked the anniversary of U.S. Army soldiers entering the Buchenwald concentration camp. Hitler had instituted sterilization and euthanasia measures to enforce his idea of racial purity among German people and ordered the slaughter of millions of Jews, Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), Slavic peoples, and many others, all of whom he considered inferior. GIs hardened by combat wept openly at what they found. Soldiers made a record of the atrocity using Kodak cameras given to them by the army. A starving half-dead little boy named Elie Wiesel was found. They saved his life.

170 million people however were not as fortunate. That’s how many were murdered by governments in the twentieth century – far more than the 34.4 million killed in wars. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao account for over 100 million of those murdered. And the toll keeps rising in the twenty-first, as we have witnessed again this week.

Miranda Priestley saw the connection between Oscar De la Renta and Casual Corner. Our problem as Americans – and particularly people of Christian faith – is that we’re more like Andy Sachs. We smirk at the idea that worldviews become ways of life… and then we’re shocked when a troubled young man takes Nietzsche seriously.

“A Story With No Moral” is what one headline in the Washington Post said. That’s not true. Nietzsche’s ideas trickled on down to Hitler and then Columbine and now Virginia Tech. The moral of the story is that even if the gunman was mentally unstable, ideas such as “might makes right” have been stitched into the fabric of today’s world. Yet many of us are unaware of how they shape the choices we make everyday. If the church wants to end this seemingly endless horror story – and wants her ideas to be taken seriously – she ought to see the connection between worldview and the way we live.

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