I have said that Nietzsche is my chosen dinner guest among all the modern era philosophers, and he is as brilliant as he is sinister. Two areas strike me most as over-dinner topics in making my way through the first part of Zarathustra. The first is the wise man who speaks on sleep and virtue. The second is Zarathustra’s discourse on the tree. Both are used to invert our values – good is evil and evil is good. The first is snide. I roll my eyes at Friedrich and laugh in protest. However, the second is terrifying.
In the first, Nietzsche mocks peace of heart as nothing more than an opium for sleeping. We often speak of being able to sleep at night as a good measure of the integrity of our lives. Nietzsche starts with a rather humorous premise (I chuckled) upon which to mock this traditional understanding of a good and virtuous life.
“Sleeping is no mean art: you need to stay awake all day to do it. Now it is clear to me what people were once seeking above all when they sought the teachers of virtue. They sought good sleep and opium virtues to bring it about!”
Virtue, Christian virtue, is nothing more than a sleeping aid. I shake my head and smile. Friedrich, what are we going to do with you.
The second part, the discourse on the tree, is even more profound, and, to my dismay, quite frightening. Now I see something deep in his soul that scares and repels me. I stop smiling and look up directly at him. Think of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, a founding principle in God’s design for us and our world. Nietzsche sees the power of the tree in its evil. He knows what he is doing here. This is truly sinister.
“Now it is with men as with this tree. ‘The more it wants to rise into the heights and the light, the more determinedly do its roots strive earthwards, downwards, into the darkness, into the depths – into evil.’ ‘Yes, into evil!’ cried the young man. ‘How is it possible you can uncover my soul?’ “
I will admit that this discourse seems otherworldly. I feel too close to the fire and back away. I am disturbed with my guest and continue eating in silence.
I ask again, can Zarathustra be saved?