How does the New Testament console us for our difficulties? By suggesting that many of these are not difficulties at all but rather virtues:
If one is worried about timidity, the New Testament points out:
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5.5)
If one is worried about having no friends, the New Testament suggests:
Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil…your reward is great in heaven. (Luke 6.22-3)
If one is worried about an exploitative job, the New Testament advises:
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh…Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3.22)
If one is worried at having no money, the New Testament tells us:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the
There may be differences between such words and a drink but Nietzsche insisted on an essential equivalence. Both Christianity and alcohol have the power to convince us that what we previously thought deficient in ourselves and the world does not require attention; both weaken our resolve to garden our problems; both deny us the chance of fulfillment:
The two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity.
Christianity had, in Nietzsche’s account, emerged from the minds of timid slaves in the
Having a “Christian” perspective on difficulty is not limited to members of the Christian church; it is for Nietzsche a permanent psychological possibility. We all become Christians when we profess indifference to what we secretly long for but do not have; when we blithely say that we do not need love or a position in the world, money or success, creativity or health while the corners of our mouths twitch with bitterness; and we wage silent wars against what we have publicly renounced, firing shots over the parapet, sniping from the trees.
How would Nietzsche have preferred us to approach our setbacks? To continue to believe in what we wish for, even when we do not have it, and may never. Put another way, to resist the temptation to denigrate and declare evil certain goods because they have proved hard to secure a pattern of behaviour of which Nietzsche’s own, infinitely tragic life offers us perhaps the best model.