I had a conversation today with a good friend of mine who as struggling spiritually after having read Nietzsche for one of her classes. Nietzsche’s arguments against morality and religiosity were intellectually compelling for her. I prepared a lesson this past weekend on free agency which had me thinking about the nature between keeping the commandments and remaining free. A metaphor that I’d over heard over the summer came to mind. We are like a kite flying in the air. We are lifted higher as the person with the string releases more and more. If the string holding the kite up is cut, the kite falls precipitously to the ground. In contrast, we all know what happens to a balloon cut loose. Balloons tend to fly higher and higher (eventually popping, but lets keep that out of the metaphor). If we consider the string to be our connection to God or our sense of morality, then the question is which of these metaphors more accurately describes mankind.
In my view, the answer is that we are more analogous to the kite than to the balloon. I take this view for several reasons. First of all, I have seen the personal effect in my life of loosing that spiritual mooring. I’ve felt the downward cycle even as it deceptively slowed to resemble a natural dip. I don’t view my self as exceptional in this regard at all. Instead, I feel that humans cut from their moorings tend to collapse. I also look to the status of societies taken to Nietzsche’s ideal more fully. I consider the status of Nazi Germany a culture which idolized his ideal. I consider Randian libertarianism and its corrosive impact on American morality. These things combined make me believe that moral grounding of some sort is absolutely necessary to keep us up. Our sense of regard for others and intuitive morality does not hold us back but rather keeps us suspended like a kite.
Of course, the counter argument would be to look to European societies where faith in god is decreased while social utility increased. Yet, I would certainly argue that the traditions of compassion and community have their rooting in thousands of years of strong religious community. Moreover, they are about as far away from a Nietzchian ideal as humanly possible. We can have a totally different discussion about whether God is necessary for the development of said moral sense or merely its proximal cause. Yet, it is hard to argue that the kind of morality that Nietzsche views as repugnant is absent from these highly structured welfare societies.