Thoughts on a comment of Nietzsche's

Dear H,

The first thing I thought when I started reading masterpieces like Mere Christianity and The Federalist was I've got to tell this to everyone else.  It was the same reaction I've had every time I ever learned anything great.  I wanted to be the first one to tell others.

The truth wasn't me but it was in me; and if it was in me I wanted others to see the two of us together.  Vanity is the drive of all prophets and preachers.  Not even that we know all the truth but that we feel we've got to be a part of it and share it, and that whatever we know we can't know alone.  If we were told the secrets of the universe with a caveat, that what we knew would be ours alone to know, we would rather not know it and we would be right.  Knowledge isn't the key to our happiness.  It's what we can do with it, and the limits of what we can do with it are defined in terms of the people around us. 

In truth this is the trouble of knowing, and the fact that people don't know and aren't interested in knowing our perspective is the burden of every intellectual who ever lived.  The most anti-intellectual thing we could ever do isn't to know nothing but to not share what we've got.  But even if we share it there's no guarantee that anyone would ever accept it.  Solomon once said in much wisdom is much grief.  Wisdom is lonely, and it can hurt.  Our happiness lies in the belief that others will go with us.  But you pursue the important things in life long enough and you'll find that most people won't.

This instinct to share the things you found, this hatred of being alone, this drive that existed before wisdom -- the need to be understood, to be heard, to actually be listened to -- is the feeling behind every intellectual endeavor.  What I didn't know is that it could bury you.  The desire doesn't just go away once you've gotten a message out, and you can't make it stale by winning too much.  As with chasing girls it just whets your appetite for more.  With every revelation you get and every book you read you get the same prompting, the call within you that says you've got to tell your friends, and the more you get the call the more you realize you can't tell it all, and after a while you begin to realize that the cosmic quest you started on was yours to begin but never to end -- that most things you've learned you won't even remember; that people have already said all you could say and they've said it better; that everyone you ever loved loves what they love and are uninterested in almost everything you do; that every good book you read and every brilliant thought that you think are going to be lost in your failure to tell, and eventually your death.  

And the more shocked you are when you discover something new and essential (and isn't it always essential?), the more times you feel the feeling of eureka, the more you realize that there was an always-growing chain of other eurekas behind it: one revelation after another that you didn't even have time or opportunity to share; and there's no way you could ever get anyone to know it unless they stopped being them and began being you.  And this wouldn't save the world anyway.   Because the more you learn the more you realize you're an idiot.

I feel like I'm losing the ability to write.  I'm drowning in the things I want to say.  I think that if I say them nobody will listen.  And I can't find the words that will get everybody's attention.  And I worry that even if they listen they won't hear me rightly*.


*Marx once wrote
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition that needs illusions. 
All people heard was Religion is the opiate of the masses.

Nietzsche once wrote
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
All people heard was that Nietzsche didn't believe in God.

People didn't read the passages and they couldn't see the brilliance in either; that whether God exists or not people need to have purpose and they need it because they're in pain; and whether God exists or not humanity is the greatest affront to His majesty.  The first statement was implied by Jesus when He said it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and the second by every serious evangelist since Him.

Whether you think Marx and Nietzsche are great men is beside the point.  The point is they had great things to say here, and that until this month, I, and everyone I ever heard quote them, totally missed what they said.


  1. At 58 years old, I find that all the books I have read actually do provide wisdom. They give me perspective. Often a truth will come to me as I am trying to help someone else. It's not so much about abstract knowledge as it is about being able to process one's own experience and make some sense of it in the light of God's truth.

  2. I would never be confused with an intellectual as most people to whom I would speak at any length on such matters, are themselves much more intellectually inclined than I. And still, the joy in uncovering or discovering the hidden treasure has been not so much in the finding or in possessing it, but in the sharing of it. This remains true despite my being the only one to generally see any great value in it's discovery.
    Really good piece!
    ps Self-Bows


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