What is more harmful than any vice? – Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak – Christianity …
Thus wrote Friedrich Nietzsche the in 1888; the year before he went insane. His influence on Western society is, I think, not really understood. Many of the bumper-sticker doctrines that form the foundation for our culture can be traced back to his writings. Here’s a list of some of them:
The goal of life should be to find yourself. True maturity means discovering or creating an identity for yourself.
The highest virtue is to be true to yourself (consider these song titles from a generation ago: “I Gotta Be Me,” “I Did It My Way”).
When you fall ill, your body is trying to tell you something; listen to the wisdom of your body.
People who hate their bodies or are in tension with them need to learn how to accept and integrate their physical selves with their minds instead of seeing them as in tension with each other. The mind and body make up a single whole.
Athletes, musicians, etc. especially need to become so attuned to their bodies that their skills proceed spontaneously from the knowledge stored in their muscles and are not frustrated by an excess of conscious rational thought. (The influence of Zen Buddhism on this sort of thinking is also very strong.)
Sexuality is not the opposite of virtue, but a natural gift that needs to be developed and integrated into a healthy, rounded life.
Many people suffer from impaired self-esteem; they need to work on being proud of themselves.
Knowledge and strength are greater virtues than humility and submission.
Overcoming feelings of guilt is an important step to mental health.
You can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself.
Life is short; experience it as intensely as you can or it is wasted.
People’s values are shaped by the cultures they live in; as society changes we need changed values.
Challenge yourself; don’t live passively. (source)
There’s really no need to try to prove that these ideas are part of our culture. We all know and feel it. And just because Nietzsche said it, doesn’t make it bad.
But there is another piece of advice that he gave that the church took far to seriously: The idea that helping the poor, weak and helpless is evil.
How many times have we heard the same excuses? “You can’t help all of them.” “If I help them they’ll just use it to hurt themselves.” “They don’t deserve it.” “I have my own problems.” “They got themselves into this mess, let them get out of it.” “If a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat.”
This sort of thinking is only logically possible if we concede that humans are nothing more than smart animals. If we are animals then our survival is based only on our fitness and we are at competition with all the other members of our species. We are then well within our rights to bite and claw to survive and become our own Übermensch. When we refuse to help the poor, weak and helpless we are declaring that we are nothing more than products of evolution.