“One has but to read Lucretius to know what Epicurus made war upon…”
As we approach December 25th and the tide of religious fervor which it brings to parts of the world, there is no better time to remember the Epicurean history of opposition to false religion. And I know of no better summary of the battle than that to which I was recently introduced by a friend on the “Garden of Epicurus” page – the following selection from Neitzsche’s The Antichrist.
The sneakishness of hypocrisy, the secrecy of the conventicle, concepts as black as hell, such as the sacrifice of the innocent, the unio mystica in the drinking of blood, above all, the slowly rekindled fire of revenge, of Chandala revenge–all that sort of thing became master of Rome: the same kind of religion which, in a pre-existent form, Epicurus had combatted. One has but to read Lucretius to know what Epicurus made war upon — not paganism, but “Christianity,” which is to say, the corruption of souls by means of the concepts of guilt, punishment and immortality. — He combatted the subterranean cults, the whole of latent Christianity–to deny immortality was already a form of genuine salvation.
Epicurus had triumphed, and every respectable intellect in Rome was Epicurean–when Paul appeared. . . Paul, the Chandala hatred of Rome, of “the world,” in the flesh and inspired by genius–the Jew, the eternal Jew par excellence. . . . What he saw was how, with the aid of the small sectarian Christian movement that stood apart from Judaism, a “world conflagration” might be kindled; how, with the symbol of “God on the cross,” all secret seditions, all the fruits of anarchistic intrigues in the empire, might be amalgamated into one immense power. “Salvation is of the Jews.”–Christianity is the formula for exceeding and summing up the subterranean cults of all varieties, that of Osiris, that of the Great Mother, that of Mithras, for instance: in his discernment of this fact the genius of Paul showed itself. His instinct was here so sure that, with reckless violence to the truth, he put the ideas which lent fascination to every sort of Chandala religion into the mouth of the “Saviour” as his own inventions, and not only into the mouth–he made out of him something that even a priest of Mithras could understand. . . This was his revelation at Damascus: he grasped the fact that he needed the belief in immortality in order to rob “the world” of its value, that the concept of “hell” would master Rome–that the notion of a “beyond” is the death of life. Nihilist and Christian: they rhyme in German, and they do more than rhyme.
The whole labour of the ancient world gone for naught: I have no word to describe the feelings that such an enormity arouses in me. —And, considering the fact that its labour was merely preparatory, that with adamantine self-consciousness it laid only the foundations for a work to go on for thousands of years, the whole meaning of antiquity disappears! . . To what end the Greeks? to what end the Romans?–All the prerequisites to a learned culture, all the methods of science, were already there; man had already perfected the great and incomparable art of reading profitably–that first necessity to the tradition of culture, the unity of the sciences; the natural sciences, in alliance with mathematics and mechanics, were on the right road,–the sense of fact, the last and more valuable of all the senses, had its schools, and its traditions were already centuries old! Is all this properly understood? Every essential to the beginning of the work was ready;–and the most essential, it cannot be said too often, are methods, and also the most difficult to develop, and the longest opposed by habit and laziness. What we have to day reconquered, with unspeakable self-discipline, for ourselves–for certain bad instincts, certain Christian instincts, still lurk in our bodies–that is to say, the keen eye for reality, the cautious hand, patience and seriousness in the smallest things, the whole integrity of knowledge–all these things were already there, and had been there for two thousand years! More, there was also a refined and excellent tact and taste! Not as mere brain-drilling! Not as “German” culture, with its loutish manners! But as body, as bearing, as instinct–in short, as reality. . . All gone for naught! Overnight it became merely a memory !–The Greeks! The Romans! Instinctive nobility, taste, methodical inquiry, genius for organization and administration, faith in and the will to secure the future of man, a great yes to everything entering into the imperium Romanum and palpable to all the senses, a grand style that was beyond mere art, but had become reality, truth, life . . –All overwhelmed in a night, but not by a convulsion of nature! Not trampled to death by Teutons and others of heavy hoof! But brought to shame by crafty, sneaking, invisible, anemic vampires! Not conquered,–only sucked dry! . . . Hidden vengefulness, petty envy, became master! Everything wretched, intrinsically ailing, and invaded by bad feelings, the whole ghetto-world of the soul, was at once on top!–One needs but read any of the Christian agitators, for example, St. Augustine, in order to realize, in order to smell, what filthy fellows came to the top. It would be an error, however, to assume that there was any lack of understanding in the leaders of the Christian movement:–ah, but they were clever, clever to the point of holiness, these fathers of the church! What they lacked was something quite different. Nature neglected–perhaps forgot–to give them even the most modest endowment of respectable, of upright, of cleanly instincts.