In the episode on Foucault we touched briefly on the question of what might happen if we combined Jung's analysis of the gods with Foucault's analysis of power. There is a precedent for this question in the work of the philosopher loved by both thinkers: Friedrich Nietzsche.
In his book, On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche talks about how the gods can have very different effects on their believers. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, God is the embodiment of the superego. He is the ideal that judges; we are creatures with Free Will and whether we thrive or fail is on ourselves. In the Greek tradition on the other hand we have the pantheon of bickering gods. If misfortune befalls us it isn't simply because of something we have done but perhaps becuase of some conflict among the gods that we have no power of. In this way the Greeks "used their gods precisely so as to ward off the “bad conscience,” so as to be able to rejoice in their freedom of soul—the very opposite of the use to which Christianity put its God."
The full aphorism (§2.23 from GM) can be found deeper in the description below.
- Nietzsche, F., 1989. On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann. Basic Writings of Nietzsche, pp.437-599.
- The Labors of Hercules. [online] Available at: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/labors.html
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Nietzcshe — Genealogy of Morals §2.23
This should dispose once and for all of the question of how the “holy God” originated.
That the conception of gods in itself need not lead to the degradation of the imagination that we had to consider briefly, that there are nobler uses for the invention of gods than for the self-crucifixion and self-violation of man in which Europe over the past millennia achieved its distinctive mastery—that is fortunately revealed even by a mere glance at the Greek gods, those reflections of noble and autocratic men, in whom the animal in man felt deified and did not lacerate itself, did not rage against itself! For the longest time these Greeks used their gods precisely so as to ward off the “bad conscience,” so as to be able to rejoice in their freedom of soul—the very opposite of the use to which Christianity put its God. They went very far in this direction, these splendid and lion-hearted children; and no less an authority than the Homeric Zeus himself occasionally gives them to understand that they are making things too easy for themselves. “Strange!” he says once—the case is that of Aegisthus, a very bad case—
Strange how these mortals so loudly complain of the gods!
We alone produce evil, they say; yet themselves
Make themselves wretched through folly, even counter to fate.
Yet one can see and hear how even this Olympian spectator and judge is far from holding a grudge against them or thinking ill of them on that account: “how foolish they are!” he thinks when he observes the misdeeds of mortals—and “foolishness,” “folly,” a little “disturbance in the head,” this much even the Greeks of the strongest, bravest age conceded of themselves as the reason for much that was bad and calamitous—foolishness, not sin! do you grasp that?
Even this disturbance in the head, however, presented a problem: “how is it possible? how could it actually have happened to heads such as we have, we men of aristocratic descent, of the best society, happy, well-constituted, noble, and virtuous?”—thus noble Greeks asked themselves for centuries in the face of every incomprehensible atrocity or wantonness with which one of their kind had polluted himself. “He must have been deluded by a god” they concluded finally, shaking their heads…This expedient is typical of the Greeks…In this way the gods served in those days to justify man to a certain extent even in his wickedness, they served as the originators of evil—in those days they took upon themselves, not the punishment but, what is nobler, the guilt.
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