One of the most ingenious thinkers of the 19th century was Fredrich Nietzsche. His form of atheism was recognizably brilliant. I am not aware of any atheist thinker who has made a better argument after him. Nietzsche’s atheism was brilliant and original for many reasons but two are critical at this point: he identified the weakening of human proclivity to dominance by Christianity, and the ascension of nihilism at the “death of God.”
In other words, he noted that Christianity introduced into the human culture the transvaluation of values such that mercy, charity, unselfishness became values, and those inclinations that could make the human person the “overman” (strongman) like selfishness, domination became vices. In the Hobbesian language, Nietzsche noted that Christianity tamed the human state of nature and the passion for dominance. As such, to regain dominance, human society must “kill God.” However, he was sincere to realize that the consequence of “killing God,” eviscerate the Christian sense of virtues, is nihilism, the eventual loss of everything that matters. Nonetheless, Nietzsche proposed a reversal to the era of conquest by violence and might as the principal route to the actualization of the height of being.
Many centuries before Nietzsche, St. Augustine of Hippo in “The City of God” provided an indubitable response to the concern that Christian virtues promote weakness. Rome, the former capital of the Roman empire collapsed to the Visigoths in the 5th century. The Romans, shocked by their new status as the underdog, blamed Christianity for the city’s decline. They claimed that by adopting Christianity as its official religion and its exaltation of Christian virtues like mercy, humility, rather than power, dominance, Rome was weakened and made itself vulnerable.
In his response, Augustine noted that the loss of the city was not caused by Christianity but by Rome’s inability to sustain the virtue essential to organize a city, justice. By its disregard for the civic/ social virtue of justice, Rome lost the status of a society and was bound to collapse. Rome chose to be a City of Men appropriating and validating vices and mistook disordered peace as the authentic peace. Genuine peace (order) thrives only in an atmosphere of virtue and justice, that is, the City of God.
Where am I going with all these? There is a part of the Nigerian culture disposed to the lure of dominance of the other and the eschewing of the virtue of justice. Justice in this instance is Thomistic and Aristotelian, “the perpetual willingness to give to the other his/her due.” The absence of this virtue in the Nigerian civic space puts it on the precipice of Nietzschean nihilism. In Nigeria, everyone threatens everyone; everyone wants to take advantage of everyone. Moreover, our civic space is inundated with Nietzschean and “Overman” politics, and its agents like selfishness, bigotry, nepotism, etc. However, the contradiction in our nihilistic narrative is that our political theology (Islam and Christianity) claims to have an interest in the reign of the Kingdom of God and hypocritically proposes the politics of the City of God. But realistically, the non-tolerance in the political theology of dominant religions in Nigeria fuels Nietzschean politics.
Like Rome of the 5th century, Nigeria totters on the verge of decline. The drums of war beat louder; the land is soaked with the blood of many innocent souls lost to violence, hunger, impunity, recklessness of the political elite, absence of health infrastructure, and politics of nepotism. Our country flirts with the loss of being a society. The consequence of this loss is not only the loss of a country with great potentials but the loss of the humanity of Nigerians.
Where do we go from here? Can we as a Church use the season of lent to reflect on the meaning and implications of the City of God? As a Church, can we speak truth to power on what it means to be a City of God? Can we as a Church dialogue sincerely with the non-Christian group about the consequences of resisting the City of God and appropriating nihilism. Can we as a Church demand with vehemence the establishment of the City of God? The City of God is where the virtue of justice reigns. Let these praxes be our Lenten observances for the next forty days.
Fidelis ‘Deji Olokunboro (Rev)
University of Notre Dame
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