The basis of early European art and therefore culture is surely the dramatization of the Jesus story. Walking around the ancient St. John’s Hospital in Bruges, Belgium and viewing the array of paintings in this half-church brightened by the stained-glass floodlights, which penetrate the hollow space in the way only these large Catholic spaces seem to, my thoughts turned to Nietzsche. His extensive work covering the topic of Christianity is perhaps most gracefully illustrated (for him) in Beyond Good and Evil (1886) when accounting for the life-depraving and ‘sickly’ image of Jesus bleeding on the cross.
Such a story, for Nietzsche, could only be created by a herd morality in wonderment and shame at its own existence. The shepherd and flock aspect of this religion, which is invoked from any usage of ‘herd’, was perceived and reinforced by Christians and artistic interpreter’s long before it could be seen as a criticism. This symbolic weakness typified by the cross, from which we are obliged as humans to inherit sin and redemption and in a sense, the life’s grovelling to entities which would have nothing to do with us, is obviously identifiable with its millions of followers. This is something I don’t and could not share (consciously echoing Pascal’s ‘I am so made that I cannot believe’, the fact that there are many of us who share this mind-set); the fundamental desire and acceptance for weakness to prevail over strength. In the hospital paintings, nuns and assorted others flock and droop to the body of Jesus, one sucking the blood off of his feet. Sickly, indeed.
In terms of humility as being a great Christian virtue, we would again do well to consult the symbolism. The transitory shift in Jesus’ short life as depicted in art, from the recurring virgin and child, through Da Vinci’s Last Supper to the crucifixion, is a not so humble jump of about 30 years. Conceiving without sex, although actually overtly cynical when examined, may seem innocent enough, and is certainly a feat no other can match (but does it permit divine authority?), though I have always seen humility as coming hand in hand with dignity. Jesus almost definitely would not have gone quietly and the sobered remorse of the man condemned to death might be expected of any person. But the crowd are part of the story too and the masochistic edge remains clear through Jesus’ wretched body writhing in agony. Rather like the light through church windows.
However this sad and pathetic story would be just that without the extraordinary claims of its followers, which deplete any ‘humility’ the story might have contained in the first place. To me, the story of the resurrection, a supposed material being (which he would have to be to maintain any kind of likeness or allegory to the human being, and thus giving the story its driving emotional power) being returned from the dead, renders any kind of meaning in his sacrifice obsolete. If Christ was not really lost to the darkness of forever, then what had he sacrificed? I believe this is a point which is too often overlooked in favour of the miraculous and the wrath of God featured in the Bible, but put simply, I do not believe this story is coherent or legitimate in terms of containing ‘meaning’ for Humans. Of course one cannot say with full conviction and intent that ‘I’d have whipped Jesus’ but let us remember if the story were true, Christ was trying to establish an authoritarian leadership on Earth. As C.S. Lewis points out, if the story were not true (and he didn’t really exist), then Jesus was a crackpot imposter whose intentions were to deceive the most needy. Assuming god’s power of omnipotence, the pain was certainly pointless and so surely, this is another manifestation of the sickliness revolving what would have been at the time of the paintings, a near death cult?
If this Christian presentation of the world was correct, that we inherit sin in search of a cure, Marx’s quote that ‘religion is the opium of the people’ (which is always presented as an amputee; its full version is rather more majestic) surely applies. According to him, Nietzsche should have been a victim of his own philosophy (and in a way he was). Ill for a decade and dying at the age of 55, he was a total personification of weakness, this perhaps being a significant motive in his thinking – as B. Russell adequately explains in his book on Western Philosophy: ‘he soothed his wounded vanity with unkind remarks’. I rarely rejoice in his work, but ‘Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in “another” or “better” life’ contains at least some verity. After all, we cannot help what such paintings remind us of.
 Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, p.23