In this essay I briefly attempt to draw on religious morality and essentially using the ideas of Nietzsche, dismantle them slightly to discover their relevance today. Using ideas from T. H Green I initially try to establish the religious ideas of morality and how society should work or how Christianity would like them to work and then bring this down to reality, exposing its irrationality and immaturity. Drawing finally on the conclusion that a large portion of modern society actually functions quite well without religion and the fear of the death of religion is unfounded, life would continue on the same without it as the law can and will bear the responsibility of human morality.
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In the Genealogy of morals Nietzsche’s goal is that of denouncing our entire system of morality as it is based on religious superstitious rather than rational thought. His point is that every modern theorist excluding anarchists are actively trying to justify punishment, their morality to them justifies punishment but Nietzsche turns this on it’s head and says punishment in fact justifies morality. He believes that people are not naturally morally good as Christianity would have us believe so punishment is useful to teach moral goodness (Nietzsche 1887). T. H Green argued that this is completely wrong because this is essentially holding a gun to someone’s head and telling them to be good and thus takes away the responsibility of said good action, it doesn’t count because it was forced upon them. Green’s deep religious belief leads him to believe that people should be given the choice to be good and then should choose it on their own, although the choice always boils down to heaven or hell which as a choice is a fairly simple one between happiness and suffering (T. H Green 1882).
The fact of what Nietzsche is saying is that morality is not based on religion instead it is reliant solely on punishment; morality itself is an act of punishment. So although religion is a form of punishment a form of mental punishment and the basis for the modern punishment system we don’t necessarily need it in conjunction with punishment, it still functions without religion. Religious morality is the weak punishing the strong, making the rich and the successful feel guilty, when we look at punishment we say ‘ all punishment is suffering’ whereas the religious among us say ‘ all suffering is punishment’. If you get a headache Christianity would attribute that to punishment from God, you deserve that headache, that headache is from God and it is because you have angered him in some way. This is ridiculous you can’t attribute a headache to anything else than what’s going on in your head to put purpose behind a headache is insanity. Punishment on the other hand can be rationalized (Nietzsche 1887).
Punishment is that of a memory exercise; If someone is immoral and goes unpunished they do that immoral act again but if you punish them for that immorality they remember it was bad so in turn will not do it again. It’s a little like Hegel in that if people aren’t told something is bad they won’t know. Human beings have a right to be punished so that they learn what is wrong, if a law goes unpunished that law then ceases to be a law (Hegel 1831).
Nietzsche claims suffering and punishment are core to our existence, acceptance of this fact is liberating. The point is that lending meaning to it is pointless. He denounces the religious ideal of pity because if you accept that pain and suffering are part of life then you see they are inevitable so pitying is pointless. Pity increases the suffering of the world, it doesn’t relieve suffering it just mirrors it. Pitying someone is an expression of superiority, giving money to beggars not only makes you feel good about yourself in the Christian sense of doing a good deed but also you feel superior to this beggar, so this idea of morality is flawed (Nietzsche 1887).
He then puts forward that punishment will never die as it is literally everywhere, it is entrenched in every part of social life from the bottom up; Your essay is late you lose marks, your car is illegally parked you get a ticket, you say a naughty word your mother scolds you, you don’t pay attention in class you receive a detention (Nietzsche 1887). Punishment exists everywhere in an infinite amount of application, so to remove punishment is impossible as you would literally have to change every system in our society, so it doesn’t matter in the slightest if punishment isn’t justified our entire world is based on it so it isn’t going anywhere and as long as we have these systems of punishment we don’t need God, punishment will survive long after religion is dead.
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