De Lubac on the Roots of Nihilism

At last I found time to do some “deep reading” with The Drama of Atheist Humanism by French theologian Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), originally published in English in 1949 by Sheed & Ward and reissued by Ignatius Press. So far it strikes me as being a seminal intellectual study on par with Msgr. Ronald Knox’s Enthusiasm or the works of Cardinal Newman.

De Lubac examines the founding “atheist humanists” of the modern age: Feurbach, Nietzsche and Comte. He also compares them with important Christian thinkers like Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky. As an aside, although Karl Marx features prominently on the cover, he is treated only peripherally, since the author’s focus is more on the metaphysical, psychological and ethical aspects of “post-Christian” secularism than on the political realm. I think this is the correct priority, since social systems are invariably born of individual choices about right and wrong and the nature of existence.

Nietzsche occupies a good bit of book. According to the author, he was a precocious sage who offered interesting insights alongside superficial and petulant diatribes. While the German philosopher would no doubt have “found abundant reasons for cursing a great many of those who invoke his name,” de Lubac adds that “these distortions are often not so much betrayals as the effects of an inevitable corruption.” Nietzsche smugly presented himself (all too accurately one must admit) as the harbinger of a nihilism epoch:

I herald the coming of a tragic era…. We must be prepared for a long succession of demolition, devastation and upheavals…. Europe will soon be enveloped in darkness…. Thanks to me, a catastrophe is at hand. A catastrophe whose name I know, whose name I cannot tell…. Then all the earth will writhe in convulsion.

Nietzsche proclaimed the “death of God,” to which the Russian Christian existentialist, Nicholas Berdyaev, aptly responded: “where there is no God, there is no man either.”

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