The Opposite of Meek

Nietzsche, of course, postulated that the deity had died, and then every college freshman with the intelligence quotient of a toddler found it amusing to then retort on God’s behalf: no, Frederic, it is instead you who have died.

While moderately amusing as the meme of choice on less hip corners of Facebook, this joke also reinforces a belief of which Nietzsche himself would have been a vocal advocate: Christianity (the most common end result of “deity” in the western lexicon) stands in stark and diametrically opposing contrast to the works, beliefs, and values of the outspoken German philosopher.

In “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” (part 1), the nominal protagonist establishes a contrast between the weak and the strong, the sickly and the healthy, the feeble and the intelligent, and the meek and the Uber-Mensch. He is aided by our language, which inadvertently belies a weakness within the western ideals of virtue. To both Frederic and the implications of the English (German, too, I suspect) language, “meek” is the opposite of “confident” or “proud,” and “sickly” is the opposite of “strong.”

Whereas “big” and “small” are opposite, and “short” indeed finds its antonym in “tall,” suppose that “strong” and “sickly” are more akin to “love” and “hate.” Fort “love” and “hate” are not opposite, but cousins, each fundamentally opposed not to each other, but to “apathy.”

Allow for clarification. “Love” and “hate” are mirror inverses of each other (perhaps one definition of “opposite”), in a similar way to how communism and fascism are “opposites” that resemble each other in practice. However, “apathy” and “democracy” are the true opposites of these examples. Not mirror inverses, but ideals standing in firm contradiction.

Likewise, Nietzsche presented the uber-man as the opposite of the Christian, but in reality, Frederic’s uber-man stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the man of Christian strength. True humility does not lie in worthlessness, or a lack of self-respect, but an ability to have the strength to accept one’s self-worth, then voluntarily sacrifice it to help others.

The old idiom advises “if you love her, you have to let her go,” because true love is free, yet always returns. So much the same with humility. Humility requires the self-confidence to abandon dignity for the sake of others, in the full confidence that said dignity will not abandon you when called upon. Humility, meekness, charity: they require the exact virtues espoused by the nominal Persian demagogue.

Jesus did not wash the feet of his followers out of self-loathing, but out of a confidence that this humbling and socially degrading act would instead further inspire his followers. When the church now-in-days washes the feet of their congregation on Holy Thursday, the image loses all potency for this very reason: it is not a proud act because it is not a humble act. The priest or celebrant washes for the sake of washing, for the sake of acting as a leader, for the symbolic-ness of the act of it. Feet today are clean (at least relative to the feet of Jesus’ time). A truly equivalent act would require radical confidence, strength, and weakness. Not characteristics in contradistinction to each other, but as a harmonious act within itself.

Zarathustra, and Nietzsche, in his writings, feared that the Christian embrace of the meek prevented strength. Yet the gospels themselves refute this: Jesus was a carpenter who worked with his hands, Peter was a strong fisherman, and John was a fast runner. Jesus even advocated that he could, with a word, unleash armies of angels to save him. In cinema, perhaps the most appropriately analogous example is in “Schindler’s List” – true strength comes from the act of forgiveness. Nietzsche thought forgiving, pardoning, helping was weak. So did the German commandant; he was so insecure in his command that he couldn’t stop himself from killing a child.

The confident man needn’t declare his confidence; the rich man needn’t pronounce his wealth. Nietzsche’s Uber-Mensch could only have strength if he was able to surrender that strength. Otherwise, it’s simply a mask of insecurity hiding a man who “doth protest too much.”