Spurious Supermen

Ravi Zacharias, in his new book Can Man Live without God? relates a humorous story that highlights the folly of mankind's attempts at self-glorification. As the story goes, one-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali was flying to one of his engagements. During the flight the plane ran into foul weather and began to encounter turbulence. Accordingly, the pilot instructed the passengers to fasten their seat belts. Everyone complied—except Ali. Now, if there was one thing that the "Louisville Lip" was not known for—it was humility. And when the flight attendant requested that he buckle up, Ali retorted: "Superman don't need no seat belt!" To which the spunky flight attendant replied without missing a beat: "Superman don't need no airplane neither." Zacharias mentions this alleged incident as an illustration of the self-exaltation that characterizes modern man. The Greeks had a word for it: hubris. Translated into English it means "pride"—but the meaning goes far deeper than that. The essence of hubris was personified in the last century by another would-be superman: the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The son of a Lutheran pastor, Nietzsche's life was characterized by a profound rejection of the Christianity in which he was raised. Nietzsche sought the destruction of Christianity, which he called a "great curse" and an "enormous perversion." God is dead, proclaimed Nietzsche, and in His place would arise a new autonomous "superman." The tragedy is that eventually Nietzsche went insane and came to believe that he was the ultimate embodiment of the superman. His autobiography, entitled Ecce Homo, contained chapter titles such as "Why I Am So Intelligent" and "Why I Write Such Good Books" and "Why I Am Fate." Nietzsche died in an insane asylum. His pathetic life played out a philosophy of utter rebellion against God. Tragically, his atheism was destined to exert a fateful impact after his death. As Zacharias writes, "Few philosophers have had such a radical impact as Nietzsche upon the history-makers of the twentieth century." In his book Modern Times, historian Paul Johnson called Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini the three devils of the twentieth century. Hitler was profoundly influenced by Nietzsche and presented a copy of his works to Benito Mussolini, who was himself an outspoken anticleric. Josef Stalin, a former seminarian, also rejected the Christianity of his upbringing. And while Nietzsche's life ended in madness, Stalin's feverish mind remained coherent—and in defiance of God—to the very end. According to his daughter Svetlana, on his deathbed Stalin suffered terrifying hallucinations. Suddenly he sat up and clenched his fist toward the heavens before falling back dead. Can man truly live autonomously without God? The answer is no—because the rejection of a Supreme Being leads to self-exaltation—as in Nietzsche's superman. And self-exaltation leads to madness and self-destruction. Indeed, the twentieth century is strewn with the wreckage of atheistic philosophy left in the wake of people like Hitler and Stalin. The lesson of history is that falsely posing as superman can only end in a crash landing.


Chuck Colson


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