Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) is a famous German philosopher known with his critique of religion, morality, culture, philosophy and science. “On the Genealogy of Morals” is one of the most famous works of Nietzsche which he wrote in 1887. The work is composed of three parts all of which question and critique the value of our moral judgments based on a genealogical method through which Nietzsche examines the origin and the meaning of different moral concepts. I will now summarize you the second essay of the book which is called “Guilt, Bad Conscience, and the like”.
In this part Nietzsche first makes it clear that human beings have a kind of guilty feeling of being in debt towards God and this feeling continued to exist in tribal life. This feeling of indebtedness continued to grow as the belief in God has spread. Nietzsche says “The advent of Christian God, as the maximum God attained so far, was therefore accompanied by the maximum feeling of indebtedness on earth” by which he means that with the evolution of Christianity, the feeling of indebtedness reached its maximum level. In his view, if the religiosity or the belief in Christian God declines, it would also lead to a fall in the level of guilty feeling. Again he thinks that if the atheism gains victory, humans would get rid of their guilty feeling of indebtedness which was caused from their belief in first sin (causa prima). He explains this by saying “Presuming we have gradually entered upon the reverse course, there is no small probability that with the irresistible decline of faith in the Christian God there is now also a considerable decline in mankind’s feeling of guilt, indeed, the prospect cannot be dismissed that the complete and definitive victory of atheism might free mankind of this whole feeling of guilty indebtedness toward its origin, its causa prima”. This means that the concept of first sin and the belief that human beings are born as sinners which take place in many religions is a distortion in Nietzsche’s view which forces humans to feel guilty about their existence.
Nietzsche later turns on to explain how this guilty feeling was constituted. In his view, these concepts were not the product of moral transgression and if they did not exist, our belief in God would have disappeared. He says that this has deliberately ignored the moralization of these concepts. He thus, turns back these concepts against the debtor in order to show that the belief that human beings are naturally sinners comes from the need that came with the development of society to inhibit our animal instincts for aggression and cruelty and to turn them inward upon ourselves.