Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak:  Reflections on Moral Prejudice. Morgenröte: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurteile (also could be translated as The Dawn).

Written and published in 1881.

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Christianity found the idea of punishment in hell throughout the Roman Empire: for the numerous mystic cults had hatched this idea with particular satisfaction as being the most fertile aspect of their power.  Epicurus thought he could do nothing better for his followers than to tear this belief up by the roots: his triumph found its finest echo in the mouth of one of his disciples the Roman Lucretius a poet of a gloomy though afterwards enlightened temperament.  But—his triumph had come too soon: Christianity took under its wing this belief in subterranean horrors which was already beginning to die away in the minds of men; and that was prudent.  For without this audacious leap into the most complete paganism how could it have proved itself victorious over the popularity of Mithras and Isis?  In this way it managed to bring timorous folk over to its side—the most enthusiastic adherents of a new faith!  The Jews being a people which like the Greeks and even in a greater degree than the Greeks loved and still love life had not cultivated that idea to any great extent: the thought of final death as the punishment of the sinner death without resurrection as the ultimate punishment: this was sufficient to impress these peculiar men who did not wish to get rid of their bodies but hoped with their refined Egypticism to preserve them forever.  (A Jewish martyr about whom we may read in the Second Book of the Maccabees would not think of giving up his intestines which had been torn out: he wanted to have them at the resurrection: quite a Jewish characteristic!)  Thoughts of eternal damnation were far from the minds of the early Christians: they thought they were delivered from death and awaited a transformation from day to day but not death.  (What a curious effect the first death must have produced on these expectant people!  How many different feelings must have been mingled together—astonishment exultation doubt shame and passion!  Truly a subject worthy of a great artist!)  St.  Paul could say nothing better in praise of his Saviour than that he had opened the gates of immortality to everybody—he did not believe in the resurrection of those who had not been saved: more than this by reason of his doctrine of the impossibility of carrying out the Law and of death considered as a consequence of sin he even suspected that up to that time no one had become immortal (or at all events only a very few solely owing to mercy and not to any merits of their own): it was only in his time that immortality had begun to open its gates—and only a few of the elect would finally gain admittance as the pride of the elect would have it.  In other places where the impulse towards life was not so strong as among the Jews and the Christian Jews and where the prospect of immortality did not appear to be more valuable than the prospect of a final death that pagan yet not altogether un-Jewish addition of Hell became a very useful tool in the hands of the missionaries: then arose the new doctrine that even the sinners and the unsaved are immortal the doctrine of eternal damnation which was more powerful than the idea of a final death which thereafter began to fade away.  It was science alone which could overcome this doctrine at the same time brushing aside all other ideas about death and an afterlife.  By this we have become poorer in one respect: the "afterlife" has no further interest for us!  An indescribable blessing which is as yet too recent to be considered as such throughout the world.  And Epicurus is once more triumphant.  

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