Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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Believers and their Need of Belief.

How much faith a person requires in order to flourish, how much "fixed opinion" he requires which he does not wish to have shaken, because he holds himself thereby is a measure of his power (or more plainly speaking, of his weakness).  Most people in old Europe, as it seems to me, still need Christianity at present, and on that account it still finds belief.  For such is man: a theological dogma might be refuted to him a thousand times, provided, however, that he had need of it, he would again and again accept it as "true" according to the famous "proof of strength" of which the Bible speaks.  Some have still need of metaphysics; but also the impatient longing for certainty which at present discharges itself in scientific, positivist fashion among large numbers of the people, the longing by all means to get at something stable (while on account of the warmth of the longing the establishing of the certainty is more leisurely and negligently undertaken): even this is still the longing for a hold, a support; in short, the instinct of weakness, which, while not actually creating religions, metaphysics, and convictions of all kinds, nevertheless preserves them.  In fact, around all these positivist systems there fume the vapours of a certain pessimistic gloom, something of weariness, fatalism, disillusionment, and tear of new disillusionment or else manifest animosity, ill humour, anarchic exasperation, and whatever there is of symptom or masquerade of the feeling of weakness.  Even the readiness with which our cleverest contemporaries get lost in wretched corners and alleys, for example, in Patriotism (I mean what is called chauvinisme in France and "deutsch" in Germany), or in petty aesthetic creeds in the manner of Parisian naturalisme.  (which only brings into prominence and uncovers that aspect of nature which excites simultaneously disgust and astonishment they like at present to call this aspect la verite vraie), or in Nihilism in the St Petersburg style (that is to say, in the belief in unbelief, even to martyrdom for it): this shows always and above all the need of belief, support, backbone, and buttress.  Belief is always most desired, most pressingly needed, where there is a lack of will: for the will, as the affect of command, is the distinguishing characteristic of sovereignty and power.  That is to say, the less a person knows how to command, the more urgent is his desire for that which commands, and commands sternly, a God, a prince, a caste, a physician, a confessor, a dogma, a party conscience.  From whence perhaps it could be inferred that the two world religions, Buddhism and Christianity might well have had the cause of their rise and especially of their rapid extension in an extraordinary collapse and disease of the will.  And in truth it has been so: both religions lighted upon a longing, monstrously exaggerated by malady of the will, for an imperative, a "Thou shalt" a longing going the length of despair; both religions were teachers of fanaticism in times of slackness of will power, and thereby offered to innumerable persons a support, a new possibility of exercising will, an enjoyment in willing.  For in fact fanaticism is the sole "volitional strength" to which the weak and irresolute can be excited, as a sort of hypnotising of the entire sensory-intellectual system in favour of an excessive nuorishment (hypertrophy) of a single point of view and a particular feeling which then becomes dominates - the Christian calls it his faith.  When a man arrives at the fundamental conviction that he requires to be commanded he becomes "a believer".  Conversely, one could imagine a delight and a power of self determining and a freedom of will whereby a spirit could bid farewell to every belief, to every wish for certainty, accustomed as it would be to support itself on slender cords and possibilities and to dance even on the verge of abysses.  Such a spirit would be the free spirit par excellence.  
 

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