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Raising supermen in an age of cows

To profess the ideas of Nietzsche today is to be part of the herd

Friedrich Nietzsche Wikimedia Commons

Raising supermen in an age of cows
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According to new research from Barna and Impact 360, only one-quarter of Gen Z (those born between 1999 and 2015) rejects the claim that “what is morally right and wrong changes over time based on society.” Researchers conclude that “Moral relativism hasn’t just crept into the worldview of Gen Z; it is now the majority opinion.”

Meanwhile, heavily trafficked Gen Z platforms like TikTok offer a steady stream of influencers who have taken it upon themselves to school the next generation with insights like, “There are transmen who lactate.” One influencer who identifies as “a threat, a nightmare, and a goddess (so please bow down to me)” recommends Satanism “which means I am my own god and I worship myself.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, we might argue, rules much of TikTok and indeed much of today’s Western world from the grave. The prolific German atheist took the iconoclast’s hammer to the concept of an objective moral structure in which human beings flourish. He deconstructed the classical Christian virtues, like humility and altruism, which he saw as a herd morality that left humanity groveling like cows. In his work, Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche declares, “The noble type of man regards himself as the determiner of values. … He honors whatever he recognizes in himself: such morality is self-glorification.”

There is a hair’s breadth of distance between Nietzsche’s call to “let the value of everything be determined anew by you!” and the false “follow your heart” gospel that pervades our culture. As the Disney Jr. short film Small Potatoes instructs a vast audience of impressionable young minds, “everyone has their own different way of doing things and there’s no wrong or right answer for doing something.” Now, even Disney sounds like Nietzsche.

In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche speaks of “the three metamorphoses of the spirit,” how we should move from being camels, that is, the “load-bearing spirit” burdened by traditional moral demands in order to become lions who devour morality to “give a holy Nay to duty.” The final and ideal stage of Nietzsche’s metamorphosis of the spirit, how to become a true Ubermensch or superman, is to become a “child” who plays “the game of creating new values.”

Now, even Disney sounds like Nietzsche.

As one wanders the post-Christian, expressive individualist landscape of TikTok, a space where influencers flaunt their claimed trans-species identities as cats and dogs, it is not hard to see a children’s game of pretend extended into adulthood. As it has become trendy to hoist the Creator-sized task of creating an identity onto the shoulders of creatures, the question arises: Are there enough self-glorifying value-creating supermen in the 21st century to form the new herd?

Back in Nietzsche’s day it took a certain act of countercultural willpower to spurn traditional moral expectations. In our day, by contrast, shunning traditional morality in order to create your own values is hardly risky or countercultural. You are given a warm welcome into the herd. The herd just echoes Nietzsche.

The 19th century European superman must trade his cape for a cowbell if he continues to champion self-determined value in the 21st century. Resisting the herd’s push toward self-definition and self-glorification requires the very kind of subversive feat of will that Nietzsche applauded.

How then do we raise the next generation to fly against the flow of today’s herd? For one thing, we must raise a generation that believes you cannot erase distinctions between men and women without losing something beautiful and precious that God designed. A generation that believes we should weigh ideas based on merit rather than the melanin of those speaking them, on credibility rather than XX or XY chromosomes. Believing that transcendent truth, goodness, and beauty exist and that, rather than following our own hearts, we should align our fallen hearts with the heart of God—that is going against the monotonous moo of today’s herd.

May God help us raise 21st men and women who, by refusing to believe that their imperfect feelings are the sacrosanct standard of truth, soar above a growing herd of self-worshippers and ideologists.

Thaddeus Williams

Thaddeus Williams is the author of the best-selling book Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2020). He serves as associate professor of systematic theology for the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and resides in Orange County, Calif., with his wife and four kids.

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