a1 University of Utrecht The Netherlands
In a Dutch weekly it was recently stated that man's moral powers are overestimated in the christian faith. The proponent of this belief, the Dutch–American philologist and philosopher Staal seems to me to be closer to the truth of this matter than his distinguished German colleague Nietzsche. The latter used to fascinate me as a young student with his devastating criticisms of christian culture and the christian view of life. According to Nietzsche, the christian religion has not too high, but rather too low a view of mankind: it wanted man to be ugly and evil; in this way it has succeeded in making man so. The insignificance, ugliness and sinfulness of man is the outcome of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Someone who is being told again and again how insignificant, bad and sinful he is, will end up believing it and behave accordingly. A not implausible theory, I thought at that time. However, as I see the matter now, I would support Staal rather than Nietzsche (supposing that my choice would be restricted to them). The christian faith has an optimistic view of man. Does it overestimate him? Does it attribute imaginary moral powers to him? Does it demand the morally impossible? A positive answer to these questions is not unreasonable if one does not want to go beyond a secular, evolutionist or sociobiological under-standing of man and does not take into consideration the affirmations of the Church.