New book from SUNY Fredonia’s Belliotti contrasts life teachings of Jesus, Nietzsche

Dr. Raymond Belliotti, distinguished teaching professor of philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, reconstructs and critically examines two widely deviating sets of teachings about how to lead an exemplary human life in “Jesus or Nietzsche: How Should We Live Our Lives?”

The book, Belliotti’s 14th, was published by Rodopi Editions in Ethical Theory and Practice, a special series in its “Value Inquiry” book series.

Belliotti frames both Jesus and Nietzsche as moral revolutionaries. Jesus modified the imperatives of Jewish law to conform to what he was firmly convinced was divine will. Nietzsche aspired to transform the dominant values of his time, which themselves were influenced greatly by Christianity, in service of what he saw as a higher vision.

Belliotti says the interplay of these radical versions of the good human life, sprinkled with critical commentary emerging from modern findings in the sciences and humanities, opens possibilities and lines of inquiry that can inform choices in answering that perennial question, “How should we live our lives?”

In general terms of morality, Jesus and Nietzsche are similar, Belliotti said. Both take a virtue ethics approach which prizes inner motives and intentions, and both are reluctant to issue particular judgments about specific cases. They seem to agree that nurturing the proper dispositions of character and becoming a certain type of person will result in appropriate moral choices. Jesus and Nietzsche are most concerned with providing guidance on who one should be rather than insisting on what one must do in a given situation.

“This book is an attempt to tell different sides of Nietzsche’s and Jesus’ stories, without a happy ending, indeed, with no final solution, but only a sketch of a synthesis of the respective strengths in their teachings,” Belliotti explained. “My hope is that Jesus and Nietzsche will follow you home.”

Radical egalitarianism that extended unconditional love and concern to everyone, especially to those with special needs, was embraced by Jesus, while Nietzsche championed an aristocratic attitude that recognized the rank order of human beings.

Jesus warned against pursuing material accumulation and worldly fame as the best approach to living one’s life, while Nietzsche cheered those who continuously aspire to overcome and surpass their present self-understandings. Jesus advised humility before God; Nietzsche professed that a deserved self-pride is reward for successfully negotiating the recurring cycles of deconstruction, re-imagination, and re-creation in the service of new ways of life. Jesus prized a robust communitarianism, while Nietzsche exalted a hearty individualism.

These themes are vividly displayed in the differences between the human paradigms the two thinkers advanced: Jesus depicted the ardent unconditional lover, while Nietzsche portrayed the grand striver brandishing a stalwart will to power.

Belliotti convincingly shows in his book that Jesus and Nietzsche are not merely historical icons or galvanizers of power-hungry institutions, said Olli Loukola, docent of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. “Instead, they are inspiring visionaries whose works can inform our existential choices and energize our lives today.”

A prolific writer, Belliotti’s books address issues in jurisprudence, sexual ethics, ethnic identity, Nietzsche, the meaning of life, human happiness, philosophy and baseball, Machiavelli, Roman philosophy, Dante, posthumous harm and Shakespeare.