Friday, May 29, 2009


The new faddy word of the season is "uber."  I was curious to know the source of this handy prefix, so I - of course - turned to wikipedia.


The crossover of the term "über" from German into English goes back to the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1883, Nietzsche coined the term "übermensch" to describe the higher state to which he felt man might aspire. The term was brought into English by George Bernard Shaw in the title to his 1903 play Man and Superman. During his rise to power, Adolf Hitler used Nietzsche's term in his descriptions of an Aryan master race. It is through this association with Superman the hero that the term "über" carries much of its English sense implying irresistibility or invincibility.

Interesting, interesting.  I'm not going to say that a Christian should never use the term "über."  But I think it's important that we know the roots of the terms and objects we use.  For example, I wouldn't say that it's wrong to own a VW bug.  I do, however, think it's wise to understand that "VW" stands for "volkswagen," or "people's car," and Hitler saw himself as reaching out to the people, or "volks" through this and other innovations.

I'd like to add to this brief account of the word "über" by pointing out (via my undergrad philosophy prof and G.K. Chesterton) some of the fuller implications of Nietzsche's idea of the superman.  In becoming an "übermensch," a person must necessarily cease being a person.  These übermensch that Nietzsche envisioned would have a privileged status in the society they inhabited.  There would be two systems of society: one for the normal man, and one for the superman.  The underlings would need to follow traditional codes of ethics, to maintain order.  But the supermen?  Ah.  They would truly live in a state of  "create your own morality."  From the five or so minutes we spent on this philosophy in my Mayterm class, I don't know the telltale signs of having a superman on your hands.  Chances are, it wouldn't be as simple as exhibiting X-ray vision or being disctinctly allergic to Kryptonite.  As I see it, many powerhungry people have already convinced themselves they've made the transition, and are fully justified in living by their own set of rules, instead of anyone else's.  Hmm... I'd say that Nietzche wasn't the first to come up with an idea of certain beings above the law.  And fortunately for us, there's examples of how to deal with this kind of folly.  Wasn't there a king named John, and oh yeah -- a document called the Magna Carta?  Oh yes.  It reaffirmed that no man is above the law.

Yes, you're right: there is one exception, and through that exception, all Christians have become exceptions.  Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Law.  But notice His treatment of the law!  He didn't call himself an übermensch, or Superman.  He didn't proudly flaunt His status above us, mere men.  Instead, He made it clear that He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.  Also, the same freedom that He enjoyed, He offered to us by suffering, dying, then living for us.  As Jesus said in John 10:11-12, "...I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  Through His sacrifice, He gave us grace: "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14). "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God." (Romans 7:4)  This is heavens and earth away from Nietzche's folly.

So, you want to gain power?  There is "...incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everthing for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:19-23). 

Meet Christ.

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