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Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus!: A Challenge to Christian Supermen

Mary McCampbell

CouplandNietzsche2

Hey Nostradamus! is Douglas Coupland’s most theologically complex novel, an exploration of questions about the problem of evil in the context of a Columbine-like school shooting. The first part of the story is recounted by Cheryl, a young victim of the absurd massacre, as she speaks from an unnamed, mysterious purgatorial space. In one particularly poignant section, Cheryl, a sincere and devout convert to the Christian faith, speaks frankly (and perhaps even prophetically) about many of the Christians that she has encountered:

“It always seems to me that people who’d discovered religion had both lost and gained something. Outwardly, they’d gained calmness, confidence and a look of purpose, but what they’d lost was a certain willingness to connect with unconverted souls…”.

Cheryl’s involvement with an oppressive, judgmental youth group named “Youth Alive!,” as well as her relationship with her legalistic father-in-law, leads her to these conclusions. Yet she remains faithful, convinced that there is something beyond religious posturing, something in the Christian narrative that actually points to wholeness, depth, and meaning rather than pompous superficiality. Cheryl’s clarity of vision as she critiques the “religious” is rich and biblically informed:

“There can be an archness, a meanness in the lives of the saved, an intolerance that can color their view of the weak and the lost. It can make them hard when they ought to be listening, judgmental when they ought to be contrite.”

Cheryl’s comments are poignant and instructive, a call to self reflection; and they bring to mind the moments when Christ himself expressed the most visible righteous anger. In both Matthew 21: 12-17 and Matthew 23, we see Him rebuking religious hypocrites because of their exploitation of the weak, their self righteousness, their shortsightedness.

In The AntiChrist, Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1888 polemic tracing the roots of our supposed misuse of the concepts of “good” and “evil,” he spends a large amount of time denouncing the sacrifice of Christ, an action that is repulsive to him because it supposedly “thwarts the law of evolution,” a law that propels us to follow our desires for power. But some of Nietzsche’s unrestrained insults are strangely beautiful and truthful descriptions of Christ:

“But this god of the “great majority,” this democrat among gods, has not become a proud heathen god: on the contrary, he remains a Jew…a god of all the dark nooks and crevices, of all the noisesome quarters of the world!... His earthly kingdom, now as always, is a kingdom of the underworld, a souterrain kingdom, a ghetto kingdom.”

Cheryl’s concern that religious self-righteousness can harden us to the concerns of “the weak and the lost” remind us that Christians can so easily posture as sad Nietzschean supermen, using the motions of “faith” as a means to power and pride rather than a call to serve. Nietzsche’s description of this “god of all the dark nooks and crevices”... whose “earthly kingdom” is a “ghetto kingdom” reminds us that Christ’s act of great strength (which Nietzsche reads as weakness) was to empty himself of the very power that was rightfully His as a way to both save and identify with the “weak and the lost.”

Neither Douglas Coupland nor Friedrich Nietzsche are Christians. One carefully and respectfully critiques Christian culture; the other hatefully and blasphemously bludgeons both Christ and Christians. But the writing of both can, on careful reflection, cause us to think about what a life of faith actually means. Coupland’s Cheryl laments the notion that “the religious” lack “a willingness to connect with unconverted souls.” Is this a call for us to begin looking more closely for the God-given truths that can be revealed even in “the dark nooks and crevices”?