“Imitation, the imitation of Christ, is really the point from which the human race shrinks. The main difficulty lies here; here is where it is really decided whether or not one is willing to accept Christianity. If there is emphasis on this point, the stronger the emphasis the fewer the Christians. If there is a scaling down at this point (so that Christianity becomes, intellectually, a doctrine), more people enter into Christianity. If it is abolished completely (so that Christianity becomes, existentially, [XII 457] as easy as mythology and poetry and imitation an exaggeration, a ludicrous exaggeration), then Christianity spreads to such a degree that Christendom and the world are almost indistinguishable, or all become Christians; Christianity has completely conquered—that is, it is abolished!
Alas, yes, what Christianity is seems to have been completely forgotten in Christendom. If someone were to present it even approximately, people would not be far from imagining it to be cruelty, human torture he himself has thought up—to such a degree does suffering for the Word or for the doctrine go hand in hand with Christianity, to such a degree that if someone presents it even approximately truly he will immediately incur human disfavor. As stated, despite the millions of copies of the New Testament in circulation, despite the fact that everyone possesses the New Testament, is baptized, confirmed, and calls himself a Christian, and that a thousand preachers preach every blessed Sunday—people nevertheless will not be far from insisting that it is that person’s own invention when he, quite simply, draws out of the New Testament what is clearly there and in clear words, which, however, from generation to generation we human beings have most cavalierly left out, without therefore admitting that what we have retained under the name of Christianity is anything other than the pure, the sound, unadulterated doctrine.
Oh, that there had been awareness of this in time; then the situation in Christendom would have been different from what it is now. But since human obstinacy, in its unwillingness to hear anything about imitation, became more and more threatening, since hirelings and human slaves or at least only very weak believers undertook to be proclaimers of the Word, the history of Christendom, from generation to generation, became a story of steadily scaling down the price of what it is to be a Christian. At last it came to be such a ridiculously low price that soon it had the opposite effect that people scarcely wanted to have anything to do with Christianity, because through this false leniency it had become so sickly and cloying that it was disgusting. To be a Christian—well, if only one does not literally steal, does not literally make stealing one’s occupation, since to be a thief in one’s occupation can very well be combined with being an earnest Christian who goes to communion once a year or to church a few times a year, at least on New Year’s Day for sure. To be a Christian—well, if in committing adultery one does not overdo or, forsaking the golden mean, carry it to extremes, since observing—decorum!—that is, secretly with good taste and culture, it can still be combined with being an earnest Christian who listens to a sermon at least once for every fourteen times he reads comedies and novels.
And that anything should stand in the way of completely conforming to the nature of the world by using every sagacious way to guarantee the greatest possible earthly advantage, enjoyment, etc., that anything should stand in the way of superbly combining this with being an earnest Christian—that would be a ludicrous exaggeration, an effrontery, if someone dared to propose anything like that to us, the height of folly by anyone who would dare to do that, since there would not be a single person who would reflect upon—what is said in the New Testament, or that it is said there. 50This is a wohlfeil [cheap] edition of what it is to be a Christian. Yet this is the actual state of affairs, because preachers’ declaiming about the lofty virtues etc. during a quiet hour on Sunday does not alter the actual state of affairs on Monday, since people account for such a proclamation as being the preacher’s official [XII 458] job and his livelihood, and since many a clergyman’s life certainly is not different from that actual state of affairs—but it is actual existence that preaches—all that with the mouth and the arms is no good.”