Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Essence of Feuerbach

Ludwig Feuerbach in his book The Essence of Christianity, argues that religion is a projection of man’s own nature. Throughout the development of Feuerbach’s diagnosis of religion he attacks Historic Christianity. Feuerbach makes many assertions about religion and Christianity in particular. Overall, Feuerbach’s criticisms and explanation of religion are left unsubstantiated.   

Feuerbach’s diagnosis of religion can be considered an inversion of Hegel’s Philosophy of the Absolute. Instead of Hegel’s Absolute (God) becoming aware of itself through people; Feuerbach avows that people become aware of themselves in the concept of God.  As Van A. Harvey remarks, “Instead of saying that the Absolute Spirit (God) achieves self-knowledge by objectifying itself in the finite world, he [Feuerbach] argued that the finite spirit comes to self-knowledge by externalizing or objectivizing itself in the idea of God.”[1] Feuerbach considers the significant difference between animals and man is that man can be conscious of himself and species. Man has species-consciousness. Feuerbach maintains that man with his species-consciousness, projects human attributes and qualities to form God. However, the basis of Feuerbach’s projection theory rests on the genetic fallacy. As Karl Ameriks explains, “Even if it were true (or it somehow be shown to be at least likely) that projections like those alleged to occur on Feuerbach’s psychological theory have been the causes of all our actual attachments to religious belief, it still would not follow that the statements expressed in such beliefs could have absolutely no truth or possible justification.”[2] The conclusion from Ameriks remark is tremendously helpful, in that it, points out that Feuerbach’s projection theory does not invalidate the truthfulness of religious beliefs. Really, all Feuerbach has succeeded in doing is making an assertion about how we come to believe in God, but an assertion does not prove anything. For example, if I said that Feuerbach and all atheists are really projecting the non-existence of God to be relieved from morally accountability, this assertion, though it could be true, does not prove anything. All Feuerbach has shown is man’s desire to be God.
Feuerbach asserts that man, with his consciousness, can conceptualize his species. Now, Feuerbach may be right that man can conceptualize his species, but this becomes problematic for Feuerbach. For, if man is aware of the concept of species or humanity, it disproves materialism. Concepts like “humanity” and “equality” are not physical entities (material) in space. Therefore, it would be wrong for anyone to argue that concepts are material. Indeed, if concepts are immaterial, Feuerbach cannot rightly claim they are human without denying his materialism. But Feuerbach claims that man has what he calls the divine perfections of reason, will, and love. Clearly, Feuerbach’s perfections are concepts. This illustrates that Feuerbach’s belief betrays his materialism. He treats concepts like love, reason and humanity as something that transcends material chemicals in the brain. However, if Feuerbach were consistent with his materialism, it would make no sense for him to speak of concepts like humanity, love, and goodness, if all concepts were, merely material chemicals in the brain.

Feurbach argues that religion debases humanity.  Feuerbach declares that he wants man to realize that God is a projection of the human nature. Religion then, for Feuerbach spoils the prospect of man becoming conscious of his supposed divine nature, thus resulting in unhappiness. As Feuerbach states, “to know God and not know oneself to be God, to know blessedness and not know oneself to enjoy it, is a state of disunity and unhappiness.”[3] It is quite obvious that Feuerbach desires man to be God, but he fails to justify his assertion. Feuerbach seems to be doing a little projecting of his own, or some wishful thinking. Oddly enough, what Feuerbach seems to be saying is that if we do not believe his projection theory it leaves us unhappy. Feuerbach regards Christianity as debasing humanity because it teaches that man is radically corrupt.[4] Surprisingly, Feuerbach’s arguments he gives to prove that man is not corrupt, do not deal with the Christian conception of human corruption. All Feuerbach argues against is a false interpretation of Christian doctrine. Biblical Christianity does not teach that man is so corrupt that he is incapable of doing good as Feuerbach‘s arguments assume. Rather Christianity teaches that man is so permeated by sin that man spiritually can do nothing good in relationship to God without divine grace.[5] Feuerbach has only proven that he does not like the idea of man being corrupt. Although he may not like the idea, his opinion is irrelevant.

Feuerbach believes that whenever humans describe something in terms of human attributes they make it human. As Feuerbach states, “If thy predicates are anthropomorphisms, the subject of them is an anthropomorphism too. If love, goodness, personality, are human attributes, so also is the subject which tho presupposest, the existence of God, the belief that there is a God, an anthropomorphism--a presupposition purely human.” [6] Feuerbach cannot seriously expect us to believe that whenever we compare or describe things in terms of human qualities it makes them human. When Feuerbach compares humans with animals, and concludes that man has species-consciousness; Feuerbach does not consider his comparisons as making animals human. Either Feuerbach is being inconsistent or he has set up a double standard. Furthermore, the idea that a human comparison makes everything human is like saying an animal becomes human when we give it a name. If it were absurd to think that we make animals human when we compare them to ourselves, it would follow then that it is even more absurd to think that God becomes human when we compare ourselves to Him.

Feuerbach suggests that Christians believe God is good because goodness itself is a divine attribute apart from God. However, this assertion misconstrues Christianity. Christianity teaches that God by His character and nature, gives meaning to all things. This implies that our concept of goodness is dependent upon God. Goodness would be defined by God’s character. Apart from God, we would be left in subjectivism without any true meaning of goodness.  Fundamentally, Christianity teaches that we come to know God by His verbal revelation (the Bible) and creation (nature). Therefore, the Bible and nature provides the basis for Christians to subscribe attributes to God. If Feuerbach thinks that goodness is a divine attribute apart from God, then he must account for why it is meaningful to speak of goodness objectively, and how it is good in and of itself. To put it another way, he must explain how something is good, and how goodness is good for its own sake apart from God.        

Underneath Feuerbach‘s criticisms, we can examine closely the logical implications of his assumptions. Feuerbach, from the preface of his book candidly confesses his presupposition of materialism.[7] From start to finish, Feuerbach assumes materialism. This assumption should be considered an unargued Philosophical bias towards Christianity. However, if we focus on Feuerbach’s materialism, we will see that it undermines his assertions, and arguments against Christianity. For materialism views thoughts, and choices as nothing more than determined chemical processes in the brain. Thus for Feuerbach to argue consistently, he would have to admit that his beliefs about humanity and religion are beliefs based not truth or evidence, but rather on chemicals in his brain. Therefore, it would make no sense for Feuerbach to argue assuming materialism, if the chemicals in his brain cause him to believe man created God, and the chemicals in Christian‘s brains’ cause them to believe God created man.
If we forced Feuerbach to reason logically from his presuppositions, we would find he refutes himself.  Feuerbach argues with the laws of logic, which nullifies his basic assumption of materialism. Counter to what Feuerbach may think the laws of logic he uses are not material. The laws of logic cannot be observed, tasted, touched, or smelled. Yet Feuerbach adamantly attacks Christianity while, he himself cannot even make sense of the laws of logic from his materialism. In fact, Feuerbach has claimed that we cannot even use negation as a means of knowing anything, which entails that we cannot use the laws of logic. For instance, we could not use the law of contradiction for it negates something being contradictory. Or the law of identity that negates something being what it is not. Still, the Christian worldview, which he criticizes, can account for these laws. Unlike Feuerbach’s materialism that destroys the very possibility of accounting for logic. The Christian worldview cannot only make sense of the laws, but provides the basis for being logical.  Christianity teaches that God has communicated some of his attributes to man. One of them being rationality, which reflects His character. This means we were created to be logical creatures with the purpose to glorify God. But given Feuerbach’s materialism we are forced to ask, “where did the laws of logic originate from?” And why should we be rational instead of irrational? As far as I can tell, Feuerbach’s materialism implies irrationality, because it does not provide a basis for the laws of logic.

Feuerbach’s empiricism makes it impossible to prove anything. Feuerbach assumes that we cannot have knowledge about something unless it can be perceived by the senses. But Feuerbach cannot observe concepts like humanity, and consciousness. He cannot observe the chemicals in his brain. Nor can he observe the laws of logic. Thus if Feuerbach were consistent with his empiricism he could not prove anything.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Bibliography

Primary Sources

A. Harvey, Van.  Feuerbach and the interpretation of religion. (UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995) 27.

Ameriks, Karl,” “From Feuerbach, Marx, and Kierkegaard” in  The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism. ed. Karl Ameriks. (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000) 261.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity, Trans. George Eliot. (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1957)

Secondary Sources

Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996) 247.
Clark, Gordon, Thales to Dewey, (Vol. 3. 4th ed. New Mexico: The Trinity Foundation, 2000) 368-370

[1] A. Harvey, Van.  Feuerbach and the interpretation of religion. UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 27.
[2] Ameriks, Karl,” “From Feuerbach, Marx, and Kierkegaard” in  The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, ed. Karl Ameriks. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 261.

[3] Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity, Trans. George Eliot. New York: Harper,1957. p.18
[4] Ibid., p.p.28-29
[5] Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. 247.
[6] Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity, Trans. George Eliot. New York: Harper,1957. p.16
[7] Ibid., p.xxxiv

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