How did I manage to go so long without reading Feuerbach? Why is he not better known among those of us who aver in the 21st century that There is no god but man? Regardless, I doubt I could have picked a better starting-point than the volume Lectures on the Essence of Religion, a text from 1851 in which he offers thirty lectures to explicate and enlarge on his earlier work The Essence of Religion (not to be confused with his best-known volume The Essence of Christianity). This book represents his mature thought in a somewhat conversational style.
Feuerbach discusses the true objects of “nature religion” (typified by classical paganism) and “spiritual religion” (typified by Christianity), and concludes that in both cases they are the human ideal, this-worldly and otherworldly respectively. In the twenty-fifth lecture, he provides an excellent argument against sui generis religion. He even declares (in 1851!): “The ultimate secret of religion is the relationship between the conscious and unconscious, the voluntary and involuntary in one and the same individual.” (310-11)
On the whole, I found him incisive, witty, and fundamentally true to reality as I have encountered it. There were a couple of points on which I would differ with him. I don’t share his conviction that humanity as a whole will inevitably progress to a more rational condition. Also, although a few passages indicate that he knows better, he all too often uses “imagination” as a blank synonym for “delusion,” thus permitting the effects of false imagination and idle fantasy to eclipse the importance of the imaginative faculty in nurturing and realizing practical goals.
“In religion man does not satisfy other beings; he satisfies his own nature.” (76) Deus est homo, brother Ludwig! [via]
This edition of Feuerbach’s The Essence of Religion is abridged by translator Alexander Loos: three only out of the thirty lectures appear under this cover. This text is the earlier, denser, and more “philosophical” exposition of views that are enlarged upon in the later Lectures on the Essence of Religion. The abridgement is not divided into three lectures according to its source, but simply presented as a continuous text of fifty-five numbered sections.
In contrast to the author’s earlier books on Christianity, this one takes a wider, more comparative approach, and consequently offers two complementary theories regarding the nature of religious thought, which is nevertheless always a confusion of subjective and objective phenomena. The Christian type takes the subjective human ideal as an objective cosmic force, while its earlier and less “sophisticated” complement, as is found in ancient Greek pagan cults, attires the objective powers of nature with the human sort of subjectivity.
As always, Feuerbach demonstrates the sane approach to the simple fact that There is no god but man. He writes of the “spiritual” sort of religion championed by Christians: “As the life to come is nothing but the continuation of this life uninterrupted by death, so the divine being is nothing but the continuation of the human being uninterrupted by Nature in general—the uninterrupted, unlimited nature of man” (63, ital. in original). He also exhibits his rancor and contempt for the theological enterprise. He he shows theology straining at gnats while swallowing camels, when it tries to remove the supernatural element from sacramental rites, while retaining the supernatural in stories of cosmic origin. “But it is in the world of theology just as in the political world; the small thieves are hanged, the great ones are suffered to escape” (58). [via]