The Law of Thelema fulfils the necessary conditions. It is not limited by ethnological, social, religious or linguistic barriers. Its metaphysical basis is strictly scientific. Its principle is single, simple and self-evident. It does not deny human nature or demand impossible virtues. It offers to every individual the fullest satisfaction of his true aspirations; and it supplies a justification for all types of political systems beyond the criticisms which have undermined all previous theories of government. There is no need for the fraud of divine right or the cant of democracy. The right of the ruler to rule depends solely upon the scientific proof of his fitness to do so, and this proof is capable of confirmation by the evidence of the experience that his measures really result in enabling each individual in his jurisdiction to fulfil his own peculiar function as freely as possible.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Essence of Christianity [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library, Feuerbach Internet Archive] by Ludwig Feuerbach, trans George Eliot, introduction Karl Barth, foreword Richard Niebuhr, part of the Great Books in Philosophy Series.
When Ludwig Feuerbach declared “Anthropology” to be “the secret of Christian Theology,” he was not referring to (the not-yet-invented) cultural anthropology, but to a study-of-the-human combining disciplinary features we would now probably class with psychology and philosophy. This equation is the central thesis of his most famous work, The Essence of Christianity.
The body of the book is divided into two parts. The first and longer part focuses on retrieving philosophical truths from the morass of Christian belief, and thus accounting for the empirical success of Christianity. The second part is intent on exposing the falsity and incoherence of Christian teachings, abominating “Christian sophistry,” and rejecting the enterprise of speculative theology. I suppose that that sequence was the one most rhetorically appropriate to Feuerbach’s own 19th-century audience. He could soften them up with approbations of “the essence of” Christianity (albeit from his unusual perspective) before condemning its visible intellectual superstructure. It might be more useful for many readers today to consider the parts in the reverse sequence: Feuerbach thus points the way to an esoteric understanding of traditional Christianity that opens onto a neo-Christian perspective in which genuine religious sentiment can be divorced from theological obfuscation.
A long appendix to the work is made up of “Explanations–Remarks–Illustrative Citations.” These add few if any new ideas, and much of the text is untranslated Latin in my copy of the George Eliot translation. There are some other difficult features of the Eliot translation. She uses “negativing” where we would now say “negating,” and “subjectivism/objectivism” where we might have “subjectivity/objectivity.” Probably the greatest consequence for today’s reader comes from her choice to use “thou” and “thee” to maintain the du (dich, dir) of informal second-person pronouns in German. But, mostly on account of the King James Bible being the contemporary Anglophone’s main site of exposure to those archaic pronouns, they are now psychologically charged with authority and formality, rather than intimacy and approachability.
I have found Feuerbach’s later writings somewhat more congenial and useful to my own positive philosophy of religion, but I am grateful for his climactic discourse here on the contradiction between faith and love, in which he declares himself a partisan of the latter. And while by “love” he does mean a general goodwill and sense of human care, this sense expressly includes sexual love. Feuerbach anathematizes Christian prescriptions for celibacy, and defends the principle of sexual pleasure, as well as the nobility of the generative process. “All the glory of Nature, all its power, all its wisdom and profundity, concentrates and individualises itself in the distinction of sex. Why then dost thou shrink from naming the nature of God by its true name?” (78)
Another feature of this book that I found valuable is Feuerbach’s reflections on the Christian sacraments. “Even the Protestant — not indeed in words, but in truth — transforms God into an external thing, since he subjects Him to himself as an object of sensational enjoyment” (199). He emphasizes that the pleasure taken in eating and drinking is declared to be holy by means of the Eucharist, and that the real power of a sacramental bath — as contrasted with its perverted, imaginary effect in Christian doctrine — is to unite the baptisand with Nature and the world.
In a footnote to the first part, recognizing that orthodox interpreters will view his readings of traditional Christian ideas as “atrocious, impious, diabolical,” Feuerbach declares: “I would rather be a devil in alliance with truth, than an angel in alliance with falsehood” (155). The party of the devils is fortunate to have him.
Thomas Paine was a leading public intellectual of the 18th-century American Revolution, with his pamphlets Common Sense and The American Crisis as chief texts of the “spirit of 1776.” He followed these publications with his Rights of Man to defend the French and American revolutionary efforts against reactionary political sentiment in England. His final major work The Age of Reason was written as an expatriate in France. The first and shorter part he composed under the shadow of imminent arrest and possible execution, without recourse to a copy of the Bible that it criticizes. The second part includes a more detailed evaluation of Christian scripture, on grounds of both its provenance and internal features.
“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself than this thing called Christianity” (189-90). Raised by Quakers, Paine was an exemplary Deist of his period and staunchly anti-Christian. His distaste for Christianity is entirely consistent with and often justified by his Deist piety, refusing to attribute to the godhead sentiments and behaviors offensive to human conscience.
Paine’s dismantling of claims that the Bible should be regarded as the “Word of God” remain effective today, performed entirely around the evident sense of the texts themselves, without recourse to the “higher criticism” already being developed in Paine’s time, which was to prove so damning to the historical pretenses of Bible reception. He does verge on source criticism at a couple of points in discussing the evident “Gentile” origins of certain component texts of the Bible, but simply refers to the judgments of Jewish authorities (Abenezra and Spinoza) and the texts’ inconsistency with ancient Hebrew culture and religious sentiment (124-5), rather than any putative source texts. Paine’s attacks on the moral features of the supposed heroes of the Bible have not lost any of their force or relevance.
While Aleister Crowley was later to take up as a rallying cry Paine’s maxim that “Mystery is the antagonist of truth” (76), I would not say the Beast intended it in just the same unsubtle sense as the venerable Revolutionary, although mystery’s envelopment of truth in Paine’s argument foreshadows Crowley’s incantation. Paine classes mystery with miracle and prophecy as the three invidious organs of revealed or “fabulous religion” (75, 80-2), which he opposes to the “true religion” grounded in scientific admiration for nature and individual conformity to reasoned ethics.
Miracle is faulty for “degrading the Almighty into the character of a show-man, playing tricks to amuse and make the people stare and wonder” (79). The enlightened man of reason (dare I say “magician”) will stare and wonder at unadorned reality, of course. As regards prophecy, Paine makes an important distinction between the archaic sense that he finds for the word in the Hebrew Bible, where it evidently means musical performance and/or poetry (35-7), and the “modern” sense in which “prophet” takes the place of “seer” indicating a claimant to divinely-guided psychic foreknowledge (81-2, 111 citing 1 Samuel 9:9). “Prophet” thus ultimately descends to a mere synonym for “liar,” particularly in such cases as Isaiah, whose prognostication was contradicted by the subsequent course of events (133-4).
A full chapter of the first part of The Age of Reason is dedicated to “The Effects of Christianism on Education,” sadly relevant to the US of the 21st century. The Christian institutions of education substitute indoctrination for learning, in order to profit by the resulting ignorance and cognitive dissonance. Today, we can see the further turn of the wheel in which Christians accuse sincere secular efforts to foster learning with the psychologically projected charge of “indoctrination,” since that is the only function they can see in schooling. Current attacks on public libraries and new laws to put schoolteachers in ideological straight-jackets manifest such perspectives in policy, although the recurring phenomenon is as old as the US nation-state, a polity distinctive for its historical adoption of anti-literacy laws.
My Dover paperback copy of The Age of Reason reproduces the 1896 Putnam’s edition by Moncure Daniel Conway, which reconciled the first-published French text with the later unauthorized English edition, noting the variances in footnotes. Conway also appended some correspondence by Paine regarding the work: one letter to “a friend” clarifying the book’s thesis, and another in response to his Revolutionary comrade Sam Adams. The latter clearly shows the Deist anti-Christian Paine to have a greater magnanimity of spirit than his Puritan interlocutor Adams.
I have no prior orientation to the larger Homo Sacer project of Giorgio Agamben, in which The Sacrament of Language constitutes part II.3, and it might be argued that this brief text–a mere 72 pages in Adam Kotsko’s translation from the Italian–should have been published with other sections in order to justify its standing as an independent volume. But the topic, sufficiently attractive to get me to read this book, does stand on its own, and Agamben’s treatment is fascinating, albeit distinctly chewy.
Rather than accepting the centuries-long tradition of viewing the oath as a rhetorical artifact of a primitive “magico-religious” culture, Agamben insists that the discursive spheres of religion and law were themselves produced by reactions to an essential experience of the oath, which he characterizes as “verediction.” (57) Although unremarked as such by Agamben, this state is also the point of departure for “How the ‘True World’ Finally Became a Fable” in Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols: “I, Plato, am the truth.”
The Sacrament of Language is crucially concerned with the coeval origins of law and religion; it contemplates the tripartite anatomy of the oath as invocation, affirmation, and curse; it details the relationship of the oath to the archaic functions of [con]sacratio and devotio; and it presents the oath and blasphemy as the two sides of a single coin. The theological observations of the book should be of great interest to Thelemites: among other interesting notes about pagan and Abrahamic religions, Agamben references Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas regarding the deity (qui es) invoked in the original anthem of the Gnostic Mass (53).
The supposed context for this entire discussion of the Archaeology of the Oath is a claim advanced by Paolo Prodi in a 1992 work (Il sacramento del potere) that recent generations of the West are participating in “the irreversible decline of the oath” (1). In the final sections of Agamben’s book, he outlines a scenario in which the postmodern condition dissolves the substance of Western ethics, and he proposes “philosophy” as the locus of instruction regarding our possible escape from the dilemma. I certainly appreciate and recommend his speculative philosophy, but it will be in vain unless it is seized by ones who are in fact consecrated and devoted, and put to use in the operative philosophy better known as magick.
The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton LaVey [Amazon, Abebooks, Bookshop, Local Library] by Blanche Barton, reviewed by Majere, Pr.ODF in the Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews archive.
This is the “authorised” biography of the late Anton LaVey, as penned by his Mistress and High Priestess of the Church of Satan, Blanche Barton. It covers most of his life in considerable detail up until the founding of his Church in 1966, then moves on to examine his philosophies and observations of the world around him. Initially, after the publication of this book, quite a few voices arose to challenge the authencity of it’s contents – among them “Rolling Stone” magazine. Especially held in doubt is LaVey’s alleged “fling” with pre-fame days Marilyn Monroe (no biographies of Monroe have ever mentioned such a relationship). So therefore (also considering the obvious bias of the biographer in purporting the contents are pure fact) it is suggested that the reader keep tongue jammed firmly in cheek. Having said that, it is of considerable interest to those who are keen to read more about LaVey’s observations and ideals; in this respect, he is – as usual – forthright in a no-bullshit manner. Basically, it has to be admitted that whether you like or loathe LaVey, he doesn’t pull punches as to what he is and what he stands for – whether you find such agreeable or not. Includes photos. Recommended primarily for fans only, or those who are simply curious.