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Meditation 1088
The Essence of Religion

(Part 5)

by: Ludwig Feuerbach

The Essence of Religion is a classic Freethought book from 140 years ago. Please bear in mind when reading it that it is a product of its time.

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38. Why has the East not a living, progressive history such as the West? Because in the East to man Nature is not concealed by man, nor the brilliancy of the stars and precious stones by the brilliancy of the eye, nor the meteorological lightning and thunder by the rhetorical “lightning and thunder,” nor the course of the sun by the course of daily events, nor the change of the year’s seasons by the change of fashion. It is true, the eastern man prostrates himself into the dust before the magnificence of royal, political power and dignity, but this magnificence itself is only a reflex of the sun and the moon; the king is an object of his adoration not as an earthly and human, but as a heavenly and divine being. But man disappears by the side of a God; only where the earth is depopulated of Gods, where the Gods ascend into heaven and change from real beings to imagined ones; only there men have space and room for themselves, only there they can show themselves without any restraint as men and put themselves forward as such. The eastern man bears the same relation to the western man as the husbandman to the inhabitants of the city. The former depends on Nature, the latter on man; the former is led by the barometer, the latter by the state of the stock-market; the former by the ever equal constellations of the zodiac, the latter by the ever fluctuating signs of honor, fashion and public opinion. Only the inhabitants of cities, therefore, make up history, only human “vanity” is the principle of history, only he who can sacrifice Nature’s power to that of opinion, his life to his name, his physical existence to his existence in the mouth and in the remembrance of generations to come -he only is capable of historical deeds.

39. According to Athen√¶us, the Greek writer of comic plays, Anaxandrides addresses the Egyptians as follows: “ I am not fit for your society; our manners and laws do not agree, -- you adore the ox which I sacrifice to the Gods; the eel to you is a great God, but to me a great dainty; you shun pork, I enjoy it with a relish; yourevere the dog, I beat him if he snaps a morsel from me; you are startled if something is the matter with the cat, I am glad of it and strip off her skin; you give a great deal of importance to the shrew-mouse, I none.” This address perfectly characterizes the contrast between the bound and the unbound, i.e. between the religious and irreligious, free, human consideration of Nature. There Nature is an object of adoration, here of enjoyment, l there man exists for Nature’s sake, here Nature for man’s sake, there she is the end, here the means; there she stands above, hero below man.(13) For this very reason man is there eccentric, out of himself; out of the sphere of his destination which points him only to himself; here, on the other hand, he is considerate, sober, within himself, self-conscious. There man degrades himself consistently even to coition with animals (according to Herodotus), in order to prove his religious humility before Nature; but here he rises in the full consciousness of his power and dignity up to amalgamation with the Gods as a striking proof that even in the heavenly Gods courses no other than human blood, and that the peculiar ethereal blood of the Gods is only a poetical imagination which does not hold good in reality and practice.

40. As the world, as Nature appears to man, so she is i.e. for him, according to his imagination; his sensations and imaginations are to him directly and unconsciously the measure of truth and reality; and Nature appears to him just as he is himself. As soon as man perceives that in spite of sun and moon, heaven and. earth, fire and water, plants and animals, man’s life requires the application and even the just application of his own powers ; as soon as he perceives that “the mortals unjustly complain of the Gods, and that they themselves in spite of fate, though imprudence, produce their misery,” that the consequences of vice and folly are disease, unhappiness and death, but those of virtue and wisdom, health, life and happiness, and that, therefore, those powers which influence man’s destiny, are intellect and will ; as soon, therefore, as man no more like the savage, is a being governed by the habits of momentary impressions and effects, but becomes a being which decides himself by principles, rules of wisdom, laws of reason, i.e. a thinking, intelligent being -- then also Nature, the world, appears and is to him a being dependent on, and ¬†influenced by, intellect and will.

41. When man with his will and intellect rises above Nature and becomes a supernaturalist, then also God becomes a supernatural being. When man establishes himself as a ruler “over the fishes in the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth over the earth,” then the Government of Nature is to him the highest idea, the highest being; the object of his adoration, of his religion therefore, the creator of Nature, for creation is a necessary consequence, or rather presupposition, of Government. If the Lord of Nature is not also her author, then she is independent of him as to her origin and existence, his power is limited and deficient; -- for if he had been able to create her, why should he not have created her? -- his government is only an usurped one, no inherent, legal one. Only what I produce and make is entirely within my power. Only from authorship the right of property is to be derived. Mine is the child, because I am his father. Therefore, only in creation government is acknowledged, realized, exhausted. The Gods of the heathen were also already masters of Nature, it is true, but no creators of hers, therefore they were only constitutional, limited, not absolute monarchs of Nature, i.e. the heathen were not yet absolute, unconditional, radical supernaturalists.

42. The Theists have declared the doctrine of the unity of God a revealed doctrine of supernatural origin, without considering that the source of Monotheism is in man, that the source of God’s unity is the unity of the human conscience and mind. The world is spread before my eyes in endless multitude and diversity, but still all these numberless and various objects: sun, moon and stars, heaven and earth, the near and the distant, the present and the absent, are embraced by my mind, my head. This being of the human mind or conscience, so wonderful and supernatural for religious, i.e. uneducated man, this being which is not restrained by any limits of time or space, which is not limited to any particular species of things, and which embraces all things and beings, without being himself an object or visible being-this being is, by Monotheism, placed at the head of the world, and made its cause. God speaks, God thinks the world and it is, he says that it is not, he thinks and wills it not, and it does not exist, i.e. I can in my imagination cause at will all things and consequently also the world itself to come and to disappear, to originate and to pass away. That God has also created the world from nothing, and, if he will, thrusts it again into nothing, is nothing but the personification of the human power of abstraction and imagination, which enables me at will to imagine the world as existing or not existing, and to affirm or deny its existence. This subjective or imagined non-existence of the world, is by Monotheism made its objective, real non-existence. Polytheism and natural religion in general make the real objects imagined ones. Monotheism, on the other hand, makes imagined objects and thoughts real objects, or rather the essence of intellect, will and imagination the most real, absolute, supreme being. The power of God, says a theologian, extends as far as the imaginative power of man, but where is the limit of this power? What is impossible to imagination? I can imagine everything that is, as not existing, and everything that does not exist as real; thus I can imagine “this” world as not existing, and on the other hand, numberless other worlds as existing. What is imagined as real is possible. But God is the being to whom nothing is impossible, he is the creator of numberless worlds, as far as his power is concerned, the possibility of all possibilities, of everything that can be imagined; i.e. in reality, he is nothing but the realization or personification of human imagination, intellect and reflection, thought or imagined as real, nay, as the most real, as the absolute being.

43. Theism, properly so-called, or Monotheism, arises only where man refers to Nature only to himself, because she suffers herself to be used without will and consciousness, not only to his necessary organic functions, but also to his arbitrary conscious purposes and enjoyments, and where he makes this relation her essence, consequently making himself her purpose, the centre and unity of Nature.(14) Where Nature has her end outside of herself, she necessarily exists also by another being, and that by a being whose intention of end at the time of her creation was man, as that being who was to enjoy and use Nature for his good. The beginning of Nature coincides therefore with God only where her end coincides with man, or in other words, the doctrine that God is the creator of the world has as its source and sense in the doctrine that man is the end of creation. If you feel ashamed of the belief that the world is created made for man, then you must feel ashamed that it is created, made at all. Where it is written: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” there it is also written: “God made two great lights. He made the stars also and set them in the firmament of the heaven, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and the night.” If youdeclare the belief in man as the end of Nature to be human pride, then you must also declare the belief in the creator of Nature to be human pride. That light only which shines on account of man is the light of theology, that light only which exists exclusively on account of the seeing being, presupposes also a seeing being as its cause.

44. The spiritual being which man places above Nature and presupposes as her founder and creator, is nothing but the spiritual essence of man himself, which, however, appears to him as another one, different from and incomparable to himself, because he makes it the cause of Nature,the cause of effects which man’s mind, will and intellect cannot produce, and because he consequently combines with that spiritual essence of man, the essence of Nature which is different.(15) It is the divine spirit who makes the grass grow, who forms the child in the womb, who holds and moves the sun in his course, who piles up the mountains, commands the winds, incloses the sea within its limits. What is the human mind compared with this spirit! How small, how limited, how vain! If therefore the rationalist rejects God’s incarnation, the union of the divine and human nature, he does so particularly because the idea of God in his head hides only the idea of Nature, especially of Nature such as she was disclosed to the human eye by the telescope of astronomy.

How should -- thus he exclaims provoked -- how should that great, infinite, universal being, which has its adequate representation and effect only in the great, infinite universe, descend for man’s sake upon the earth, which certainly disappears into nothing before the immeasurable greatness and fullness of the universe ? What unworthy, mean, “human” imagination! To concentrate God upon earth, to plunge God into man, is about the same as to try to condense the ocean into one drop, to reduce the ring of Saturn into a finger-ring. Truly it is a rather narrow idea to think the universal being as limited only to earth or man, and to believe that Nature exists only on his account, that the sun shines only on account of the human eye. You do not see, however, short-sighted rationalist, that it is not the idea of God, but the idea of Nature, which within yourself objects to a union of God and man, and shows it to be a nonsensical contradiction; you do not see that the centre of union, tertium cornparationis, between God and man is not that being .to which you directly or indirectly attribute the power and effects of Nature, but rather that being which sees and hears, because you see and hear, which possesses consciousness, intellect and will, because you possess these faculties, or, in other words, that being which you distinguish from Nature, because you distinguish yourself from her. What, then, can you really object if this being finally appears as a real man before your eyes? How can you reject the consequences if you adhere to the premises? How can you deny the son if you acknowledge the father? If the God-man to you is a creature of human imagination and self-deification, then you must acknowledge, also, the creator of Nature to be a creature of human imagination and self-exaltation over Nature. If you wish for a being without any anthropomorphism, without any human additions, be they additions of the intellect, or the heart, or of imagination, then be courageous and consistent enough to give up God altogether, and to appeal only to pure, naked, godless nature as to the last basis of your existence. As long as you admit a difference, solong you incarnate in God your own difference, so long you incorporate your own essence and nature in the universal and primary being; for as you do not have nor know in distinction from human nature any other being than Nature, so, on the other hand, you neither have nor know any other being in distinction from Nature than the human one.

45. The conception of man’s essence as an objective being different from man, or, in short, the personification of the human essence, has for its presupposition the incarnation of the objective being which is different from man, i.e. the conception of Nature as of a human being.(16) Will and intellect therefore appear to man as the primary powers or causes of Nature only because the unintentional effects of Nature appear to him in the light of his intellect as intentional ones, as ends and purposes; Nature herself consequently as an intelligent being (or at least as a mere thing of intellect). As everything is seen by the sun-the God of the sun, “Helios” hears and sees everything -- because man sees everything in the sunlight, so everything in itself has been thought, because man thinks it; a work of intellect, because for him an object of his intellect. Because he measures the stars and their distances, they are measured; because he applies mathematics in order to understand Nature and her laws, they have also been applied to her production; because he sees the end of a certain motion, the result of a certain development, the function of a certain organ, this end, function or result is in itself a foreseen one ; because he can imagine the opposite of the position or direction of a heavenly body, nay even numberless other directions, while at the same time he perceives that if this direction were changed, also a series of fruitful, benevolent consequences would be made impossible, so that he considers this series of consequences as the motive of that very direction: therefore such direction has really and originally been selected with admirable wisdom, and only with regard to its benevolent consequences, from the multitude of other directions which also exist only in man’s head. Thus the principle of thinking is to man directly and without discrimination the principle of existence; the thing thought, the thing existing; the idea of the object, its essence, (the a posteriori the a priori.)

Man thinks Nature otherwise than she really is ; no wonder that he also presupposes as her cause and the cause of her existence another being than herself, a being which exists only in his mind, nay, which is even only the essence of his own mind. Man reverses the natural order of things; he founds the world in the very sense of the word upon its head, he makes the apex of the pyramid its basis -- the first thing in or for the head, the reason why something is, the first thing in reality, the cause through which it exists. The motive of a thing precedes in the mind the thing itself. This is the reason why to man the essence of reason or intellect, the essence of thinking not only logically, but also physically, is the first, the primary being.

46. The mystery of teleology is based upon the contradiction between the necessity of Nature and the arbitrary will of man, between Nature such as she really is and such as man imagines her. If the earth were placed somewhere else, if e.g. it were placed where Mercury now is, everything would perish in consequence of insupportable heat. How wisely, therefore, is the earth placed just where it appears best according to its quality. But in what does this wisdom consist? Only in the contradiction, in the contrast to human folly, whicharbitrarily in thought places the earth somewhere else than where it is in reality. If you first tear asunder what in Nature is inseparable, as for instance the astronomical place of a heavenly body from its physical quality, then certainly the unity in Nature must afterwards appear to you as expediency, necessity as plan, the real and necessary place of a planet which agrees with its nature in contrast to the unfit one which you have thought of and chosen, as the reasonable one which has been justly chosen and wisely selected. “If the snow had a black color, or if such color prevailed in the arctic regions, all the arctic countries of the earth would be a gloomy desert, unfit for organic life. Thus the arrangement of the colors of bodies offers one of the most beautiful proofs for the wise arrangement of the world.” Certainly, if man did not change white into black, if human folly had not disposed arbitrarily of Nature, no divine wisdom would rule over Nature.

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(13) The original kings, however, are well to be distinguished from the legitimate ones, so-called. The latter, except in some extraordinary instances, are ordinary individuals, insignificant in themselves, while the former were extraordinary, distinguished, historical individuals. The deification of distinguished men, especially after their death, forms therefore the most natural transition from the properly naturalistic religions to the mythological and anthropological ones, although it may also take place at the same time with natural adoration. The worshiping of distinguished men, however, is by no means confined to fabulous times. Thus the Swedes deified their king Erich at the time of Christianity and sacrificed unto him after his death.

I range here the Greeks with the Israelites, while in my “Essence of Christianity” I contrast them with each other. This is by no means a logical contradiction, for things which, when compared with one another are different, coincide in comparison with a third thing. Besides, enjoyment of Nature includes also her aesthetic, theoretical enjoyment.

(14) An ecclesiastical writer expressively calls man “the tie of all things” (syndesmon hapanton), because God in him wished to embrace the universe into a unity, and because, therefore, 111 him all things as in their end are combined, and result in his advantage. And certainly man, as Nature’s individualized essence, is her conclusion, but not in the anti-natural and supernatural sense of teleology and theology.

(15) This union, or the amalgamation of the “moral” and “physical” of the human and not human being, produces a third, which is neither Nature nor man, but which participates of both, like an amphibial, and which, for this very mystery of its nature, is the idol of mysticism and speculation.

(16) Viewed from this standpoint the creator of Nature is therefore nothing but the essence of Nature, which, by means of abstracting from Nature, has been distinguished and abstracted from Nature, and such as she is an object of the senses and by the power of imagination has been changed into a human or man-like being, and thus popularized, anthropomorphized, personified.

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