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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Abstract

MERWE, Jan Van Der. Ludwig Feuerbach the anthropologist. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2011, vol.51, n.3, pp. 319-331. ISSN 0041-4751.

Ludwig Feuerbach was one of thefirst philosophers to arrive at the insight that religion had its origins in the human psyche and that religion ought to be nothing but anthropology. Feuerbach (as quoted directly in Kamenka 1979:46-49) argued that religion and reason are concurrent and that religious belief had established itself in people's inward visualizations and in representations that became elevated as the only truth. He said further that the representational world of religion revolved around individuals, their needs and their desires, yes, around their blissfulness and immortality. This abstract takes us to a quote by Joseph Koterski (1993:15) whereby he had responded to Christopher Dawson's "Religion and Culture" (1944) and "Religion and the Rise of Western Culture" (1950): "Religion", says Dawson, "is the key of history". In contrast to the academic tendency to reduce religion to an epiphenomenon, a product of various material and psychic forces (the recipe depending for the most part on how much Marxism and how much Freudianism one likes to mix in the intoxicated conversations at Ivy League faculty clubs), Dawson insists on the need to understand a society's religion if one wants to understand the original formation and the successive transformations of any human culture: In all ages thefirst creative works of a culture are due to a religious inspiration and dedicated to a religious end. The temples of the gods are the most enduring works of man. Religion stands at the threshold of all the great literatures of the world. Philosophy is its offspring and is a child which constantly returns to its parent. And the same is true of social institutions. Kingship and law are religious institutions and even today they have not entirely divested themselves of their numinous character, as we can see in the English coronation rite and in the formulas of our law courts. All the institutions of family and marriage and kingship havea religious background and have been maintained and are still maintained by formidable social sanctions. Feuerbach makes a distinction between religion and theology. According to him, the former is not without value, but the latter should be resisted and regarded with contempt since it was fabricated and misused by a particular society. Religion, says Feuerbach, can still be excused in a certain sense, since it comes into being involuntarily and unconsciously. He adds that religion, in fact, is merely an illusion and a fantasy, since it comprises a person's relationship with his own being (Engels 1886:4). Theology, in contrast, is a myth, which derives its origins from anthropology. In The Essence of Christianity (1841), Ludwig Feuerbach described God thus: "God as a morally perfect being is nothing else than the realized idea, the fulfilled law of morality, the moral nature of man posited as the absolute being". In other words, God is a projection of the human moral idea. He is our idea of what the perfectly moral person would be like, freed from all the limitations that apply to individual human beings: "God is the self-consciousness of man freed from all discordant elements". All genuine individuals and societies are limited, so they can never completely exemplify the ideals and hopes we have of them. (In a way, this reflects Plato's theory that individual things are pale, imperfect copies of an eternal "form" or idea.) But we still have hopes and aspirations for something perfect. Feuerbach argued that God was a projection of those ideals. To believe in him, was to believe in a moral order freed from all conflicts and limitations. He is a way of describing the highest aspirations of our own self-consciousness. In the nineteenth century, such thoughts were regarded as threatening and unacceptable to many, thus Feuerbach effectively ended his academic career at the age of 26, when hefirst challenged the belief in personal immortality and a conviction in a transcendent God. Feuerbach argued that the natural world, known by way of the senses, is the sum total of reality. Hence "God" is seen as part of that world only by being a projection of an aspect of humanity. In this sense, religion becomes a feature of humanity that should be studied by anthropologists - a phenomenon like any other. This did not imply that religion had not played an important part in human self-awareness, since it was by way of religion that a sense of the world as a whole and humanity's part in it had been developed. However, Feuerbach argued that it had already performed that task. The phenomenon should now be recognized as a projection of ideals, that should give way to a humanism which would allow those ideals to be developed in this world, rather than projected out into another realm. He accepted the need for human spirituality, and saw the benefits of celebrating human and natural qualities, but argued against these being associated with supernatural beliefs. In other words, for Feuerbach, people created gods to express the spiritual significance of life, just as the artist creates a work of art in order to express his or her awareness of beauty. But for Feuerbach, it was better to celebrate life directly, as was encountered in his world. In his philosophical reflections, Feuerbach (Bakker et al. 1972:63) points out that religion comprises the underlying foundation of every phase of mankind's cultural history. He therefore alleges that each change in the history of culture is brought about by prior changes in the domain of religion. This article focuses primarily on Ludwig Feuerbach's philosophy of religion. Religion, according to him, is not something external to an individual that has been poured into him from above, and stands apart from the totality of his person. As information that has its origins and continuation in the godly initiative, religion is fulfilled in the psychical functions. Religion forms part of the totality of the human experience and is irrevocably tied to an individual's life history. Religion is not isolated data. In religion the initiative of God has moved by means of people, and everything that people undergo comprises an aspect of experience, psychology and culture.

Keywords : Theology; anthropology; philosophy; Christianity; belief; religion; Hegel; Kant; Descartes; Schleiermacher; God; secularization; secular society.

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