Lectures on the Essence of Religion

Ludwig Feuerbach





Occasion and context.—My mode of life up to the present time.—On being an author.—Attitude toward the prevailing political and academic systems.—Lectures and publications.—Methods and survey of my previous work.—Philosophy and science of religion. Philosophical writings: History of Modern Philosophy. — Bacon and Hobbes. — Descartes. — Jakob Böhme.—Spinoza.—Leibniz.—Difference between theology and philosophy.




Pierre Bayle, time of publication.—Contents.—A view of the recent phase of philosophy based on its identity with religion.—On death and immortality.—On philosophy and Christianity.—Sense perception and intellectual phantasy.—The question of immortality, three stages: 1830 abstract, 1834 intermediate, 1846 firmly from an anthropological viewpoint.—Survey of inquiries into immortality.




Theology is anthropology: Godhead and human nature.—Polytheism and monotheism.—Genus and species.—The generic concept.—The essence of Christianity.—Objections springing from its exclusive basis in human nature.—Inevitable inherent one-sidedness.—The essence of religion, man's






dual attitude toward God: moral and physical.—The essence of religion as a concise intellectual and philosophical history of religion: essential sameness of all religions.—Principal purpose of the investigation: man’s right relation to the true powers and conditions of life.




The feeling of dependence as the basis of religion: Hegel and Schleiermacher.—Fear as the source of religion.—The worship of evil spirits.—Fear as object of religious worship among Romans and Spartans.—Thunder.—The sense of hearing as a condition of religious emotion, recent examples of religious fear.—Polytheism and multiplicity of qualities in the only God.—Fear and gratitude fused in the feeling of dependence.—Admiration as basis of religion.




Feeling of dependence and finiteness.—Death as basis of religion; grave and temple.—Basis of religion and practice of religion.—Nature religion: difference between religion and theism.—Pathological and aesthetic elements in religion.—Religious emotions, their special position in spiritual religion.—Religion as objectification of human nature.—Nature cults.—Science as a side line of religion, prejudiced view of nature in the nature religions.—Superstition and education.—Nature worship and pantheism.—The right view of reality in its given determination.—Nature religion and national religion.




Animal cults.—Survivals of animal worship, here again the feeling of dependence as reflected in gratitude and fear.—Animal worship a special form of nature worship.—Superstition and imagination in animal worship.—Nature as an object of sense perception and of the imagination.—Idiosyn-




cracy and sympathy.—Examples: dog, lotus flower, rivers, stars, stones.—Immature and culturally conditioned behavior in religion.—Wonder and insight into the essence of nature. —Human nature as constant determinant of animal worship.—Animal worship the theoretical and practical expression of degree of intellectual development.




Animal worship typifies the fundamental character of religion.—Egoism, its rational justification.—Self-preservation the basis of religious veneration.—The Supreme Being a concentrate of all instincts, needs, and doubts.—Rejection of life.—Life as the supreme good, and religion as directed at its preservation and enhancement.—The nature of the gods conditioned by the cultural level.—Worship, advantage, and benefit.—Examples from the classics.




Advantage and benefit in pagan and Christian worship.—Views of classical antiquity, the Church Fathers, the Bible, and Luther.—Mosheim.—The efficacy of God dependent on mankind, serving its “egoism.”—Common objections: religion as self-denial and self-sacrifice.—Examples of seeming denial of egoism.—Examples of religious self-sacrifice.—Its meaning and purpose: indirect self-affirmation.




The meaning of sacrifice: atonement and conciliation.—Customs among early Germans and neighboring peoples.—Human sacrifice among Greeks and Hebrews.—Human sacrifice in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.—Psychological human sacrifice.—Meaning and purpose of religious self-sacrifice.—Future bliss, religious ecstasy—Sacrificial offerings, niggardly and lavish.—Common and refined egoism in sacrifice.—Patriotic sacrifice.






Nature as the basis of religion.—Feeling of dependence and egoism.—The two aspects of need.—Consumption and veneration.—Advantage and enjoyment.—The basis of nature gods is nature, itself underived.—Nature the source of man. —The "creation" of nature by spirit is a mere logical deduction.—Man the "earth-born."—Divinization of objects perceived by the senses.




Originality and immediacy of nature as the basis of nature worship.—The immediacy of nature in the exact sense, that is a priori, its independence of anything supernatural or supersensory.—Pagan and Christian concept of nature the first cause.—The first cause and the first man.—All the determinants of man’s dependency are spatial, temporal, and materially determined, and not "causes as such": the earth in its specific determinacy.—The cosmological proof of the existence of God.—Divine unity and multiplicity in monotheism.—Intellectual short cuts in the formation of concepts. —The illusory character of the assumption of a "first cause."




The cosmological proof does not yield the desired explanation.—The a priori character and self-determinacy of nature transferred to an imagined, abstract being.—Logical thought as the model of the theological "explanation of nature": the cause does not explain anything but merely satisfies subjective thinking.—The immediate effects of nature as the actions of a higher being.—The power of the divine and the power of nature.—Intermediate causes and the assumption of a being "above" man.—Identity of nature and God concepts.—Contradictions and obscurities in the derivation of nature from God.






All divine attributes, including the moral, borrowed from nature.—The dual concept of God: the good and evil God. —Indeterminate and negative divine attributes belonging to nature: invisible, unlimited, timeless.—The sensuous origin of the general; even spiritual ideas of God rooted in sensory perception.—Genus and species, essence and existence.—The sensory presupposition of intelligibility: God conceived as personal and located in space.—Nature in its omnipresent reality presupposed in the concept of God.—Space and time, infinity in space and in time.—The relation of God and world, basic problem of all philosophy.




The concretization of abstract concepts a logical fiction.—God as the sum of all virtues, the Devil as representative of certain vices.—The general and the specific: the head and the heads: the genus is a predicate, not a self-sustaining essence in which the individuals have a "part." Abstract thought as model of "world creation."—The physico-theological proof of the existence of God.—Nature from the point of view of usefulness.—The mutual determination of the conditions and the phenomena of life.




Natural events not traceable to a purposeful intelligence or will, such explanation therefore illusory.—"Providence" in theistic natural science.—The illusion of an explanation of nature on theological grounds.—Examples of theological explanations of natural events and phenomena.—Infinite variety as a life principle.—The "purposes" in nature materially and organically determined, and in their determinateness opposed to divine activity; divine activity aiming at the miraculous, independent of the conditions determining natural




events.—Laws of nature and divine commands, the monarchical and the republican view of nature.




The explanation of nature in primitive religion.—Truly religious views of natural events.—Nature's course as a "mediate" miraculous intervention of the divinity.—God and nature mutually exclusive.—Physiological and theological explanation of nature: the basis of being in nature itself, which does not require a suprasensory-otherworldly being for its existence.—The three steps in deriving nature from the divine.—Alleged miracles in natural events.—The advance of knowledge leads to a distinction between divine effects and simple natural events.—Nature as a "mediate" effect of divinity.—Divine activity bound by the laws of nature.




Theistic logic in its explanation of nature: the work of art points to the creative author.—Childish questions are no proof of the soundness of a theological explanation of nature. The assumption of a supernatural author does not render incomprehensible natural events comprehensible. False premises in the derivation of nature from the spirit.—Difficulties in such derivation: matter in God, according to Jakob Böhme. —Contradictions in this derivation: "nonsensuous" matter, and development above and outside time.—Materialistic theism and suprasensory divinity.




Rationalism: mediate and immediate divine action.—The independence attributed to things other than divine in the Occidental and Oriental views.—Providence and its operation through men as "instruments."—Accordingly all evil done by men attributable to divine Providence without human responsibility.—True significance of the facts underlying this




view: human life under certain natural and temporal conditions.—Every living being dependent on its own activity.—The theological apologia for evils as requisite to the appreciation of good things in earthly life contrasted with the unadulterated beatitude of heavenly life.—All cultural advances a revolt against the divine decree.




Culture and Providence.—Theological protests against cultural progress on the pretense that God has ordered the world for the best.—Theological and natural explanation of certain phenomena of life.—Theological objections to the derivation of man from nature.—The psychological necessity of a supranatural explanation of nature.—Recapitulation: nature religion and its elaboration into spiritual religion.—The religious view of nature lacking in candor and objectivity: the anthropological element in the religious view of nature.




Fetishism: imagination as main factor in religious ideas.—Faith: Luther.—Belief in miracles a presupposition for belief in God.—Religion, poetry, and artistic creativity.—Religious illusion in image worship, religion, and ethics.—Meaning of the humanization of religious images. —Spiritual image worship.—The “Word.”—The ear as the sensory basis of Christianity.—Even the disembodied God of monotheism an image.—Every God a product of the imagination , aiming at the satisfaction of real needs.




The objects of religious worship possess a reality independent of the imagination.—Jesus and Christ.—Imagination a condition of religious reverence.—Polytheism and monotheism. — Human elements in the concepts of God derived from na-




ture. Christians recognize the imaginary character of pagan myth but claim the opposite for Christian religious formations. — Religious significance of dreams: truth and martyrdom. —Imagination and feeling of dependency.—Shamanism, witchcraft, and the like are not exclusively pagan.




Source of religion: pursuit of happiness. The purpose of religion: happiness and advantage.—Success depending on accidents beyond human powers; the birthplace of belief in gods.—Religious cult as a means of influencing the gods.—The power of prayer and its alleged comforts.—Self-love and reliance on faith.—Providence and "blind" nature.—Contradictions in the belief in Providence.




Practical purpose of religion: human welfare.—Prayer and magic.——Cult and culture, their interrelation.—The cultural backwardness of the reformers.—Religion as an expression of early stages of culture.—The sacraments and the growing difficulties of cultural progress.—Earlier and later forms of religion.—Religion and education, divine moral commandments.—Religion and the progress of education; purified religion.—Capacity for belief of the well-informed. — Backwardness of religious views owing to custom and habit.




Presumed irrelevancy of religious conviction: religious freedom and political freedom.—Genuine freedom demands an unbiased attitude toward superstition and prejudice.—A tendency to believe, and superstition, innate in man.—Belief in the Devil, and its apologists.—The "free" cause, and the corresponding mental attitude.—All material events seem arbitrary to the true believer.—The "religious organ" and the special "religious sense."—Worship as expression of religious




attitude.—The identity of reverence for divine and secular authority.




Idol worship and divine worship.—Religion a public declaration of love.—Divine jealousy.—A special "religious sense" would make the distinction between true and false gods unnecessary; source of the distinction in the imagination prompted by desire for happiness.—Polytheism and monotheism the fruit of religious imagination.—The difference between wishes and gods.—Supernatural and superterrestrial Christian desires.—God and world.—Emptiness of the world a condition of heavenly bliss.




The miracle.—True miracles always benefit man. Wishing and miracle.—Faith in miracles necessary for faith in God. —Miracle as confirmation of the truth of faith.—Luther's view of Biblical miracles.—Miracles as "example" of the Word: miracle working presupposed in the God of faith.—Inconsistency of intellectual faith.—Necessity of nature and divine perfection.—Rationalism "dehumanizes" the divine by subjecting it to laws of nature.—The essence of will and of miracles.




The irrational element in the belief in miracles.—Religious desire allegedly fulfilled in faith.—Impossible to grasp Gospel fiction historically.—On the alleged inexplicability of miracles: the question of their possibility is meaningless.—Miracles as wish fulfillment; miracles always worked by and for man.—The necessity of a limitation of desires.—Duty and happiness; cultural tendency of religion.—The essence of desire: pagan and Christian desires.—Prayer, desire, magic:




power of the word.—The Christians’ critical attitude toward the "imaginary" pagan gods.




Objectification of mental figments.—The Christian ideal.—Diversity of religious ideals.—Christian rejection of real life.—Spiritual salvation the goal of all reality.—Ideal and superstition: the romanticism of faith.—Divinity preceding and creating all things: rationalism and atheism.—The spirit as the Christian religious ideal.—The "transfigured" body of resurrection, and modern immortality.—The psychological proof of God.—Its wishful character.—Identity of divine and human spirit.—Divinity and divine word, the universality of spirit.




The psychological proof and the infinity of human consciousness.—God and immortality, their identity.—Natural immortality.—Faith in God and in immortality mutually dependent.—Immortality a divine prerogative.—Rationalistic and speculative faith in God; the "first cause" different from the religious God who guarantees human immortality.—Immortality a gift of God; the God-man; immortality the core and goal of Christianity.—Essential kinship of God and man. —Immortality a prerogative of man as opposed to the rest of "creation."—God the cause of the world distinguished from God the father of mankind.—Summary: the solution of the religious riddle.




Practical result of a true understanding of the essence of religion.—Conditions of belief in God and immortality.—Imaginary and rational wishes.—Stagnation and progress.—Naïve and civilized pursuit of happiness.—Historical transcending and the fantasms of faith.—The alleged comforts of




faith in immortality.—The negative attitude of theology, its rejection of reality.—Atheism alone a positive view, resting on true understanding of nature and human nature; theism a parasitical formation.—Practical consequences of the abandonment of religious conceptions.


287 ADDITIONS AND NOTES—Pages 287-356 [Paragraph from Additions & Notes #2]


357 Bibliography


SOURCE: Feuerbach, Ludwig. Lectures on the Essence of Religion (1851), translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Harper & Row, 1967. Contents, pp. v-xv. PDF of book can be borrowed from archive.org.

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