Bruno Bauer on Christianity, Alienation,
and the Dialectics of Religious Consciousness

But if Christianity was universal and did not know the limits of previous religions, it was at the same time the worst religion: “Christianity is the religion that promised men most, that is all, and took back most, that is all.” Bauer attempts to explain this ambivalence of Christianity thus: the nearer that religious consciousness approaches to truth, the more it alienates itself therefrom. Why? Because, qua religious, it takes the truth that is only to be attained to in self-consciousness away from self-consciousness and places it against self-consciousness, as though it were something alien to it. What is opposed to self-consciousness as alien is not only formally separate from self-consciousness (in that it stands outside it, is in heaven or comprises the content of some long past or far in the future events), but also this formal separation is backed up by an essential and real separation from all that goes to make up human nature. When religion has reached the point that man makes up its content, then the climax of this opposition has been reached. In antiquity the extent of the religious alienation was still hidden and Bauer has a touching description of this type of religion:

The sight of nature fascinates, the family tie has a sweet enchantment and patriotism gives the religious spirit a fiery devotion to the powers that it reveres. The chains that the human spirit bore in the service of these religions were decked with flowers and man brought himself as a victim to the religious powers festooned in an admirably decorative way. His very chains helped to deceive him about the harshness of his service.

But in Christianity, by contrast, the freedom of the children of God was also freedom from all important worldly interests, from all art and science, etc. It was an inhuman freedom, in what was only gained and kept through the use and development of the powers of the spirit disappeared. It was a freedom presented as a gift to be received with unconditional subjection. This freedom was therefore unlimited slavery under an authority against which there was no possibility of appeal. Thus in Christianity the alienation had become total, and it was this total alienation that was the biggest obstacle to the progress of self-consciousness.

SOURCE: McLellan, David. The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1980), pp. 58-59.

And see: Bauer, Marx and religion (extracts).

The Bauer quote is footnoted as:

B. Bauer, ‘Die Fahigkeit der heutigen Juden und Christen frei zu werden’, in 21 Bogen aus der Schweiz, ed. G. Herwegh (Zurich and Winterthur, 1843), p. 69.

The surrounding footnotes are to Kritiker evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker (1841) and Das entdeckte Christentum (1843).

See: “The Capacity of Present-Day Jews and Christians to Become Free” (1843) by Bruno Bauer.

Christianity Exposed (Contents & Author’s Introduction)
by Bruno Bauer

The Insolently Threatened Yet Miraculously Rescued Bible.
Or The Triumph of Faith

by Frederick Engels

Negation: Bakunin and Bauer
by Paul McLaughlin

The Young Hegelians: Selected Bibliography

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