Feuerbach's "Essence of Christianity" is a mid-19th century study on religious doctrine and belief, and represents an important contribution to the critical understanding of Christianity. It was written in 1841 (and this is the 1853 English translation). The author adopts a logical approach influenced by Hegel, and through a dialectic method advances a the theory of humanism - seeking to understand the material world by rational means. Feuerbach contends that the divine is, in reality, an expression of the human - the contemplative outcome of what 'being human' means when freed from the limits of the individual man, and becomes something revered. From this, Feuerbach's critique postulates the conclusion: 'Man made God in his own image, and then became dependent upon his own creation.'
Feuerbach advances from a materialist position - holding only that which objectively exists (independent of thought) as real. And he endeavours to liberate human understanding by freeing it of the perversions of religion. Feuerbach considers Christian notions - of 'God' - as crippling humankind, inasmuch as they invoke that which is 'beyond' human - which, for Feuerbach, is anti-human (as they debase and degrade what it means to be human). He takes the Christian texts - i.e. the Bible - and views them as a body of work which ought to be subjected to critique. And by way of this critique, he concludes that religion is the dream of the human mind. The 'essence' of Christianity it that it conceives what is human as divine; it exchanges man and his nature for God. Only through critique are we able to revert this inversion; and ultimately arrive at the negation of religion.
This is a well-written, thoughtful and imaginative book. It was popular in certain radical circles during the 1840's - indeed, it significantly influenced the development of Karl Marx's ideas. Marx drew on the dialectical critique offered by Feuerbach, as well as his materialist premises, and developed them in new directions - aimed at an understanding of political economy (rather than religion). Unfortunately, since the 19th century this book has been largely forgotten. Perhaps, in part, this is because of the style of argument (shaped by Hegel), which can be rather complex to decipher. However, Feuerbach seeks to make his work more easily understandable and accessible - as compared to Hegel.
Feuerbach succeeds in showing that, if we let the Bible speak for itself, it reveals itself to be an absurdity. He demonstrates this by way of logical reasoning and (embryonic) social science. I suspect that the sophistication of some of his arguments led many to place this book aside ... and, with the arrival of Darwin's "Origin of Species", the evolutionary theory of the natural sciences tended to dominate the 'atheist' agenda.
Yet I suspect that this book will reward careful reading. If you are someone who enjoys reading about materialism, humanism, realism, and atheism, then I thoroughly recommend this excellent book.
on 31 July 2000
I read this book in search of the philosophical roots of Max Stirner, author of The Ego and Its Own. For this purpose, the book is excellent; you can see where Max Stirner came from on a number of issues that had hitherto seemed a bit cloudy to me - both in what Stirner reacts to and what he has drawn on.
The book is, however, a very compelling read in its own right as well. Feuerbach takes us through literally the whole catalogue of Christian belief, and shows us how each item of belief is explained at least as well - or perhaps even better - as an anthropomorphism rather than as a supernatural manifestation. It must be said, though, that each single one of his arguments on their own do not lead to such a conviction. Just like you are not convinced that the dice are loaded by getting 6 once or twice, you will not be convinced if anthropomorphism fits the bill of Christianity in a few single instances. However - analogously with the dice - when you strike 6 nearly every time, you will be convinced that the dice are loaded.
If I have a criticism of Feuerbach, it is that after he has revealed the Essence of Christianity as being the worship of Man, he keeps the essence and only discards the accidental properties of Christianity, i.e. the supernaturalism. This was also what Max Stirner called him on. But my disagreement does not mean a disparagement of the value of the book. So I recommend it as a read.
on 16 October 2011
I wrote an extensive review of this book but it never showed up here! In short, I think that Feuerbach provides the most compelling refutation of God and Christianity - one that drifts away from more traditional criticisms (think: cosmological, ontological, teleological etc.), and instead focuses on the anthropological aspects of religion. He reaches a conclusion that is so plainly clear to me - that man created God and religion in man's own image - with striking convinction (if you can get your head around his ambiguous writing style). In my eyes, this book destroys the metaphysical claims made by Christianity, and as a whole, it should be recognised as a HUGELY important contribution to the study of religion.
on 3 February 1999
As the title suggests, Feuerbach is concerned in this book with describing the essence of Christianity. This is not a theological argument in support of atheism, but rather an argument against belief in a particular notion of God, namely that concept of God which denies that God is to be found in the predicates.
on 20 March 2005
From all the books I read so far, this one has touched me the most. Feuerbach's way of theorising is totally compelling and his words are completly overpowering. This is the MOST BEAUTIFUL, MOST POWERFUL and MOST HUMANE piece of literature I've ever come across. I recommend this book with all my heart!