The Essence of Christianity (Dover Philosophical Classics) Paperback – 29 Aug 2008
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From the Back Cover
In The Essence of Christianity-this is the classic 1853 translation of the 1841 German original-Feuerbach discusses the "true or anthropological" root of religion, exploring how everything from the nature of God to the mysteries of mysticism and prayer can be viewed through such a prism. He goes on to examine the "false" essences of religion, including contradictions in ideas of the existence of a deity, and then how God and religion are merely expressions of human emotion. This is essential background reading for understanding everything from Marx's Communist Manifesto to modern apolitical philosophies of atheism.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach (July 28, 1804 September 13, 1872) was a German philosopher and anthropologist. Mary Ann Evans (22 November 1819 22 December 1880; alternatively "Mary Anne" or "Marian"), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Feuerbach advances from materialist premises - 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 is that it conceives what is human as divine; it exchanges man and his nature for God. Only through dialectic 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 method 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.
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.
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