Feuerbach: The Essence of Christianity
It is most certainly true that few discover new ideas or concepts completely alien to those of their predecessors. In most cases, the contemporary thinker or philosopher stands on the shoulders of giants. This is definitely true concerning the philosophy of Feuerbach. While many of his ideas have their origin in the past, it is interesting to note how he deviates, and even refutes his immediate predecessors. His philosophical method, while a progression from his predecessors, still raises questions concerning the strength of his arguments and the validity of his conclusions.
As a disciple of Hegel, Feuerbach follows his method of philosophy closely, excepting, of course, concerning the question of origin. While Hegel sees God and the "logos" as giving rise to and then later being synthesized with nature, Feuerbach could not reconcile the notion that a formless entity such as Idea, "logos," could give rise to Matter. In his philosophy, Matter is the origin of Idea. Despite this disagreement with Hegel, however, Feuerbach is slow to criticize his mentor directly. In his The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach makes a number of points contrary to the philosophies of other predecessors.
Feuerbach's God is precisely the one critics used to argue Descartes' philosophy: he is the God of human qualities without limitation:
The divine being is nothing else than the human being, or, rather, the human nature purified, freed from the limits of the individual man, made objective—i.e., contemplated and revered as another, a distinct being. (p. 14)
According to Feuerbach, "All the attributes of the divine nature are, therefore, attributes of the human nature" (p. 14).
Feuerbach also amends the ideas of Schleiermacher. While Schleiermacher believes that feeling and intuition are the essence of religion, Feuerbach, not unlike Hegel, feels that this is only part of the essence of religion. Feuerbach would argue that the essence of the nature of Man is "Reason, Will, Affection" (p. 3). This expands on the idea that feeling is the essence of God because, since the essence of God is truly the projected essence of Man and reason, will and affection comprise the essence of Man, then these three qualities also comprise the essence of God.
Feuerbach's deviation from his predecessors not only includes Schleiermacher, but his predecessor, as well—Kant. While Kant would argue that morality is Man's highest calling, and therefore, his religion, Feuerbach would argue, again, like Hegel, that this notion is incomplete:
Since, then, God is regarded as a sin pardoning being, he is posited, not indeed as an unmoral, but as a more than moral being—in a word, as a human being. (p. 48-49)
Feuerbach argues that since God's moral judgment is tempered with mercy, he is not merely an unrelenting disciplinarian. God viewed in this light becomes, again, a projection of human nature; a nature which is more than just morality. A nature which is comprised of reason, will and affection.
In light of his ideas and arguments, Feuerbach's similarity to Hegel is unquestionable. The validity of his theories and philosophy, however, are not. Feuerbach argues that God has no quality which is not a purified or extended form of a human quality. He does not allow for any human ignorance of a God who does exist, but whose qualities surpass human understanding, and therefore is more than a mere projection of human nature. Thus, the question remains: is the fact that God encompasses all the virtuous human qualities a strong enough argument against His existence?