Feuerbach has had a tremendous influence upon modern theology and the study of religion. What Feuerbach brings to the table is ability to illuminate issues that had caused serious epistemic issues facing theology and the philosophy of religion. In writing his Philosophy of Religion the theories that he laid out were reductionism, displacement, deep-seated wishes, projection, and atheism. All of these theories helped later theologians understand the role of epistemology in theology as well as in the philosophy of religion. While Feuerbach may have ended up as an atheist in the end, he had a major influence upon modern protestant theology and through his theories the role of epistemology in theology can be better understood.
Clarification of Terms
To better understand what this paper is about there is need to bring some clarification in the terminology used, the reader needs to understand the following three terms: theology, philosophy of religion, and epistemology. According to Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms by Donald McKim, Theology is ‘language or discourse about God. It can be a scientific, methodological attempt to understand God’s divine revelation'(McKim 279-80). Philosophy of Religion according to McKim is ‘the investigation through philosophical means of the phenomena regarded as ‘religion’ and ‘religious experience’ by examining their truth claims, language, and belief structure'(McKim 209). Finally epistomolgy is the ‘study of how knowledge is obtained, its bases, forms, and criteria'(McKim 91).
To understand Feuerbach, we have to understand some of the ideas that preceded and helped to form his thoughts. Just prior to Feuerbach was the age of enlightenment; this was a time in which the academia of Europe had believed they had achieved the fusion of rationalism and theology. This fusion of rationalism was brought about through the works of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel. Immanuel Kant had demonstrated how reason gave rise to Metaphysics. Johann Gottlieb Fichte had established a true knowledge of science and human freedom. And Georg Wilhelm Hegel established and had built up a philosophy of history based upon the actualization of something that became known as the Zeitgeist. However, following the momentum of these philosophers, Feuerbach went a different route in which he took the marriage of rationalism and theology and divorced them.
Life and Influences of Feuerbach
Ludwig Feuerbach was born in Bavaria on July 28, 1804 to Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, who was a distinguished lawyer and the first Protestant who was elected chair at the University of Bavaria, which was controlled by Catholics. Ludwig Feuerbach also had three brother who were also very distinguished, Joseph August Feuerbach, Eduard August Feuerbach, and Friedrich Heinrich Feuerbach.
Feuerbach himself showed an early interest in the study of religion. When he was a young man he studied Hebrew and chose to attend the University of Heidelberg where he studied Theology. During the course of his studies and the University of Heidelberg he studied under two giants in this field. The first was the Hegelian Theologian Karl Daub and the second was church historian H.E.G Paulus. While sitting under Karl Daub, Feuerbach became enraptured with Hegelian philosophy. So enraptured was Feuerbach with Hegel’s philosophy, he set out on a course to learn from Hegel himself and enrolled in the University of Berlin. However after a few years Feuerbach began to distance himself from Hegelian philosophy due to Hegel’s interpretation of religion in which religion was placed as part of the dialectic movement in history and Hegel’s philosophy on the mind of God. Hegel taught that God develops through the world-historical process. This process is resolved in the increasing self-awareness and divine freedom in understanding the dialectic between the mind of man and God and the world as it is. Feuerbach rejected this idea so much that he felt that religion should be superseded by science, as this was the only means to see progress in a society that had become increasingly scientific. This idea is echoed in the Projection Theory, which became one of Feuerbach’s main theses.
The Main Thesis of Feuerbach
The projection theory became Feuerbach’s main thesis on which he sought to bring the eradication of theology from scientific thought. The projection theory is the idea that God or the divine is only a projection of man. Feuerbach says in his work the Essence of Christianity that ‘the object of the senses is in itself indifferent-independent of the disposition or of the judgment; but the object of religion is a selected object; the most excellent, the first, the supreme being; it essentially presupposes a critical judgment, a discrimination between the divine and the non-divine, between that which is worthy of adoration and that which is not worthy. And here may be applied, without and limitation, the proposition: the object of any subject is nothing else than the subject’s own nature taken objectively. Such as are a man’s thoughts and dispositions, such is his God'(Feuerbach 12). Feuerbach here is stating that the idea of God comes from man projecting his own subjective nature outward onto something objective that is outside of himself, something that is independent. Feuerbach is saying that the humans need to objectify human nature is a desire in man for security, comfort, and meaning. Feurbach clarifies this in saying that ‘God springs out of the feeling of a want; therefore conscious, or an unconscious need,-that is God. Thus the disconsolate feeling of a void, of loneliness, needed a God in whom there is society, a union of beings fervently loving each other'(Feuerbach 73). Feuerbach seems to be saying that the cause for man to have these desires is due to the fact that these desires are displaced, and man needs a way in which to cope with the realities of the physical world around them, their emotional drives, and to a need to understand what their place in the world. Since the world can be a very cruel and hostile place, man finds a need to find a refuge. Man’s life has a propensity for a chaotic emotional state, so man has to find some source of stability and fulfillment. As man’s life goes on they can feel despondent and hopeless so man seeks a source of hope. These are all the reasons in which men project the fulfillment of their desires, needs, dreams, and hopes, so they create a God who can fulfill and answer them.
Paul Schilling summarizes Feuerbach’s thought on displacement by saying that ‘Man’s earthly existence is filled with pain, frustration, failure, anxiety, heart-breaking injustice, and the awareness of his own finitude and approaching death. But he longs for unlimited fulfillment, perfect happiness, and everlasting life. He therefore posits a God who will realize for him in another world the wishes which are thwarted on earth and the evils which are so devastating here. But this God is nothing else than the illusory externalization of human hopes'(Schilling 24).
From this starting point or main thesis, Feuerbach sets out to show how God is merely a projection. So we can see that as Feuerbach whether correct in wrong in his conclusion, that this is the start to understanding how Feuerbach contributes to epistemology in the study of religion and theology. As we continue through this paper, we will see that as we progress through his theories, how Feuerbach pushes to answer how we learn about who God is.
Feuerbach on Human Displacement
Human nature is Feuerbach’s starting point in his philosophy of religion and theology. Feuerbach, an anthropologist came to the conclusion that man is made up in such a way that they are needy, but in that neediness they intelligent and learning as the go about searching for truth. As man goes about his search for truth, they can and are both the subject and object in which they are searching. According to Feuerbach the sine qua non of man’s nature is ‘reason, will, and affection”and that man”is nothing without them ‘ man is nothing without an external object'(Feuerbach 3-4). It is through these external objects that man is truly consciously able to find himself. Feuerbach says that self-consciousness is found in their relationship to external objects so that man becomes ‘a being becoming objective itself'(Feuerbach 6). In the process as man realizes he is both the object and subject of himself it creates confusion. To cover up this confusion man takes their own subjective nature as something that is outside of themselves and thus they displace what this nature actually is attributing it to God or other supernatural phenomena.
So Feuerbach theorizes that man in learning of who God is, actually mistake their won nature for God’s nature. But does man actually mistake their own identity is it displaced, is man actually confused who he is? If man does mistake his own identity to what extent is this identity mistaken? Max Stirner says ‘to God, who is spirit, Feuerbach gives the name ‘Our Essence’. Can we put up with this, that ‘Our Essence’ is brought into opposition to us- that we are split into an essential and unessential self? Dow we not therewith go back into the dreary misery of seeing ourselves banished within ourselves'(Stirner 40)? Stirner in this passage speaks of the opposition of the subjective and objective natures in opposition the self; these natures are in opposition and differ to man just as God is to man.