Ludwig Feuerbach: The Essence of Religion Pt.4

Feuerbach begins to conclude his work by writing that believers in a monotheistic God are anthropocentric and that one begins to conclude that ‘everything is nothing compared with me…for everything is only a means for me.’ A miracle, Feuerbach writes, is the accomplishment of the dominion of man over nature-‘the divinity of man becomes a palpable truth.’ God works miracles for man, and so man feels as if he has power over  nature, since God, the imaginary being, does, and therefore man must too. Feuerbach says that he hopes that the time of superstition and belief in God will pass and that ‘the pure light of Nature and reason will enlighten and warm mankind.’

Moreover, God is reliant on man, since not only is he from the mind of man, but also that God relies on the worship of man to become at all relevant. Feuerbach sums up belief: to imagine that something exists which does not exist. He uses the example of transubstantiation, an utterly irrational belief, and says that belief in God is like believing the bread and wine to become body and blood-‘something which it is not.’ The only place you will find God is in the imagination and faith of man, since God is nothing but the essence of these things.

Finally, Feuerbach writes about how the Greeks had limited gods because the Greeks themselves had limited wishes. So, Feuerbach writes, the God of Christianity in particular is unlimited because of the unlimited wishes of Christians themselves-‘their wish is a heaven in which all limits and necessity of Nature are destroyed and all wishes are accomplished.‘ Feuerbach says that ‘happiness and divinity are the same thing’ and that this is the ultimate goal of belief-to be indescribably and infinitely happy. Feuerbach finishes his work by summarising this point succinctly:

‘He who no longer has any supernatural wishes, has no longer any supernatural beings either.’

Ludwig Feuerbach 1804-1872

Ludwig Feuerbach: The Essence of Religion Pt.3

Feuerbach counters the argument that the preservation of the world and of mankind is some act of God which accords with his will. He says that nature has little care for single individuals-‘thousands of them are sacrificed without hesitation or repentance in the plenty of Nature’. This argument calls upon the existence of evil, especially natural evil, to present Nature’s merciless nature. Furthermore, since Nature does not care for us, and does not provide for us as we would like, Feuerbach says that at this point people turn to God ‘whose eye shines upon me just where Nature’s light is extinguished.’ When things are not going our way and nature can provide no help, it is then that we turn to God. Feuerbach also claims that God owes his existence to two things: fear and hope. It is these two feelings that rule our imagination of the future, and so we may find ourselves believing in God because of our fear and hope of the future since it is these two that sway most of our decisions.

Feuerbach argues that the existence of God stems from man’s desire to be like God: unlimited, self-sufficient, always good, immortal. God and humanity have the same rules of life, only that God has no exceptions or limitations, which is what we desire to have, and if we worship him, then we can be like that too-‘the Deity is the destruction of the deficiencies and weaknesses in man which are the very causes of the exceptions’.

In the final part, Pt.4, the thought of Ludwig Feuerbach in The Essence of Religion will be concluded.

Ludwig Feuerbach: The Essence of Religion Pt.2

Feuerbach writes about humanity and its relation to nature, saying that what we are as humans, God is also, just not ‘fallen’ like ourselves. We are rational, therefore God must be, and we separate ourselves from nature, so God must be separate too. He writes that one should be ‘courageous and consistent enough to give up God altogether, and to appeal only to pure, naked, godless nature as to the last basis of your existence’ because God, Feuerbach argues, only exists in our mind.

Another line of argument Feuerbach goes down is the idea of teleology, and the way that the world was designed is magnificent and clearly intellectual. He combats this, saying that due to the fact that humans have an intellect, ‘the unintentional effects of Nature appear to him in the light of his intellect as intentional ones, as ends and purposes.’ Nature is full of accidents, but due to our intellect, we perceive and interpret these accidents as purposeful. Moreover, Feuerbach uses the example of a bird to argue that the flight of birds is not founded on art or intellect. He believes that the view that thinking birds must have been designed and detailed by an intellect with intention is absurd. He says that ‘a bird cannot fly otherwise than it does, nor is it at liberty not to fly; it must fly.’ From this point Feuerbach then writes that it is our intellect that causes theoretical problems, and so what appears to be deeply intellectual and defined is, for nature done without any intellect or any difficulty caused by the intellect.

In Pt.3, further arguments by Feuerbach will be put forth.

Ludwig Feuerbach: The Essence of Religion Pt.1

Feuerbach was born in Bavaria in 1804 on 20th July. He was a humanistic philosopher, most famous for his book Essence of Christianity, written in 1841. The Essence of Religion, compiled in 1851, is made up of a group of lectures Feuerbach gave throughout his career. The key idea of this work is that rather than man being made in the image of God, as put forward in the book of Genesis, God is made in the image of man. There are a few certain ideas put forward by Feuerbach which I would like to touch upon.

Feuerbach points out that religion makes God an invisible being, rather than a sensual being, so that criticism and proof against the existence of God cannot be shown. It is easy to show that no blood flows through trees, as is Feuerbach’s example, because all one has to do is cut one open, yet God exists in the mind, and Feuerbach says that this is how religion escapes strong contradictions and disappointments.

A second concept that Feuerbach argues for is that God is a realization of human intellect, and its desires. The human being is limited and finite, yet God is infinite and an absolute being, and Feuerbach says that this is because monotheism makes the ‘essence of intellect, will and imagination the most real, absolute, supreme being.’ What man desires yet cannot have, God is. A further discussion of Feuerbach’s thought will continue in the next post.

 

 

Overcoming our hindering tendencies

We don’t tend to think about death very often, and it is rarely at the front of our minds when going about our daily life. The main reason for this may be that the majority of places in society have no concern for death, and some do not want any mention of death near their businesses, since a reminder of such a reality may eventually cripple their business. Anyhow, it is not uncommon to forget that one day we will all cease to exist, on earth at least. Moreover, forgetting about or failing to acknowledge death for a great length of time may be one humanity’s hindering tendencies. Forgetting about death for a long time may lead us to subconsciously act as if we were to live forever-as if we will always be able to watch another show on Netflix, to buy another and newer phone, and to keep wasting hours on Facebook and Instagram feeds which tell us nothing other than others appear to be enjoying themselves more than oneself, even if this is to the contrary. We must, perhaps once a day, ponder and embrace the thought that our time is limited, as is the time of others. Perhaps if we thought about death a little more often, we would be able to start doing or achieving what we really desire to get out of this limited and singular life of ours.

Another great human tendency which appears to be hinder us is the tendency to laziness and the avoidance of suffering. It is easy to be lazy, not to do anything, and to be ‘easy-going’, but there is one truth which we must accept: nothing worthwhile can be achieved without hard work. If we want to achieve something we really desire and that is worthwhile, there will have to be sacrifice. Sacrifice hurts at first, but it is worth it. Again, if we resisted the temptation to laziness, the extent of creation and achievement that could be reaped in a lifetime would be multiplied many times over. Moreover, it seems that hard work brings fulfilment, whereas laziness does not. If we think more about death, we may also find ourselves becoming less and less lazy, since we know and recognise our limited lifespan. Ultimately, it is up to you. It may be, though, that death is the most helpful tool in living a more fulfilled life, until we die, of course, but by then, if we have completed what we set out to do, it won’t matter, because we will have been fulfilled.

 

Pessimism and happiness

Pessimism tends to be looked down upon in today’s society, and it is thought that optimism is the way forward and the only outlook which will permit a certain kind of happiness. The image of pessimist would usually be thought of as somebody who is always in a bad mood, who does not appreciate the joys of life, and does not enjoy anything much at all. Although this may be a form of pessimism, not all pessimism is the same.

It is reasonable to say that, at certain times, we may all feel somewhat pessimistic: our job is not going well, we do not enjoy our hobbies as we much as we used to, and we seem to make so many mistakes that despair appears to be the only option. Optimism disdains and despises such thoughts, and always hopes for the best and is confident that the future will turn out to be what we hope it to be. Although this does, in theory, seem like a good option for pursuing happiness, in practice it does not, generally, turn out the same way.

Pessimists are unfairly discarded in today’s society and are looked upon only as barriers to success and satisfaction, yet this is not the case. Pessimism is not saying that we cannot be appreciative, joyful, or glad in moments of life. On the contrary, pessimism is letting us know that not everything will turn out the way we wish, that we will always make mistakes, and that by expecting the worst outcomes, things can only get better. Moreover, pessimists are well aware of the possibility of a sudden death, and the inevitability of everybody’s death, as well as a universal imperfection present in everyone. Being aware that one day, we will not be alive anymore can, even though it stems from a pessimistic thought, lead to greater appreciation of the pleasures of life, since we have become acutely aware of life’s limits and brevity. Similarly, awareness of flawed human nature can lead to compassion, a fundamental teaching of Arthur Schopenhauer, since we recognise that we are all very similar indeed, and that we all make mistakes and are fallible.

Pessimism recognises that life is not always going to be what we hoped for, and if we accept and embrace the tough parts of life, while realising that our lives are short and that we are all gradually dying (as Alain de Botton puts it), then perhaps we can get more out of life, and when the desirable parts of existence come upon us, we can experience them more fully and with greater appreciation. We may find that eventually, pessimism may lead us to a strange, unknown kind of happiness.

Mill and education

In On Liberty, Mill writes about education, stating its importance, saying that the purpose of universities is not to produce good lawyers, teachers and politicians, but ‘cultivated and capable human beings.’ Mill was more concerned with person we become and who we are, rather than our status, power or wealth. Mill criticises the education system, saying that all education is for is so that we can learn what is easy and interesting, so that when we have to go out of our comfort zones and do something that is not easy or interesting and may not be enjoyable, which we all will inevitably have to do, we become disheartened and frustrated.

Mill would, I think, despise today’s education system, and it is not difficult to see why. Rather than focusing on what is right and wrong when being taught, the emphasis is on what will bring oneself the most pleasure and the least pain, a key utilitarian idea, which Peter Vardy calls the transactional-utilitarian model. Moreover, the education system is strongly individualistic, not really bothered about the concept of community, but only the success and enhancement of pleasure of individuals. This culture of immediate pleasure, and not really thinking about who we become appears to thrive in consumerist cultures, for consumerism advertises and encourages individual success so that one can, through consumption, achieve happiness. Mill would say, however, that we have lost any real concept of happiness, and that consumerism and individualist society does not make us happy.

Both Mill and Nietzsche had different ideas of what it meant to be happy and to be a ‘fulfilled’ human being. Mill concluded that, rather than seeking one’s own happiness, we should first seek the happiness of others, and this concept of a strong community may have been influenced by Aristotle. If we want to be happy, we must first want to make others happy. Nietzsche had a different view of fulfilment, and it was one where suffering and discomfort is prominent, things which the current education discourage and avoid. Nietzsche held the view that only through genuine sacrifice and effort will we achieve anything worthwhile, and that it is only through this that fulfilment can be achieved. Furthermore, the attitude we receive from our 18 years or so of education may influence the way in which we view our whole lives, and so our relationships may be deeply affected by the way we view them. Do we focus on what is right and wrong, or what brings us the most pleasure and the least pain? If we want to become fulfilled, which seems to becoming more and more difficult as consumerist culture takes a greater hold of us, Nietzsche and Mill would both agree that it is the education system that needs to change if we want our lives to change. Nevertheless, it is possible to detach ourselves from what society encourages, and to seek our own fulfilment and happiness, and, perhaps, this may start with community and sacrifice.

The Power of Art

Art is many things. It can inspire, comfort, transform. Art enables man to transform his essence. Christian Morgenstern said that ‘in every work of art, the artist himself is present’ and I believe this to be true. In the music of Mozart we are able to gain an insight into the intense feelings, doubts and frustrations of a musical genius, in the paintings of van Gogh we are thrown into a world of madness, pain and, again, majestic skill. At times, art can satisfactorily express emotions which words cannot.

Through art, Mozart, Bach, da Vinci, Ovid, Homer, and numerous other writers, musicians, poets and painters, became immortal. Although they were all inevitably destined for death, they were able to live forever, not in body or mind, but in spirit. Each person’s art allows a glimpse of that persons life. Not only does art satisfy and gratify the spectators, but it also satisfies the creators themselves. Art, it seems, is created because of some dissatisfaction or some feeling of emptiness that can only be filled by something creative. Many writers have expressed some belief of this sort, saying that ‘art never comes from happiness’ (Chuck Palahniuk) or ‘art is to console those who are broken by life’ (van Gogh). Art can, if we allow, assume a form of catharsis. To the artist himself, art is a means to expressing the inexpressible, to the spectator, art indicates that the feelings of loneliness, doubt, fear,  inadequacy, anxiety, and depression are not exclusive to the spectator alone, and that art can be used to channel these feelings. As Thomas Merton said, ‘art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’

We live in a society full of art. Music is available at a few clicks of a button, is played in supermarkets, restaurants, in transport, and in many other public and private spaces. Moreover, paintings are widely available to view and poetry and writings are at hand in many, many places. We have, thankfully, recognised its importance and its benefit to mankind. For art may be, at times, the only thing that keeps a man sane.

At your funeral

Picture your funeral. What is the scene? Who is there? The chances are, you won’t exist anymore, in any form whatsoever. So, you are dead. Your life is over, forever. The question is this: what will you have wanted to achieve before this somewhat haunting event? Some people go the grave having created magnificent works of art, some have changed the lives of others, some have made the world a better place. But, for all the achievements, other things enter the graves with people, and those things are unfulfilled potential, achievements that were easily attainable if only a little more effort was put in, actions that could have been just, or calm, or rational, yet turned out to be unjust, angry, and impulsive. We should, it seems, at times ask ourselves, ‘What do I want to enter the grave with?’ Do you want to die knowing that you have squeezed every drop out of your one life, or do you want to die regretting that you didn’t put in that extra effort, that kind word, that tiny fragment of concentration? We must keep the end of our life in mind when acting now, otherwise what will we be using as our motive for choosing what we do with our lives? Perhaps if we recall to ourselves daily that one day, perhaps much sooner than we think, our funeral will occur, where we will not be present, and that people will be there who will remember us for who we were and what we did, then maybe we can act in accordance with what we truly desire, yet this, again, requires us to know ourselves, and this takes reflection, questioning, and time. We can, if we so desire, form what people will remember us for. What is it that you want to be remembered for, and what is it that you want to achieve before you die?

Change

Change is inevitable. It happens to everyone and to everything, whether we like it not. We cannot not change, yet we can influence the inevitability of such change to our benefit. If we so decide, we can either change for the better, or we can change for the worse. It is generally up to us how we influence the time passing. The things which we want to remove from our lives, such as bad habits like smoking, will only be removed if we make a full, conscious, passionate and determined to decision to become someone different. For most things that are bad for us, or that we want to remove, we can choose to remove them, as long as we have a strong enough will to do so. Moreover, things that we want to remove are more easily removed if replaced with something different, something better.

As for the majority of the things that we sometimes wish we could remove yet cannot, it is generally a matter of perspective. Changing one’s perspective may change a boring job into an interesting one, a frustrating parent into a loving one, a dull routine into a means to a long-term achievement. If one is to change one’s life, or to change one’s perspective, it is necessary, first, to reflect regularly in order to focus one’s mind on what it is that is desired, and what needs to be done to achieve that goal.

We cannot help time passing, and it will do so until we die, yet it is possible to use the time, the precious, limited time, as best we can, and to live the life that is, to ourselves, the fullest life.