Monday, January 30, 2012

Ludwig Feuerbach 6: Lectures

THE OBSERVATION that intelligence in certain spheres of life can exist side by side with the most unintelligent superstition, political freedom with religious servitude, scientific, industrial progress with religious stagnation and even bigotry, has led some to the superficial view and contention that religion is without bearing on life, and especially on public, political life, and that consequently our only goal in this connection should be absolute freedom to believe what we wish. To this I reply that a state of affairs in which political freedom is combined with religious prejudice and bigotry is not satisfactory. I for my part don’t care a farthing for a political freedom that leaves me enslaved to my religious prejudices and imaginings. True freedom is present only where man is also free from religion; true culture is present only where man has become master over his religious prejudices and imaginations. But the state can have no other aim than to form complete, authentic men, though of course this is not meant here in any Utopian sense; consequently a state whose citizens, while enjoying free political institutions, are not free in a religious sense, cannot be a truly human and free state. The state does not make men, men make the state. As men are, so is their state. Once a state exists, to be sure, the individuals who by birth or immigration become its citizens, are molded by it; but what is a state in relation to the individuals who come to it if not the sum and combination of the people who already constitute it, who through the means at their disposal, through the institutions they have created, mold newcomers to their spirit and will? Thus, where men are politically free but unfree in religion, the state is not perfect or not yet complete.

As to the second point, freedom of faith and conscience, the first condition of a free state is indeed that “every man may be saved in his own way,” that every man may believe what he likes. But this is a secondary and empty freedom; for it means nothing more than each man’s freedom or right to be a fool in his own way. True, the state, in the present sense of the word, can do no more than refrain from all intervention in the field of faith—than grant unrestricted freedom in this respect. But man’s task in the state is not only to believe what he wishes, but to believe what is reasonable, not only to believe, but to know what he can and must know if he is to be a free and cultivated man. Here no barrier to human knowledge can excuse us. In the realm of nature, to be sure, there are still many things we do not understand; but the secrets of religion spring from man himself, and he is capable of knowing them down to their remotest depths. And because he can know them, he ought to know them. Finally, it is an utterly superficial notion, refuted every day by history and even by daily life, to suppose that religion is without influence on public life. This view has originated only in our own day, when religious faith has ceased to be anything more than a chimera. Obviously, where religious faith has ceased to be a truth in man, it can have no practical consequences, it no longer inspires deeds of world-shaking importance. But where this is the case, where faith has become a mere lie, man is involved in the ugliest contradiction with himself and the consequences of faith are at least morally disastrous. Modem theism is just such a lie. The elimination of this lie is the condition for a new, energetic mankind.

The above-mentioned observation that piety in the common sense of the word is often combined with diametrically opposed traits, has led many to suppose that man has a special organ of religion, a specific religious feeling. We should be more justified in assuming the existence of a specific organ of superstition. Religion, that is, the belief in gods, in spirits, in so-called higher invisible beings who rule over man, has been said to be as innate in man as his other senses. Translated into the language of honesty and reason, this would only mean that, as Spinoza has already maintained, superstition is innate in man. But the source and strength of superstition are the power of ignorance and stupidity, which is the greatest power on earth, the power of fear and the feeling of dependency, and finally the power of the imagination.

— Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, translated by Ralph Manheim (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 24th lecture (excerpt), pp. 218-220.

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