Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ludwig Feuerbach 8: Lectures

Where all good things come from divine goodness, all evil must necessarily stem from diabolical malice. The two notions are inseparable. But to blame an evil will for the natural phenomena that are opposed to my egoism is an obvious sign of barbarism. To convince ourselves that this is so, there is no need to go back to Xerxes, who, according to Herodotus, punished the Hellespont with three hundred lashes in his rage at the disobedience of the sea; there is no need of a trip to Madagascar, where babies who give their mothers trouble and pain during pregnancy and childbirth are strangled, since they must obviously be evil. Right before our eyes we can see how our barbarous and ignorant governments put the blame for every historical necessity and human development that is not to their liking on the ill will of individuals; we see ignorant boors mistreat their cattle, their children, their sick, simply because they take the failings or peculiarities of nature for willful obstinacy, and everywhere we see the rabble gleefully attributing a man’s natural failings, which he cannot possibly help, to his ill will. Accordingly, it is also a sign of men’s ignorance, barbarism, egoism, and their inability to look beyond themselves, when they attribute the benefits of nature to a good or divine will.

Diflerentiation—I am not you, you are not I—this is the basic condition and principle of all culture and humanity. But the man who attributes the workings of nature to someone’s will fails to differentiate between himself and nature, and consequently his attitude toward nature is not what it should be. The proper attitude toward an object is an attitude consonant with its nature and its dissimilarity to myself; such an attitude is not a religious one, but neither is it irreligious as is supposed by the vulgarians, learned or common, who are able only to distinguish between belief and unbelief, religion and irreligion, but are unaware of a third and higher principle above them both. Kindly give me a good harvest, dear earth, says the religious man; “whether the earth wants to or not, it must yield me fruit,” says the irreligious man, Polyphemus. But the true man, who is neither religious nor irreligious, says: The earth will give me fruit if I give it what is appropriate to its nature; it does not will to give, nor must it give—“must” implies reluctance and coercion—no, it will give only if I for my part have fulfilled all the conditions under which it can give, or rather produce; for nature gives me nothing, I myself must take everything, at least everything that is not already a part of me—and moreover I must take it by extreme violence. With intelligent egoism we forbid murder and theft among ourselves, but toward other beings, toward nature, we are all murderers and thieves.

Who gives me the right to catch a rabbit? The fox and the vulture are just as hungry as I, just as much entitled to exist. Who gives me the right to pick a pear? It belongs just as much to the ants, the caterpillars, the birds, the four-footed animals. To whom then does it really belong? To the one who takes it. Is it not sufficient that I live by murder and theft—should I in addition thank the gods? How foolish! I have reason to thank the gods if they can show me that I really owe them my life, and this they will not have done until pigeons fly ready roasted into my mouth. Did I say roasted? No, that is not enough; I should say chewed and digested, for the tedious and unaesthetic operations of mastication and digestion are unbefitting the gods and their gifts. Why should a God who at one stroke makes the world out of nothing in a twinkling need so much time to provide me with a bit of chyme? Here again it becomes evident that the Godhead consists as it were of two components, one originating in man’s imagination, the other in nature. “You must pray,” says the one component, the god differentiated from nature. “You must work,” says the other, the god who is not differentiated from nature and merely expresses the essence of nature. For nature is a worker bee, while the gods are drones. How can I derive the image and law of industry from drones? To derive nature or world from God, to maintain that hunger comes from satiety, need from abundance, gravity from levity, work from sloth—is attempting to bake common bread from ambrosia and to brew beer from the nectar of the gods.

Nature is the first God, the first object of religion; but religion does not look upon it as nature; religion views it as a human being, characterized by emotion, imagination, and thought. The secret of religion is “the identity of the subjective and objective," that is, the unity of man and nature, but this unity is arrived at in disregard of their true character. Man has many ways of humanizing nature and, conversely (for man and nature are inseparable), of objectifying and externalizing his own being. Here, however, we shall confine ourselves to two of these ways, to the metaphysical form and the practical-poetic form of monotheism. The latter is characteristic of the Old Testament and the Koran. The God of the Koran as of the Old Testament is nature or the world, its real, living being as opposed to artificial, dead, man-made idols.* He is not any part of the world or fragment of nature, such as the stone which the Arabs before Mohammed worshiped, but all nature, immense and undivided. In the tenth Sura of the Koran, for example, we read: “Say: ‘Who provides food for you from the earth and the sky? Who has endowed you with sight and hearing? Who brings forth the living from the dead, and the dead from the living? Who ordains all things?’ They will reply: ‘Allah.’ Say: ‘Will you not take heed then?’” Or the sixth Sura: “Allah splits the seed and the fruitstone. . . . He kindles the light of dawn. He has ordained the night for rest and the sun and the moon to measure time. Such is the ordinance of Allah, the Mighty One, the All-Knowing. . . . He sends down water from the sky and with it we bring forth the buds of every plant, green foliage and close-growing grain, palm trees laden with clusters of dates, vineyards and olive groves and all manner of pomegranates. Behold their fruits when they ripen. Surely in these there are signs enough for true believers.” And the thirteenth Sura: “It was Allah who raised the heavens without resting them on visible pillars. . . . It was He who spread out the earth and placed upon it rivers and unchangeable mountains. He gave all Plants their male and female parts and drew the veil of night over the day. . . . It is He who makes the lightning flash upon you, inspiring you with fear and hope, and makes the clouds heavy with rain. The thunder sounds His praises and the angels too for awe. He hurls His thunderbolts and crushes whom He pleases. Yet the unbelievers wrangle about Allah. Stern is His punishment.”

Thus the signs or effects of the true God—the original God as opposed to His copies the idols—are the workings of nature. An idol cannot bring forth living things, tasty fruits, fruitful rain, or terrible storms. This can be done only by the God who is not fashioned by man but is God by nature, and who therefore not only appears to be but is a real living being. But a God whose signs and works are the works of nature is nothing more than nature. Yet, as we have said, He is not a part of nature which is in one place and not another, which is here today and gone tomorrow and which for that very reason man makes eternally present in an image; He is the whole of nature. “When night drew its shadow over him [Abraham],” we read in the sixth Sura, “he saw a star. ‘That,’ he said, ‘is my God.’ But when the star faded into the morning light, he said: ‘I will not worship gods that fade.’ When he beheld the rising moon, he said: ‘That surely is my God.’ But when it, too, set, he said: ‘If Allah does not guide me, I shall surely go astray.’ Then, when he beheld the sun shining, he said: ‘That must be my God: it is larger than the other two.’ But when it, too, set, he said to his people: ‘I am done with your idols. I will turn my face to Him who has created the heavens and the earth.’”

Thus eternal omnipresence is a hallmark of the true God; but nature, too, is everywhere. Where there is no nature, I am not, and where I am there is also nature. “Whither shall I go” from thee, O Nature? “And where shall I flee” from thy being? “If I fly heavenward, Nature is there. If I bed myself in hell, Nature is there too.” Where there is life there is nature, and where there is no life, there too is nature; everything is full of nature. How, then, would you escape from nature? But the God of the Koran, as of the Old Testament, is nature and at the same time not nature, for He is also a subjective, i. e., personal being, knowing and thinking, willing and acting like man. As an object of religion, the works of nature are at the same time works of human ignorance and imagination, the being or cause behind them is a product of human ignorance and imagination. Man is divided from nature by a gulf of ignorance; he does not know how the grass grows, how a child forms in the womb, what causes rain, thunder and lightning. “Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth?” we read in Job. “Declare if thou knowest it all. . . . Hast thou seen the treasures of the hail? . . . . Hath the rain a father? . . . . Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?”

Because man does not know what the works of nature are made of, where they come from and under what conditions, he regards them as the works of an absolutely unconditioned and unlimited power, to which nothing is impossible, which even brought forth the world out of nothing, just as it continues to bring forth the works of nature from nothing, the nothing of human ignorance. Human ignorance is bottomless, and the human imagination knows no bounds; deprived of its foundations by ignorance and of its limits by the imagination, the power of nature becomes divine omnipotence.

*Jalal-ud-din relates that Mohammed sent a zealous Mohammedan to convert an unbeliever to Islam. “What manner of being is your God?” the unbeliever asked him. “Is He of gold, silver, or copper?” Lightning struck the godless man and he was dead. This is a crude but convincing lesson on the difference between the living God and the man-made god.

— Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion, translated by Ralph Manheim (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), Additions and Notes, pp. 315-320.

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