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Meditation 1088
The Essence of Religion

(Part 2)

by: Ludwig Feuerbach

The Essence of Religion is a classic Freethought book from 140 years ago. Please bear in mind when reading it that it is a product of its time.

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12 Although God, as the author of Nature, is imagined and represented as a being different from Nature, still what is implied and expressed by this being, its real contents, is nothing but Nature. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” we read in the Bible, and the apostle Paul points expressively to the world as to the work wherein God’s existence and being can be understood, for what one produces, that contains his being and shows what he is able to do. What we have in Nature, that we have in God, only imagined as the author or cause of Nature -- therefore no moral and spiritual, but only a natural, physical being. A worship founded only upon God as the author of Nature, without attributing to him any other qualities, derived from man,  and without imagining him at the same time as a political and moral, i.e. human lawgiver -- such worship would be a mere worship of Nature. It is true that the author of Nature is thought to be endowed with intellect and will; but what his will desires, what his intellect thinks, is just that which requires no will nor intellect, but only mechanical, physical, chemical, vegetable and animal forces and impulses.

13. As little as the formation of the child in the womb, the pulsations of the heart, digestion and other organic functions are effects of the intellect and will, so little is Nature in general the effect or production of a spiritual being, i.e. of a being that wills and knows or thinks. If Nature was originally a product of the mind, and therefore a manifestation of mind, then also the natural phenomena of the present time would be spiritual effects and manifestations. A supernatural commencement necessarily requires a supernatural continuation. For man thinks intellect and will to be the cause of Nature only where the effects defy his own will, and surpass his intellect, where he explains things only through human analogies and reasons, where he knows nothing of the natural causes, and therefore derives also the special and present phenomena from God, or -- as for instance the movements of the stars which he cannot understand-from subordinate spirits. But if now-a-days the fulcrum of the earth and of the stars is no longer the almighty word of God, and the motive of their movement no spiritual or angelic but a mechanical one : then the first cause of this movement is also necessarily a mechanical, or, in general, a natural one. To derive Nature from intellect and will, or in general from the mind, is to reckon without the host, is to bring forth the saviour of the world from the virgin without the cooperation of a man, through the Holy Ghost, -- is to change water into wine, -- isto appease storms with words, to transfer mountains with words, to restore sight to the blind with words. What weakness and narrow-mindedness does it betray to do away with the secondary causes of superstition, such as miracles, devils, spirits etc., in explaining the phenomena of Nature, but to leave untouched the first cause of superstition!

14. Several of the ancient ecclesiastical writers assert, that the Son of God is not a product of God’s will, but of God’s nature; that the product of Nature is earlier than the product of the will, and that, therefore, the act of begetting, as an act of Nature, precedes the act of creation as an act of the will. Thus the acknowledgment of Nature and her omnipotent laws prevails even within the sphere of the belief in the supernatural God, although in the plainest contradiction of his own will and being. The act of begetting is presupposed to the act of the will; the activity of Nature is considered as preceding the activity of thought and will. This is perfectly true. Nature must necessarily exist before anything exists which distinguishes itself from Nature, and which places Nature, as an object of the act of thinking and willing, in opposition to itself. The true way of philosophy leads from the want of intelligence to intellect; but the direct way into the madhouse of theology, goes from the intellect to the want of intellect. To base the mind not upon Nature, but, vice versa, Nature upon the mind, is the same as to place the head, not upon the abdomen, but the latter upon the former. Every higher degree of development presupposes the lower one, not vice versa,(4) for the simple reason, that the higher one must have something below it, in order to be the higher one. And the higher a being stands and the greater its value or dignity is, the more it presupposes. For this very reason not- the first being, but the latest, the last, the most depending, the most needful, the most complicated being is the highest one, just as in the history of the earth’s formation, not the oldest and first works, such as the slate and granite, but the latest and. most recent products, such as the basalts and the dense lavas, are the heaviest and weightiest ones. A being which has the honor of presupposing nothing, has also the honor of being nothing. But it is true that the Christians understand well the act of making something out of nothing.

15. “All things come from and depend upon God.” -- so the Christian says in harmony with his godly faith -- “but,” he adds immediately with his ungodly intellect, “only indirectly.” God is only the first cause after which comes the endless host of subordinate Gods, the regiment of intermediate causes. But the intermediate causes, so-called, are the only real and effective ones, the only objective and sensible causes. A God who no longer casts down man with the arrows of Apollo, who no longer arouses the soul with Jove’s thunder and lightning, who no longer threatens the sinner with comets and other fiery phenomena, who no longer with his own high hand attracts the iron to the loadstone, produces ebb and tide, and protects the Continent against the overbearing power of the waters which always threaten another deluge -- in short, a God driven from the empire of the intermediate causes is only a cause by name, a harmless and very modest creature of imagination -- a mere hypothesis for the purpose of solving a theoretical problem, for explaining the commencement of Nature or rather of organic life. For the assumption of a being different from Nature, with the purpose of explaining her existence, has its origin only in the impossibility – although this is only a relative and subjective one -- of explaining organic and particularly human life from Nature, inasmuch as the Theist makes his inability to explain life through Nature, an inability of Nature to produce life out of herself, and thus extends the limits of his intellect to limits of Nature.

$ 16. Creation and preservation are inseparable. If, therefore, a being different from Nature -- a God -- is our creator, he is also our preserver, and not the power of the air, of heat, of the water or of bread, but the power of God sustains and preserves us. “Inhim we live and move and have our being.” “Not bread” says Luther, u but the word of God nourishes also the body naturally, as it creates and preserves all things.” “Because it exists, he (God) nourishes by it and under it, so that we do not see it, and think that the bread does it. But where it does not exist, he nourishes without the bread, through his word only, as he does it by the bread.” “In fine, all creatures are God’s masks and mummeries which he permits to assist him in all kind of work that he otherwise can, and really does perform without their co-operation.” But if, instead of Nature, God is our preserver, Nature is a mere disguise of the Deity, and, therefore, a superfluous and imaginary being, just as vice versa, God is a superfluous and imaginary being if Nature preserves us. But now it is manifest and undeniable that we owe our preservation only to the peculiar effects, qualities and powers of natural beings, therefore we are not only entitled, but compelled, to conclude that we owe also our origin to Nature. We are placed right in the midst of Nature, and should our beginning, our origin, lie outside of Nature? We live within Nature, with Nature, by Nature, and should we still not be of her? What a contradiction!

$ 17. The earth has not always been in its present state, on the contrary, it has come to its actual condition through a series of developments and revolutions, and geology has discovered that in the different stages of its development several species of plants and animals existed, which no longer exist nor even have existed for ages. Thus, for instance, there exist no longer any Trilobites nor any Encinites or Ammonites or Pterodactyles or Ichthyosauri, or Plesiosauri, or Megatheria or Dinotheria, &c. And why not? Apparently because the condition of their existence no longer exist. But if the end of any life coincides with the end of its conditions, then also the beginning, the origin of such life coincides with the origin of its conditions. Even now-a-days where plants, at least those of higher organizations, come to life only by organic procreation, they can -- in a very remarkable, yet unexplained manner-be seen to appear in numberless multitudes as soon as the peculiar conditions of their life are given. The origin of organic life cannot, therefore, be thought of as an isolated act, as an act after the origin of the conditions of life, but rather as the act by which and the moment in which the temperature, the air, the water, the earth in general, received such qualities, and oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen entered into such combinations as were necessary for the existence of organic life - this moment must also be considered as the moment when these elements combined for the formation of organic bodies. If, therefore, the earth, by virtue of its own nature, has in the course of time developed and cultivated itself to such a degree that it adopted a character agreeable to the existence of man and suitable to man’s nature, or so to say, a human character: then it could produce man also by its own power.

18. The power of Nature is not unlimited like the power of God, i.e. the power of human imagination; she cannot do everything at all times and under all circumstances -- her productions and effects on the contrary are dependent on conditions. If, therefore, Nature now-a-days cannot or does not produce any organic bodies by generatio aequivoca, this is no proof that she could not do it in former times. The present character of the earth is that of stability ; the time of revolutions is gone by, the earth has done raging. The volcanoes only are some single turbulent heads which have no influence on the masses, and which therefore do not disturb the existing order of things. Even the grandest volcanic event within the memory of man, viz., the rising of Jorullo in Mexico, was nothing but a local rebellion. But as man manifests only in extraordinary times extraordinary powers, or as he can do only in times of the highest exultation and emotion what at other times is impossible for him, and as the plant only at certain epochs, such as the period of germinating, blooming and impregnation produces heat and consumes carbon and hydrogen, thus exhibiting an animal function, which is directly in contradiction to its ordinary vegetable functions; so also the earth only in the time of its geological revolutions, when all its powers and elements were in a state of highest fermentation, ebullition and tension, developed its power of producing animals. We know Nature only in its present state, - how then could we conclude that what does not happen now by Nature, might not happen at all -- even at entirely different times, under entirely different conditions and relations?(5)

19. The Christians have not been able to express with sufficient strength their astonishment that the heathen adored created beings as divine ones, but they might rather have admired them on that account, for such adoration was based on a perfectly true contemplation of Nature. To be produced, to come into life, is nothing else but to be individualized. All individual beings are produced, but the general fundamental elements or beings of Nature which have no individuality are not produced. Matter is not produced. But an individual being is of a higher, more divine quality than that without individuality. It is true that birth is disgraceful and death painful, but he who does not wish to begin and to end may resign the rank of a living being. Eternity excludes life, and life excludes eternity. Certainly does the individual presuppose another being which produces it; but the latter does not stand above, It stands below its product. True, the producing being is the cause of existence and in that respect the first being; still it is at the same time the mere means and material; the basis of another being’s existence, and therefore a subordinate being. The child consumes the mother, disposes of her strength and of her substance to his own advantage, paints his cheeks with her blood.

And the child is the mother’s pride; she places it above herself, subordinating her existence and welfare to that of the child; even the animal mother sacrifices her own life for that of her young ones. The deepest disgrace of any being is death, but the source of death is the act of begetting. To beget is nothing but to throw one’s self away, to make one’s self common, to be lost among the multitude, to sacrifice one’s singleness and exclusiveness to other beings. Nothing is more full of contradiction, more perverse and void of sense, than to consider the natural being as produced by a supreme, perfectly spiritual being. According to such a process, and in consistency with the creature’s being only an image of the creator, also the human children ought not to originate in the disgraceful, lowly placed organ of the womb, but in the highest organization, the head.

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Footnotes:

(4) This may be true in a logical sense, but never as far as the real genesis is concerned.

(5) It is self-evident that I do not intend to finally dispose in these few words of the great problem of the origin of organic life; but they are sufficient for my argument, as I give here only the indirect proof that life cannot have any other source but Nature. As regards the direct proofs of natural science, we are still far from the end, but in comparison with former times -- especially in consequence of the lately proved identity of organic and inorganic phenomena -- at least far enough to be able to be convinced of the natural origin of life, although the manner of this origin is yet unknown to us, or even if it never should be revealed unto us.

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