Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

Mutiny Below

In his book The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach offers an exceedingly thorough critique of the religious impulse. Like William James, he agrees that religious beliefs express the relation between individual human beings and a world that dwarfs them. Religion, he writes, is "consciousness of the infinite." The problem is that it is a false consciousness.

Feuerbach insists that the infinity which human beings feel connected to by their religious beliefs is their own creation. Understanding his argument requires that we set aside all religious beliefs to recognize that we have no indisputable, objective proof that gods exist. But we do have overwhelming evidence that gods exist for human beings. People can clearly imagine the existence of a primal power that is omniscient, ominpresent,and omnipotent. Feuerbach's point hinges on this power to imagine the infinite. If an all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present power exists in our imagination, it is already inside us. There is something infinite within us. If religion is "consciousness of the infinite," it "cannot be otherwise than human beings' consciousness of, not their finite and limited being, but rather their infinite being."

What is this "infinite being?" Feuerbach argues that we are able to imagine something infinite because we are conscious that our individual human lives are part of human history and that our individual consciousness is part of the collective consciousness of humankind. Thus, though human beings are mortal as individuals, they achieve a kind of immortality by understanding themselves as a species. By contrast, animals possess instincts which ensure their survival, but no consciousness of themselves as members of a species. Their perspective on the world is limited to their own experience. Human beings' consciousness, on the other hand, is capable of grasping what exceeds their individual experience. Indeed, "consciousness in the strict or true sense and consciousness of the infinite are inseparable; limited consciousness is not consciousness." When human beings imagine infinity, they are really imagining their own immortality as a species, what Feuerbach calls their 'species-being.'

Religions conceal this process from believers. When people hold religious beliefs, they imagine that infinity is the province of the divine, not the mortal. A gulf appears to separate human beings from the infinite, one they can only bridge by surrendering to a higher power. A desire to collapse this gulf leads leads believers to imagine that this higher power is incarnated in a physical being or contained in a spiritual force. In other words, they ascribe this higher power to something outside themselves. Without realizing it, they project what is really a human power to imagine the infinite onto an external object, whether animate or inanimate. This external object is then seen to embody power that human beings lack.
Tags: autobiography, collage, nostalgia, photography, theory
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