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Mutiny Below - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
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.

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duccio From: duccio Date: June 9th, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Say we imagine ourselves as a species and thus can imagine an infinity. I can imagine that; but at some future time, the Sun will become a giant and engulf the Earth, there will be another catastrophic asteroid strike, or maybe the Earth's core will cool and thicken, ruining the magnetic field which holds our atmosphere, and Earth will die like Mars from lack of protection from solar wind. The question is which will it be. I know this too, well, I imagine it as fact, but don't really worry about it as it is eons away as far as I can tell. Our species, if it should still exist by then, will have certainly changed into unrecognizability.

We're like passengers on the Titanic. They know that there is the possibility of sinking when the set out, but don't worry about it. They have religion. If they knew that they would definitely hit the ice and sink, they might imagine they could avoid the inevitable, line the sides of the ship as lookouts like Easter Islanders, or prepare a survival strategy somehow, maybe scavenge extra material from deep down useless bulkheads and build a second back-up ship to transfer to and escape on, or put all the educated people of science on board to developing a steam powered laser heat wave to melt the ice burg from a few miles away, or simply (and more probably) "just say no" and pray their collective fate away. We're actually like the people on board after the ship has already hit and is doomed and everybody knows it (or almost know it, even with their feet indisputably wet) but still having a little time to do this and that, look good while getting into the boats or not, and affect some nobility to a point (every man to himself).

Religion is maybe the insistence that things are ordered to protect us and help us identify with an infinity expressed in the idea of a supreme being protector, all this believed heroically in the face of zero factual evidence, when actually, that part of our species living, thinking the great ideas, and burning coal in Europe, China, the US, and India, really our species in it's entirety, our infinity - causes a piece of ice to break off from the map (or doesn't cause it, no matter) which inevitably sinks our unsinkable ship and all our illusions. This is probably why conservative faith refuses the facts of global climate change along with everything else, as inevitable doom just around the corner, and instead becomes increasingly fundamentalist, ultra-conservative, and true to it's (our?) core essence: irrational, missionary, and messianic.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 27th, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I realized just now that I never replied to this. I was drafting a worthy response in my head, or at least hoping to, but other stuff got in the way and now I've lost my train of thought. Most of it, anyway. I had something I wanted to say about the philosophical notion of "being towards death", which suggests that it's only in recognizing the inevitably of our eventual passing that we can be truly human.
e_compass_rosa From: e_compass_rosa Date: August 19th, 2009 05:32 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Hey -- I've been scouring the LJ pages of friends that do photography to find images to pair with writing for this online magazine that I help edit -- writing by teachers involved with the Bay Area Writing Project. Do you think I could use the image in this post? You'd get full attribution of course. Please let me know if you give permission!
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