This extraordinary work (Das Wesen Des Christentums) is an anthropological dissection of Christianity in particular and a critique of religion in general. It proved both controversial and influential following its publication in 1841. But soon it became a classic of humanism – so much so that it was none other than George Eliot, under her real name of Marian (Mary Ann) Evans, who felt impelled to undertake the first English translation (1851), and which helped to underscore her humanistic attitudes which infused her novels. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) pursued studies in anthropology and philosophy – particularly following Hegel – and from these came his proclaimed stance on secular humanism and atheism. ‘Religion is the dream of the human mind,’ he writes unequivocally. The Essence of Christianity opens with a Preface to the Second Edition in which he responds boldly to critics. ‘I have only found the key to the cipher of the Christian religion, only extricated its true meaning from the web of contradictions and delusions called theology; but in doing so I have certainly committed a sacrilege…let it be remembered that atheism…is the secret of religion itself.’ The work itself is divided into two parts. Part I is titled ‘The True or Anthropological Essence of Religion’ and Part II ‘The False or Theological Essence of Religion’. In 27 chapters, replete with references supporting his position, he presents his thesis. He considers in some detail ‘God as a Being of the Understanding’, ‘The Mystery of the Trinity and the Mother of God’, ‘The Significance of the Creation in Judaism’ as well as many other issues including mysticism, celibacy, personal immortality and contradictions in the revelation and existence of God. This leads to his assertion, ‘We have shown that the substance and object of religion is altogether human; we have shown that divine wisdom is human wisdom; that the secret of theology is anthropology; that the absolute mind is the so-called finite subjective mind.’ The Essence of Christianity remains a striking text in the 21st century, and George Eliot’s rendering conveys the strong feelings of both author and translator. Feuerbach’s work concludes with a substantial Appendix consisting of 22 sections, further illustrating his arguments. It contains extensive passages in Latin, and so it is available in the accompanying pdf. This work is read with clarity and commitment by Martyn Swain.
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