Naturalistic humanism, religion and awareness
Although closely related to Hegel’s “left-ish policy” topic, Feuerbach’s philosophy undoubtedly represents something new and previously unexplored: reducing religion to anthropology, criticizing Hegel’s philosophy by defining it as “masked religion” and the doctrine of men’s “alienation” in religion naturally lead to a so-called “integral humanism” or “naturalistic”, a conception of mankind, not perceived in its idealistic aspect, but explored in the concrete nature of its need and sensitivity. “Humanism”, since it represents the purpose and the object of philosophical discourse.
“Naturalistic”, since it perceives nature as the primary reality from which everything depends, men included.
Therefore, the core of this naturalistic humanism is the refusal to consider man as an abstract spiritual identity and defines man as a living thing, who suffers, rejoices and is the object of several needs which affect every single aspect of life. Somehow making them depend on themselves. A “flesh and blood” living thing, basically, that is conditioned by materiality and sensitivity.
Anyway, the start of Feuerbach’s philosophy is religious alienation criticism: “religion – he says – is the consciousness of infinite”, but this doesn’t involve the knowledge of something superior and different from men, since it actually prescribes the acknowledgement not of any form of limitation, but of the infinity of men’s being. A man, a single one, is and perceives himself as limited but not limited as a “species” at all.
Therefore, the consciousness of God corresponds to the infinite consciousness of the whole of mankind: moreover, with a very successful formula, Feuerbach claims that “God is the hearts optative tense turned into a happy present tense”. If religion is “the first, even if indirect, form of self-consciousness” and if it anticipates philosophy, it is up to philosophy itself to demonstrate how this happens, setting mankind free from this “religious alienation”, which is the situation that pictures men, tangled in the religious experiences, as actual strangers to themselves.
According to the German philosopher, this is exactly what happens in the religious relationship: man alienates himself in God, in the summa of his perfections and gets given a submissive role, without realising that “the absolute being, men’s God is men’s being itself” and that the power of the object on men is nothing more than their nature’s intimate power.
Therefore, by giving God the characters of omniscience, omnipotence, an infinite form of love and all the other perfections, men just objectify and implement in God the infinite possibilities of their existence. Feuerbach then states that it is necessary to invert the religious scheme which prescribes that which makes God the subject and men the predicate and consider men as subject and God as predicate, acknowledging that being aware of God means to be aware of the true existence of men, their needs and wishes.
Therefore, according to these considerations, he considers that Christianity, with its commandment of love and brotherhood and with the mystery of the Incarnation and the passion of Christ, as well as the resurrection one, the highest form of religion, even if it doesn’t escape mistakes and illusions, which are fundamental for every religion.
The reduction of religion to anthropology is then meant by Feuerbach not only as the last step of the process that involves the “humanization” of the divine, which characterizes the historical evolution of Christianity, but also as a positive development in all the elements which were underlined by Hegel’s phenomenology: not an atheistic illuminism, generic and abstract, which considers religion just a bunch of mistakes and superstitions, but a proper renewal of the historical necessities of several forms of religion, by addressing them to the conscience dialectic and the different ways that alienate men’s existence in an independent object, that is God. The real cutting-edge content of Feuerbach’s philosophy is the strong conviction which is opposed to Hegel’s speculative, mystic-rational and overwhelmingly totalizing philosophy: naturalistic humanism.
The German philosopher stated: Hegel sets men on their head’s, I put them on their own feet”. Feuerbach’s ideal of man pictures a living being set in the very middle of this so-called humanism. A man conditioned by his own body and sensitivity.
Sensitivity, according to the thinker, is not to be reduced to a purely cognitive behaviour, but shows a practical value, as its link with Love shows. Love is then considered as the fundamental passion which represent the creator and the creation of life and makes, that builds a single being up with the life and that has the power to open us towards the world. Admitting that man is merely conditioned by needs, sensitivity and love is equal to admitting the need for other living beings. This involves the so-called Feuerbach’s “philosophical communism”, the doctrine of men’s social essence: ideas are triggered by communication, conversation among the people. Men are raised to the concept, to reason in general, not alone, but with the neighbour.
Two men cooperate to create another man, both a spiritual and a physical one: the communion of a man with another man is the first principle and the main criterion of universal truth and validity. The certainty that other things exist outside me is provided by the existence of other men. “Only what four eyes can see is undoubtedly true”.
Even by these words it is evident how big Feuerbach’s love for humanities was and his philosophy can be meant as an extreme form of philanthropy. From love for God to love for men, from faith in God to faith in men, from transcendence to immanence: here’s the most characteristic exit of Feuerbach’s philosophy. An exit which is perfectly externalized in “Lectures concerning the essence of religion”, given in Heidelberg between 1848 and 1849: “The purpose of my works, as well as my lectures, is this: turning theologians into anthropologists, religious adepts into philanthropists, candidates to the afterlife into material life students, heavenly monarchical and aristocratic waiters into self-conscious citizens of Earth”.