From Feuerbach to Freud: an argument of musts

Jeremy Sig

ludwig-feuerbachWhen one endeavors on the journey toward understanding the essence of God one of the first questions that rises to the surface, once the constraints of religious tradition are loosed, is the question of necessity. Must God exist? This is the question that one grapples with when confronted apologetically by purveyors of any faith. Presuppositions that were once so easily upheld hang ever so teeteringly on the precipice of this question. Before one can answer if God exists, much less what God is, the question of necessity must be grappled with. The first man to really step to the plate and question the necessity of meta-physicality was Ludwig Feuerbach.As Feuerbach put it

“My first thought was God, reason my second, man my third and last.”

What Feuerbach wrestled with, and ultimately concluded was false, was the argument that the universe is dependant on God. Holistically speaking Feuerbach refuted the aplogetic claim that somehow history was wrapped in God. Why must God be sequestered off to the side slowly to lose ground to the ever growing possession of mans intellectual reason? Would it not be better to accept that God was simply unnecessary, rather than to slowly mitigate his role into irrelevance? The dawn of Darwinism had removed the argument of necessity from the perspective of natural order. It only seemed inevitable that human history would surrender its claims of divine necessity. Feuerbach, free from the burden of reserving ground for God, was able to articulate a truly atheistic worldview in light of human history. God became archaically unnecessary for the continued progression of humanity.Freud

While Feuerbach refuted the apologetic claims of necessity in terms of human history, he did not see the annihilation of religious apologetics that he had predicted. While Feuerbach may have gained ground in the field human history, apologists continued dispersing their energy behind the field of human interaction. If God was not necessary for natural human history, he was most definitely necessary for human social history. How could man hope to be ethical, broadly understood to mean acting socially correct, if God is not the informer and sustainer of mans social interaction? Was not our need for ethical social interaction enough proof for the necessity of God’s existence? To this question Sigmund Freud answered equivocally, no. By pushing the boundaries of nuero psychology, Freud argued that honest psychoanalytic investigation revealed neurosis, not God, as the informer of human social interaction. Indeed, Freud would argue that the neurotic projection of human perfection in the form of God, though not dangerous of necessity, was able to be overcome. More importantly he argued that productive,  rather than ethical, social behavior was possible without yielding to neurotic illusory projections.

What does this mean for ones pursuit of God?

I think it must be understood that neither Feuerbach’s nor Freud’s hypothesis disprove the existence of God. Rather they simply removed his necessity from the current equation. If one wants to honestly seek out God’s essence, by first understanding his existence, he is going to have to remove from the equation the presupposition of God’s necessity. Thus the question, must God exist, can only be answered “no” within the confines of our current understanding.

As I continue on my journey toward understanding God, I must always remember that my presuppositions of necessity only serve as hindrances to honest evaluation of the evidence. The question of God’s existence must remain unanswered for me, at this point. Feuerbach and Freud have done nothing to bring me closer to the answers I seek. They have, however, served as warnings of my own inclinations to give into the presuppositions of the necessity of God.


  1. I agree with Reed. The (pos)-enlightenment world is one of a plurality of truths, beyond justification, needing only the justifying community to exist. So the question becomes one of whose narrative of the world resonates most with ‘how things seem to be’ and/or ‘how we want them to be.’

    I would never try to argue a proof that God exists. Though I think various “proofs” can show the plausability, none really do anything beyond a shadow of a doubt.


  2. Reed wrote:
    Do I prefer living in a world where God exists as orderer or not?

    I believe this is a valid question but not necessarily for the same reasons that you mentioned. In terms of argument and debate, there are experts on both side of the subject that are convincing as long as we only listen to one side of the issue. In my humble opinion, Feuerbach’s whole philosophy of unbelief is based on the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi. What I mean is, he believed that he had totally refuted religious experience simply by giving another possible explanation to
    it. He confused EXPLANATION with REFUTATION. Feuerback, like many others who reject God, developed his beliefs against God based on his personal experiences with religious people. Ludwig Feuerback was a theological student until he saw his two brothers cruelly treated by the police. His
    brothers, who had led a student revolt against the religion teachers in the university were punished severely. Enraged with bitterness against
    his religious leaders, Feuerbach decided that he no longer wanted to believe in God. His whole desire was to get even with these religious leaders after having his feelings hurt. We can find convincing arguments on both sides of the question of God’s existence. My favorite worldview apologist is William Lane Craig. Right next to him on my popularity scale is Ravi Zacharia. If I listen exclusively to either of them, it is easy to be convinced that belief in God’s existence is the only logical belief. I have known others who only sought out the arguments of those who opposed belief in God. It became easier over time for them to deny the existence of God. In John 3, Jesus states that people ultimately reject him because they love darkness better than light. According to John 3, it is not logic but the preference for or against sin that ultimately leads to deciding for or against Christ. In the case of Feuerback, he prefered the sin of bitterness over belief in God. In the case of Feuerbach your question might be restated as, “Who hurt me and made me want to stop believing in God?”


  3. Roger,
    I tend to agree with your sentiment about Feuerbach’s confusion over the refutation of God. Like I said, at the end of my post, what Feuerbach did was to remove the necessity of God. He certainly fell short of disproving God, if such a task either affirmative or negative could be accomplished. I also think you make a valid point in terms of being convinced by the arguments we listen to. I think this is what Reed was getting at. We naturally indulge more in the works of those whose opinions resonate with us. I do think that your psychoanalysis of Feuerbach is a bit oversimplified. While those experiences no doubt had an affect on his philosophy, I believe he was more intellectually honest than you seem to give him credit for.

    As a side note, I do enjoy some of Zacharias perspectives (though I disagree with many of his conclusions). That said, William Lane Craig just rubs me the wrong way. His arguments often seem circular to me, and he carries himself with an heir of arrogance that bothers me. I think he is a fine apologist, but he doesn’t seem to have a good grasp on any of the fields that he draws from for his debates, IMO.


  4. Jeremy,
    Thank you for responding to me!

    Jeremy wrote:
    I do think that your psychoanalysis of Feuerbach is a bit oversimplified. While those experiences no doubt had an affect on his philosophy, I believe he was more intellectually honest than you seem to give him credit for.

    Feuerbach claimed that Christianity was a selfish, egoistic and inhumane religion. It seems to me that intellectual honesty would have pointed such accusations at certain practitioners of Christianity rather than at Christianity as a whole. There is nothing “egoistic” about Christ or his death on the cross. There is nothing “egoistic” about the Sermon on the Mount.

    Jeremy wrote:
    As a side note, I do enjoy some of Zacharias perspectives (though I disagree with many of his conclusions). That said, William Lane Craig just rubs me the wrong way.

    As I previously stated, these are the men that I personally like to read concerning philosophy of religion. I don’t expect everyone to have my own personal preferences or to follow my own heroes. However, that is beside the point. My point was an agreement with Reed that we seem to be able to choose what we wish to believe. There are some question implied by that point. They are:
    1) Why have I chosen a preference theism over atheism?
    2) What is the origin of my presuppositions?
    3) Where have those presuppositions led others?
    4) Where are those presuppositions probably going to lead me?

    For Feuerbach, his decision meant the loss of his job and the loss of necessary finances to support his family.

    NOTE: This comment has been edited by the site administrator.


  5. Wow, I never thought of the phrase “necessity of God” in the way you just wrote about it. It is an important question for any religious philosopher to answer, as you said, before more on the question of actual existence. Well said, thanx.

    Last night I had a long conversation with a fellow atheist who is a very different temperament than myself. I was trying to untie is the illusion of his hyper-rationalism. After you god-necessity issue, I think the temperament issue is another important question to answer: “Am I predisposed to feel God?”

    For example, I am a rather natural born mystic — nothing pretentious here, I have just seen, heard and felt not-natural things since I was young and they fade a little as I age. In my religious days, these were all interpreted as religious experiences. I always assumed everyone had these experiences but as I got older I realized it was not true — most people do not have these experiences to the degree myself and other do. My friend last night was a former Christian (Deacon in his Presbyterian Church) but purely a rational one. So, which readers here feel their God and for which is God solely a commitment of mind and values? I am sure I could phrase it better, more “nuanced”, more fully, but you know what I mean. For when natural mystics and religious rationalist dialogue without recognizing their cognitive predispositions, the conversation can be pointless. In a similar way that those who feel God is a necessity will never understand believers and non-believers who feel there is no necessity for a god.

    As for your quote:

    I prefer living in a world where God exists

    I guess it depends on what sort of god. If it is the god of Muslim or Christian or Hindu extremists, no thanx ! It all depends on what ideas and feelings one has strung together to make a god.

    — Sincerely, an apparent lover of the dark, who is hurt and scarred into utter blindness


  6. Well put, Sabio.

    I would add that at present, I prefer a world(-view?) in which God is unknowable. The idea that he has simply chosen not to reveal himself to me but possibly has chosen to reveal himself to you or others who have those spiritual experiences is upsetting. I’ve always considered myself a seeker, why should I be left out?


    I’ve read this three times now. I still need to process it all, I think. Good stuff.


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