Saturday, November 30, 2013

Feuerbach and Thanksgiving

For one of my classes, I have a few days at the end that are student choice -- they pick the topic, I choose a reading and email it to them, I make a few points at the beginning, and then we discuss it. The topic they chose for this past week was atheism, so I did a little Feuerbach and George Eliot (finding to my shock that no one in the class could tell me who George Eliot was -- I don't expect them to have read much Eliot, but not even to find the name or the titles of her books familiar is a bit more than I could be prepared for), with some Bertrand Russell for a contrast. In any case, given the juxtaposition with Thanksgiving I thought it was interesting to read the following passage, which gives the seed for a Feuerbachian account of the holiday:

At this point I differ radically from the earlier atheists and from the pantheists (I am thinking of Spinoza in particular) who in this connection held the same views as the atheists, for I cite not only negative, but also positive grounds of religion; not only ignorance and fear, but also the emotions opposed to fear, the positive emotions of joy, gratitude, love, and veneration as grounds of religion; and I maintain that not fear alone, but also love, joy, and veneration are makers of gods. “The feeling of those who have overcome affliction or danger,” I say in my notes on The Essence of Religion, “is very different from that aroused by existing or feared affliction or danger. In the first case attention is focused on the object, in the second on myself, in the first case I sing hymns of praise, in the second songs of lamentation, in the first case I give thanks, in the second I implore. The feeling of affliction is practical, teleological; the feeling of gratitude is poetic, aesthetic. The feeling of affliction is transient, but the feeling of gratitude enduring; it forms a bond of love and friendship. The feeling of affliction is base, that of gratitude noble, the former worships only in adversity, the latter also in happiness.” Here we have a psychological explanation of religion not only in its common, but also in its noble aspect.

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