Feuerbach vs. Religious art

The atheism of Feuerbach and Marx is the only kind I know that seriously confronts that religious and theist thoughts and sentiments are about something. Feuerbach simply claims that they are about human beings- and it’s hard to see what other option there is (the natural world?) The explanation, it seems to me, has immense and even fatal difficulties when it seeks to explain religious art. There is simply no human being, secular historical/ natural event, or human accomplishment that could be reasonably solemnized by Chartres cathedral or Gregorian or Arabic chant (on the link, skip to 3:48); or reasonably praised by Handel’s Messiah; or reasonably sung to in love and devotion by Mozart’s Ave Verum. Note I am not speaking of the words in any of these things. It is the very structure of the building, music or melodic line that would be unreasonable.

If Feuerbach or Marx are right, all this art is absurd or unfitting. Modus tollens.


  1. Brandon said,

    January 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    I think you are quite right. I suspect, though, a Feuerbachian would take the route of George Eliot (in Romola, for instance) and claim that Chartres, etc. don’t pertain to human accomplishment except insofar as it is moral in character. Thus Chartres solemnizes, in a confused way, moral ideals. I think this line of thought has the typical feature of Feuerbachian explanations that it gets things somewhat right, and yet not quite right; and I think this arises from the fact that Feuerbachians are committed to religion being somehow fundamentally right and yet somehow fundamentally confused. And because both the rightness and confusion have to be fundamental, the Feuerbachian seems to pushed to say that there is something absurd about Chartres, etc., even in this direction: on such a view our natural expression of moral life involves a fundamental equivocation — on the basis of which we engage in religious art, out of which comes a beauty that is both dependent on falsehood and confusion and necessary for the moral life. So it seems that one of the two, the moral or the religiously beautiful must give entirely, even though for a Feuerbachian neither of them can.

  2. January 25, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I like this because it shows me how I could move the argument forward rationally. The post as written is particularly vulnerable to objections since it rests on the aethetic judgment that, say, Ave Verum or the cadence of singing the Koran is wholly inappropriate as an imitation of any human action or ideal. I don’t know what more I can do to show this except point or just say “listen”. I’d be locked into that with Sand’s objection: the best I could say is “you are simply being dishonest if you think that these sorts of songs and structures could be appropriately or reasonably applied to moral ideals”.

    There might be another avenue of response in the distinction between what is simple and what subsists. The moral ideal is a singular thing, and therefore a measure, but it doesn’t subsist. Actual existing morals are the habits of real concrete persons- but these are not ideal. It is this ontological disjunction between what is simple and what subsists that seems to make any attribution of religious art to them unfitting and unreasonable.

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