The German philosopher Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872) is noted for his criticism of orthodox religion. It may be said that he humanized God while deifying man.
Ludwig Feuerbach was born on July 28, 1804, in Landshut, Bavaria. He studied at the University of Heidelberg and then switched from theology to philosophy and moved to the University of Berlin, where he became a diligent student of G. W. F. Hegel. In 1828 he received his doctorate at the University of Erlangen.
Feuerbach's first publication was an essay entitled Thoughts about Death and Immortality (1830). Because it was so controversial at that time to deny the immortality of the soul, he published his work anonymously. In the following years he tried unsuccessfully to obtain a professorship. Even his scholarly books were of no help: From Bacon to Spinoza (1833), Leibniz (1836), and Pierre Bayle (1838). In 1839 his criticism of Hegel became evident. Later he vigorously began his criticism of religion.
Feuerbach's primary work is The Essence of Christianity (1841), one of the first attempts at understanding religion from a strictly human point of view. He holds that the sources of religion are human wishes, imagination, feelings, emotions, and, above all, man's desire to elucidate his own essence. Accordingly, Feuerbach sees in God the purified essence of man himself and the unlimited ideal of man's capabilities. He insists that religion is necessary for man's search for himself and that it separates man from the animals. Furthermore, he concedes that among all religions Christianity has a special mandate, seen in the doctrine that God became man. However, for him it was not God who became man; in fact, it is man who intends to conceive his own real essence in Jesus Christ. Consequently, Feuerbach suggests that theology and Christology should be transmuted into anthropology, into a theory about the divine nature of man.
Besides shaking the foundation of theology, Feuerbach outlined the principles of new ways of philosophizing: Preparatory Theses on the Reform of Philosophy (1842) and Principles of the Philosophy of the Future (1843). In these he explained that the basis of philosophy is not reason and abstraction but human sensuality, sexuality, and emotions. He was one of the first in modern times to emphasize the problem of communication; hence, he understood the human ego as a relation to another human being, to a "thou."
In 1844 Feuerbach revised The Essence of Christianity. Further writings clarified his position, among them The Essence of Faith according to Luther (1844) and The Essence of Religion (1846). Because of his strong criticism of religion he was never given opportunity to join any faculty in Germany. He lived in an idyllic retreat at Bruckberg and in 1857 published his Theogony. He died at Rechenberg on Sept. 13, 1872.
Feuerbach's life and thought are examined in Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1895; trans. 1934); William B. Chamberlain, Heaven Wasn't His Destination (1941); and Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (1947). Recommended introductions to various aspects of Feuerbach's writings are Karl Barth's introductory essay to Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity (1957) and Manfred H. Vogel, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future (1965).