On ATHEISM AS A CELEBRATION OF THE HUMAN: DEMYSTIFICATION OF RELIGION IN GEORGE ELIOT AND LUDWIG FEUERBACH, by Saswati Haldar

The paper presented by Professor Halder deals with the influence of Ludwig Feuerbach on the
intellectual career of George Eliot, and how she interprets his ideas and incorporates them into her
writing. Eliot, although debatable whether she can be labelled an agnostic or not, denounced the
traditional doctrines of Christianity, a ‘historic and dogmatic religion’ and firmly put forward her faith in
genuine human relationships . Eliot declared ‘atheism’ as ‘a religion of humanity’, free from the cynicism
of being a supposed ‘non-believer’. Feuerbach maintained that the essence of Christianity is really, the
essence of human feeling. It is man who created God in his own image, projecting in him the ideals and
qualities that does not belong to an individual proper, but human beings as a collective whole. This
psychological functioning, is what he would call the ‘essence of religion’. What is significant is
Feuerbach’s Theory of Alienation, which states that religious belief is based on the suspension of
consciousness : man’s failure to realize his own self in the image that he sees as God. Humans are
disunited from themselves, in a way, as they see God as an antithesis of themselves and identify God as
a separate species. He states that it is only the community as a whole that constitutes humanity – man
can only achieve understanding of his own self through understanding his fellow men,that is, the ‘I-
thou’ relationship.
Professor Halder’s argument focused on the character Dinah Morris in Eliot’s novel Adam Bede, who
establishes sympathy as a necessary element of human relationships, and though not exactly a Christ-
figure, emerges as a symbol of the divine redemptive presence. Dinah’s confrontation with Hetty
Sorrel,establishes the fact that it is ultimately human compassion the heart yearns for, dismissing
promises of divine justice. The ‘demystification of religion’ is further elaborated by mentioning the fact
that for Feuerbach, water, as a natural element, symbolized a sort of sacrament; one having the power
for physical, moral and intellectual cleansing. Water, again, plays an important role in Eliot’s ‘Mill on the
Floss’, as both Maggie and Tom Tulliver succumb to the flood ,the individuals are finally resolved into
nature, finding redemption. Eliot’s humanitarian belief is also exemplified in Silas Marner: The weaver of
Raveloe, where a human child, and not an unseen, spiritual force called God revives the humanity latent
in the protagonist. George Eliot’s humanitarian religion reaffirms the Feuerbachian idea of love being at
the core of the philosophy of human life, re-establishing religion as an exaltation of the human.
Feuerbach interpreted Christianity as declaring suffering as the means to reach sympathy from egoism,
and both, him and Eliot viewed suffering as the way to redemption and confession as a healing act of
speech. Eliot, though distancing herself from the simplistic elements of Feuerbachian ideas, fuses in her
writings, Feuerbach’s ‘I-thou’ philosophy, asserting that unification with the self, and with the world
becomes possible only through genuine human contact.

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