Notes from Philip Cary’s “Philosophy and Religion in the West”
Lecture Twenty-Four Marx and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion
Scope: Karl Marx, the founding figure of communism, began his career as a follower of the “left-wing” Hegelian, Ludwig Feuerbach, who believed that philosophical subsumption of religion revealed the latter as a form of alienated consciousness: religion “projects” everything that is essential to humanity onto an unreal eternal God. Marx proposed a materialist version of the Hegelian dialectic, in which the logic of history was driven by conflicts between social classes rather than ideas. Religion, law, politics and philosophy belong to a cultural “superstructure” built on a fundamental “base” of socio-economic exploitation and alienated labor. Thus Marx formulates a hermeneutics of suspicion, interpreting cultural phenomena (including religion) in terms of the hidden social and economic interests they serve. Freud devised a psychological version of a hermeneutics of suspicion, according to which religion gives distorted expression to instinctual needs and unconscious conflicts.
I. Feuerbach: Religion as Alienation and Projection
A. Left-wing Hegelians
1. The philosophical successors of Hegel split on the issue of the philosophical status of religion: when philosophy subsumes religion, does it cancel Christianity (the left-wing view) or preserve it (the right-wing view)?
2. The “left-wing” Hegelians were critics of religion, who thought religion was a form of unfreedom from which philosophy should criticize in order to liberate humanity.
B. Feuerbach’s Projection Theory of Religion
1. Ludwig Feuerbach was a left-wing Hegelian who argued that the idea of God as an Other is really an alienation of what is essential to humanity.
2. Hence Feuerbach’s “projection theory” of religion: the concept of God is really an imaginary projection of the human essence into heaven (we make God in our own image).