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Religion without God?

Ludwig Feuerbach and Lloyd Geering
Gregory W. Dawes
Prepublication Copy: Published in A Religious Atheist? Critical Essays on the Work of Lloyd Geering edited by Raymond Pelly and Peter Stuart, 111–123. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2006.

This draft paper is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. You are free to cite this material provided you attribute it to its author; you may also make copies, but you must include the author’s name and include this licence.

As a theologian and scholar of religions Lloyd Geering has achieved an unprecedented status within New Zealand. In a nation that is among the more secular of modern states, he has become, in Paul Morris’s felicitous phrase, New Zealand’s ‘theologian laureate’. Geering has always considered himself a Christian theologian, even though in his later work in particular he moves beyond traditional Christian theism. So it is perhaps surprising how little he has to say about the figure of Jesus. Brief references occur, as one might expect, throughout his books and articles, but the only extensive discussion is to be found in Jesus Reconsidered, the published version of three talks given in 1983,[1] in a chapter of his most recent work Christianity without God(2002).[2] In its depiction of Jesus as a teacher of ethical wisdom―the foremost representative of what would later become ‘Christian humanism’―that chapter bears the unmistakable imprint of the work of the Jesus Seminar, the group of predominantly North American scholars associated with Robert Funk. The Jesus Seminar’s depiction of Jesus is controversial, for a number of reasons. But the controversy is not one I wish to discuss here. For the historical Jesus plays a relatively insignificant role in Geering’s theological project. Nor do I wish to focus on the question of the resurrection of Jesus, the

But once again. It lacks the positive reinterpretation of religious belief which we find in Geering’s work. What shall I argue? As Geering himself notes. [4] Engels himself describes Feuerbach as the post-Hegelian philosopher who had the most influence on the development of Marxist thought. then how should we live? Should we follow the early Feuerbach and embrace the ‘Christianity without God’ of which Lloyd Geering is an advocate? Or should we follow the later Feuerbach and cut loose from our religious heritage altogether? What is the point in using the term ‘God’ when we no longer believe in the supernatural being to which that term has traditionally referred? And perhaps there are dangers in the continuing use of religious language. dangers which a more straightforward atheism would avoid. more often mentioned than read. his view of the incarnation is very similar to that found in the early work of the nineteenthcentury philosopher and critic of religion. it is not representative of his broader concerns.[3] it happens. this is surely the correct context in which to discuss Feuerbach’s ideas.subject of the third talk in Jesus Reconsidered and of a book-length study published some years later. Marx himself pays tribute to Feuerbach’s significance in his ‘Theses on Feuerbach’. The question my discussion raises is this: If we share Feuerbach’s view of religion. Even then he is. Ludwig Feuerbach is a neglected figure. he was a figure of considerable standing. I shall suggest. I believe this book to be Geering’s best. and not only for the study of religion. written in 1845 but published by his collaborator Frederick Engels only in 1886. it is generally by students of religion. it is particularly appropriate that the chapter on Feuerbach in Geering’s Faith’s New Ageis followed by one on Marx. But for his contemporaries. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72). 2 . in which Marxism is described as ‘one of the new forms of religion in the post-Enlightenment world’. The Early Feuerbach―Theology as Anthropology In our own day. But Feuerbach’s later work.[5] Historically.W. He was considered to have played a vital role in the movement from the philosophical idealism represented by the work of G. perhaps. Hegel (1770–1831) to the materialist philosophy of Karl Marx (1818–83). If he is referred to at all.F. is more straightforwardly atheistic. Given this fact. What I want to focus on is Geering’s understanding of the doctrine of the incarnation and its implications for Christian faith. as an appendix to Engels’s own study of Feuerbach’s philosophy. Resurrection: A Symbol of Hope(1971).

but he does not consider its results to be particularly significant. of course.[10] So when Geering turns to Feuerbach. a familiar project. that is the focus of his attention.[11] ‘anthropology’ here being understood 3 .[9] tradition continues in our own day in the work of thinkers such as Stewart Elliot Guthrie (who has the audacity to call his reworking of Hume’s ideas a ‘new’ theory of religion). in particular the Christian religion. then. it is for two reasons: firstly. he generally refers to Strauss’s Die christliche Glaubenslehre (1840). Feuerbach is familiar with the biblical criticism of his time. Pascal Boyer. he wrote even less than Geering about the historical figure of Jesus. Indeed he is convinced that this doctrine suffers from certain fatal ‘contradictions’. rather than the figure of Jesus himself. Feuerbach is more interested in ‘the Christ of faith’ than in ‘the Jesus of history’―it is Christian belief aboutJesus.The Role of Feuerbach What role. Indeed when Feuerbach cites Strauss. is played by Feuerbach in Geering’s work? One similarity between the two authors may be noted immediately. While Feuerbach wrote his first major work on what he called The Essence of Christianity(1841). [8] Feuerbach has little sympathy for the traditional understanding of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Scott Atran. whose two works on religion―the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion(1779) and The Natural History of Religion(1757)―neatly embody the philosophical-evaluative task on the one hand and the anthropologicalexplanatory on the other. particularly the work of his contemporary (and later admirer) David Friedrich Strauss (1808–74). to understand how it is that human beings have come to believe in God. This is. rather than to Strauss’s more famous The Life of Jesus Critically Examined(1835). and secondly. to reflect on Feuerbach’s interpretation of the doctrine of the incarnation. But let’s start with Feuerbach’s theory of religion. What Feuerbach argues is that ‘the true sense of Theology is Anthropology’. perhaps most impressively. at least in Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity. after having become convinced of its falsity. there have been scholars of religion who have attempted to explain the puzzling fact of religious belief. and. and whether it still has any significance.[6] which is a work on the history of Christian thought. Since the eighteenth century. What does Feuerbach argue? His central contention may be stated very briefly.[7] In other words. What Feuerbach is interested in is how such an absurd doctrine could have arisen. The two issues are closely connected. The tradition may be said to begin with David Hume (1711–76).

[23] It also cuts human being off from the natural world by creating a deity removed from nature and by offering individuals the 4 . he suggests. Feuerbach’s early view of religion? On the one hand. is an objectification of the idealised attributes of humanity.[ 19] Indeed in Feuerbach’s view. what people refer to as ‘God’ is in fact a projection of certain human qualities. becomes aware of his own limitations. in his encounter with other people. human beings are deprived of them. and will―are expressed. it emerges from a number of lines of argument.[12] While this may appear a simple thesis.[17] what I take to be God’s love for me is nothing other than ‘my self-love deified’. Of particular significance is the tension between the idealised attributes of intellect and feeling. one in whom the essential attributes of the human species―reason. it means that religious belief is a delusion and a source of alienation. I am actually worship human nature. God as an extramundane being is . How did this objectification occur? Religion arises when the individual.[20] Religion as Alienation and Self-Knowledge What are the implications of this. More precisely. religion deprecates the human: insofar as these powers are attributed to God. . objective being. for Feuerbach.[18] least some of the contradictions in Christian theology arise from the tensions that emerge when these human attributes are idealised. of what it means to be a human being. the individual creates the idea of perfect being. [13] But we may readily grasp the central thrust of Feuerbach’s claim.[15] Discomforted by his own by his own sense of limitation. the absence of limitation. the Christian God consists of nothing other than an impossible combination of personal and metaphysical a doctrine of human nature. feeling. [14] But he becomes aware of his own limitations only by becoming aware of the perfection.[21] By attributing these human powers to a divine being. Religion. As he writes. nothing else than the nature of man withdrawn from the world and concentrated in itself. . transporting itself above the world. freed from all worldly ties and entanglements. that is characteristic of the human species. and positing itself in this condition as a real.[ 16] It follows that if I worship what I think of as God. which a more detailed study would try to disentangle.[22] Christianity in particular cuts individuals off from the community of fellow human beings by exalting the individual over the collective.

For Geering. we can learn something about humanity from our idea of God. if only it could be transformed. merely discovered found the ‘true meaning’ of the Christian religion.[24] On the other hand. every advance in religion is therefore a deeper selfknowledge. the Feuerbach of The Essence of Christianitycould still claim to be a friend to religion. As Feuerbach writes. Hence the historical progress of religion consists in this: that what by an earlier religion was regarded as objective. where it plays a pivotal role in his account of the impact of modern thought on religion. before he finds it in himself. what was formerly contemplated and worshipped as God is now perceived to be something human. . . a religion without God. he argues. . I do not deny man’s need to lend nature a human aspect. His own nature is in the first instance contemplated by him as that of another being. that is. I do not deny his need to contemplate nature in poetic.[25] Since the idea of God embodies human attributes. this very same view of religion enables Feuerbach to regard religion as an early form of selfknowledge. feeling and imagination and man’s impulse to objectify and personify his inner life. its interpreter rather than its destroyer.impossible hope of eternal life. Man has given objectivity to himself. and religious terms. man is seen to have adored his own nature. . religion is man’s earliest and also indirect form of self-knowledge. I do not deny religion. Feuerbach’s work is not merely negative. . but has not recognised the object as his own nature: a later religion takes this forward step. rather.[26] From this point of view. For the latter sometimes suggests that religion need not disappear. He has. Geering highlights an important aspect of Feuerbach’s thought.[ 28] Here. I do not deny the subjective. What was at first religion becomes at a later period idolatry. to have extracted this true meaning from what he describes as ‘the web of contradictions and delusions called theology’. it opens up the possibility of a “reformulated” religion. too. is now recognised as subjective.[ 27] A similar summary of Feuerbach’s views is to be found in the seventh chapter of Geering’s Faith’s New Age. philosophical. As Feuerbach writes. human foundations of religion. I merely deny the object of 5 . . namely. provided that his view of it is compatible with its character as known to us through science. Man first of all sees his nature as if out ofhimself. an impulse which lies in the very nature of speech and emotion.

the belief that God became a human being in the person of Jesus. As God has renounced himself out of love. Feuerbach argues. It is out of love that God laid aside his divinity. for God is love. should renounce God. [30] For Feuerbach. which transcends the difference between the divine and human personality. the doctrine of the incarnation is first and foremost an expression of belief in the love of God. in spite of the predicate of love. it leads inevitably to atheism. By speaking of a God who renounces his divinity out of love. should not be understood as though love were a mere predicate.[ 29] What he objects to.[32] Furthermore. we sacrifice love to God. But ‘God is love’. As Feuerbach writes (in one of his most famous passages).[ 31] reality expressed by the statement ‘God is love’ is to be found in its predicate. interpreted in the light of Feuerbach’s theory of religion. a mere characteristic of a deity who exists independently of that love. points towards the abolition of traditional theism. for if we do not sacrifice God to love. Geering argues that Christianity is able to abandon 6 . for God as God has not saved us. or rather of religion as it has been up to now. to become a human being. The key term is ‘love’. The Doctrine of the Incarnation Geering also endorses Feuerbach’s reinterpretation of the doctrine of the incarnation. the doctrine of the incarnation bears witness to this fact. so we. mistaking the objects of human imagination for actual beings. particularly in his more recent works. It is no coincidence that the abolition of traditional theism is precisely what Lloyd Geering advocates. we have the God―the evil being―of religious fanaticism. he is―in Feuerbach’s words―‘a severe power not bound by love’. the doctrine of the incarnation is clear evidence that in religion human beings are contemplating their own nature. Feuerbach continues. out of love. not its subject. not ‘God’. is the way traditional religion turns poetry into prose.[ 33] What follows from this? The central doctrine of Christianity. since what believers call the love of God is in reality simply human love. A deity who existed independently of love would be an omnipotent being. as it were. Taken seriously. but an omnipotent being is something quite other than a loving God. who then is our Saviour and Redeemer? God or Love? Love. but Love.religion. and. In Christianity Without God.

which demands that we no longer be enslaved to an external authority. Because of this. For the later Feuerbach. It offers little comfort to those theologians who. there has been a shift in his thinking. like Geering. without losing its distinctive character or its religious power. In abandoning belief in God. Christianity’s central doctrine―that of the incarnation―tended towards this goal. from which we ought to liberate ourselves as quickly as possible. It is this view of the incarnation upon which Geering draws in arguing for a nontheistic Christianity.[37] The Later Feuerbach―Theology as a Delusion I have highlighted the importance of Feuerbach’s discussion of the incarnation. Christianity is not unfaithful to its founder. as a way in which human beings come to awareness of the essential attributes of their species. which was more concerned with the human condition than with God. 7 . even if what it reveals is not God but human nature. What is now dominant is what Van Harvey calls ‘the naturalist-existentialist motif’ in Feuerbach’s thought.[35] But Geering also argues that Christianity must become non-theistic.[36] And monotheism. But what about Feuerbach’s later work? What implications would this have for the Christian theologian? It is true that a similar interpretation of the incarnation is found in his later Lectures on the Essence of Religion. religion has a certain revelatory value. has all but disappeared. Geering suggests. as found in his early work.[39] This earlier view. religion looks much more like a simple delusion. The Essence of Christianity. It must do so because belief in a supernatural being to whom we must submit ourselves is a violation of human autonomy.theism. which still owes something to the influence of Hegel. For the early Feuerbach. it has led us to overlook our dependence on nature. Feuerbach’s later work is more straightforwardly atheistic.[ 40] focuses on the relationship between human beings and the natural world. in a way which threatens our very future. By the time Feuerbach comes to present these lectures. wish to abandon theism. In particular.[38] Yet the relationship between the earlier and the later Feuerbach is not as simple as it might appear.[ 34] And. as Feuerbach showed. Gone is the suggestion that religion has value as a form of self-knowledge. but retain religion. For Jesus himself stood within the wisdom tradition of Israel. the exclusive worship of a Sky-Father (as opposed to an Earth-Mother) has had tragic consequences.

can suddenly end my life. the human imagination personifies some aspect of the natural world.[42] In order to create these deities. nature. in reality. is not a personal being.[41] and render that dependence less threatening by creating from their imaginations personal beings who are thought of as in control of that world. namely the power of mind. nature as a whole (in a religion such as that of the Qur ʾan). Human beings recognize their dependence on the natural world. expressed in speech. For nature cannot grant this desire. as in a great theatre.[43] beings also personify and deify that which is most characteristic of human beings. But man wants to live. if only the bursting of a tiny blood vessel in my brain. is Feuerbach’s later view of religion. and remove me against my will from my wife and children. the one that Van Harvey refers to as the ‘naturalist-existentialist’ strand? At times. Man does not have his life in his own hand. And it was David Hume who championed the idea that religions emerge from our feelings of insecurity when confronted with the powers of nature. Hume’s description of the precariousness of our human state and the way in which it gives rise to religion is particularly close to Feuerbach’s view: We are placed in this world. some outward or inward circumstance. out of the insecurity human beings feel when confronted with the threatening powers of nature and the fragility of their own existence. as Feuerbach himself notes. whether particular beings (in the veneration of sacred objects).[ 44] To this point. or at least not entirely. The theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) had already traced religion back to a feeling of dependency. Religion arises. where the true 8 .The Naturalist-Existentialist View What. he suggests. friends and relatives. it has no heart. [45] although in support of a somewhat more traditional form of belief. he instinctively transforms this desire into a being capable of granting it. the Feuerbach of the Lecturesseems to be offering a relatively simple theory of religious origins. who can ‘govern millions by his mere word’. his life is his most precious possession. so that the monotheistic god resembles a human ruler. Impelled by his instinct of self-preservation. his love of life. Feuerbach’s later theory of religion seems far from original. or (in more philosophical forms of theism) the general ideas that we abstract from the concrete reality of things. with human ears to hear his complaints. a being with human eyes to see his tears. it is blind and deaf to the desires and complaints of man. then.

then. if not corrected by experience and reflection. We hang in perpetual suspense between life and death. . that hurts or pleases us’[ 47]―it is not surprising that we think of those unknown powers that control our fate as personal beings. in partial control of our world. that is to say. which are distributed amongst the human species by secret and unknown causes. and by a natural propensity. the natural world with which we are confronted is not merely something external to us.[46] Hume goes on to note that since we have ‘a universal tendency’ towards anthropomorphism―‘we find human faces in the moon. The object of religion is nature. He suggests that at the heart of religion there lies something deeper than our sense of dependency on the natural world. and always unaccountable. More precisely. the voluntaryand the involuntary in one and the same individual. which operates independently of his knowledge and his will. the ‘I’. But at the same time we sense that vast areas not only of the external world but also of our own nature are mysterious to us and beyond our control. perhaps. The ultimate secret of religion is the relationship the conscious the unconscious. conscious beings. But at other times Feuerbach takes this line of argument further. is confronted with the world of nature. which operates independently of man and which he distinguishes from himself. . . it also includes man’s inner nature. the imagination is equally employed in forming ideas of those powers. In a 9 . become the constant object of our hope and fear. It includes much of our own being. plenty and want. from which it emerges. with which we are continually threatened. the ‘not-I’. and while the passions are kept in constant alarm by an anxious expectation of the events. or power to prevent those ills. But this nature is more than the phenomenon of the outside world. in doing so he does seem to be breaking new ground. on which we have so entire a dependance. health and sickness. armies in the clouds. we human beings are subjects. We are not masters over the forces that produced us or the impulses that drive us.springs and causes of every event are entirely concealed from us. The conscious being. nor have we either sufficient wisdom to foresee. In Feuerbach’s own words. These unknown causes. whose operation is oft unexpected. ascribe malice or goodwill to every thing.[48] On the one hand.

that abyss is his own unconscious being. the early Feuerbach could be a friend to the theologian who has abandoned God. something other. everything that is not a human achievement. there is no corresponding section in the Lectures. which is at the same time my ownbeing. if there is a truth in religion. yet wishes to retain religion. Geering is a leading exponent of a theology of this type. 10 . And. For the later Feuerbach. the whole of which is devoted to the criticism of religion and its explanation as a form of delusion. As Feuerbach writes of himself. the work of man. which seems alien to him and inspires him with a feeling which expresses itself in words of wonderment such as: What am I? Where have I come from? To what end? And this feeling that I am nothing without a not-Iwhich is distinct from me yet intimately related to me. In Feuerbach’s words. into the achievement. While Part One of The Essence of Christianityis devoted to what Feuerbach calls ‘the true or anthropological essence of religion’. the gift.[49] Feuerbach writes: Man with his ego or consciousness stands at the brink of a bottomless abyss.[ 52] and what wisdom is available to human beings comes from a recognition and acceptance of that dependency. the work of God’. They may not tell us anything about God. as we have seen. which (as Van Harvey notes) reads like the work of a much more recent thinker. ‘religion transforms everything that is not a product of the human will into a product of the divine will. is the religious feeling. it would be easy to argue for the ongoing significance of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Stripped of its claims to speak of a divine being distinct from the world.[50] The personification and deification of this world of the ‘not-I’ is what gives rise to religion.[51] Do We Need Religion? If all we knew of Feuerbach was his early work The Essence of Christianity. the doctrines of Christianity could be taken to be disguised expressions of human self-knowledge. In this sense. it could be said. it is simply the truth of our dependency on the natural world. but they do tell us something about human beings. But if the interpretation I have offered is correct―an interpretation which owes much to the work of Van Harvey―the later Feuerbach adopts a less sanguine view.passage.

what kind of religion do we need? In a short work published in 1998. This is hardly surprising. he writes. [56] What would this religion look like? Well. nature religion. believe that such dependency is contrary to my true being or hope to be delivered from it. it has much in common with Feuerbach’s later views. that is. What it needs. But I find this very naturaland am therefore perfectly reconciled to the thought. not surprisingly. it embraces the idea that we are entirely dependent on the natural world out of which we have sprung. that the air I breathe in bright weather has a salutary effect not only on my lungs but also on my mind. that the light of the sun illumines not only my eyes but also my spirit and my heart.[54] and become whole human beings. creatures of this world rather than beings who long for another. ‘the meaning system (or religion) which is appropriate for the global world must therefore clearly focus 11 . entitled Does Society Need Religion?. such as the longing for immortality. such as Marxism or secular rationalism. we search for meaning and purpose and as a society we need common symbols around which we can rally. In particular. So yes. I openly confess that the workings of nature affect not only my surface. Geering addresses precisely this question. As individuals. Our own age has seen a proliferation of new religious movements.[55] Religion After Feuerbach The question which I hope this discussion has raised is this: If we accept Feuerbach’s criticism of religion. Geering argues. society does need religion.though I myself am an atheist. I know further that I am a finite mortal being. my body. He notes that those who have attempted to stamp out religion have merely created new forms of religion. my skin. like a Christian. As Geering writes in Tomorrow’s God. And I do not. I am not ashamed of my dependency on nature. my innermost being. what is left of our traditional faith? Do we still need religion? If so.[53] Only by an acceptance of the fact that we are indeed part of nature can we be liberated from absurd desires. but also my core. have often functioned as ‘secular religions’. and those movements which set out to abolish religion. I hate the idealism that wrenches man out of nature. I openly profess religion in the sense just mentioned. is ‘a common religion which nurtures and preserves the personal bonds of trust and good will needed to hold a society together’. that I shall one day cease to me.

on the earth’. that living beings manifest a ‘serendipitous creativity’. of which we are a product and on which we depend for our existence and continuing sustenance. .[62] But just what could that last sentence mean.[60] If this is what it means to believe in God. our relationship with the earth constitutes ‘a new kind of mystical union’.[ 58] But because we are aware of our dependence on the earth in a way in which other creatures are not. if it no longer denotes a supernatural being? Do we need this language. We are utterly dependent on the earth for our continued existence’.[ 61] the question I want to raise is: Is this helpfully described as belief in God? Why use the term ‘God’ in this context? What function does it have. then―as Geering himself writes―‘few would wish to call themselves atheists’. while standing in awe before the profound mysterious of existence. but a useful instance is to be found in Does Society Need Religion? At one point Geering writes that to worship God in the 21st century is to marvel at the living ecosphere of life on this planet. We humans have come forth from the earth as from a cosmic womb. it is to devote oneself to working towards a fully humane world within the ecological constraints here on planet Earth. following Kaufman. Geering spells out what this new form of belief entails in the words of the theologian Gordon Kaufman: To believe in God is to commit oneself to a particular way of ordering one’s life and action. as an supernatural being distinct from the world? What could it mean to say that ‘life on this planet is itself the manifestation of God’? Perhaps Geering would suggest. if we have indeed abandoned theism? Let me illustrate what I mean by reference to a particular passage from Geering’s work. But of course it is not religious belief in any traditional sense of that term. an astonishing ability to adapt to new circumstances and continue 12 . Life on this planet is itself the manifestation of God and our own life participates in the life of God. given that there is no God. . Almost any of his discussions of the term ‘God’ would do.[ 59] God-Talk After Feuerbach What distinguishes Geering’s work from that of the later Feuerbach is that Geering describes his new religious position as ‘belief in God’.[57] Why? It is because ‘we have evolved out of the earth and we remain dependent on it for our well-being and our future.

if we do continue to speak of God while no longer believing in a supernatural being. being arbitrary. The Dangers of Non-Theistic Religion If it is used. what is important are the supreme values we come to associate with such time-honoured words as God. And he himself argues that if we abandon this word. Not all readers or hearers are going to do this. The particular words we use. The important thing. stripping it of its traditional associations. And unless we can offer a clear alternative meaning.[65] But this seems. is a matter of personal choice. are relatively unimportant. we are making our hearers’ task almost impossible. And if we do spell out what the term ‘God’ now means (as in the case of ‘serendipitous 13 .to flourish.[63] Perhaps it is this creativity to which Geering is referring when he uses the term ‘God’. if what you really mean is creativity? In the context of a non-theistic understanding of ‘God’. The first danger is that we will invite misunderstanding. to establish a focus of meaning. or something closely resembling it. to which Geering’s work testifies. As he writes in Tomorrow’s God. he suggests. At times Geering suggests that whether we continue to use the term ‘God’ is a relatively unimportant question. then we must face up to the dangers inherent in such a practice. then―whether we like it or not―our language may be interpreted as lending support to traditional theism. It is all very well to say that the term ‘God’ is now being used functionally. ‘we may have to invent another verbal symbol to take its place as a focus of meaning’. is religious language not redundant? What needs to be said can be said without it. Our continued use of religious language demands of our readers or hearers that they continually reinterpret the word ‘God’.[ 64] Fair enough. [67] given the power of religious symbols. in order to speak about this faith. at the very least. or not.[ 68] if we fail to spell out just what that focus of meaning is. We need such a term both as an ‘ultimate point of reference’ and as a way of avoiding the hubris of seeing ourselves as self-made beings. But then why use the term ‘God’. is the way of life which we embrace.[66 ]So we apparently need ‘God’. Geering’s popularity as a religious writer stems from the fact that he offers us a new way of understanding the term ‘God’. whether we continue to use the word God. it can hardly be a matter of indifference whether ‘God’ is used. disingenuous. and the responsibilities to which those values call us.

In saying this. But if we join Greenpeace in the name of God. the sun and the heavenly bodies. Geering writes. And perhaps it would be better described in non-religious terms. I am not saying that we should not join Greenpeace. in the belief that in doing so they are simply obeying the divine imperative’. we must face the charge that this reality is more accurately described in non-religious terms. in other contexts―the danger of creating ‘new idols for old. are we not in danger of perpetuating this practice? By using the term ‘God’ do we not risk making an idol out of our political commitments? We may no longer go on crusades in the name of God. Geering cites with approval the words of Thomas Berry: The ecological age fosters the deep awareness of the sacred presence within each reality of the universe. And this looks suspiciously like idolatry. There is an awe and reverence due to the stars in the heavens. and then attempt to impose them on their fellows. I 14 . setting out to defeat the infidel.[72] ‘To wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice.[70] But while the term ‘God’ continues to enjoy its traditional associations. For there is a second danger associated with the continued use of religious language. and that leads to idolatry’. If you continue to use religious language.creativity’). Geering himself once spoke of precisely this danger. In a paper delivered in 1996 to a ‘Sea of Faith’ conference. to all living forms of trees and flowers. always constitutes a temptation to turn back in the direction of mythology. . To wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice. . Do I exaggerate this danger? I don’t think so. then I don’t know what ‘idolatry’ means. it is quite another to avoid it. to the animals of the forest and the birds of the air. giving divine status to a this-worldly reality and (by implication) to our efforts to preserve it.’ If this is not idolatry. to the seas and the continents. To his credit. we may be merely giving religious fanaticism a new goal.[ 71] But it is one thing to be aware of the danger. then you inevitably speak of some this-worldly reality as if it were divine. In God in the New World.’[ 69] it traditional theism objectionable? Because. he wrote that ‘the continued use of the word ‘God’ with all its associations and images. it ‘enables people unconsciously to project their own beliefs on to a divine authority. while denying that it has an other-worldly object. It is a danger which Geering himself has highlighted. to the myriad expressions of life in the sea.

On the contrary. But it brings with it some of the same dangers which attended traditional theism. On this. those are the choices which lie open to those who accept Feuerbach’s analysis of religion. Can we live without God? We certainly can. Geering opts to remain within a religious tradition. I would prefer Lloyd Geering’s religion to most of those that are currently on not saying that we should not oppose the destruction of living species. let me make my own position clear. Perhaps we human beings are incorrigibly religious. Can we live without ‘God’? I don’t know. If so. But perhaps we should at least try. a Christianity without God or an atheism which cuts loose from our religious heritage. Geering and I are agreed. I believe that we should. And perhaps he is right to do so. albeit in a radically reinterpreted form. perhaps we cannot live without religious language and ritual practices. So perhaps a thoroughly secular alternative is worth examining. . The most serious of these is that we risk falling into new forms of idolatry. But I also believe that we contribute nothing helpful to the ecological debate by describing the values we are trying to preserve as ‘divine’. giving divine status to this-worldly realities and to our own political ideals. The early Feuerbach or the later Feuerbach. . 15 .