Essence of Christianity: PART I, The True or Anthropological Essence of Religion

Chapter XI. The Significance of the Creation in Judaism

THE doctrine of the Creation sprang out of Judaism; indeed, it is the characteristic, the fundamental doctrine of the Jewish religion. The principle which lies at its foundation is, however, not so much the principle of subjectivity as of egoism. The doctrine of the Creation in its characteristic significance arises only on that stand-point where man in practice makes Nature merely the servant of his will and needs, and hence in thought also degrades it to a mere machine, a product of the will. Now its existence is intelligible to him, since he explains and interprets it out of himself, in accordance with his own feelings and notions. The question, Whence is Nature or the world? presupposes wonder that it exists, or the question, Why does it exist? But this wonder, this question, arises only where man has separated himself from Nature and made it a mere object of will. The author of the Book of Wisdom says truly of the heathens, that, “for admiration of the beauty of the world they did not raise themselves to the idea of the Creator.” To him who feels that Nature is lovely, it appears an end in itself, it has the around of its existence in itself in him the question, Why does it exist? does not arise. Nature and God are identified in his consciousness, his perception, of the world. Nature, as it impresses his senses, has indeed had an origin, has been produced, but not created in the religious sense, is not an arbitrary product. And by this origin he implies nothing evil; originating involves for him nothing impure, un-divine; he conceives his gods themselves as having had an origin. The generative force is to him the primal force: he posits, therefore, as the ground of Nature, a force of Nature, – a real, present, visibly active force, as the ground of reality. Thus does man think where his relation to the world is “thetic or theoretic (for the theoretic view was originally the aesthetic view, the prima philosophia), where the idea of the world is to him the idea of the cosmos. of majesty, of deity itself. Only where such a theory was the fundamental principle could there be conceived and expressed such a thought as that of Anaxagoras: – Man is born to behold the world. [In Diogenes (L. 1. ii. c. iii. 6), it is literally, “for the contemplation of the sun, the moon and the heavens.” Similar ideas were held by other philosophers. Thus the Stoics also said: – “Ipse autem homo ortus est ad mundum contemplandum et imitandum.” – Cic. (de Nat.).]

The standpoint of theory is the standpoint of harmony with the world. The subjective activity, that in which man contents himself, allows himself free play, is here the sensuous imagination alone. Satisfied with this, he lets Nature subsist in peace, and constructs his castles in the air, his poetical cosmogonies, only out of natural materials. When, on the contrary, man places himself only on the practical standpoint and looks at the world from thence, making the practical standpoint the theoretical one also, he is in disunion with Nature; he makes Nature the abject vassal of his selfish interest, of his practical egoism. The theoretic expression of this egoistical, practical view, according to which Nature is in itself nothing,, is this: Nature or the world is made, created, the product of a command.

God said, Let the world be, and straightway the world presented itself at his bidding.

Utilism is the essential theory of Judaism. The belief in a special Divine Providence is the characteristic belief of Judaism; belief in Providence is belief in miracle; but belief in miracle exists where Nature is regarded only as an object of arbitrariness, of egoism, which uses Nature only as an instrument of its own will and pleasure. Water divides or rolls itself together like a firm mass, dust is changed into lice, a staff into a serpent, rivers into blood, a rock into a fountain; in the same place it is both light and dark at once, the sun now stands still, now goes backward. And all these contradictions of Nature happen for the welfare of Israel, purely at the command of Jehovah, who troubles himself about nothing but Israel, who is nothing but the personified selfishness of the Israelitish people, to the exclusion of all other nations, – absolute intolerance, the secret essence of monotheism.

The Greeks looked at Nature with the theoretic sense; they heard heavenly music in the harmonious course of the stars; they saw Nature rise from the foam of the all-producing ocean as Venus Anadyomene. The lsraelites, on the contrary, opened to Nature only the gastric sense; their taste for Nature lay only in the palate; their consciousness of God in eating manna. The Greek addicted himself to polite studies, to the fine arts, to philosophy; the Israelite did not rise above the alimentary view of theology. “At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God.” And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God.” Eating is the most solemn act or the initiation of the Jewish religion. In eating, the Israelite celebrates and renews the act of creation; in eating man declares Nature to be an insignificant object. When the seventy elders ascended the mountain with Moses, “they saw God; and when they had seen God, they ate and drank.” Thus with them what the sight of the Supreme Being, heightened was the appetite for food.

The Jews have maintained their peculiarity to this day. Their principle, their God, is the most practical principle in the world, – namely, egoism; and moreover egoism in the form of religion. Egoism is the God who will not let his servants come to shame. Egoism is essentially monotheistic, for it has only one, only self, as its end. Egoism strengthens cohesion, concentrates man on himself, gives him a consistent principle of life; but it makes him theoretically narrow, because indifferent to all which does not relate to the wellbeing of self. Hence science, like art, arises only out of polytheism, for polytheism is the frank, open, unenvying sense of all that is beautiful and good without distinction, the sense of the world, of the universe. The Greeks looked abroad into the wide world that they might extend their sphere of vision; the Jews to this day pray with their faces turned towards Jerusalem. In the Israelites, monotheistic egoism excluded the free theoretic tendency. Solomon, it is true, surpassed “all the children of the East” in understanding and wisdom, and spoke (treated, agebat) moreover “of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall,” and also of “beasts and of fowl, and of creeping things and of fishes” (i Kings iv. 30, 34). But it must be added that Solomon did not serve Jehovah with his whole heart; he did homage to strange cods and strange women; and thus lie had the polytheistic sentiment and taste. The polytheistic sentiment, I repeat, is the foundation of science and art.

The significance which Nature in general had for the Hebrews is one with their idea of its origin. The mode in which the genesis of a thing is explained is the candid expression of opinion, of sentiment respecting it. If it be thought meanly of, so also is its origin. Men used to suppose that insects, vermin, sprang from carrion and other rubbish. It was not because they derived vermin from so uninviting a source that they thought contemptuously of them, but, on the contrary, because they thought thus, because the nature of vermin appeared to them so vile, they imagined an origin corresponding to this nature, a vile origin.

To the Jews Nature was a mere means towards achieving the end of egoism, a mere object of will. But the ideal, the idol of the egoistic will is that Will which has unlimited command, which requires no means in order to attain its end, to realise its object, which immediately by itself, i.e., by pure will, calls into existence whatever it pleases. It pains the egoist that the satisfaction of his wishes and need is only to be attained immediately, that for him there is a chasm between the Wish and its realisation, between the object in the imagination and the object in reality. Hence, in order to relieve this pain, to make himself free from the limits of reality, he supposes as the true, the highest being,, One who brings forth an object by the mere I will. For this reason, Nature, the world, was to the Hebrews the product of a dictatorial word, of a categorical imperative, of a manic flat.

To that which has no essential existence for me in theory I assign no theoretic, no positive ground. By referring it to Will I only enforce its theoretic nullity. What we despise we do not honour with a glance: that which is observed has importance: contemplation is respect. Whatever is looked at fetters by secret forces of attraction, overpowers by the spell which it exercises upon the eye, the criminal arrogance of that Will which seeks only to subject all things to itself. Whatever makes an impression on the theoretic sense, on the reason, withdraws itself from the dominion of the egoistic Will: it reacts, it presents resistance. That which devastating egoism devotes to death, benignant theory restores to life.

The much-belied doctrine of the heathen philosophers concerning, the eternity of matter, or the world, thus implies nothing more than that Nature was to them a theoretic reality. [It is well known, however, that their opinions on this point were various. (See e.g. Aristoteles de Coelo, 1. i. c. 10.) But their difference is a subordinate one, since the creative agency itself is with them a more or less cosmical being.] The heathens were idolaters, that is, they contemplated Nature; they did nothing, else than what the profoundly Christian nations do at this day when they make Nature an object of their admiration, of their indefatigable investigation. “But the heathens actually worshipped natural objects.” Certainly; for worship is only the childish, the religious form of contemplation. Contemplation and worship are not essentially distinguished. That which I contemplate I humble myself before, I consecrate to it my noblest possession, my heart, my intelligence, as an offering. The natural philosopher also falls on his knees before Nature when, at the risk of his life, he snatches from some precipice a lichen, an insect, or a stone, to glorify it in the light of contemplation, and give it an eternal existence in the memory of scientific humanity. The study of Nature is the worship of Nature – idolatry in the sense of the Israelitish and Christian God; and idolatry is simply man’s primitive contemplation of Nature; for religion is nothing else than man’s primitive, and therefore childish, popular, but prejudiced, unemancipated consciousness of himself and of Nature. The Hebrews, on the other hand, raised themselves from the worship of idols to the worship of God, from the creature to the Creator; i.e., they raised themselves from the theoretic view of Nature, which fascinated the idolaters, to the purely practical view which subjects Nature only to the ends of egoism. “And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldst be driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord thy God bath divided unto (i.e., bestowed upon, largitus est) all nations under the whole heaven.” Thus the creation out of nothing, i.e., the creation as a purely imperious act, had its origin only in the unfathomable depth of Hebrew egoism.

On this ground, also, the creation out of nothing is no object of philosophy; – at least in any other way than it is so here – for it cuts away the root of all true speculation, presents no grappling-point to thought, to theory; theoretically considered, it is a baseless air-built doctrine, which originated solely in the need to give a warrant to utilism, to egoism, which contains and expresses nothing bait the command to make Nature – not an object Of thought, of contemplation, but – an object of utilisation. The more empty it is, however, for natural philosophy, the more profound is its “speculative” significance; for just because it has no theoretic fulcrum, it allows to the speculatist infinite room for the play of arbitrary, Groundless interpretation.

It is in the history of dogma and speculation as in the history of states. World-old usages, laws, and institutions continue to drag out their existence long after they have lost their true meaning. What lies once existed will not be denied the right to exist for ever; what was once good, claims to be good for all times. At this period of superannuation come the interpreters, the speculatists, and talk of the profound sense, because they no longer know the true one.

[But of course they only do this in the case of the “absolute religion” for with regard to other religions they hold up the ideas and customs which are foreign to us, and of which we do riot know the original meaning and purpose, as senseless and ludicrous. And yet, in fact, to worship tile urine of cows, which the Parsecs and Hindus drink that they may obtain forgiveness of sins, is not more ludicrous than to worship the comb or a shred of the garment of the Mother of God.]

Thus religious speculation deals with the dogmas torn from the connection in which alone they have any true meaning; instead of tracing them back critically to their true origin, it makes the secondary primitive, and the primitive secondary. To it God is the first, man the second. Thus it inverts the natural order of things. In reality, the first is man, the second the nature of man made objective, namely, God. Only in later times, in which religion is already become flesh and blood, can it be said – As God is, so is man; although, indeed, this proposition never amounts to anything more than tautology. But in the origin of religion it is otherwise; and it is only in the origin of a thing that we can discern its true nature. Man first unconsciously and involuntarily creates God in his own image, and after this God consciously and voluntarily creates man in his own image. This is especially confirmed by the development of the Israelitish religion. Hence the position of theological one-sidedness, that the revelation of God holds an even pace with the development of the human race. Naturally; for the revelation of God is nothing else than the revelation, the self-unfolding of human nature. The supra-naturalistic egoism of the Jews did not proceed from the Creator, but conversely, the latter from the former; in the creation the Israelite justified his egoism at the bar of his reason.

It is true, and it may be readily understood on simply practical grounds, that even the Israelite could not, as a man, withdraw himself from the theoretic contemplation and admiration of Nature. But in celebrating the power and greatness of Nature, he celebrates only the power and greatness of Jehovah. And the power of Jehovah has exhibited itself with the most glory in the miracles which it has wrought in favour of Israel. Hence, in the celebration of this power, the Israelite has always reference ultimately to himself; he extols the Greatness of Nature only for the same reason that the conqueror magnifies the strength of his opponent, in order thereby to heighten his own self-complacency, to make his own fame more illustrious. Great and mighty is Nature, which Jehovah has created, but yet mightier, yet greater, is Israel’s self-estimation. For his sake the sun stands still; for his sake, according to Pluto, the earth quaked at the delivery of the law; in short, for his sake all Nature alters its course. “For the whole creature in his proper kind was fashioned again anew, serving the peculiar commandments that were given unto them, that thy children might be kept without hurt.” According to Philo, God gave Moses power over the whole of Nature; all the elements obeyed him as the Lord of Nature. Israel’s requirement is the omnipotent law of the world, Israel’s need the fate of the universe. Jehovah is Israel’s consciousness of the sacredness and necessity of his own existence, – necessity before which the existence of Nature, the existence of other nations, vanishes into nothing; Jehovah is the salus populi, the salvation of Israel, to which everything, that stands in its way must be sacrificed; Jehovah is exclusive, monarchical arrogance, the annihilating flash of anger in the vindictive glance of destroying Israel; in a word, Jehovah is the ego of Israel, which regards itself as the end and aim, the Lord of Nature. Thus, in the power of Nature the Israelite celebrates the power of Jehovah, and in the power of Jehovah the power of his own self-consciousness. “Blessed be God! God is our help, God is our salvation.” – “Jehovah is my strength.” – “God himself hearkened to the word of Joshua, for Jehovah himself fought for Israel.” – “Jehovah is a God of war.”

If, in the course of time, the idea of Jehovah expanded itself in individual minds, and his love was extended, as by the writer of the Book of Jonah, to man in general, this does not belong to the essential character of the Israelitish religion. The God of the fathers, to whom the most precious recollections are attached, the ancient historical God, remains always the foundation of a religion.

[We may here observe, that certainly the admiration of the power and glory of God in general, and so of Jehovah, as manifested in Nature, is in fact, though not in the consciousness of the Israelite, only admiration of the power and glory of Nature. (See, on this subject, P. Bayle, Ein Beitrag, &., pp. 25-29.) But to prove this formally lies out of our plan, since we here confine ourselves to Christianity, i.e., the adoration of God in man (Deum colimus per Christum. Tertullian, Apolog. C. 21). Nevertheless, the principle of this proof is stated in the present work.]

Contents | next chapter