Quotable: Berger, “a gigantic joke on Feuerbach”

“While this [the potential for sociology of knowledge to free one from the tyranny of the present], I think, is a considerable intellectual gain, I would like to go further, to suggest that the entire view of religion as a human product or projection may once again be inverted, and that in such an inversion lies a viable theological method in response to the challenge of sociology. If I am right in this, what could be in the making here is a gigantic joke on Feuerbach.

“Feuerbach regarded religion as a gigantic projection of man’s own being, that is, as essentially man writ large. He therefore proposed reducing theology to anthropology, that is, explaining religion in terms of its underlying human reality. In doing this, Feuerbach took over Hegel’s notion of dialectics, but profoundly changed its significance. The concept of dialectics, in Hegel as elsewhere, refers to a reciprocal relation between a subject and its object, a ‘conversation’ between consciousness and whatever is outside consciousness. Hegel’s notion of this was first developed in a theological context, the ‘conversation’ was ultimately one between man and God. With Feuerbach, it was a ‘conversation’ between man and man’s own productions. Put differently, instead of a dialogue between man and a superhuman reality, religion became a sort of monologue.

“A good case could be made that not only Marx’s and Freud’s treatment of religion, but the entire historical-psychological-sociological analysis of religious phenomena since Feuerbach has been primarily a vast elaboration of the same conception and the same procedure. A sociological theory of religion, particularly if it is undertaken in the framework of the sociology of knowledge, pushes to its final consequences the Feuerbachian notion of religion as a human projection, that is, as a scientifically graspable producer of human history.

“It is relevant to keep in mind that Feuerbach, Marx, and Freud all inverted the original Hegelian dialectic. Their opponents regarded the inversion as standing the dialectic on its head, while their protagonists conceived of it as putting the dialectic back on its feet. The choice of image obviously depends on one’s ultimate assumptions of reality. It is logically possible, however, that both perspectives may coexist, each within its particular frame of reference. What appears as a human projection in one may appear as a reflection of divine realities in another. The logic of the first perspective does not preclude the possibility of the latter.”

Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, 64-65.

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