Christian Faith and Love: A Response to Ludwig Feuerbach
Christians are exclusive. Christians are prejudiced against other religions. Christians have perpetrated great evil in the past. These are just a few of the most common objections to the Christian faith today. At their most basic level, they share one fundamental premise: Christians are not quite as loving as they claim to be. While this belief is at the core of many of today’s concerns about Christianity, it is not a new idea. In the Modern Era, the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach published The Essence of Christianity, detailing his understanding of Christianity’s origins and nature. At the close of his book, Feuerbach claims that faith and love are inherently opposing forces: that one cannot be simultaneously a person of faith, and a loving person.
Feuerbach’s belief in the mutual exclusivity of Christian faith and love stems primarily from his objection to Christianity’s claim to exclusive truth, and the effects of this claim. He finds that Christians view themselves with a good deal of superiority for purporting to know the true and only God. As Feuerbach sees it, servants of Christ consider themselves better than those free of belief in Christ. Feuerbach further objects to the rigidity and dogma of faith that dictates what is to be believed and how one is to achieve salvation. He perceives Christians as seeing the world as black and white, Christian or anti-Christian. The anti-Christian is thus the enemy of Christ, and to love him or her would be a sin. God himself, and Christians in turn, Feuerbach posits, love only those that are Christians. According to Feuerbach, Christians are constantly judging those around them in God’s name, blame all that is bad on unbelief, and credit Christian faith for all that is good. He believes Christians separate themselves from morality, which they place second to faith and achieving salvation.
In so arguing, Feuerbach misunderstands Christianity and the fundamental teachings of Christ as set forth in the Bible. Though it may not always be practiced as such, true Christianity is, at its very foundation, love. The most important directives Jesus gives us are to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. [i] From Jesus’s emphasis on these commandments as most important, we see that love is intended to be at the core of Christian life. Later commands include other examples of loving behavior: we are told not to judge others, not to harm others, not to stand by and do nothing when others are being harmed. And the “others” in these commandments are not specified as other Christians, or the subjects of attempts at conversion. They are everyone and anyone other than ourselves. Furthermore, the Bible does not name all non-believers enemies of Christ, but teaches that they are like the lost sheep, whom God will never abandon. Nor does Jesus demand that we hate our enemies, but He explicitly denies this claim, saying: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Here, being a child of God is predicated upon loving others the way God loves us, regardless of how they treat us or whether they embrace Christianity.
At the end of the day, we’re all human and imperfect. We make mistakes. Sometimes, we’re jealous, angry, bitter, hurt, proud, arrogant, unjust, and entitled. Sometimes we don’t act in a loving way. And Christians are as human as everyone else. Sometimes we fall short of the commandments Christ has given us to follow. But ultimately, Christianity and love are not inherently opposing concepts. On the contrary, Christianity teaches love above all else. The fact that sometimes Christians fall short of the ideals on our faith does not negate what the central teachings of the faith are. And ultimately, these teachings actually hold us to a standard of love and forgiveness that is an incredibly high bar to reach. But they remind us that we must never give up.
[i] Mark 12:31faith, love, Ludwig Feuerbach