The realm of the spirit is tremendously large, there is an endless amount of the spiritual; still let’s see what the spirit, this legacy from the ancients, really is.
From their birth pangs it emerged, but they could not express themselves as spirit; they could give birth to it, but it had to express itself. The “born God, the Son of Man” first spoke the Word that spirit, i.e., he, the God, has nothing to do with earthly things an earthly relationships, but only with the spirit and spiritual relationships.
Is my courage, indestructible under all the world’s blows, my inflexibility and defiance, already spirit in the full sense, since the world cannot touch it? Thus it would still be at enmity with the world, and its activity would be limited to not being defeated by it! No, so long as it is not dealing with itself alone, so long as it does not have to do only with its own world, the spiritual, it is not free spirit, but only “the spirit of this world,” the one fettered to it. The spirit is free spirit, i.e., actual spirit, only in a world of its own; in “this one,” the earthly world, it is a stranger. Only in the midst of a spiritual world is the spirit actually spirit, because “this” world doesn’t understand it and doesn’t know how to keep “the girl from the foreign land” from leaving.
But where is supposed this spiritual world from? Where else but from itself! It must reveal itself; and the words that it speaks, the revelations in which it unveils itself, these are its world. As a dreamer lives and has his world only in the fanciful patterns that he himself creates, as a fool generates his own dreamworld, without which he wouldn’t even be able to be a fool, so spirit has to create its spirit world for itself and, until it creates this, is no spirit.
Thus its creations make it spirit, and in its creations one recognizes it, the creator: it lives in them, they are its world.
Now, what is the spirit? It is the creator of a spiritual world! Also in you and me one first recognizes spirit when he sees that we have appropriated something spiritual to ourselves, for example, thoughts, although they were perhaps presented to us, we have nonetheless brought to life in ourselves; since as long as we were children one could have presented us with the most edifying thoughts without our wanting or being able to recreate them in ourselves. So also the spirit only exists when it creates the spiritual; it is only actual together with the spiritual, its creation.
Since we recognize him because of his works, the question is this, what are these works. But the works or children of the spirit are nothing other than – spirits.
If I had Jews before me, Jews of the true mettle, I would have to stop here and leave them standing before this mystery as they have remained standing before it, unbelieving and without knowledge for almost two thousand years. But since you, my reader, are at least not a full-blooded Jew – for such a one won’t go this far astray – we’ll go a little bit further together until you too perhaps turn your back on me, because I’m laughing in your face.
If someone told you that you were wholly spirit, you would take hold of your body and not believe him, but would answer: “I probably have a spirit, but don’t exist only as spirit, but rather as an human being with a body.” You would still distinguish yourself from “your spirit.” “But,” he replies, “it is your destiny to one day become a ‘blessed spirit,’ even if now you still go along in the shackles of the body, and however you may imagine the future appearance of this spirit of yours, this much is still certain, that you will take off your body in death and nonetheless keep yourself, i.e., your spirit, for all eternity; therefore, the spirit is what is eternal and true in you, the body is only an earthly home, which you can leave and perhaps exchange for another.”
Now you believe him! For the present, indeed, you are not just spirit, but one day, when you have to leave your mortal body, then you’ll have to make do without a body, and this is why it is necessary that you take care and provide for your true I in time. “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world by lost his soul?”1
But even granting that the doubts raised over the years against Christian beliefs have long since robbed you of your belief in the immortality of your spirit, you have still left one tenet unshaken, and you still cling without inhibitions to the one truth, that the spirit is your better part, and that the spiritual has greater claims on you than anything else. Despite your atheism, you come together with the believers in immortality in your zeal against egoism.
But who do you imagine under the name of egoist? A human being who, instead of living an idea, i.e., a spiritual thing, and sacrificing his personal advantage to it, serves the latter. A good patriot, for example, brings his sacrifice to the altar of the fatherland; but it cannot be disputed that the fatherland is an idea, since for animals with no capacity for mind, or children who are still mindless, there is no fatherland and no patriotism. Now if someone does not prove himself as a good patriot, he betrays his egoism in relation to the fatherland. And so it goes in countless other cases: whoever makes use of a privilege in human society sins egoistically against the idea of equality; whoever exercises dominance is chastised as an egoist against the idea of freedom, etc.
So you despise the egoist because he neglects the spiritual in favor of the personal, and looks after himself, where you would like to see him act from love for an idea. You differ from him in that you make the spirit, and he makes himself, the central point, or that you divide your I in two and raise up your “true I,” the spirit, as the master of the worthless remainder, whereas he wants to know nothing of this division, and pursues spiritual and material interests just as it gives him pleasure. Indeed, you think that you are striking out only against those who have no spiritual interests at all, but in fact you curse at everyone who doesn’t see the spiritual interest as his “true and highest” interest. You carry your knightly service for this beauty so far as to claim that she is the only beauty in the world. You don’t live for yourself, but for your spirit and what is the spirit’s, i.e., ideas.
Since the spirit only exists while it creates the spiritual, let’s look around us for its first creation. If it has first accomplished this, from then on a natural reproduction of creations follows, as according to the myth only the first human beings had to be created so that the rest of the race could reproduce itself. However, the first creation must arise “out of nothing,” i.e., the spirit has nothing but itself for its realization, or rather, it doesn’t have itself yet, but must create itself; its first creation is thus itself, the spirit. As mystical as this sounds, we nonetheless go through it as an everyday experience. Are you a thinking being before you think? When you create the first thought, you create yourself, the thinking being; because you don’t think before you think a thought, i.e., have a thought. Isn’t it your singing that makes you a singer, your speaking that makes you a speaking human being? Now, so too it is the producing of the spiritual that first makes you a spirit.
Meanwhile, as you distinguish yourself from the thinker, singer and speaker, you no less distinguish yourself from the spirit, and very much feel that you are something other than spirit. But just as in the thinking I hearing and sight easily fade in the enthusiasm of thought, so the spirit-enthusiasm has seized you, and now you long with all your might to become wholly spirit and to merge into spirit. The spirit is your ideal, the unattained, the other-worldly; spirit is the name of your – God, “God is spirit.”
You are a fanatic against everything that is not spirit, and therefore you rail fanatically against yourself, as you aren’t rid of a non-spiritual remainder. Instead of saying, “I am more than spirit,” you contritely say, “I am less than spirit; and I can only think about spirit, pure spirit, or the spirit that is nothing but spirit, but am not this; and since I am not this, it is another, it exists as another, whom I call ‘God’.”
It lies in the nature of the thing that the spirit which is supposed to exist as pure spirit must be an other-worldly one, for, since I am not it, it can only exist outside of me; since a human being doesn’t fully merge into spirit, pure spirit, spirit as such, can only be outside of human beings, beyond the human world, not earthly, but heavenly.
Only from this conflict in which I and the spirit lie; only because I and spirit are not names for one and the same thing, but different names for entirely different things; only because I am not spirit and spirit is not I: only from this does one get the completely tautological explanation of the need for the spirit to live in the other world, i.e., to be God.
From this it also follows how thoroughly theological, i.e., based in the study of divinity, the liberation Feuerbach2 strives to give us is. In particular, he says that we had only misjudged our own essence and therefore looked for it in the other world, but now, when we see that God is only our human essence, we have to again recognize it as our own and take it back from the other world into this one. Feuerbach names the God, who is spirit, “our essence.” Can we put up with this, that “our essence” is brought into opposition with us and that we get split up into an essential and a non-essential I? Don’t we move back again in this way into the unhappy misery of seeing ourselves exiled from ourselves?
What do we gain then, when, for a change, we install the divine that was outside us into ourselves? Are we that which is in us? As little as we are that which is outside us. I am as little my heart as I am my sweetheart, this “other I” of mine. Precisely because we are not the spirit that dwells in us, precisely for this reason we had to move it outside ourselves; it was not we, did not come together as one with us, and therefore we could do nothing other than to think of it as existing outside of us, beyond us, in the other world.
With the strength of desperation Feuerbach grips the whole substance of Christianity, not to throw it away, no, to usurp it, to pull it, the long-awaited, ever-distant, with one last effort out of its heaven and keep it with him forever. Isn’t that a grip of final desperation, a life-or-death grip, and isn’t it at the same time the Christian longing and desire for the other world? The hero doesn’t want to go into the other world, but rather to draw the other world into himself, and force it to become this world! And since then, doesn’t all the world cry, with more or less consciousness, that “this world” is what matters, and heaven must come down to earth and be experienced here?
We will briefly set Feuerbach’s theological view and our contradiction over against each other! “The essence of the human being is humanity’s highest essence; now, of course, for religion, the highest essence is named God and is looked upon as an objective essence, but in truth it is only humanity’s own essence, and therefore the turning point of world history is that from now on God should no longer appear to the human being as God, but rather the human being should appear as God.
To this we reply: The highest essence may be the human essence, but precisely because it is his essence and not he himself, it doesn’t matter at all whether we see it outside him and view it as God, or find it in him and call it “human essence” or “the human being.” I am neither God nor the human being, neither the highest essence nor my essence, and so, on the whole, it doesn’t matter whether I think of the essence as in me or outside of me. Indeed, we actually always think of the highest essence in both kinds of other-worldliness, the inner and the outer, at the same time; because God’s spirit, in the Christian view, is also “our spirit” and “dwells in us.”3 It dwells in heaven and dwells in us; we poor things are just its “dwelling,” and if Feuerbach destroys its heavenly dwelling and forces it to move, lock, stock and barrel, into us, then we, its earthly lodgings, will be very much overcrowded.
But after this digression,4 which, if we meant at all to go like clockwork, we would have had to save for later pages to avoid repetition, we return to the spirit’s first creation, the spirit itself.
The spirit is something other than I. But this other, what is it?
2Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 2nd enlarged edition (Leipzig, 1843)
3For example, Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 3:16; John 20:22 and innumerable other passages.
4“Ausschweifung” more often means “excess, debauchery, dissipation.” – translator’s note.