Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72) was a German philosopher who became famous for his view that the study of religion or theology is really the study of man since God is merely the projection of human ideals on an imaginary being.
Feuerbach was a student of Georg Hegel but eventually rejected Hegel’s views. Feuerbach substituted Hegel’s idealism with materialism and believed that people’s material needs should be the basis for social and political theory. In his early career Feuerbach studied Protestant theology but his worldview was that of naturalistic humanism. As a result, Feuerbach did not believe in the existence of God or the afterlife.
In his work, Thoughts on Death and Immortality, he argued against personal immortality.
Feuerbach is most famous for his assertion that the study of religion is really the study of anthropology (the study of man). According to him, religion reveals how humans project their ideals on an alleged God who really does not exist. Thus, religion teaches us more about humans than God. As a result, the study of religion is important, not because it teaches us about God and spiritual truths, but because it helps us understand the nature and essence of man. For example, the qualities of intelligence, power, goodness, and purity are all things that humans aspire to. But because humans have an idea of a perfect standard and understand that they themselves are less than perfect, they project these qualities upon an imaginary being(s). This projection, though, gives people an excuse for their imperfections since God is viewed as perfect and humans see themselves as frail and weak. This perspective, however, keeps people in bondage. Instead of trying to improve themselves, people passively accept their imperfections or merely rely on God’s grace to help them. Either way, people are not actively striving to better themselves.
For Feuerbach, the major thrust of philosophy should be to liberate people from the illusions of religion. He argued for the dissolution of Protestantism so that a more ideal democratic republican state could be established. Feuerbach’s ideas greatly influenced future anti-theist philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx.