Being good without God
October 9, 2012
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A reader notes this piece from Salon, on what George Eliot can teach us about being good without God.
Though convinced that there was no divine authority, Eliot did not believe that we could not therefore find and follow moral imperatives. Instead, she sought them in secular, rather than sacred, texts, and appealed to logic, philosophy, and her own conscience rather than to God. A dedicated student of German philosophy, she was influenced particularly by Ludwig Feuerbach in her recasting of so-called “Christian” values as humanistic ones. In his 1841 book Das Wesen des Christentums (which Eliot translated as The Essence of Christianity twelve years later), Feuerbach argued that “God” is not an external being but a projection of our own best qualities. Thus, in worshipping God people are, in effect, worshipping themselves: everything they credit to supernatural forces is really the result of the human capacity for generosity, sympathy, and love (on the side of virtue), and for egotism, hatred, and cruelty (on the side of vice).