Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 (4):pp. 595-617 (2009)
According to a popular view, shared by the great atheists of the nineteenth century and by students in introductory courses on the philosophy of religion, religious belief is, at best, an edifying fiction. Given that it has apparently lost the ability to edify large sections of the population , it has also lost its only real claim to credibility. Following Hegel’s famous account of the “unhappy consciousness” in the Phenomenology of Spirit, Feuerbach and his successors diagnose religion as a symptom of “alienation.” Human beings have a tendency to compensate for their own shortcomings, and those of the harsh environment they inhabit, by projecting an image of human perfection and endowing this projected image with a life of its own, thereby impeding our ability to make up for these shortcomings by our own efforts. But, so the story goes, modern intellectuals have pierced through the veil erected by human psychology, economics, and religious institutions and have seen the ideas of God, heaven, and the like for what they really are—illusions that, at best, edify the weak-minded, and, at worst, perpetuate intellectual and material bondage. Call this view atheistic fictionalism. According to the received wisdom, J. G. Fichte should occupy a prominent place in any account of the pedigree of atheistic fictionalism. On the received view, Fichte is a sort of extreme subjectivist or solipsist. So one is not surprised to learn that this Fichte was accused of atheism in 1798, and forced to relinquish his chair at Jena the following year, entering the pantheon of persecuted freethinkers alongside Giordano Bruno, Galileo, and Spinoza
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