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Workers’ Conception of Religion (1890)

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All whom I have hitherto described belonged to that group of my social-democratic fellow-workmen who were real enthusiasts and truth-seekers, men of noble natures and strong minds. With all their rejection of religion, with all their contempt for the Church, they were yet moderate in their criticism, decent in their expressions and at more or less pains to understand and be just to the standpoint of those who believed. But there existed a much larger class of equally sincere social democrats, rougher men, who had only scorn and laughter and blasphemy for the sacred things of our faith. They, too, used the catch-word, “Nature is God, God is Nature.” But they liked to vary it, and often in the most indecent manner. Such a company was gathered once in a drinking hall, when the conversation fell for a moment on religious subjects, bluntly designated at once as idiotic nonsense, one man exclaiming, “O what are you giving us? our God is a strict old woman!” A burst of laughter followed this witticism and closed the discussion. I need not set down all the wretched stuff of the kind that I overheard.

It was especially among the young people that one met with this way of thinking. With them, less than anywhere, was there any attempt to look at the matter seriously, or even impersonally. They had generally long since outgrown such things! One lad, a Thuringian, confounded Christianity with Anti-Semiticism, which he hated as ignoble and unjust, and which he declared, not without truth, to be the very opposite of real Christianity. People went to church and pulled long faces, but their lives weren’t a whit better than other men’s who didn’t pretend anything, and who were a good deal more above-board. I could only answer him as I had answered the first. He, too, was silenced; but he could not be induced to give up his equation, Christianity = Anti-Semiticism. It was, besides, no easy matter to keep the talk longer on such subjects. He frankly thought them not worth talking about, like many others who said so to my face. “Religion – there’s no more of that among working men,” said another young fellow, a Berliner by birth. He had been particularly overbearing in his manner to me in the beginning, when I gave him to understand what was my own attitude towards Christianity. Later on, however, I was a good deal with him, and found him, in spite of his Berlin airs, a quick-witted, strenuous little fellow, who really knew no better, and who gradually – the only one of them all – came to better and more earnest feelings for religion, through intercourse with me, without any attempt at conversion on my part; although I am bound to say he could hardly be called devout! I met him one Sunday afternoon and we went for a walk together, in the course of which he asked me casually what I had done in the morning. I had gone to church, I told him. “You idiot!” he said. I asked him why he thought so, and talked to him a little about the reasonableness of my religious convictions. To make a long story short, before I finally left Chemnitz he told me of his own notion one Saturday, that he should like to go to church with me on the following day. We accordingly went to church together, and he was quite well pleased. At last he made me a sort of confession of love: he wished he could always be in company like mine – it would make another man of him!

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