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Workers’ Conception of Religion (1890)

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But the foreman and H. began to laugh.

“Soul! There’s no such thing. There’s a brain, a nervous system that does its work like a machine. Its work, or the results of its work, people to-day call ‘soul.’”

“Who has proved that?” I said. “That’s only an assumption, an hypothesis not in the least different, in short, from mine. Besides, I have reasons for mine. Take a trumpet, for example, and blow in it; you get a tone. But the tone is something quite apart from the trumpet; and it is so, or at least so it may be, with the brain and the soul. One is the organ, the other is the content (Inhalt) of the organ.”

H. hesitated a moment, smiled scornfully, and said, very pertinently, to my assertions at the beginning of this chapter:

“I see! you are all for orthodoxy and the Bible. But the whole of modern science is against them.”

“Yes and no,” I replied. “And it is neither a man’s disgrace nor his misfortune, but the reverse, if he still values the Bible.”

“You only get laughed at for it. If you were to say to an educated man what you have said to me, he would just ask what you were, and when he heard ‘only a workman,’ he would simply laugh at you, and understand why you were such a fool.”

Here a fourth joined in the conversation, who, with a worker at the drill-press, had come up to us in the meantime, a manual worker, of whose ideas about religion I must say something, whose hopelessness and doubt were as great as his longing for faith. He began:

“Yesterday we were packing one of those iron coffins the factory sells now and then out of the old stock. There were three of us at it. We began to argue whether there was any future life. Both the others were positive there wasn’t any, so was the superintendent, who came along and began to talk. He said they were right, that a man is like a lighted cigar; it goes out, and the rest is ashes. Were they right or not? Shall we see each other again or not?”

“Yes, indeed, in Buxtehude,” laughed H.

“But why do the parsons teach us about it, then?”

“So that men may stay nice and poor, and nice and contented,” said he who had spoken of the miracle at Cana; and the foreman added, approvingly:

“Man is a beast of prey; yes, worse. A beast of prey only wants to be full; man wants more than that. If it weren’t for the little religion there is in the world, we should have a lot of dead men to put away every morning.”

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