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Workers’ Conception of Religion (1890)

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It was the widespread conviction in the factory that the Church, handed down from past ages, inwardly corrupt and dead, is to-day nothing but a very desirable and powerful police system of the existing State, which zealously and skillfully keeps it from falling into ruins.

Finally, after a long discussion, we came to Darwin and his theory of the descent of man from monkeys. The hand-worker and the foreman upheld it; S. was opposed to it; H. had nothing whatever to say. S. thought it was impossible, because we have our reason, which separates us absolutely from the brute creation, monkeys and all.

“That’s so,” said the hand-worker; “but I believe it, in spite of that. What is there else to believe? Anyhow, I can’t swallow the Bible story that man is made of clay.”

When the group finally broke up, the hand-worker stayed behind with me, and began to talk, as he often did when we were together, about death and immortality. He had lost a daughter, a girl half-grown, a short time before, and the longing to see her again left him no peace. He wanted to hear over and over again what I believed and how I felt; and over and over again, when I had given him my best thought, and poured out for him my inmost feeling, he would shake his head and sigh.

“Ah, if we could only believe! But we must have certainty – absolute certainty.”

Even this poor heart had no comprehension of a certainty which is not based on sight and hearing, taste and touch.

Another time, one mechanic had sent me on an errand to another.

“Not ready yet; will be ready to-morrow unless the devil gets me first,” was the gruff answer to my request.

“There’s no devil,” interposed a workman near at hand.

“But there is sin,” I said.

“Nonsense! That’s a contradiction in terms,” the first one retorted. “Where there’s no devil, there’s no sin. Do you still believe the stuff they taught us at school?”

Generally speaking, and the characteristic is a new one, there is no longer the slightest consciousness of guilt or sin; not even among those who are still wavering and struggling with religious doubts, in the very crisis of their development.

Source of English translation: Paul Göhre, Three Months in a Workshop. A Practical Study. New York: Arno, 1972, pp. 164-71.

Source of German original: Paul Göhre, Drei Monate Fabrikarbeiter und Handwerksbursche. Eine praktische Studie. Leipzig: Grunow, 1891, pp. 164-72.

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