God or Freedom?
GOD OR FREEDOM?
(A speech delivered by Michael Bakunin at the Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom, at Berne, in 1868.)
It has been asserted that we are enemies of free opinion, because we combat all religious ideas; but this assertion is in every respect unfounded. We are the systematic and principled enemies of every authority, of every governing force; we even combat the authoritarian State idea, and we will never recognise any social organisation which is not founded on the freedom of the whole of mankind.
We love freedom so much that we respect the outlook and opinions of everyone, even if they are in direct antagonism to ours. Has not one of the speakers on this platform asserted that Christianity is the foundation of all morality? We have listened to him quietly, and the same tolerance we demand also for ourselves, so as to express our deepest conviction that not only Christianity, but every other religion, whatever its name, is the direct contradiction of all human morality.
We do not combat religion just as if it were a mere caprice of ours; no, we combat it in the name of morality, justice, and humanity, and we are convinced that these principles will never be realised in society as long as mankind will be influenced by religious Utopias and superstition.
This deep and true thought, that religion is in its whole character an enemy of all human morality, dignity, and justice, was not first proclaimed by us. The great thinkers of the past century had already developed it. This thought had already inspired the noblest spirits, the heroes and martyrs of the Renaissance, such men as Giordano Bruno, Vanini, Servetus, whom Calvin allowed to be burned alive at Geneva, and so many others who saw in the Christian darkness the light of the ancient Greek spirit, and who have unfurled the flag of Freedom and Humanity on the shattered towers of every God idea, of ail despotisms.
This morning I have found on the table of our ante room a prospectus which requests the delegates of our Congress to subscribe for a book which was written against the Popes. The motto on this work are the words of Ulrich von Hutten: "When mankind want to be free and happy, they must first of all destroy the chains of the Eoman tyranny and free themselves of their heavy yoke, which corrupted monks and priests have placed on their shoulders." Who, then, was this Ulrich von Hutten, the hero of the Reformation? Was he a religious individual? Did he destroy the chains of the Catholic Church in order to submit to the pious Protestant tyranny of a Luther, a Calvin, or a Melancthon? No; Hutten was an atheist, a friend and scholar of the atheists in Florence, where he became acquainted with the great teachings of the Humanists.
These great heroes of Freethought, all the famous liberators of mankind, who were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, burnt, or murdered in another way by the hangman, they all fell through the cruel tyranny of Kings and Popes, Church and State, But their ideas did not die. They were disguised under different names and forms, and advanced the gigantic work of the Humanists in the sixteenth century, and it was without doubt the learned and wise Erasmus of Rotterdam who was their most noted representative.
In the seventeenth century the spiritual direction was powerfully strengthened through the development of natural science. Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Gassendi, Bacon—the grandfather of modern Positivism—have built up the sciences on the foundation of reality, which sounded the death-knell of all metaphysical teachings, consequently also of religion. Out of the union of both these aspirations there has developed the great French philosophy of the eighteenth century.
This great eighteenth century, whose children we all are, and which inspires us even to-day with its powerful ideas, was really the most humane and atheistic century. It has acknowledged man and denied God. Their great spirits had comprehended that if there is a real desire to free mankind, break all its chains, and bring it happiness, dignity, and freedom, we must first of all destroy every religious Utopia, and all theological and metaphysical comprehensions, which have always been, since the dawn of human history, a means and a justification of all tyrants to demoralise, enslave, and exploit mankind. The philosophers of the eighteenth century were luckier than the great thinkers of the Renaissance. The time was ripe, and their energetic and passionate propaganda was the mother of the Revolution.
Shall I analyse here the causes which prevented the Great Revolution from developing all its aspirations! This would take us too far. I am content to mention the sentimentally terroristical, i.e., the religious teaching of Jean Jaques Rousseau, which was simply a hindrance to the general spiritual harmony of the eighteenth century, and which was supported by the inconsequent, brutal, and narrow-spirited Theism of Voltaire, who was of the opinion that for the people, the canaille, religion is an absolute necessity. I am
merely mentioning that this teaching had during the Revolution united the abstract culture of God with the abstract culture of the State. Both these metaphysical aspirations, which were embodied in the dark figure of Robespierre, the Calvin of the Revolution, had killed the Revolution.
After that there began the Dictatorship of the First Empire and the union with the Church, due to the principle of utilityuseful, it is understood, to the Despotism; then there came the Restoration with its Romanist decay and their representatives—the Chateaubriands, the Lamartines, and the Schlegels; and lastly, the speculative philosophy of the Germans, which, under the name of Eclecticism, has become a State institution in France.
These are the deep causes of the present situation, from which it is so difficult to escape. But if we really want to save ourselves, we must openly and freely unfurl the flag of the Renaissance and of the Great Revolution, on which is written "The Revolt of Man against the Yoke of the Gods."
Let us, then, have the courage to declare openly and freely that the existence of a God does not allow the union of happiness, dignity, reason, and freedom of mankind. If God exists, then is my reason, strong as it is, my will, with all its energy, as nothing compared with the Godly will and the Godly reason. My truth is to him a lie; my will becomes powerless; my liberty and my rebellion mean sinning against him. It is he or I. If God exists, theu must I disappear; and when he is so gracious as to send his prophets to make his truth known to me, which my reason cannot comprehend; when he sends priests to guide my thoughts, who are themselves incapable of differentiating between good and evil; when he sends anointed kings to govern me, then must I submit to his will with a slavish obedience. Whoever wants God desires also the enslavement of humanity; either God and the enslavement of mankind, or human liberty and the annihilation of every God idea! There is no third way! The decision rests with you.
This deep truth, which many greatly fear to proclaim openly, this truth, that the existence of a God does not allow the union of human liberty and reason with the individual and social morality of mankind, is acknowledged by many delegates of our Congress who for various reasons vote with the majority, to whom we are opposed. Has not a member of the moderate section declared plainly that the development of the positive sciences must unconditionally call for the gradual annihilation of all religious dogmas; and therefore education is the best means for the spiritual, political, moral, and social emancipation of the masses?
We, too, are supporters of a good and general education. We are also of the opinion that all the sciences with the highest and most profound phenomena must become the spiritual property of the people. But in order that the people may be able to learn, they must first of all have the leisure and possibilities to study; they must be able to keep their children during the time of their studies. But this in itself demands the need for a radical change in the present economic organisation of society.
And this is not all. The partisans of a peaceful revolution, all these freethinking associations, who have led themselves to believe that only through instruction, the spoken and written propaganda, will they succeed in annihilating the power of religious superstition, they all make the greatest mistake. Religion is not only a spiritual obscuration of the mind, but it is also at the same time a passionate and constant protest of all human sentiments and inner aspirations against the narrowness and poverty of daily existence. The human imagination creates an artistic world, and there is planted its whole longings, all the hopes and ideals of mankind. Men have made richer the heavens because they have through that impoverished the earth. Thus was religion brought into existence, and it will be omnipotent on the earth as long as it dominates ignorance and injustice. Let us finally create justice and give to the earth that which belongs to it, namely, happiness and brotherhood! Let us destroy all institutions of injustice and tyranny, and establish a world of brotherly love, that is, a world where the equal rights of all are founded on the equal solidarity of all, where freedom will be the product of equality, and religion will no longer find a foundation in human society.
But in order to destroy religion and all godly reflections in the human imagination, which keep us enslaved and poverty-stricken, spiritual enlightenment is not sufficient—a Social Revolution is necessary!