On ‘honest but timid souls’

‘The Friend speaks my mind’ – 19th-century political revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin on God, authority-lovers, and a group that sounds a lot (to my jaded ears) like liberal Quakers, in a memorable, withering passage:

bakunin expressionist.GIF

There exists, finally, a somewhat numerous class of honest but timid souls who, too intelligent to take the Christian dogmas seriously, reject them in detail, but have neither the courage nor the strength nor the necessary resolution to summarily renounce them altogether.

They abandon to your criticism all the special absurdities of religion, they turn up their noses at all the miracles, but they cling desperately to the principal absurdity; the source of all the others, to the miracle that explains and justifies all the other miracles, the existence of God.

Their God is not the vigorous and powerful being, the brutally positive God of theology. It is a nebulous, diaphanous, illusory being that vanishes into nothing at the first attempt to grasp it; it is a mirage, an ignis fatuus that neither warms nor illuminates.

And yet they hold fast to it, and believe that, were it to disappear, all would disappear with it.

They are uncertain, sickly souls, who have lost their reckoning in the present civilization, belonging to neither the present nor the future, pale phantoms eternally suspended between heaven and earth, and occupying exactly the same position between the politics of the bourgeois and the socialism of the proletariat. They have neither the power nor the wish nor the determination to follow out their thought, and they waste their time and pains in constantly endeavouring to reconcile the irreconcilable. (from God and the state)

(Reflections on this later perhaps.)

2 Responses to “On ‘honest but timid souls’”


  1. 1 Amanda Aug 19th, 2006

    Sickly soul, checking in, but unsure what to do about it.

  2. 2 Zach Aug 26th, 2006

    Amanda!

    I was going to object “No, he (slash I) never said ’sickly!’”, but then I realized, yup, he did… :-/

    Yes, as you said on the other post, we should talk about this sometime, and over a beer would be even better. As I may or may not get around to clearly spelling out in a post one of these days, I don’t think nontheism necessarily is a very big change from… oh bother, we’ll just talk in person.

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  • So his initial message was always the same: give up your dependence on doctrines, rituals, preachers and everything else that is external to you, and find the light within you because that will teach you all you need to know. And you already know what the light is, because it's that that makes you uncomfortable about the things you do wrong. So take note of those uncomfortable feelings, and let 'the light in your conscience' show you what they're all about it. If you allow it to, the light will show you the whole truth of your life, and if you then accept that truth, it will set you free – free from guilt and shame, but also free from the powerful desires that made you act wrongly in the first place.

    Rex Ambler,
    Light to Live By p. 7


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