Though personally I am (notoriously, in some circles) a radical neo-christian, a “regular thoroughgoing heretic” much on the same model as William B. Greene, I’m a equal-opportunity historian and translator, and certainly enjoy a well-written freethought piece. After all, the institutions of Christendom seem to have trouble keeping their own basic doctrines straight, and pretty much beg for a good rebuttal. This short piece by Multatuli (Eduard Douwes Dekker, 1820-1887) is a translation of a French translation of a posthumously published letter, but I think the sense comes through loud and clear.
THE PRAYER OF AN IGNORAMUS
I don’t know if we have been created with a specific aim, or if we are here by chance.
Neither do we know if there is a God or Gods who takes pleasure in our anguishes and murmurs against the imperfections of our existence. If that was the case, it would be horrible.
Whose fault is it if the weak are weak, the sick are sick, and the stupid are stupid?
If we are made with an aim, and yet, by our imperfection, we cannot reach it, then the blame does not fall on us, the creatures, but on the creator!
Call him Zeus or Jupiter, Jehovah, Baal, or Djou, it matters not. But if he exists, he must be good and he must also pardon us for not understanding him.
It was up to him to reveal himself, and he has not done it.
If he had done it, he would have done it in a manner that no one could doubt, and everyone would have said: I feel, know it and understand it.
What others claim to know of this God does not serve me at all. For myself, I do not understand! I ask why he has revealed himself to others and not to me?
Is one child more favored by the father than the other?
As long as this God is not known to the sons of men, it is a calumny to believe in this God.
The child who appeals to his father in vain does no evil; but the father who allows his child to ask in vain acts cruelly. And it is better to believe that there is no father, than to believe that he would be deaf to the voice of his child.
Perhaps one day we will be wiser; perhaps one day we will sense that he exists, that he observed us and that his silence had cause and reason.
Well, as soon as we know it, it will be time to give praise, but not sooner, not now.
It would displease God to see that we adore him without reason, and it is folly to try to illuminate the dark ignorance of today by a light that does not yet shine.
To serve him?
If he had desired that we serve him, he would have revealed to us the way.
And it is absurd that he awaits adoration and praise from men when he leaves us in darkness.
If we do not serve him according to his desires, then it is his fault; his fault and not our own.
Until we are wiser, I ask: “Are good and evil identical?”
I do not understand what can serve a God to distinguish good from evil; au contraire! He that does good so that God will reward him is selfish, and, therefore, just does good for a bad reason. He makes a trade of it. He who acts mean from fear of the disfavor of this God, is a coward!
Oh! My God, I do not know you!
I invoked you, sought you, and begged you to respond to me, and you have stubbornly kept to yourself!
I would love to conform myself to your will, not from fear of being punished, not in the hope of being rewarded, but as the child conforms himself to the will of his father solely from love!
You have kept your silence, always silence. I always wander and I ardently desire the hour when I will know that you dpo indeed exist.
So I will demand: Father, why have you only know shown to your child that he possesses a father, and that he is not alone in the midst of the fighting, in the harsh combat for humanity and justice!
Or were you certain that I would do your will without knowing you?
That not knowing of your existence, I would serve you as you wished to be served?
Is this true
Answer, father. If you are there, answer! Do not leave your child to despair! Father do not remain deaf to the bloody lama sabacthani.
It is thus that the innocent moans on the cross that he has chose himself, it is thus that he writhes in pain and laments his thirst, the thirst for truth!
The wise man, the one who has the knowledge of God, mocks the fool, holds out to him the sponge soaked in venom and says:
“Listen, he calls his father!”
And hisses between his teeth:
“I thank thee, O Lord, I’m not like that one!”
And he intones: “Happy the one who, from his early years, was kept from the counsels of the wicked, who flees the sinners’ way!”
And the sage sneaks off to the Bourse to stock-job.
And the father is silent.
Oh! God! There is no God!
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 3/18/2012]