I enjoyed reading the brutal honesty of Walter Kaufmann piece below. The word “heretic” has always been an emboldening term that catches my fancy. One thinks of those many heretics of old who were skewered by the oh-so righteous religious superiors. Pathetic in the brutality, shamefull in its actuality.

Had I lived in ‘those times’ I surely would have been put to death, condemned as a heretic. Maybe I was in a former life.

Walter Kaufmann

When I was eleven, I asked my father: “What really is the Holy Ghost?” The articles of faith taught us in school in Berlin, Germany, affirmed belief in God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost, and I explained to my father: “I don’t believe that Jesus was God, and if I can’t believe in the Holy Ghost either, then I am really not a Christian.”

At twelve, I formally left the Protestant church to become a Jew. Having never heard of Unitarianism, I assumed that the religion for people who believed in God, but not in Christ or the Holy Ghost, was Judaism.

A few months after my conversation with my father, but before I left the church, Hitler came to power, Warned of the persecution that my decision might entail, I replied that one certainly could not change one’s mind for a reason like that. I did not realize until a little later that all four of my grandparents had been Jewish; and none of us knew that this, and not one’s own religion, would be decisive from the Nazis’ point of view. My decision had been made independently of my descent and of Nazism, on religious grounds…

…I do not believe in any afterlife any more than the prophets did, but I don’t mind living in a world in which people have different beliefs. Diversity helps to prevent stagnation and smugness; and a teacher should acquaint his students with diversity and prize careful criticism far above agreement. His noblest duty is to lead others to think for themselves.

Oddly, millions believe that lack of belief in God, Christ, and Hell leads to inhumanity and cruelty, while those who have these beliefs have a monopoly on charity–and that people like myself will pay for their lack of belief by suffering in all eternity. I do not believe that anybody will suffer after death nor do I wish it.

Some scientists tell us that in our own galaxy alone there are probably hundreds of thousands of planets with living beings on them, more or less like those On the earth, and that there are about 100 million galaxies within the range of our telescopes. Man seems to play a very insignificant part in the universe, and my part is surely negligible. The question confronting me is not, except perhaps in idle moments, what part might be more amusing, but what I wish to make of my part. And what I want to do and would advise others to do is to make the most of it: put into it all you have got, and live and, if possible, die with some measure of nobility.


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