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BOOK REVIEW - Honorť De Balzacís The Atheistís Mass Ė 1838 Penguin Classics

 

Beautifully written satirical but poignant little parable in a convenient short story presentation. Balzac was an atheist himself, who often proved highly critical of religious sensibilities. In the Atheistís Mass the hero, Desplain, a wealthy French Surgeon and a socially notorious outspoken atheist is spotted sneaking into a church every now and then by his inquisitive valet, who sees him actually saying what to all intents and purposes look like prayers. Suspecting hypocrisy and deception on the grand scale, the servant follows his master, and eventually confronts his master and discovers the truth. Desplain has not abandoned his principles at all. Though he remained an ardent practicing atheist, and true to his Humanism, he was going to mass as a promise to his ailing father who had lived Ďthe simple faith of a charcoal burnerí. The father had never criticised or condemned Despainís atheism, but Desplain had made sure that his Father did have a mass said for him every day, knowing that the simple man took comfort in a faith Desplain despaired of. Upon his fatherís death, Desplain realised how indebted he was to his only benefactor, his father. He decided to reward the good man the only way he would probably accept it, by having a mass said for him specially four times a year, at his favourite church. It would take a supreme act of Humanism to say prayers and attend masses in a faith you donít believe, and here it is done from love of a good father. The story shows that non-believers are as capable of goodness and moral decision making as anyone who has a strong religious foundation for their sense of right and wrong. Wonderful stuff. Various e-book versions of the full text are available online. http://www.ronaldbrucemeyer.com/rants/0520b-almanac.htm

 

Arthur Chappell

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