Adam Bede

The "Aye" of George Eliot's Adam Bede: Christian Ethics Without God

The greatest recent event -- that "God is dead," that the belief in the Christian God has ceased to be believable -- is... cast[ing] its shadows over Europe. For the few, at lease, whose eyes....are strong and sensitive enough for this spectacle... What must collapse now that this belief has been undermined... [is] our whole European morality.

--Nietzsche, from The Gay Science: Book V (1887)

Dr. Richard Niebuhr writes, in his introduction to Eliot's translation of Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity, that Eliot "sought to retain the ethos of Christianity without its faith, its humanism without its theism." In her first full novel, Adam Bede, Eliot succeeds at doing this. By replacing God's all-seeing eye with a plethora of human eyes, Eliot depicts characters in the close-knit community of Hayslope who don't need God to be good Christians, who can hold their standards without their faith.

Eliot begins with the simplistically Christian notion that God can see everything. Adam, our title hero, sings a tune in chapter one that refers to "God's all-seeing eye," (Eliot 24). Meanwhile, Bessy, a local Hayslope country girl, feels that "Jesus [is] close by looking at her, though...

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