In Silas Marner George Eliot doesn’t specifically state that religion is bad or dangerous nor does she say that one shouldn’t be religious. Instead, she presents certain aspects of religion that she believes are prone to creating uncertainty and confusion. She then allows readers to make up their own mind. One of her major concerns is the way people believe in God; she doesn’t deny the existence of God, but she says that even if he does exist, he does not interfere, so focusing on signs and symbols from God is dangerous because it detracts from the human aspects of life. Silas Marner states that how one treats others is more important than the religion one follows or if one believes in God.
Eliot directly questions the purpose of organized religion, but is less emphatic in questioning God, and tends to not refer directly to God (both literally and figuratively as the word “God” appears twenty-four times throughout the entire book, and most of these are general expressions.) Thus, the book is an impartial observer of the way religion is practiced and the way God is evidenced in the popular beliefs rather than a direct attack on the validity of religion and the concept of God. Eliot is very careful to never attack the existence of God, so even when Silas feels betrayed, he keeps his faith in the existence of God, but he believes that “there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies.” Silas gains a “shaken trust in God” which quickly assures that the existence of God is never questioned by Marner or any other inhabitant of Raveloe or Lantern Yard. This allows Eliot to focus on the way characters believe in God through the practice of religion rather than the deeper theological issue of the existence of God.
Eliot observes that even within Christianity the interpretations of God are very different. She states that Marner “was quite unable, by means of anything he heard or saw, to identify the Raveloe religion with his old faith,” but even within Raveloe, Eliot illustrates different modes of belief: one a God of precise laws and moral absolutes and another impersonal, parental God. These beliefs coexist within Raveloe because the focus of the community is not on how religious one is — “to go to church every Sunday in the calendar would have shown a greedy desire to stand well with Heaven” — but on how one behaves.
Within Raveloe, the popular interpretation of God is of the impersonal yet parental God — an interpretation very different from Lantern Yard’s belief in an active God. Alongside their belief in a Christian God, Raveloe’s beliefs incorporate some elements of paganism such as the belief in and desire for charms. Even with a faith in God, these people want a little extra assurance that things will be better for them, and they are willing to look away from Christianity and God to find it. Eliot uses these folk beliefs to demonstrate that the inhabitants of Raveloe are not entirely convinced of God’s manipulation of events and they do not share Lantern Yard’s belief that God is active in their lives, so even though the inhabitants of Raveloe trust in charms, they would never have drawn lots to determine a person’s guilt because Raveloe’s God as an almost deistic god who creates and judges, but one who is not actively involved in day-to-day matters. God to Dolly is not entirely Deistic because she allows that he may have guided Marner to Raveloe to care for Eppie, but she and the other lay members of the community are not concerned with God or religion beyond a secondary experience.
Eliot seems to suggest that this view is the correct view of religion because she warns against placing too much faith in God as do the inhabitants of Lantern Yard. She argues that once one places too much faith in God, God is in a position to be blamed for any negative event in one’s life rather than focusing on human causes. Silas Marner was betrayed by his friend; however, the lots and God decided for the community that he was guilty, so Marner believes he was betrayed by both his God and his friend because he was assured that God would reveal the truth (he even declares “God will clear me” three times.) Had the lots turned the other way, his faith would have remained, but Marner is placed in a position where his faith in God is destroyed because of the Lantern Yard belief that God is responsible for all actions. Marner eventually regains his faith in God saying to Eppie that he believes that “God was good to me” in delivering her to him, but he never fully regains a personal belief and faith in God. God remains on the outside of his life because Marner can never fully trust in him again.
Eliot warns that focusing too much on God can retard a person’s life and places one at a disadvantage in this world. The negative effects of this are demonstrated by the inhabitants of Lantern Yard’s quick belief in Marner’s guilt and their inability to see that William Dane had manipulated events. The negative traits of this are contrasted with the positive aspects of life in Raveloe where the community gathers at the Rainbow and interacts with each other rather than just with God.