Russell (1929). Why I Am Not a Christian.

Russell, B. (1929). Why I Am Not a Christian. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

[“WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?” …]

[“THE EXISTENCE OF GOD” …]

[“THE FIRST CAUSE ARGUMENT” …]

“If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God … The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination.” (p 7)

[“THE NATURAL LAW ARGUMENT” …]

“We now find that a great many things we thought were natural laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depths of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard.” (p 8)

“The laws of nature are of that sort as regards a great many of them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws of chance; and that makes this whole business of natural law much less impressive than it formerly was. … natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and, being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were you are then faced with the question, Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?” (p 9)

[“THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN” …]

“You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it.” (p 10)

“Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan, the Fascisti, and Mr. Winston Churchill? Really I am not much impressed with the people who say: ‘Look at me: I am such a splendid product that there must have been design in the universe.’ I am not very much impressed by the splendor of those people.” (p 11)

“Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out — at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation — it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.” (p 12)

[“THE MORAL ARGUMENTS FOR DEITY” …]

“I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God [page break] is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them.” (p 13-14)

[“THE ARGUMENT FOR THE REMEDYING OF INJUSTICE” …]

“Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason.” (p 15)

[“THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST” …]

“‘Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ That is not a new precept or a new principle. It was used by Lao-Tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ, but it is not a principle which as a matter of fact Christians accept.” (p 16)

“Then Christ says: ‘Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.’ … I cannot help observing that the last general election was fought on the question of how desirable it was to turn away from him that would borrow of thee, so that one must assume that the Liberals and Conservatives of this country are composed of people who do not agree with the teaching of Christ, because they certainly did very emphatically turn away on that occasion.” (p 17)

[“DEFECTS IN CHRIST’S TEACHING” …]

[“THE MORAL PROBLEM” …]

“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.” (p 19)

“I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.” (p 21)

[“THE EMOTIONAL FACTOR” …]

“They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it.” (p 22)

“That is the idea — that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burnt as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion.

“You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step towards the diminution of war, every step towards better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world.” (p 23)

[“HOW THE CHURCHES HAVE RETARDED PROGRESS” …]

“It is not a pleasant fact, but the churches compel one to mention facts that are not pleasant.” (p 24)

[“FEAR THE FOUNDATION OF RELIGION” …]

“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing—fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand. …
Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look round for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.” (p 25)

[“WHAT WE MUST DO” …]

“A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.” (p 26)

[“WHY I AM A RATIONALIST THE RATIONAL HABIT OF MIND IS A RARE ONE” …]

“I am, in this age when there are a great many appeals to unreason, an unrepentant Rationalist.” (p 27)

“We ought not to commit ourselves to dogmatic negations any more than to dogmatic affirmations; we ought merely to say that there are a great many propositions about which men and women feel pretty certain, but, concerning which they have no right to feel certain, and it is our business as Rationalists to try to make them see that those things are not certain. I am told that that is a very wicked position to maintain.” (p 28)

“I expect you know that in America men are still sent to prison for Atheism, not only in Fundamentalist States, but even in States of the East, and altogether there is in that part of the world an enormous need of propaganda on these matters.” (p 30)

“I think that any virtue that you may believe in should be one that you can support from the very first without appealing to anything that you do not yourself believe.” (p 31)

“I think that we ought to do all that we can to bring before the world the importance of the attitude that we are not going to believe a thing unless there is some reason to think that it is true.” (p 32)

 

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