Russellin’ Match

Having casually discarded the First Mover, Natural Law and Design arguments for the existence of God, our friend Bertrand “Bertie” Russell moves on to the more human, moral arguments. These he sees as being “one stage further in what I shall call the intellectual descent that the Theists have made in their argumentations” — that is, from rigorous (if wrong) logic-based attempts to desperate appeals to emotion.

Pause button.

It’s interesting to see the flippant way Russell discards these arguments. They seem to him so obviously wrong as barely to be worth his time. Theists must either be stupid (most of them) or (as he says of Immanuel Kant) mommy-whipped in that “he believed implicitly in the maxims that he had imbibed at his mother’s knee.” One word: immature.

Bottom line: “What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it.” And also “… the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you.” In other words, believers are big babies.

One other peanut gallery: Like Dawkins and Harris and the others today, Russell didn’t bother to respect the nuances of theology which, on its surface, makes absurd-sounding statements. But for millennia people who talk about God have recognized it’s a topic that does not reduce itself to words — that, in fact, may be impossible to define. Overt absurdities (like the Three-Gods-in-One of the Trinity) may themselves contain a deeper truth. Chatter like this is theology, and it drives logicians like Russell right into a trench.

Press play.

(2) Moral Arguments – Some claim that the innate sense we have there is right and wrong proves the existence of God. (C.S. Lewis says something like this in “Mere Christianity.”) Not quite, Russell says. God is good, so his “fiats are good and not bad,” so any fiat of right and wrong must come from something other than God.

Here Russell has stepped into tired waters that trickle back at least to the Book of Job. Theodicy: If God is good, how can bad exist? Tough question. God at his most vulnerable, driving even Rock Star Theologian Bart Ehrman into the arms of agnosticism.

Next, Russell takes on the belief that “Christ was the best and the wisest of men.” Here he’s moved from arguing against belief in God to explaining why he is not a Christian. It’s a personal issue, but he makes some very bold assertions.

First, he says: “Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about him.” This statement is not reasonable.

Next, he makes Albert Schweitzer’s point that Jesus the man was probably an apocalypticist who thought the world would end soon and was wrong. This is a clever objection I’d never encountered before: If Jesus was wrong about this fact, how smart could he be?

Russell also doesn’t think much of Jesus as a moral person. He betrayed a “vindictive fury.” He planned to separate the sheep from the goats. He was unkind to the Gadarene swine and the fig tree.

So much for Jesus. The Church itself is beneath Russell’s contempt, responsible for “every kind of cruelty,” including the most cruel act of all: retarding progress.

In the end, says Russell, we need to “stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world.” Religion, after all, is just fake “allies in the sky” and “a conception quite unworthy of free men.”

He rejoices: “I find myself quite unable to discern any purpose in the universe.”


2 responses to “Russellin’ Match

  1. Great quotes! The last is my favorite.

  2. that guy Russell was the real thing — very quotable! he has a whole thing I didn’t mention on how he actually respects Jesus more than Christians do because he’s a true Pacificist (he was anti-WWI) … smart dude

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