Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (1927)
● DEFINITION OF CHRISTIANITY
● One: Belief in God
○ No specific idea of what God is like?
● Two: Belief in immortality
○ If one does not believe in life after death one is not a Christian?
● Three: Belief in Christ as the best and wisest of men
○ Needn’t believe he was divine?
● Doesn’t require a belief in Hell
● Russell rejects all three
● CRITIQUE OF ARGUMENTS FOR GOD’S EXISTENCE
● 1st cause argument (Cosmological argument)
○ Positing God as cause of the world doesn’t help, as who caused God?
○ World could have always existed
○ No reason why world couldn’t have come into existence without a cause
○ You should be able to give Richard Taylor’s response to each of these objections
● Design argument
○ Argument that world must have been designed to suit living beings is undermined by the realization that living beings adapted to the world and that is why the world seems such a nice fit for living beings
○ Not likely a good and all powerful being would have designed a world with all the defects of our world (this is a version of the problem of evil)
● Moral arguments
○ Divine command theory of right and wrong: Right is what God commands and wrong is what God forbids
- If what is right is right because God commanded it then we can’t praise God for his commands and such commands are arbitrary (lacking a good reason)
- If God commands something because it is already right, then right and wrong are independent of God
○ Argument for remedying injustice: Sometimes, in this world, the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer and so we need to suppose a God who will bring justice into this world
- But why assume the world must be just?
- Given that the world we know if filled with injustice, why assume the rest of reality is any different?
● WHY CHRIST IS NOT THE BEST AND WISEST OF MEN
● Not the wisest, because he predicted the second coming and it hasn’t happened
● Not the best of men
○ Christ had a good deal of moral excellence and perfection, such as:
- Turn the other cheek, judge not lest one be judged, and if one wants to be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor (he criticizes Christians for not liking or living up to these teachings)
○ But was not the best or most perfect person
○ Socrates or Buddha were better men.
● Objections to Christ’s moral views
○ (1) Christ believed in and threatened hellfire and eternal damnation
- This has caused unspeakable misery in those who believed they have sinned
- A truly good person would not put such fears and terror into the world
- Any profoundly humane person wouldn’t believe in everlasting punishment
- Hell-fire as a punishment for sin is a doctrine of cruelty and it has brought cruelty into the world
○ (2) Christ’s vindictive fury against disbelievers and those who would not listen to him detracts from his excellence
■ Socrates, for example, had a different attitude
- “Only way to God is through me”
- If you don’t believe in me you will go to Hell
● HAS RELIGION BEEN A POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE FORCE IN HUMAN HISTORY?
○ Don’t attack religion; it makes people virtuous and w/o it, they’d be evil.
- Is this true? Are atheists any more likely to be immoral than other people?
○ Think of the charitable contribution of Churches and religious people
● Negative (Russell’s view)
○ Religion is the source of much evil in the world
○ The stronger the religious fervor, the worse the situation
○ Consider the inquisition (Church persecuting heretics), witch burnings (millions of women)
○ Organized churches have been a principle impediment to human progress (support for Nazis, Southern churches support for segregation)
○ God’s will and human good not the same
- Religious based morals not tied to human happiness
■ Sex is bad; perpetuates fear, shame
- Prohibition of contraception and affects on world population are bad
● WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE?
● Brainwashed in infancy
● Fear/terror of meaningless, death, the unknown
○ That the universe will eventually die out
● Need for safety and comfort (a big brother looking out for you)
● RUSSELL’S ALTERNATIVE (RATIONAL HUMANISM)
● Virtuous person is not a religious person,
○ Unworthy of free and rational people
○ Debasing, not worthy of self-respecting people
○ Slavishly subdued by terror
○ Fetters human intelligence using ancient words of ignorant people
○ Belief in God a crutch
● Instead look to human intelligence and science
- “To conquer the world”
○ Look to our own efforts to improve the world
○ Need a fearless outlook
○ Faith in human intelligence
● Does such a humanism manifest an undue faith in humans?
● As if we are so great we can solve all our problems?
○ A kind of hubris? Arrogance?