Why I Am Not A Christian
by Bertrand Russell, 1957
Review is copyright © 2017 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.
What I Liked Least About It
What I Liked Most About It
“The question of the truth of a religion is one thing, but the question of its usefulness is another. I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue.”I also enjoyed some of his assumptions about the future of society, some more fantastical than others. I was pleasantly surprised at his feminism and his advanced views on several topics including penal reform, sex education, reproduction, pacifism, and anti-nationalism.
—Preface, pg. vi, 1957
“I merely wish to suggest that we should treat the criminal as we treat a man suffering from plague. Each is a public danger, each must have his liberty curtailed until he has ceased to be a danger. But the man suffering from plague is an object of sympathy and commiseration, whereas the criminal is an object of execration. This is quite irrational. And it is because of this difference of attitude that our prisons are so much less successful in curing criminal tendencies than our hospitals are in curing disease.”
—“What I Believe”, pg. 72, 1925
“For my part, while I am quite convinced that companionate marriage would be a step in the right direction and would do a great deal of good, I do not think that it goes far enough. I think that all sex relations which do not involve children should be regarded as a purely private affair, and that if a man and a woman choose to live together without having children, that should be no one’s business but their own.”Imagine a professor today being fired for holding such a view.
—Marriage And Morals, 1929
“The principle of liberal democracy, which inspired the founders of the American Constitution, was that controversial questions should be decided by argument rather than by force. Liberals have always held that opinions should be formed by untrammeled debate, not by allowing only one side to be heard. Tyrannical governments, both ancient and modern, have taken the opposite view... The fundamental difference between the liberal and the illiberal outlook is that the former regards all questions as open to discussion and all opinions as open to a greater or less measure of doubt, while the latter holds in advance that certain opinions are absolutely unquestionable, and that no argument against them must be allowed to be heard...
“Uniformity in the opinions expressed by teachers is not only not to be sought but is, if possible, to be avoided, since diversity of opinion among preceptors is essential to any sound education. No man can pass as educated who had heard only one side on questions as to which the public is divided.”
—“Freedom And The Colleges”, pg. 183 and 184, 1940
“There has been a rumor in recent years to the effect that I have become less opposed to religious orthodoxy than I formerly was. This rumor is totally without foundation. I think all the great religions of the world — Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Communism — both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true.”
—Preface, pg. v, 1957
“Apart from logical cogency, there is to me something a little odd about the ethical valuations of those who think that an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent Deity, after preparing the ground by many millions of years of lifeless nebulae, would consider himself adequately rewarded by the final emergence of Hitler and Stalin and the H-bomb.”
—Preface, pg. vi, 1957
“We are sometimes told that only fanaticism can make a social group effective. I think this is totally contrary to the lessons of history. But, in any case, only those who slavishly worship success can think that effectiveness is admirable without regard to what is effected. For my part, I think it better to do a little good than to do much harm.”
—Preface, pg. vii, 1957
“I do not think there can be any defense for the view that knowledge is ever undesirable. I should not put barriers in the way of the acquisition of knowledge by anybody at any age... A person is much less likely to act wisely when he is ignorant than when he is instructed...”
—“Has Religion Made Useful Contributions To Civilization?”, pg. 28, 1930
“It is clear that the fundamental doctrines of Christianity demand a great deal of ethical perversion before they can be accepted.”
—“Has Religion Made Useful Contributions To Civilization?”, pg. 29, 1930
“No man who believes that all is for the best in this suffering world can keep his ethical values unimpaired, since he is always having to find excuses for pain and misery.”
—“Has Religion Made Useful Contributions To Civilization?”, pg. 30, 1930
“God and immortality, the central dogmas of the Christian religion, find no support in science... No doubt people will continue to entertain these beliefs, because they are pleasant, just as it is pleasant to think ourselves virtuous and our enemies wicked. But for my part I cannot see any ground for either... They lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them.”
—“What I Believe”, pg. 50-51, 1925
“Sometimes the Divine commands have been curiously interpreted. For example, we are told not to work on Saturdays, and Protestants take this to mean that we are not to play on Sundays. But the same sublime authority is attributed to the new prohibition as to the old.”
—“What I Believe”, pg. 65, 1925
“It is only when we think abstractly that we have such a high opinion of man. Of men in the concrete, most of us think the vast majority very bad. Civilized states spend more than half their revenue on killing each other’s citizens. Consider the long history of the activities inspired by moral fervor: human sacrifices, persecutions of heretics, witch-hunts, pogroms leading up to wholesale extermination by poison gases... Are these abominations, and the ethical doctrines by which they are prompted, really evidence of an intelligent Creator?... The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. For my part, I find accident a less painful and more plausible hypothesis.”
—“What I Believe”, pg. 93, 1925
“[I]f the state is to acquire such immense powers it is imperative that the state should become enlightened. It will not do this of itself; it will do it only when the majority of the population has ceased to insist upon the preservation of ancient superstitions.”I dog-eared many more pages than this, finding useful quotations everywhere, but won’t list them all here to keep with my practice of “short” reviews.
—“The New Generation”, pg. 165, 1930