By Bertrand Russell
Lord (and Dr.) Bertrand Russell, a recipient of Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1950 for his short stories, a renowned mathematician, is considered by many to have been “the world’s most eminent philosopher of the 20th Century”. He devoted most of his years to writing, lecturing and teaching philosophy, including many years at universities in the U.S. Born a Brit, the grandson of a British Prime Minister, he believed in Judeo-Christian ethics and was deeply committed to living a loving life (making him a Christian in the eyes of many), but he rejected the infallibility of any scriptures, Christ as God, the miracles, the virgin birth, the resurrection and ascension, and, most of all, the dogmas of any faith, which explains his proclamation that he was “not a Christian”.
His essays on ethics convince and his History of Western Philosophy remains a popular reference-work. Ironically, he is also remembered for “The Bertrand Russell Case” (a 50-page summary of which is appended to WNC), wherein, after vitriolic debates in the press, a U.S. court ruled that he was “unfit to teach philosophy” and assume that Chair at the College of the City of New York, citing especially his atheisim. That ruling remains among the blackest marks on the American judicial system: a rejection of freedom of speech and to openness to contrary opinion, and of patent scientific facts; it reveals a disquieting, de facto union of church and state and its intolerant bedfellow, the Religious Right. Ultimately, the entire academic community and the Roman Catholic Church backed Russell, none of which altered the efficacy of the court’s outrageous ruling.
Why I Am Not A Christian (“WNC”), published in 1957, includes essays written between 1899 and 1954 (some of which never published before), and it ensues his infamous, so-public flogging by the incredible U.S. court. WNC deals with the expected questions: Was there a creator? Is there an “intelligent design”? If so, who created the creator? With the world full of so much sickness, random cruelty, and endless wars, either the creator was not omnipotent, or, if he were, he must have been “a fiend”. Why should we shackle ourselves with “The Word” of the Old and New Testament as written variously beginning almost 4,000 years ago and concluding 2,000 years ago, by men not far removed from cave dwellers in primitive languages devoid of vowels and punctuation? How accurate can copies of texts which were originally written on animal skins, plant leaves, wood, stone, and primitive papyrus, all originals of which disintegrated hundreds or thousands of years ago? Which Bible is real version of the “Word of God” (e.g., Torah, TaNaK, Roman Catholic, Giddeon, Mormon, Oxford Revised or one of the hundreds of others (such as those regularly released by various Christian fundamentalists)? As all religions claim to be The Only True Religion, only one of them can be correct; which one is it and on what grounds? Why should we accept stories (the miracles, etc.) that are contradicted by endlessly by an ever-growing body of scientific facts? Religions are rigid. Great ages (e.g., the Renaissance) arise from the breakdown of rigid systems. The Middle Ages was a time to prove things; the Renaissance was a time to ask questions.
Bertrand Russell was a reasoned, loving, tolerant and forgiving soul. He concluded, “I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue.” Religious intolerance of others leads to rejection, isolation, enmity and, finally, to violence – consider today’s Muslim’s or even the infamous Pastor Pat Robertson, who was video-taped (in August, 2005) recommending that the U.S. “assassinate” Chavez, Venezuela’s political leader, as it would be cheaper than fighting another Iraq War to oust him. Russell’s passionate opposition to any system or dogma that may shackle man’s mind is the dominant theme throughout the gentle logic of his compassionate essays. He never raises his written voice in anger or in accusatory epithets but, rather, relies on his mathematical recitation of facts and logic.