Why I Am Not a Christian
Bertrand Russell
This lecture was delivered on March 6, 1927,
 at Battersea Town Hall under the auspices of the
South London Branch of that National Secular Society.
[The lecture that is here presented was delivered at the Battersea Town
Hall under the auspices of the South London Branch of the National
Secular Society, England. It should be added that the editor is willing to
share full responsibility with the Hon. Bertrand Russell in that he is in
accord with the political and other opinions expressed. ] [The previous
statement was included in the original, and is not made by Positive
As your chairman has told you, the subject about
which I am going to speak to you tonight is "Why I
Am Not a Christian." Perhaps it would be as well, first
of all, to try to make out what one means by the
word "Christian." It is used in these days in a very
loose sense by a great many people. Some people
mean no more by it than a person who attempts to
live a good life. In that sense I suppose there would
be Christians in all sects and creeds; but I do not
think that that is the proper sense of the word, if only because it would
imply that all the people who are not Christians -- all the Buddhists,
Confucians, Mohammedans, and so on -- are not trying to live a good
life. I do not mean by a Christian any person who tries to live decently
according to his lights. I think that you must have a certain amount of
definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian. The
word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in
the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a
man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You
accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great
precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the
whole strength of your convictions.
What is a Christian?
Nowadays it is not quite that. We have to be a little more vague in our
meaning of Christianity. I think, however, that there are two different
items which are quite essential to anyone calling himself a Christian. The
first is one of a dogmatic nature -- namely, that you must believe in God
and immortality. If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think
that you can properly call yourself a Christian. Then, further than that, as
the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ. The
Mohammedans, for instance, also believe in God and immortality, and yet
they would not call themselves Christians. I think you must have at the
very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and
wisest of men. If you are not going to believe that much about Christ, I
do not think that you have any right to call yourself a Christian. Of
course, there is another sense which you find in Whitaker's Almanack and
in geography books, where the population of the world is said to be
divided into Christians, Mohammedans, Buddhists, fetish worshipers, and
so on; but in that sense we are all Christians. The geography books
counts us all in, but that is a purely geographical sense, which I suppose
we can ignore. Therefore I take it that when I tell you why I am not a
Christian I have to tell you two different things: first, why I do not believe
in God and in immortality; and, secondly, why I do not think that Christ
was the best and wisest of men, although I grant him a very high degree
of moral goodness.
But for the successful efforts of unbelievers in the past, I could not take
so elastic a definition of Christianity as that. As I said before, in the olden
days it had a much more full-blooded sense. For instance, it included the
belief in hell. Belief in eternal hell fire was an essential item of Christian
belief until pretty recent times. In this country, as you know, it ceased to
be an essential item because of a decision of the Privy Council, and from
that decision the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York
dissented; but in this country our religion is settled by Act of Parliament,
and therefore the Privy Council was able to override their Graces and hell
was no longer necessary to a Christian. Consequently I shall not insist
that a Christian must believe in hell.
The Existence Of God
To come to this question of the existence of God, it is a large and serious
question, and if I were to attempt to deal with it in any adequate manner I
should have to keep you here until Kingdom Come, so that you will have
to excuse me if I deal with it in a somewhat summary fashion. You know,
of course, that the Catholic Church has laid it down as a dogma that the
existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason. This is a
somewhat curious dogma, but it is one of their dogmas. They had to
introduce it because at one time the Freethinkers adopted the habit of
saying that there were such and such arguments which mere reason
might urge against the existence of God, but of course they knew as a
matter of faith that God did exist. The arguments and the reasons were
set out at great length, and the Catholic Church felt that they must stop
it. Therefore they laid it down that the existence of God can be proved by
the unaided reason, and they had to set up what they considered were
arguments to prove it. There are, of course, a number of them, but I shall
take only a few.
The First Cause Argument
Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the
First Cause. It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a
cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you
must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of
God. That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight
nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to
be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause,
and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but apart
from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause
is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young
man, and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a
long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the
age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found
this sentence: "My father taught me that the question, Who made me?
cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question,
Who made God?" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think,
the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. 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, so that there cannot be
any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the
Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant, and the elephant
rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the
Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no
better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come
into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason
why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that
the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a
beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore,
perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the
First Cause.
The Natural-Law Argument
Then there is a very common argument from Natural Law. That was a
favorite argument all through the eighteenth century, especially under
the influence of Sir Isaac Newton and his cosmogony. People observed
the planets going around the sun according to the law of gravitation, and
they thought that God had given a behest to these planets to move in
that particular fashion, and that was why they did so. That was, of course,
a convenient and simple explanation that saved them the trouble of
looking any further for any explanation of the law of gravitation.
Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated
fashion that Einstein has introduced. I do not propose to give you a
lecture on the law of gravitation, as interpreted by Einstein, because that
again would take some time; at any rate, you no longer have the sort of
Natural Law that you had in the Newtonian system, where, for some
reason that nobody could understand, nature behaved in a uniform
fashion. We now find that a great many things we thought were Natural
Laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest
depth of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no
doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature.
And a great many things that have been regarded as laws of nature are of
that kind. On the other hand, where you can get down to any knowledge
of what atoms actually do, you will find that they are much less subject to
law than people thought, and that the laws at which you arrive are
statistical averages of just the sort that would emerge from chance. There
is, as we all know, a law that if you throw dice you will get double sixes
only about once in thirty-six times, and we do not regard that as
evidence that the fall of the dice is regulated by design; on the contrary,
if the double sixes came every time we should think that there was
design. The laws of nature are of that sort as regards to a great many of
them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws
of chance; and that makes the whole business of natural law much less
impressive than it formerly was. Quite apart from that, which represents
the momentary state of science that may change tomorrow, the whole
idea that natural laws imply a law-giver is due to a confusion between
natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to
behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you
may choose not to behave; but 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? If
you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without
any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to
law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more
orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a
reason for giving those laws rather than others -- the reason, of course,
being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to
look at it -- if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God
himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage
by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and
anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose,
because he is not the ultimate law-giver. In short, this whole argument
from natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to
have. I am traveling on in time in my review of these arguments. The
arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character
as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments
embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times
they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected
by a kind of moralizing vagueness.
The Argument From Design
The next step in the process brings us to 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. That is the argument
from design. It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is
argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not
know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to
parody. You all know Voltaire's remark, that obviously the nose was
designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned
out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the
eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand
much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is
not that their environment was made to be suitable to them, but that they
grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no
evidence of design about it.
When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most
astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the
things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that
omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of
years. I really cannot believe it. 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. Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of
science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this
planet will die out in due course: it is merely a flash in the pan; it is a
stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get
the sort of conditions and temperature and so forth which are suitable to
protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar
system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is
tending -- something dead, cold, and lifeless.
I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes
tell you that if they believed that they would not be able to go on living.
Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries much about
what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they
are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They
are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a
bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the
thought of something that is going to happen in this world millions and
millions of years hence. 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.
The Moral Arguments For Deity
Now we reach one stage further in what I shall call the intellectual
descent that the Theists have made in their argumentations, and we come
to what are called the moral arguments for the existence of God. You all
know, of course, that there used to be in the old days three intellectual
arguments for the existence of God, all of which were disposed of by
Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason; but no sooner had he
disposed of those arguments than he invented a new one, a moral
argument, and that quite convinced him. He was like many people: in
intellectual matters he was skeptical, but in moral matters he believed
implicitly in the maxims that he had imbibed at his mother's knee. That
illustrates what the psycho-analysts so much emphasize -- the
immensely stronger hold upon us that our very early associations have
than those of later times.
Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God,
and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth
century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say that there would be
no right and wrong unless God existed. 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, then 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 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. If you are
going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God
that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence
logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there
was a superior deity who gave orders to the God who made this world, or
could take up the line that some of the agnostics ["Gnostics" -- CW] took
up -- a line which I often thought was a very plausible one -- that as a
matter of fact this world that we know was made by the Devil at a
moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for
that, and I am not concerned to refute it.
The Argument For The Remedying Of Injustice
Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this:
they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice
into the world. In the part of the universe that we know there is a great
injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and
one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are
going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a
future life to redress the balance of life here on earth, and so they say
that there must be a God, and that there must be Heaven and Hell in
order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious
argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you
would say, "After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest
of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one
would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is
injustice here then the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also."
Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all
the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: "The underneath ones
must be good, so as to redress the balance." You would say: "Probably
the whole lot is a bad consignment;" and that is really what a scientific
person would argue about the universe. He would say: "Here we find in
this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a
reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and
therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and
not in favor of one." Of course I know that the sort of intellectual
arguments that I have been talking to you about is not really what moves
people. 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 that is the main reason.
Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a
sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That
plays a very profound part in influencing people's desire for a belief in
The Character Of Christ
I now want to say a few words upon a topic which I often think is not
quite sufficiently dealt with by Rationalists, and that is the question
whether Christ was the best and the wisest of men. It is generally taken
for granted that we should all agree that that was so. I do not myself. I
think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a
great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I
could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than
most professing Christians can. You will remember that He said: "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. I have no
doubt that the present Prime Minister, for instance, is a most sincere
Christian, but I should not advise any of you to go and smite him on one
cheek. I think you might find that he thought this text was intended in a
figurative sense.
Then there is another point which I consider excellent. You will remember
that Christ said, "Judge not lest ye be judged." That principle I do not
think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries.
I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest
Christians, and they none of them felt that they were acting contrary to
Christian principles in what they did. Then Christ says, "Give to him that
asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not
away." This is a very good principle. Your chairman has reminded you
that we are not here to talk politics, but 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.
Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in
it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian
friends. He says, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast,
and give to the poor." That is a very excellent maxim, but, as I say, it is
not much practiced. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they
are a little difficult to live up to. I do not profess to live up to them
myself; but then, after all, I am not by way of doing so, and it is not quite
the same thing as for a Christian.
Defects In Christ's Teaching
Having granted the excellence of these maxims, I come to certain points
in which I do not believe that one can grant either the superlative wisdom
or the superlative goodness of Christ as depicted in the Gospels; and
here I may say that one is not concerned with the historical question.
Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if
He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned
with the historical question, which is a very difficult one. I am concerned
with Christ as He appears in the Gospels, taking the Gospel narrative as it
stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very
wise. For one thing, he certainly thought his second coming would occur
in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at
that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for
instance: "Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of
Man be come." Then He says: "There are some standing here which shall
not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom"; and there
are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed His second
coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was
the belief of his earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of
His moral teaching. When He said, "Take no thought for the morrow," and
things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought the second
coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs
did not count. I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did
believe the second coming was imminent. I knew a parson who frightened
his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was very
imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he
was planting trees in his garden. The early Christians really did believe it,
and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens,
because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming
was imminent. In this respect clearly He was not so wise as some other
people have been, and he certainly was not superlatively wise.
The Moral Problem
Then you come to moral questions. 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 that is really profoundly humane can
believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the
Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find
repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to
His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but
which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not,
for instance, find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and
urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my
mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of
indignation. You probably all remember the sorts of things that Socrates
was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally
did say to people who did not agree with him.
You will find that in the Gospels Christ said: "Ye serpents, ye generation
of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell." That was said to
people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite
the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about hell.
There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost:
"Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him
neither in this world nor in the world to come." That text has caused an
unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have
imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and
thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the
world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of
kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of this sort into
the world.
Then Christ says, "The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they
shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do
iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing
and gnashing of teeth"; and He goes on about the wailing and gnashing
of teeth. It comes in one verse after another, and it is quite manifest to
the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and
gnashing of teeth, or else it would not occur so often. Then you all, of
course, remember about the sheep and the goats; how at the second
coming He is going to divide the sheep from the goats, and He is going
to say to the goats: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." He
continues: "And these shall go away into everlasting fire." Then He says
again, "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into
life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that
never shall be quenched, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not
quenched." He repeats that again and again also. 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.
There are other things of less importance. There is the instance of the
Gadarene swine, where it certainly was not very kind to the pigs to put
the devils into them and make them rush down the hill into the sea. You
must remember that He was omnipotent, and He could have made the
devils simply go away; but He chose to send them into the pigs. Then
there is the curious story of the fig-tree, which always rather puzzled me.
You remember what happened about the fig-tree. "He was hungry; and
seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, He came if haply He might find
anything thereon; and when he came to it He found nothing but leaves,
for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it: 'No
man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever'.... and Peter.... saith unto Him:
'Master, behold the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away.'" This
is a very curious story, because it was not the right time of year for figs,
and you really could not blame the tree. I cannot myself feel that either in
the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as
high as some other people known to History. I think I should put Buddha
and Socrates above Him in those respects.
The Emotional Factor
As I said before, I do not think that the real reason that people accept
religion has anything to do with argumentation. 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. You know, of course, the parody of that argument in
Samuel Butler's book, Erewhon Revisited. You will remember that in
Erewhon there is a certain Higgs who arrives in a remote country, and
after spending some time there he escapes from that country in a
balloon. Twenty years later he comes back to that country and finds a
new religion in which he is worshipped under the name of the "Sun
Child"; and it is said that he ascended into heaven. He finds that the feast
of the Ascension is about to be celebrated, and he hears Professors
Hanky and Panky say to each other that they never set eyes on the man
Higgs, and they hope they never will; but they are the High Priests of the
religion of the Sun Child. He is very indignant, and he comes up to them,
and he says: "I am going to expose all this humbug and tell the people of
Erewhon that it was only I, the man Higgs, and I went up in a balloon." He
was told, "You must not do that, because all the morals of this country
are bound round this myth, and if they once know that you did not
ascend into heaven they will all become wicked"; and so he is persuaded
of that and he goes quietly away.
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 all its tortures; there were millions of
unfortunate women burned 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 of
humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward
the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored
races, or ever mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has
been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized
churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion,
as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of
moral progress in the world.
How The Churches Have Retarded Progress
You may think that I am going too far when I say that that is still so, I do
not think that I am. Take one fact. You will bear with me if I mention it. It
is not a pleasant fact, but the churches compel one to mention facts that
are not pleasant. Supposing that in this world that we live in today an
inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic
Church says, "This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together
for life," and no steps of any sort must be taken by that woman to
prevent herself from giving birth to syphilitic children. This is what the
Catholic church says. I say that that is fiendish cruelty, and nobody whose
natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral
nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain
that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.
That is only an example. There are a great many ways in which at the
present moment the church, by its insistence upon what it chooses to call
morality, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary
suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent
still of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering
in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow
set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness;
and when you say that this or that ought to be done because it would
make for human happiness, they think that has nothing to do with the
matter at all. "What has human happiness to do with morals? The object
of morals is not to make people happy."
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. It is
because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now
begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by the help
of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian
religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old
precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which
mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I
think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around 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.
What We Must Do
We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world
-- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the
world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence
and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from
it. The whole conception of a God is a conception derived from the
ancient oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free
men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying
that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems
contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought
to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the
best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it
will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these
ages. 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. It needs a
fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not
looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will
be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.
A Young Bertrand Russell
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