Why Bertrand Russell Was Not A Christian
by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith
At the Battersea Town Hall on March 27, 1927, sponsored by the National
Secular Society, Bertrand Russell delivered the famous lecture entitled
"Why I Am Not a Christian." Together with other lectures about
religion, it was published in a book of the same title in 1957 with a
preface by Russell assuring his readers that he had not changed his opinions.
He believes that Christianity, along with every other religion, is both
untrue and harmful. Furthermore, in Russell's opinion the teaching of
religion to children inhibits their ability to think clearly and to cooperate
with others whose beliefs differ from theirs. Far from being the source
of great contributions to the civilizations of the world, religion has
done nothing more than help fix the calendar and provoke Egyptian priests
to chronicle eclipses. In Russell's words, "These two services I
am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others." In
short, Russell took as dim a view of religion as one can take and he claimed
to have good philosophical reasons for doing so.
It should be pointed out in passing that Russell's pontifications about
history have all the characteristics of the dogmatic religious narrowness
and bigoted ignorance that he professed to loathe. No historian, Christian
or non-Christian, would ever make the kind of simplistic assertions
that Russell made. Nor should any well-read high school student be without
the knowledge to refute them. How can a man of Russell's intellectual
stature and education express such utter nonsense? The answer may be
that Russell is to some atheists what the fundamentalist preacher is
to uneducated Christians. What he provides for his followers in the
National Secular Society is not enlightenment, but emotional support,
a goal that, in cases where factual and logical proof are insufficient
or not understood, can best be achieved by extreme rhetoric.
Setting aside Russell's remarkable views on history, we return to his
reasons for rejecting Christianity. First, Russell tells us that we
must define what it means to be a Christian. He is surely correct in
asserting that it used to be very clear what a Christian believes, but
that Christianity nowadays is rather vague. He apparently assumed that
his audience would be more likely to run into the modern murky mentality
and therefore chose to refute the less vigorous form of Christianity.
Having defined what he means by Christianity, next Russell offers two
main arguments against Christianity. First, he contends that the traditional
Catholic arguments for the existence of God are inadequate. Second,
he maintains that Christ was not the best and wisest of men. Either
argument, if established, refutes Christianity. If God does not exist,
or if Christ is inferior to, say, Socrates or the Buddha, then Christianity
is not true.
As I will explain, a Christian may, in one sense, grant Russell's argument
about the existence of God. Traditional Catholic arguments for the existence
of God are deficient. Though the reader of his lecture may not be able
to escape the impression that Russell is rather too cavalier in his
dismissal of arguments that have occupied the greatest minds in Western
history, the points that he makes are cogent enough, at least against
the weak form of the theistic arguments he presents. Even more carefully
stated presentations of the traditional arguments suffer from defects
similar to those that Russell mentions.
As to Christ, Russell should have stated his case with much more vigor.
If indeed Christ was mistaken on all of the matters Russell claims he
was mistaken, then he was no great man at all. He was just another ancient
religious quack whose name is better forgotten, whose sound ideas may
be found in countless other thinkers.
But, as we will demonstrate, Russell's arguments fail. In the final
analysis Russell gives us nothing more than an expression of his own
irrational bias, an idea about the world which, if it were true, would
obviate the very possibility of knowledge and ethics. I argue that without
the Christianity he hates, Russell cannot formulate an argument for
or against anything.
[ Table of Contents | Preface
| Introduction | Chapter One | Chapter
Two | Conclusion ]