Archives for posts with tag: Atheism


From a friend of mine’s blog. It’s EXCELLENT.

“It is true that Christianity, and all previous optimisms, have represented the world as eternally ruled by a beneficent Providence, and thus metaphysically good. But this has been at bottom, only a device by which to prove the future excellence of the world – to prove, for example, that good men would be happy after death. It has always been this deduction – illegitimately made of course – which has given comfort. ‘He’s a good fellow, and ‘t will all be well.’
It may be said, indeed that there is comfort in the mere abstract doctrine that Reality is good. I do not myself accept the proof of this doctrine, but even if true, I cannot see why it should be comforting. For the essence of my contention is that Reality, as constructed by metaphysics, bears no sort of relation to the world of experience. It is an empty abstraction, from which no single inference can be validly made as to the world of appearance, in which world, nevertheless, all our interests lie.

– Bertrand Russell, Seems, Madam? Nay, it is.

I love this extract. I’m constantly confronted with what at first seems like impossibly dense texts for my course. Reading thinkers like Russell or Schopenhauer convince me that it is entirely unnecessary to write in such a convoluted manner. (A style which, in my opinion, French philosophers especially enjoy.)

“On entering adult life, however, a young person so [to be fearless and friendly] educated will find himself or herself plunged into a world full of injustice, full of cruelty, full of preventable misery. The injustice, the cruelty, and the misery that exist in the modern world are an inheritance from the past, and their ultimate source is economic, since life-and-death competition for the means of subsistence was in former days inevitable. It is not inevitable in our age. With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world’s population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of Churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception. The knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilisation for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.

It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.

– Bertrand Russell, Has religion made useful contributions to civilisation?

“Undoubtedly the most important source of religion is fear; this can be seen at the present day, since anything that causes alarm is apt to turn peoples thoughts to God. Battle, pestilence, and shipwreck all tend to make people religious. Religion has, however, other appeals besides that of terror; it appeals especially to our human self-esteem. If Christianity is true, mankind are not such pitiful worms as they seem to be; they are of interest to the Creator of the universe, who takes the trouble to be pleased with them when they behave well and displeased when they behave badly. This is a great compliment. We should not think of studying an ants’ nest to find out which of the ants performed their formicular duty, and we should certainly not think of picking out those individual ants who were remiss and putting them into a bonfire. If God does this for us, it is a compliment to our importance; and it is even a pleasanter compliment if He awards to the good among us everlasting happiness in heaven. Then there is the comparatively modern idea that cosmic evolution is all designed to bring about the sort of results that give us pleasure. Here again it is flattering to suppose that the universe is controlled by a Being who shares our tastes and prejudices.

– Bertrand Russell, Has religion made useful contributions to civilisation?

“All our experience is bound up with time, nor is it possible to imagine a timeless experience. But even if it were possible, we could not, without contradiction, suppose that we ever shall have such an experience. All experience, therefore, for aught that philosophy can show, is likely to resemble the experience we know-if this seems bad to us, no doctrine of a Reality distinguished from Appearances can give us hope of anything better.”

– Bertrand Russell, Seems, Madam? Nay, it is.

“If we believe the Christian religion, our notions of what is good will be different from what they will be if we do not believe it. Therefore to Christians the effects of Christianity may seem good, while to unbelievers they may seem bad. Moreover, the attitude that one ought to believe such and such a proposition, independently of the question whether there is evidence in its favour, is an attitude which produces hostility to evidence and causes us to close our minds to every fact that does not suit our prejudices.
A certain kind of scientific candour is a very important quality, and it is one which can hardly exist in a man who imagines that there are things which it is his duty to believe.

– Bertrand Russel, Has religion made useful contributions to civilisation?

“The objections to religion are of two sorts – intellectual and moral. The intellectual objection is that there is no reason to suppose any religion true; the moral objection is that religious percepts date from a time when men were more cruel than they are, and therefore tend to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow.

– Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian

“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 not be 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 God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotism. 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 all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness and courage; it does not need 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 towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.”

– Bertrand Russel, Why I am not a Christian

“The correct standard for judging any man is to remember that he is really a being that should not exist at all, but who is atoning for his existence through many different forms of suffering and through death. What can we expect from such a being? We atone for our birth first by living and secondly by dying…In fact from this point of view, it might occur to us that the really proper address between one man and another should be, instead of Sir, Monsieur and so on, Leidensgefahrte, socci molorum, compagnon de misères, my fellow sufferer. However strange this may sound, it accords with the facts, puts the other man in the most correct light, and reminds us of the most necessary thing, tolerance, patience, forbearance, and love of one’s neighbor, which everyone needs and each of us, therefore, owes to another.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer in On the Suffering of the World.

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