Bertrand Russell--Way off Topic

From: Susan Brassfield (
Date: Mon Jan 03 2000 - 11:01:21 EST

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    A while back I quoted Bertrand Russell to Stephen (Mr. Quote himself) and
    he quoted the following Russell passage back at me and explained that this
    exact paragraph was, at least in part, what drove him into the arms of

    "Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the
    world which Science
    presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals
    henceforward must find a
    home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end
    they were
    achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and
    his beliefs, are but the
    outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no
    intensity of thought and
    feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the
    labours of the ages, all the
    devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius,
    are destined to
    extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple
    of Man's
    achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in
    ruins -- all these
    things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no
    philosophy which rejects
    them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only
    on the firm foundation
    of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely
    built."--From "A Free Man's Worship" You can find the entire essay at

    It bugged me that the usually positive and cheerful Russell who also wrote

    "What I believe is that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will
    survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver
    with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness in nonetheless
    true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and
    love lose their value because they are not everlasting."
                                         Bertrand Russell, "Why I Am Not A

    would write something so baldly grim. Therefore I had a feeling it was out
    of context. Stephen should have read on in the essay. He might have avoided
    Christianity altogether! :-) This is the next paragraph:
    "The savage, like ourselves, feels the oppression of his impotence before
    the powers of Nature;
    but having in himself nothing that he respects more than Power, he is
    willing to prostrate
    himself before his gods, without inquiring whether they are worthy of his
    worship. Pathetic
    and very terrible is the long history of cruelty and torture, of
    degradation and human sacrifice,
    endured in the hope of placating the jealous gods: surely, the trembling
    believer thinks, when
    what is most precious has been freely given, their lust for blood must be
    appeased, and more
    will not be required. The religion of Moloch -- as such creeds may be
    generically called -- is in
    essence the cringing submission of the slave, who dare not, even in his
    heart, allow the thought
    that his master deserves no adulation. Since the independence of ideals is
    not yet
    acknowledged, Power may be freely worshipped, and receive an unlimited
    respect, despite its
    wanton infliction of pain."

    And this, more characteristic of the cheerful and highly moral Russell I
    know and love, is further down:

    "Let us preserve our respect for truth, for beauty, for the ideal of
    perfection which life does not permit us to attain, though none of these
    things meet with the approval of the unconscious universe. If Power is bad,
    as it seems to be, let us reject it from our hearts. In this lies Man's
    true freedom: in determination to worship only the God created by our own
    love of the good, to respect only the heaven which inspires the insight of
    our best moments. In action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the
    tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free, free
    from our fellow-men, free from the petty planet on which our bodies
    impotently crawl, free even, while we live, from the
    tyranny of death. Let us learn, then, that energy of faith which enables us
    to live constantly in
    the vision of the good; and let us descend, in action, into the world of
    fact, with that vision
    always before us."



    For if there is a sin against life, it consists not so much in despairing
    of life as in hoping for another and in eluding the implacable grandeur of
    this one.
    --Albert Camus

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