Re: Bertrand Russell--Way off Topic

From: Susan Brassfield (
Date: Tue Jan 04 2000 - 17:39:08 EST

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    First of all I'd like to advertise a new link on my website:

    it's a sermon I wrote and delivered at my local Unitarian church on the
    last Sunday of the old year. Since I'm thinking about these general topics
    lately, it has a bearing on this conversation.


    Stephen quotes me quoting Russell:

    >SB>"Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the
    >>world which Science presents for our belief.

    and then adds:

    >then it doesn't matter *what* I was driven into the arms of. If Russell is
    >right that the world is "purposeless" and "void of meaning", then it is
    >equally meaningless for me to have remained an atheist or to have become
    >a Christian.

    it matters for the same reason it matters that I stab you with a stright
    pin. If I did that, you would jump and say bad things. (In the reverse
    situation I would say *very* bad things.)

    >then a time will *inevitably* come when there won't be *any* atheists or
    >Christians, or any life at all, left in the universe. In that case it will
    >be as
    >though man never was. Then (and therefore now) it won't *matter* if the
    >atheists were right and the Christians wrong.

    it will have mattered to us. Dispair is a sin whether you are an atheist or
    a theist. It may be among the worst of all sins.

    this is a bit from my sermon:

    "When the Roots and Branches Adult Education class was reading and
    discussing the Old Testament we were surprised at how little was said about
    the afterlife. It seemed like the ancient Jews thought about the afterlife
    very little. Finally, about a year ago I happened to be present when a
    local Rabbi was asked about the Jewish version of the afterlife. "We are
    told how to live a good life," he answered. 'What happens after we die is
    G-d's business and none of our concern.'"

    >Indeed if Susan *really* believes this, why does she *bother* arguing
    >against Christianity, or for atheism? I suspect that Susan, like most
    >professed atheists, have not (indeed *cannot* and stay sane) come to terms
    >with the *full* implications of their avowed philosophy.

    again you are equating arguing against creationism (or it's latest
    permutation "ID") with arguing against God or Christianity. I think *YOU*
    are wrong. I think you fool yourself for religious reasons, but it is you
    (and Creationists in general) I argue against.

    >>built."--From "A Free Man's Worship" You can find the entire essay at

    >Thanks to Susan for this link. I must say it seems strange that it is found
    >under a URL called "PositiveAtheism"!

    wait until you get a look at "atheist spirituality"! :-)

    >SB>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 Christian".
    >Susan should finish the quote:
    >"Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold..." (Russell B.,
    >"Why I Am Not A Christian", 1961, p43).

    >This is hardly "positive and cheerful"! But OTOH it probably is an accurate
    >metaphor of how the atheist Russell saw the world.

    More Russell, from "Why I am Not A Christian"

    "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 to
    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. "

    Russell and the good Rabbi agree: It's really none of our business what
    happens a million years from now. You probably needed a course of Prozac.

    >BTW how *exactly* do "thought and love" *not* "lose their value" when
    >"the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath
    >the debris of a universe in ruins"?

    see above. Why does it matter if one of us stabs the other with a stright pin?

    >Susan by waving her magic "out of context quote" wand does not change
    >what Russell actually wrote.

    I was curious why the "universe will end" message was so strong that you
    became a Christian and you were unmoved by the following paragraph which so
    very persuasively argues *against* embracing religion. I suspected for a
    moment you were ignorant of the paragraph that followed your quote.

    >The universe *is* inexorably running down
    >and a time will inevitably come (unless God intervenes) when *all* life in
    >the universe will be extinguished. Then it will be as if mankind had never

    God has never intervened on behalf of any of us in the past. Approximately
    98% of all species that ever lived are now extinct. He, She, It or They
    will not intervene on our behalf. He, She, etc. didn't intervene when
    approximately 1/3 of Europe was wiped out by the Black Death. I don't
    really see that behavior changing.

    >Apart from the fallacy of assuming that the *Christian* God is the same as
    >the "The religion of Moloch" (when the Bible *condemns* it - see Lev
    >18:21; Lev 20:2-5), again, on Russell's own premises, what does it
    >*matter* if a person does or does not worships God or gods?

    Russell sees *all* gods as Moloch. He doesn't exempt any of them for
    reasons he has explained in detail.

    >SB>And this, more characteristic of the cheerful and highly moral Russell I
    >>know and love, is further down:
    >This "highly moral" bit is interesting. On a debate on the Reflector a former
    >reflectorite, Jim Bell, posted the following, which if it's true, shows that
    >Russell was anything *but* "moral":
    >On 08 Mar 96 15:25:54 EST, Jim Bell wrote:
    >Re: Russell. It is interesting to chart his moral course. Paul Johnson does
    >this in -Intellectuals-, a wonderful book about many of the leading "lights"
    >who rejected objective morality. Russell spent his dotage chasing young
    >skirts, deflowering chambermaids, and generally making a pest of himself. So
    >much for moral feelings.

    you are making the mistake--made by a lot of Christians--that morality is
    closely associated with sexuality. Russell didn't think so and neither do
    I. Morality is a much bigger subject. To consign the word "morality" to the
    narrow meaning of "don't get laid" makes it MUCH easier to light the match
    on the auto da fe.

    >>RS <Bertrand Russell is a good place to start.
    >JB>Thanks for the reference. In the context of our discussion, this is an
    >>interesting case. Do you know about the disparity between Russell's
    >>materialist philosophy and his actual behavior? Do you know about his first
    >>wife, Alys, and what he did to her (she was a devout Quaker, BTW)? About his
    >>moral hypocrisy with his second wife, Dora? The string of adulteries behind
    >>the back of his third wife? His indifference toward his children? I
    >>wonder if
    >>he is the best example to use.

    the very same charges have been leveled at Ghandi--who was not an
    atheist--and Ronald Reagan who at least *said* he was a Christian. So what?

    >"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"
    >then what does it *matter* if one does, or does not:

    because how the universe ends is none of our business. How we *live*
    matters. It matters to *us*.

    >I read somewhere that Russell, at the end of his life, was reduced to
    >reading a detective novel a day. On atheistic premises that is equally as
    >meaningful (or meaningless) as anything else.

    :-) since I write detective novels, I don't find that such an awful fate.

    >At least Christianity, on its premises, that Christ will return to
    >interrupt the
    >natural course of the universe's otherwise inevitable slide into heat-death,
    >and will eternally reward the righteous and punish the unrighteous, gives a
    >*reason* for its followers thinking that what they think, say and do in this
    >life is eternally significant.

    so *that's* why you must have gods? So you won't feel insignificant? So we
    are here for a very brief time. What we do with that time is extremely
    important *to us*. Why not? *I* am not insignificant!! and I don't need a
    6000 year old battle god to make me significant.

    >Personally I have *never* for one moment regretted my decision to
    >renounce atheism/agnosticism for Christianity. I have had (and am having)
    >a *great* life, whereas before I was despairing and suicidal.

    Congratulations. I'm having a great life also. :-)

    >Moreover, I know that if atheism is true it does not ultimately matter that I
    >became a Christian, but if Christianity turns out to be true it ultimately
    >matters *a great deal* (to put it mildly) that I did not remain an

    Pascal's wager! :-) good luck!



    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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