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Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects Paperback – October 30, 1967
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'Devastating in its use of cold logic.' - The Independent 'The most robust as well as the most witty infidel since Voltaire and he can not fail to sharpen men's sense of what is entailed both in belief and unbelief.' - The Spectator 'What makes the book valuable is life-long uncompromising intellectual honesty.' - Times Literary Supplement --This text refers to the Digital edition.
About the Author
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, Viscount Amberley, born in Wales, May 18, 1872. Educated at home and at Trinity College, Cambridge. During World War I, served four months in prison as a pacifist, where he wrote Introduction To Mathematical Philosophy. In 1910, published first volume of Principia Mathematica with Alfred Whitehead. Visited Russia and lectured on philosophy at the University of Peking in 1920. Returned to England and, with his wife, ran a progressive school for young children in Sussex from 1927-1932. Came to the United States, where he taught philosophy successively at the University of Chicago, University of California at Los Angeles, Harvard, and City College of New York. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Has been active in disarmament and anti-nuclear-testing movements while continuing to add to his large number of published books which include Philosophical Essays (1910); The ABC of Relativity (1925); A History of Western Philosophy (1946); Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948); and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1967). For a chronological list of Russell's principal works see The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (Simon and Schuster).
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Top Customer Reviews
“Why I Am Not a Christian” is a very representative book of essays of the great British philosopher and man of many talents, Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970). This book includes the following essays: 1. Why I AM Not A Christian, 2. Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?, 3. My Religious Reminiscences, 4. A Free Man’s Worship, 5. Religion and Metaphysics, 6. Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?, 7. How I Came by My Creed; Or, What I Believe, and 8. Why I Am a Rationalist.
1. Well-written collection of essays despite the fact that these essays were written decades ago.
2. The lucid thoughts of the great British philosopher Bertrand Russell.
3. Eight essays that cover a wide-range of Russell’s lifetime.
4. Destroys the first-cause argument. “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.”
5. A look at 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.”
6. Gives reasons on why people believe in “God”.
7. The main reason to doubt Christ’s moral character. “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 who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”
8. Religion and fear. “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.”
9. Defender of science as the best tool to find out the truths of our world. “To my mind the essential thing is that one should base one's arguments upon the kind of grounds that are accepted in science, and one should not regard anything that one accepts as quite certain, but only as probable in a greater or a less degree. Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.”
10. He provides insights into his evolution from a believer to an atheist. : During the four following years I rejected, successively, free will, immortality, and belief in God, and believed that I suffered much pain in the process, though when it was completed I found myself far happier than I had been while I remained in doubt.”
11. A look at the contributions of religion to society. “The churches, as everyone knows, opposed the abolition of slavery as long as they dared, and with a few well-advertised exceptions they oppose at the present day every movement toward economic justice.”
12. The objection to religion. “The intellectual objection is that there is no reason to suppose any religion true; the moral objection is that religious precepts 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.”
13. Find out the three human impulses embodied in religion.
14. Explains the desires of religion to be in control. “Men desire to be in control because they are afraid that the control of others will be used unjustly to their detriment.”
15. Eye-opening factoid. “I expect you know that in America men are still sent to prison for Atheism, not only in Fundamentalist States, but even in States of the East, and altogether there is in that part of the world an enormous need of propaganda on these matters.”
1. The book wasn’t professionally edited for the Kindle.
2. There are much better and sophisticated arguments today but in Russell’s defense he inspired a lot of the great thinkers of today.
In summary, this is a wonderful and cogent introduction to atheism. The great British philosopher Bertrand Russell passed away in 1970 and I would urge readers to view some of talks online. The essays are uneven; some are much better than others. Philosophy has evolved a lot since the times of Russell and there are much better and sophisticated arguments made today but the book is still a worthwhile read. I recommend it.
Further suggestions: “How to Defend the Christian Faith” and “The Christian Delusion” by John Loftus, “God: The Failed Hypothesis” by Victor Stenger, “Natural Atheism” and “Atheism Advanced” by David Eller, “Soul Fallacy” by Julien Musolino, “Free Will? By Jonathan M.S. Pearce, “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghosian, “God Is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, “The Believing Brain” by Michael Shermer, “Faith vs. Fact” and “Why Evolution Is True” by Jerry A. Coyne, “Nonbeliever Nation” by David Niose, “Trusting Doubt” by Valerie Tarico, “Nailed” by David Fitzgerald, “Think” by Guy P. Harrison, and “The Science of Miracles” by Joe Nickell.
Before diving into his arguments, it's important to understand the layout of this book, as the title can be a bit misleading. This compilation includes 15 essays written between 1899 and 1954 and a lengthy (25% of the entire work) appendix written by Dr. Paul Edwards on the topic of the 1940 "Bertrand Russell Case." Despite the primary title (taken from one relatively short essay), the work includes topics beyond religion such as the cruelty of the Middle Ages, the heroism of Thomas Paine and grave threat to liberal democracy entailed in declining academic freedom. That said, Russell's views on morality and religion are infused throughout the essays and provide some degree of coherence.
Russell's arguments against Christianity generally fall into the following categories: 1) there is no compelling evidence for a Creator (i.e. deism) and much less evidence to believe in theism, 2) the teachings of Jesus, while generally admirable, include many pernicious tenets, 3) Christians have routinely ignored the admirable tenets of Jesus, and 4) the net impact of Christianity has been decidedly negative for mankind.
Regarding the first, Russell is on much firmer ground in his criticisms of theism than of deism. He convincingly deals with the First Cause, Natural Law and Morality arguments for a Creator. He is less convincing in his rebuttal of the Design argument, as he does not address its modern crux, which is that the odds of the initial conditions being such as to result in the successful evolution of Homo Sapiens are extremely remote, thereby increasing the odds of a Creator's involvement.
Regarding the second, Russell concedes a "very high degree of moral goodness" to Jesus and points in particular to his pacifism, his social consciousness and compassion for the poor & oppressed and his admonition to avoid judging others. However, he finds Jesus' wisdom to be deficient in his clear belief that the second coming would occur during the lifetime of many of his followers. More importantly, he finds his morality to be deficient in his belief in hell and his "vindictive fury" against those who did not believe his preaching. While Russell makes valid points here, he leaves the realm of reason when he say that the eternal damnation teaching "is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture." Clearly, cruelty and sadistic torture existed well before Christianity and continues to occur among those who do not believe in Christianity.
Regarding the third, Russell, a noted pacifist who was jailed by Great Britain for refusing to serve in World War I, scornfully notes that Christians have consistently ignored Jesus' "turn the other cheek" pacifism through constant aggression and war, his "give away all your possessions to the poor" teachings through a focus on individual wealth accumulation and his urge to "judge not lest yet be judged" through an extensive criminal justice and incarceration culture. As a blanket generalization across time and groups, Russell is clearly right in these criticisms. The history of poor conduct by the Church and its believers is a long and well-known one. However, Russell seems to take his point too far when he appears to use this criticism as a component in his rationale for skepticism. The failure of Christian believers to adequately follow the teachings of Jesus is not a sufficient condition to dismiss the veracity of the core beliefs of Christianity.
Regarding the fourth, Russell sums up his collective criticism by concluding that religion "is a disease born of fear" and "a source of untold misery to the human race." Among other things, he points to the doctrine of sin and hell as a justification for intolerance, hatred and sadism, the supposed eternal truth of revealed religion as a fierce opponent to learning and intellectual progress, the sexual ethics around abstinence, pre-marital sex and birth control as responsible for our warped view of the human body and sexuality and the emphasis on the individual soul as justification for self-centered, anti-social behavior. Again, his arguments are well crafted, although his case for the latter appears to be weakest, as it is clear that many Christians have viewed good works and charity in general to be central to their faith.
Russell's prose is crisp and clear and allows the reader to easily follow his logic and arguments. His qualifications as a logician are well known and his arguments are frequently unassailable. He is courageous in espousing unpopular views and relentless in exposing superstition and folly. While there is much in this book that does not stand up to clearheaded analysis, it is highly recommended for anyone grappling with building the foundations of a personal belief system. I give it 4 stars.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Unfortunately, Christian sheep will most likely not read it; and, if they do, will not understand it.Read more