Why Mr. Russell Is a Christian. A review of Why I Am Not a Christian, by the Hon. Bertrand Russell
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160 ] Why Mr. Russell Is a Christian1 A review of Why I Am Not a Christian, by the Hon. Bertrand Russell London: Watts, 1927. Pp. 31. The Monthly Criterion: A Literary Review, 6 (Aug 1927) 177-79 Mr. Russell can write extremely well, and usually does write well, except when carried away by emotion. This little essay – a lecture delivered at the Battersea Town Hall2 – has all of Mr. Russell’s usual merit of lucidity and straightforwardness, and in addition a kind of briskness which gives charm. As a statement of faith by so distinguished a philosopher, it has considerable importance, and rewards patient study. For Mr. Russell’s lucidity is often that of a mirror rather than that of clear water, and is not so easy to see through as it appears to be. And this pamphlet is undoubtedly one of the curiosities of literature. The title itself is curious. We should not expect it necessarily to mean that it will be followed by an account of the reasons and causes which influenced Mr. Russell to become not a Christian. We are quite prepared to find that the reasons will be such as the author thought of afterwards, in order to fortify his faith with the appearance of reason. Still, the word “why” does suggest some notion of cause, and Mr. Russell reminds us quite early that “cause is not quite what it used to be.” “The philosophers and the men of science,” he says brightly, “have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have” [10]. One wonders what would happen if the philosophers and the men of science got going on the causes of Mr. Russell’s religious faith. “There is no reason,” he says, “why the world could not have come into being without a cause” [11]; and I infer that there is no reason why Mr. Russell’s philosophy of religion should not have come into being without a cause either. And that – as I think Mr. Russell would admit, for he is not lacking in candour – seems to be exactly what did happen. It would be possible to give a completely different account of the reasons, or of the causes why Mr. Russell believes and disbelieves what he does, and give it more appearance of plausibility than his own statement; but in the end we should be forced to agree that there is no cause: it just happened. [ 161 Why Mr. Russell Is a Christian At any rate, Mr. Russell’s words are incontrovertable: “I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion is anything to do with argumentation . They accept religion on emotional grounds” [26]. What he does not remark explicitly, though I am sure he would admit it, is that his own religion also rests entirely upon emotional grounds. But perhaps a consideration of this sort would have been too profound for the comprehension of an audience at the Battersea Town Hall. This emotional basis is especially manifest in the last paragraph, where he swings into the triumphant strains of the Free Man’s Worship:3 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 be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. . . . et caetera.4 Mr. Russell is very keen on looking at things “fair and square,” and on standing up rather than sitting down; for he says again: “we ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face” [30]. He reminds me of Mr. Clive Bell,whoonceobserved,inaneffusivemoment,thathelovedTruth,Beauty and Liberty.5 Mr. Russell’s words will stir the hearts of those who employ the same catchwords as himself. He has a wholly unreasoning prejudice in favour of freedom, kindliness and such things, and the same unreasoning prejudice against tyranny and cruelty. I quite agree that fear is a bad thing, and I wish I was more courageous than I am. But a skilled theologian might protest that “fear” has several shades of meaning, and that the fear of God is quite different from the fear of burglars, fire or bankruptcy.6 And Mr. Russell would agree that it is (of the two) better to fear God than to fear insolvency or the disapproval...