Monday, February 16, 2009

Why Bertrand Russell Was Not a Christian

Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian was published in 1957. It still graces the shelves of bookstores much as C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity does. I thought I'd pick up my old copy and give it a re-read.

Russell first defines "Christian," as he should. If he's going to show us why he's not something he must define just what that something is that he's not. "Christian," for Russell, means two things. First, one must believe in God and immortality. By "God" I feel sure he means the theistic God with all the requisite omni-attributes. By "immortality" he means the belief that, after physical death, one's existence will continue. He's surely right in that if one denies God's existence one should not refer to oneself as a "Christian." Even though there are some who have done this (yes, there have been "Christian atheists"), I agree that an atheist would not be coherent in embracing Christianity while retaining his or her irreligion.

Secondly, Russell says that, to be a Christian, "you must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men." Now Russell think Jesus was the best and wisest of men, and that forms one of his reasons for not being a Christian. But here I think he's wrong; viz., this does not form a good reason for not being a Christian. The core Christian claim is that Jesus is "the Christ"; viz., the anointed one which the Old Testament points towards. If Jesus was not this, then I fully agree he was not the best and wisest of men. Surely Jesus the Christ was not wise if he thought himself to be the One from God but was not. Here we have to define "wisdom." Was Jesus the Christ "wise?" I think so. But my thinking so is a function of my belief that he was and is the Christ. If that is not true than I would have to find Jesus to be very unwise.

Russell then proceeds to take on the first cause argument for God's existence. I'll look at that in my next Russell post.