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Why I am not a Christian and other religious essays: Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?; My Religious Reminiscences;Religion and Metaphysics; Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?; How I Came by My Creed; Or, What I Believe; Why I Am a Rationalist.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell,18 May 1872–2 February 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic and political activist. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist. In the early 20th century, Russell led the British "revolt against idealism".He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege, colleague G. E. Moore, and his protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein. He is widely held to be one of the 20th century's premier logicians. With A. N. Whitehead he wrote Principia Mathematica, an attempt to create a logical basis for mathematics.
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Very enlightening.more
This is neither Russell's best nor his most cohesive work (there is a good deal of repetition between the essays, and they were written for a number of different venues); however, this is Bertrand Russell we're talking about ... so for this reviewer, anyway, the temptation to mark particularly good passages was strong. For the most part these essays sparkle with the usual fire.I will say that the long Appendix (not written by Russell) detailing how Russell was prevented from teaching at the City College of New York leaves me breathless with revulsion.Certainly in these frighteningly Bible-thumping times in the U.S., this material is highly relevant.more
Russell first defines what he means by a Christian: someone who believes in God, the immortality of the soul, and Jesus Christ. Then he explains why he does not believe. Step-by-step he dismisses as fallacious the arguments for the existence of God: the first cause argument, the argument from design, etc. Then he discusses whether we survive death. Then the character of Jesus, as presented in the Gospels. He agrees that Jesus was an admirable man, but not divine and not the best or wisest of men. He gives examples from the Gospels. He believes that all religions are false and harmful. He even calls religion "a disease born of fear" and "a source of untold misery to the human race." Fear leads to cruelty, he says. "A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering." He explains his agnostic views with his usual lucidity. Russell was not an atheist; he was just not convinced by the arguments for God. He was always wary of certainties. So this book does not resolve anything, but it will give you plenty to think about. It is not a difficult read.more
One of the first books I read on freethought and agnosticism, this still holds a fond spot for me. Although the arguments presented here would not be new to me at this time, this was the first time I had heard many of them presented. Unlike many of today's philosophers, Russell writes lucid prose with clarity rather than obfuscation. From what I've read, and what I've observed from the philsophy departments I've been associated with, I believe Russell was truly one of the last original thinkers in the field. This book made a big impression on me, and I need to reread it soon.more
A classic, and just as powerful today as when it was written.more
Honestly this book didn't seem all that focused on religion or Christianity, especially considering Russell seems to always find a way to tie a complaint or two about religion into his books. (At least he has in every one I've read so far, I imagine it would be harder in his math books.) The essay the book takes it's title from doesn't put any significant consideration into why Russell was an atheist, just why he disapproved of the Christian church, which seems like a pretty big piece to leave out of a book by an atheist that's theoretically about religion.There are several essays that directly relate to religion, I really liked "Can Religion Cure Our Troubles" and there are a few that you might be able to kinda sorta relate back to religion, but you'd be making the connection there, not Bertrand. An example of that would be the essay on Thomas Paine. I know Thomas Paine was very outspoken about religion, but the extent to which it comes up in the essay is that he pissed off Jefferson and Washington for running his mouth off about his non traditional beliefs (he was Deist). They shared those beliefs they just weren't about to admit it and didn't like Paine's uncompromising literature. That probably accounts for about two sentences of the essay.Another of my favorites, "Nice People", could certainly point the finger at hypocritical behavior of some Christians...or any other person that projects a mantle of moral superiority while acting without disregard for the well-being of other people. It certainly never singles Christians out, or any other group for that matter. The essay does just fine coyly listing examples of the sorts nice behavior practiced by "nice people". For example:"Above all they keep alive the pleasures of the hunt. In a homogeneous country population, such as that of the English shire, people are condemned to hunt foxes; this is expensive and sometimes even dangerous. Moreover, the fox cannot explain very clearly how much he dislikes being hunted. In all these respects the hunting of the human being is better sport, but if it were not for the nice people, it would be difficult to hunt human beings with a good conscience. Those whom the nice people condemn are fair game; at their call of "Tallyho" the hunt assembles, and the victim is pursued to prison or death. It is especially good sport when the victim is a woman, since this gratifies the jealousy of the women and the sadism of the men."All and all the book is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the essays are great. But a fair chunk are just so-so and two of them didn't read like Bertrand at all. This is the consequence of the essays being drawn from the first fifty years of Bertrand's writing. Two essays written in the 'ots lack all of the confidence, wit and simplicity that make Bertrand so enjoyable to me. They sounded an awful lot like a unsure, but overachieving college student that tries too hard to write seriously by using cold, formal and overly decorated language.The book ends with a reasonably detailed account of Bertrand's dismissal from New York City College before he actually got a chance to start. It's a pretty outrageous case of ideological bigotry. Though he had widespread support of the college's board, students and their parents Russell was ousted by what amounted to an angry mob and a shady judge that decided that Bertrand's astonishingly modern, but shamelessly misrepresented views on sex, marriage and (egads) masturbation would corrupt students and encourage them to violate New York's penal laws. These were laws that among other things made extramarital sex and cohabitation a felony, especially if it was with "an unmarried female of any age of a previously chaste character".more
these ratinjgs here are as pernicious and prejorative as the indiv idual's mind who rates the book. having said that, i am joyful with Russell's sardonic style. I do wonder if tghe Lord Bertrand read much of Mark Twain as they both have this acerbic knife they uswe on their enemies (or those who do not agree with them). he essays were read by thiks writer during his early college days (mid 1960s), and I remmeber being enthralled at the man's erudition, yet being "common enough" to be understood by the layman. The piece at the end explaining the process of Lord Russell's being blackballed by the New York city political system was eye-opening. Next time anyone calls a New Yorker a "liberal," I'm going to jump in whatever fray they are in and they WILL take note of what I say. YOU WANT A LIBERAL? read this book.more
A call to reason from a great thinker.more
The question of whether there is a god, and if so, what our relations with them should be, is a timeless one. I decided to read this book as a counterpoint to a book arguing for the existence and relevance of god a month or two ago. In contrast, Russell's point of view, expressed eloquently and forcefully, is that he believes there not to be a god, and that religion has by and large been a force for tyranny, anti-intellectualism, and negativity in the world through history. He attempts to refute the reasonable arguments for the existence of god, as well as rejecting the moral ones, and finally deploring the policies of religion that have listed until this day, in many cases, such as being anti-contraception.Russell's prose is very well-written and persuasive, and the longest essay of the book, What I Believe, lays out a very interesting way of life for people to follow, as well. Other essays, concerning other atheists and their fate (on Thomas Paine), dealing with children, the ethics of sexuality, and other topics, are also very well done. Since it's a list of essays on similar topics, there is certainly overlap, but it's not too great, and that they were written at different times allows one to see the growth and changes in his thought over time. I really enjoyed this book, and found it both thought-provoking and something that I will carry with me over time. The final essay, regarding how Russell was refused employment at the City College of New York by local government due to his atheism in 1940, shows that the influence of religion on politics and authority were already apparent, and the effects of atheism overblown, even then. It may have gotten worse since, but it's still visible in our past.This one's definitely worth reading, if you have an open mind about the question of religion.more
Classic treatise on atheism from a deep thinker. Some essays are better than others (a bit outmoded language) - but a very worthwhile read.more
Suffers from being outdated in some places ... and discussion of what makes up "the good life" wanders into some soft territory.more
Read all 11 reviews

Reviews

Very enlightening.more
This is neither Russell's best nor his most cohesive work (there is a good deal of repetition between the essays, and they were written for a number of different venues); however, this is Bertrand Russell we're talking about ... so for this reviewer, anyway, the temptation to mark particularly good passages was strong. For the most part these essays sparkle with the usual fire.I will say that the long Appendix (not written by Russell) detailing how Russell was prevented from teaching at the City College of New York leaves me breathless with revulsion.Certainly in these frighteningly Bible-thumping times in the U.S., this material is highly relevant.more
Russell first defines what he means by a Christian: someone who believes in God, the immortality of the soul, and Jesus Christ. Then he explains why he does not believe. Step-by-step he dismisses as fallacious the arguments for the existence of God: the first cause argument, the argument from design, etc. Then he discusses whether we survive death. Then the character of Jesus, as presented in the Gospels. He agrees that Jesus was an admirable man, but not divine and not the best or wisest of men. He gives examples from the Gospels. He believes that all religions are false and harmful. He even calls religion "a disease born of fear" and "a source of untold misery to the human race." Fear leads to cruelty, he says. "A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering." He explains his agnostic views with his usual lucidity. Russell was not an atheist; he was just not convinced by the arguments for God. He was always wary of certainties. So this book does not resolve anything, but it will give you plenty to think about. It is not a difficult read.more
One of the first books I read on freethought and agnosticism, this still holds a fond spot for me. Although the arguments presented here would not be new to me at this time, this was the first time I had heard many of them presented. Unlike many of today's philosophers, Russell writes lucid prose with clarity rather than obfuscation. From what I've read, and what I've observed from the philsophy departments I've been associated with, I believe Russell was truly one of the last original thinkers in the field. This book made a big impression on me, and I need to reread it soon.more
A classic, and just as powerful today as when it was written.more
Honestly this book didn't seem all that focused on religion or Christianity, especially considering Russell seems to always find a way to tie a complaint or two about religion into his books. (At least he has in every one I've read so far, I imagine it would be harder in his math books.) The essay the book takes it's title from doesn't put any significant consideration into why Russell was an atheist, just why he disapproved of the Christian church, which seems like a pretty big piece to leave out of a book by an atheist that's theoretically about religion.There are several essays that directly relate to religion, I really liked "Can Religion Cure Our Troubles" and there are a few that you might be able to kinda sorta relate back to religion, but you'd be making the connection there, not Bertrand. An example of that would be the essay on Thomas Paine. I know Thomas Paine was very outspoken about religion, but the extent to which it comes up in the essay is that he pissed off Jefferson and Washington for running his mouth off about his non traditional beliefs (he was Deist). They shared those beliefs they just weren't about to admit it and didn't like Paine's uncompromising literature. That probably accounts for about two sentences of the essay.Another of my favorites, "Nice People", could certainly point the finger at hypocritical behavior of some Christians...or any other person that projects a mantle of moral superiority while acting without disregard for the well-being of other people. It certainly never singles Christians out, or any other group for that matter. The essay does just fine coyly listing examples of the sorts nice behavior practiced by "nice people". For example:"Above all they keep alive the pleasures of the hunt. In a homogeneous country population, such as that of the English shire, people are condemned to hunt foxes; this is expensive and sometimes even dangerous. Moreover, the fox cannot explain very clearly how much he dislikes being hunted. In all these respects the hunting of the human being is better sport, but if it were not for the nice people, it would be difficult to hunt human beings with a good conscience. Those whom the nice people condemn are fair game; at their call of "Tallyho" the hunt assembles, and the victim is pursued to prison or death. It is especially good sport when the victim is a woman, since this gratifies the jealousy of the women and the sadism of the men."All and all the book is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the essays are great. But a fair chunk are just so-so and two of them didn't read like Bertrand at all. This is the consequence of the essays being drawn from the first fifty years of Bertrand's writing. Two essays written in the 'ots lack all of the confidence, wit and simplicity that make Bertrand so enjoyable to me. They sounded an awful lot like a unsure, but overachieving college student that tries too hard to write seriously by using cold, formal and overly decorated language.The book ends with a reasonably detailed account of Bertrand's dismissal from New York City College before he actually got a chance to start. It's a pretty outrageous case of ideological bigotry. Though he had widespread support of the college's board, students and their parents Russell was ousted by what amounted to an angry mob and a shady judge that decided that Bertrand's astonishingly modern, but shamelessly misrepresented views on sex, marriage and (egads) masturbation would corrupt students and encourage them to violate New York's penal laws. These were laws that among other things made extramarital sex and cohabitation a felony, especially if it was with "an unmarried female of any age of a previously chaste character".more
these ratinjgs here are as pernicious and prejorative as the indiv idual's mind who rates the book. having said that, i am joyful with Russell's sardonic style. I do wonder if tghe Lord Bertrand read much of Mark Twain as they both have this acerbic knife they uswe on their enemies (or those who do not agree with them). he essays were read by thiks writer during his early college days (mid 1960s), and I remmeber being enthralled at the man's erudition, yet being "common enough" to be understood by the layman. The piece at the end explaining the process of Lord Russell's being blackballed by the New York city political system was eye-opening. Next time anyone calls a New Yorker a "liberal," I'm going to jump in whatever fray they are in and they WILL take note of what I say. YOU WANT A LIBERAL? read this book.more
A call to reason from a great thinker.more
The question of whether there is a god, and if so, what our relations with them should be, is a timeless one. I decided to read this book as a counterpoint to a book arguing for the existence and relevance of god a month or two ago. In contrast, Russell's point of view, expressed eloquently and forcefully, is that he believes there not to be a god, and that religion has by and large been a force for tyranny, anti-intellectualism, and negativity in the world through history. He attempts to refute the reasonable arguments for the existence of god, as well as rejecting the moral ones, and finally deploring the policies of religion that have listed until this day, in many cases, such as being anti-contraception.Russell's prose is very well-written and persuasive, and the longest essay of the book, What I Believe, lays out a very interesting way of life for people to follow, as well. Other essays, concerning other atheists and their fate (on Thomas Paine), dealing with children, the ethics of sexuality, and other topics, are also very well done. Since it's a list of essays on similar topics, there is certainly overlap, but it's not too great, and that they were written at different times allows one to see the growth and changes in his thought over time. I really enjoyed this book, and found it both thought-provoking and something that I will carry with me over time. The final essay, regarding how Russell was refused employment at the City College of New York by local government due to his atheism in 1940, shows that the influence of religion on politics and authority were already apparent, and the effects of atheism overblown, even then. It may have gotten worse since, but it's still visible in our past.This one's definitely worth reading, if you have an open mind about the question of religion.more
Classic treatise on atheism from a deep thinker. Some essays are better than others (a bit outmoded language) - but a very worthwhile read.more
Suffers from being outdated in some places ... and discussion of what makes up "the good life" wanders into some soft territory.more
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