Bertrand Russell

Our whirlwind recap of the history of philosophy brings us into the twentieth century today. Where to begin? I nominate Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), logical atomist and comic book hero, arguably the most famous, influential, witty “public intellectual” of all time, and an old atheist.

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. The whole conception of a God is a conception derived from the ancient oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

“Why I am Not a Christian” has inspired imitators, including Ramendra Nath’s “Why I am Not a Hindu” and Ibn Warraq’s “Why I am Not a Muslim.” My colleague (Rabbi) Rami Shapiro has been eloquent on why he cannot consider himself exclusively Jewish (or anything else). Poems have been written about not being Buddhist. Here’s a “five birds with one” shot.  And inevitably: “Why I am Not an Atheist.”

Warraq (whose What the Koran Really Says was the subject of an earlier post) and others have also issued a declaration of principles that would swell Russell’s (or Tom Jefferson’s) chest. It begins,

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights…

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One Response to “Bertrand Russell”

  1. mina mousa Says:

    I loved the way Russell writes, and I agree with him that if we need to experience the beauty of life, we ought to drop the past from our calculations and memory and look forward for the future has much to be worried about, and the present deserves more, if not all, the attention that both of the past or the future. The past usually brings regret, self-blaming, and sorriness. However there were still some good memories about the past, human brain (I think by nature) prefers to keep and tight on the bad memories only! It is like our nature compels us to be as pessimists as possible. That is why life is tough, and that is why I think gaining knowledge is beneficial to fight our pessimistic nature by seeking all the meaning of life that make us as optimists as possible. It is a big challenge to become an optimist, but what is bigger is how we can employ it in order to be happy, which I think it is the cornerstone of the reason why we are living!

    That is why I believe very happy people are those who are good in playing the happiness game. Yea, happiness is a game. I admit it. And those who know how to play it, are the only happy people. And the hard thing about this game is it has no books nor resources from which we can find tactics to learn how to play it. But I think there is one, and only one, major source from which we can learn this game: It is life!!!

    Sadly, those who can play it well, apparently The Happy People, cannot teach it. it is the only game that we can learn, but never be able to teach!

    And now we are back to where we started, it is all based on human knowledge, and how we can employ these knowledge for our own privilege. It’s us who choose what we want, and how we can feel about things. The whole universe around us is perceived by our sensory organs, which transduce all the received information as electric impulses that travel to our brains. Apparently, these electric impulses are the same among all people, but what differs is how each one of us interpret them. In short, life can be pleasant if we want it to be so!

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