Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)

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Bertrand Russell first delivered this lecture on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall. 

See below for a section breakdown: 

What Is a Christian? :05
The Existence of God 2:58
The First-cause Argument 4:05
The Natural-law Argument 6:16
The Argument from Design 10:30
The Moral Arguments for Deity 13:32
The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice 16:13
The Character of Christ 18:23
Defects in Christ’s Teaching 21:10
The Moral Problem 23:24
The Emotional Factor 28:15
How the Churches Have Retarded Progress 31:10
Fear, the Foundation of Religion 32:59
What We Must Do 34:24

Full text: http://www.users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html

His longer book on the same subect, “Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays”: http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Essays-Religion-Related-Subjects/dp/067120323…

Bertrand Russel Wikipedia page:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell


continue to source article at youtube.com

27 COMMENTS

  1. I periodically dip into Why I’m Not a Christian, Marriage and Morals or Mortals and Others, and the material could have been written last week. Nothing has changed.

    Russell cottoned on to Darwin’s findings in his teens without the slightest difficulty, when almost everyone was in denial about them. Like I say, nothing’s changed!

    A wonderfully witty and self-depricating man too.

    His first wife Dora Russell, n’ee Dora Black, wrote a three volume autobiography entitled The Tamarisk Tree, first published in 1975 by Virago, which gives penetrating insights into the period.

  2. I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think I’ve heard the original version as broadcast by Russell himself; I’ve certainly heard some of his original broadcasts.

    I say that because I remember how much his delivery contrasted with my reading of the material.

    Russell’s was a throwaway delivery, which made much of what he said very dry and funny.

    The more profound and serious the passage or point he was making the lighter became the tone, which hightened the irony and wit.

    He gave very little if any emphasis to particular words or phrases, letting the sense of what he was saying remain clear and free of emotion, thus increasing the impact.

    I suppose the original has deteriorated beyond use.

  3. Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays was the book that turned me away from supernatural belief in my teens. It is still on my bookshelves today, 60 years later, and I still re-read it from time to time with a sense of gratitude.

  4. In reply to #7 by Stafford Gordon:

    I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think I’ve heard the original version as broadcast by Russell himself; I’ve certainly heard some of his original broadcasts.

    I say that because I remember how much his delivery contrasted with my reading of the material.

    Russell’s was a throwaway delivery, which made much of what he said very dry and funny.

    The more profound and serious the passage or point he was making the lighter became the tone, which hightened the irony and wit.

    He gave very little if any emphasis to particular words or phrases, letting the sense of what he was saying remain clear and free of emotion, thus increasing the impact.

    I suppose the original has deteriorated beyond use.

    In 4 parts on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFDTCy8Dwm0

  5. He knocked Christianity out of the ring 87 years ago. A comprehensive and devastating attack. An intellectual and moral tour de force.

    It just goes to show how difficult it is to kill a thing that has no head and no heart.

  6. It is quite depressing that he wrote those words so many years ago and today, so many years later there are still people in the world who believe that Earth is younger than beer!

    In reply to #10 by phil rimmer:

    He knocked Christianity out of the ring 87 years ago. A comprehensive and devastating attack. An intellectual and moral tour de force.

    It just goes to show how difficult it is to kill a thing that has no head and no heart.

  7. In reply to #9 by ArloNo:

    In reply to #7 by Stafford Gordon:I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think I’ve heard the original version as broadcast by Russell himself; I’ve certainly heard some of his original broadcasts.I say that because I remember how much his delivery contrasted with my reading of the material.Russell’s was a throwaway delivery, which made much of what he said very dry and funny.The more profound and serious the passage or point he was making the lighter became the tone, which hightened the irony and wit.He gave very little if any emphasis to particular words or phrases, letting the sense of what he was saying remain clear and free of emotion, thus increasing the impact.I suppose the original has deteriorated beyond use.In 4 parts on YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFDTCy8Dwm0

    Thanks.

    S G

  8. Russell’s History of Western Philosophy is without doubt the best reader on the subject ever written.

    It is the most thumbed reference on my shelf, and were I a billionaire I would gladly pay for a copy to be given to every household in the UK.

    Opening my original copy has a quote pencil marked as early as page two:

    Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.

    It is a quote I’ve used so often I’m surprised it doesn’t look worn on your screen.

    I normally end the quote there, but as we have recently talked about the uses of philosophy it seems appropriate to continue to the end of the paragraph:

    It is not good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to them. To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those that study it.

    An absolutely brilliant human being.

    Anvil.

  9. In reply to #9 by ArloNo:

    In reply to #7 by Stafford Gordon:I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think I’ve heard the original version as broadcast by Russell himself; I’ve certainly heard some of his original broadcasts.I say that because I remember how much his delivery contrasted with my reading of the material.Russell’s was a throwaway delivery, which made much of what he said very dry and funny.The more profound and serious the passage or point he was making the lighter became the tone, which hightened the irony and wit.He gave very little if any emphasis to particular words or phrases, letting the sense of what he was saying remain clear and free of emotion, thus increasing the impact.I suppose the original has deteriorated beyond use.In 4 parts on YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFDTCy8Dwm0

    I tried the website address you gave only to find that the videos aren’t available.

    S G

  10. He was superb. The autobiography is worth reading.

    One of the maxims much used by his generation which is most likely to have originated from Russell is

    “The first thing an ideal does, if it really is an ideal, is to kill somebody”

    way to go Bertie!

  11. Thank you.

    I thought there might be a few quotes with images on Pinterest and was not disappointed.

    “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

    “The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge”

    “If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years.”

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”

    “Religion is something that is left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines. “

    “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. “

    “Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.”

  12. A fearless commentator.

    Imagine the social pressure to conform in the nineteen twenties. A philosopher who decried religion risked obloquy and disgrace, yet his outlook was untainted, clear as a bell.

    An example for us all. Thanks, Bertie!

  13. I was raised without religion, but I found my trajectory with ‘Why I Am Not A Christian’ when I was about 12, and I’ve never looked back. I have recent copies of 3 Russell books, and they are as enlightening as ever….

  14. The “How churches have retarded progress” part is a quite brilliant and strong statement. This was 1927 and what do have now? The same. Take an example of a debate where Hitchens and Stephen Fry were up against Anne Widecombe and a Catholic cardinal (or whatever he was). They brought up the subject of condoms in Africa to stop AIDs spreading. Of course, the Catholic side rejected it, but not in any reasonable way. If you ever see the debate, it’s very much as if Anne Widdecombe just doesn’t want to go anywhere near a discussion which touches on sex. When I think about it, yes 1927 and why didn’t I see that at school in the 1970′s? “Praise the Lord!” for Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, etc. And with the power of the internet behind them, I wonder if it means they will achieve more than Bertrand Russell could have in terms of getting the information to the masses. For anyone interested, the debate I refer to is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBXy323hoWA

  15. I recall Bertrand Russell was occasionally mentioned during my schooldays, and although the comments were casual they were clearly disapproving, both of his atheism and his pacifism. So it was rather wonderful to discover this book a few years later, and I’ve had a great regard for the old boy ever since.

  16. When a child I was sent to Sunday School. The indoctrination never quite worked. I also went to church foundation schools. Again their religious education never rang true. The Jesuits would have whipped me if I’d been at one of their schools.

    Then in 1965 at the age of 13 I read Bertrand Russell. He’d been introduced at school as a pacifist, but I moved on to his Atheist works which were also in the school’s library.

    Russell succeeded where Sunday School and school RE had failed. I understood what he said, it made sense, it rang true and was clearly the truth that religion wasn’t. From then onwards I have been an Atheist, increasingly radical with age.

    The religious education has come in useful sometimes as ammunition to throw back at the faithful, Russell’s works have been more so in leaving me with a solid basis for my certainty. A scientific education and further reading of the likes of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, have reinforced my views but I have never forgotten who showed me the way, who cleared the fog.

    I must re-read it in full. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve recommended it to!

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