It has been said that man is religious by nature. The fact that a large proportion of the world’s population holds to one of the variety of religious belief systems available in the world seems to attest to this. It is useful, from time to time, to consider one’s own faith and to contemplate whether one’s views are defensible and, if so, how? Adhering to a set of religious beliefs that you can not defend questions the validity of those beliefs. On the other hand, going through this process and concluding by constructing a defense for your own faith helps to solidify your beliefs. This is the process that I have gone through in the writing of this essay. The desire to go through this process was the reason that I chose this essay topic.
This essay is a discussion of four essays by the well-known philosopher, Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not A Christian,” “The Essence of Religion,” “What Is An Agnostic?” and “Can Religion Cure Our Troubles?” from The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell 1903-1959. After a brief biography of Russell, an overview of the arguments that he makes against religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular are given. I then counter Russell’s contentions with my own arguments in favor of Christianity. I contend that he contradicts himself when he argues for a non-dogmatic religion, that there are solid arguments for the existence of God, that Jesus Christ was justified and blameless in his actions, and that Russell does not fully understand Christianity and, therefore, his criticisms are weakened.
Bertrand Arthur William Russell was born to Viscount and Lady Amberley near Trelleck, Wales on May 18, 1872. Both his parents died when he was quite young, his mother when he was two and his father eighteen months later, and so he was raised during his youth and adolescent years by his grandmother, Countess Russell. These being Victorian times, and his grandmother a puritanical Victorian, Russell likely found the atmosphere at Pembroke Hall “bleak, dull and repressive” (Ryan 7-8). As a child, Russell acquired for himself the Unitarian faith of his grandmother, a faith that he lost at the age of eighteen after reading John Stuart Mill’s refutation of the First Cause argument for the existence of God (Ryan 38).
He began his academic studies at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1890, and secured a fellowship there in 1895 (Ryan 21,28). His activities with the Union for Democratic Control (UDC) and the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF) cost him his position at Trinity in 1915. His war-time activism earned him a conviction for ‘insulting an ally’ and a few months in jail in 1918 (Ryan 55-56). He visited Russia in 1920 and China in 1920-21 (Ryan 82-83). From 1927-33, Russell and his second of four wives, Dora Black, operated Beacon Hill school out of their home, Telegraph House (Ryan 103). From 1938-44, he taught and lectured in the United States, at Chicago, UCLA and Harvard. An offer of a position at City University in New York was withdrawn in 1940 because of protests over his views about morality and religion. In 1944, he returned to England to take a post created for him by Trinity College (Ryan 125-126).
During his lifetime, Russell was a prolific writer, winning the Nobel prize for literature in 1950. In his lectures, articles and books, he espoused his positions regarding education, morality, philosophy, ethics, religion, economics, birth control, marriage and pacifism. He continued to publicly express his opinions well into his nineties, condemning American actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War (Ryan 201, 203). He died in 1970.
In the four essays being considered, Russell describes what religion is and what it should be, defines his personal position, that of agnosticism, states his reasons for his opposition to Christianity, and discusses whether there is a need for religion at all. In the first essay, “The Essence of Religion,” Russell begins by discussing the nature of man. “The soul of man is a strange mixture of God and brute, a battleground of two natures, the one particular, finite, self-centred, the other universal, infinite, and impartial” (Russell 565). Only when the finite self absolutely surrenders to the universal, infinite and impartial soul will one be able to live a “life free from struggle, a life in harmony with the whole.” The result is not a mystical connection to another world, but a different way of regarding this world, and everyday life within it (Russell 567).
Russell then makes his case for a religion without dogma. Dogma, he maintains, is irreconcilable with contemporary thought, and so traditional religions, which rely upon dogma and, thus, upon traditional beliefs, are abhorrent to free-thinkers such as himself. However, he would like to retain some of the elements of Christianity, namely worship, acquiescence and love.
Regarding worship, Russell describes four basic categories: the worship of the ideal, the worship of the actual, selective worship and impartial worship. The worship of the ideal is the worship of an ideal quality, or the embodiment of an ideal quality. This is also selective worship, for, according to Russell, this type of worship is dependent on the object of worship containing that ideal. The worship of the actual is the worship of something that actually exists in our world. Russell correctly maintains that worship of the actual is necessary for “this worship [of the ideal], though necessary to all religious action, does not alone suffice, since it does not produce that sense of union with the actual world which compels us to descend from the world of contemplation and seek … to realize what is possible of the good here on earth” (Russell 570). Russell states that this worship of the actual must not be selective, it must be impartial so that it cannot be mistaken and so it will not rely upon dogma. With these principles, Russell has defined a religion that is without dogma, and is therefore undeniable and, as a result, acceptable to free thinkers such as himself. He goes further to state that religion is a result of this duo of worship forms: selective worship and impartial worship (Russell 570-571).
Regarding acquiescence, Russell states that it is necessary both in our private griefs and with regards to fundamental evils in the world. Acquiescence in our private griefs is attained when one submits, through contemplation, to the impartial will. Because acquiescence in our private griefs allows one to change his or her focus from that which is uncontrollable and frustrating to a more positive and potentially more productive and fulfilling direction, it is also necessary for “the growth of universal love and the impartial will” (Russell 572).
Acquiescence regarding fundamental evil is necessary to prevent indignation and thus, an unnecessary preoccupation with the good or evil of those things which we cannot control. “Acquiescence in fundamental evils … is furthered by the impartiality of contemplation and universal love and worship, and must already exist to some extent before these become possible” (Russell 573).
With respect to love, Russell defines two categories: selective earthly love and impartial heavenly love. Selective earthly love is always offset with hatred, and thus it produces disunion. Impartial heavenly love, the emotional aspect of the universal soul, finds joy in whatever it loves, regardless of whether the object of the love is good or bad. “It is love, contemplative in origin, but becoming active wherever action is possible; and it is a kind of love to which there is no opposing hatred” (Russell 573). Universal love allows a person to link their universal soul with others in a universal communion.
In this way, Russell has defined what, in his opinion, is the essence of religion and puts forth what would be, again, in his opinion, a superior alternative to traditional religions. As in other religions, this alternative has a horizontal (human-to-human) dimension, and a vertical one (human-to-the-divine), however, any sort of theistic divinity has been replaced by the ideal good. The motto of this non-theistic and, supposedly, non-dogmatic alternative could be “to know all, to love all, and to serve all” (Russell 575).
In “What Is An Agnostic?”, Russell defines an agnostic as someone who says that we can not know for sure whether or not God exists. An agnostic may also hold that the likelihood that God exists is extremely unlikely, and in that case, he or she would be in agreement with the atheists. Russell then expands by describing how an agnostic regards many beliefs that are both important and common to Christians. Russell maintains that an agnostic denies the authority of God, the Christian definitions of Good and Evil, and the concept of sin. He also states that an agnostic does not believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Birth, or the Trinity. The existence of a human soul, the existence of heaven or hell, the threat of God’s judgment, the validity of miracles or revelations of God’s omnipotence, and the validity of morals or ethics of divine origins are also denied by an agnostic (Russell 577-583).
Russell considers that question of whether an agnostic could also be a Christian and replies that it depends on the definition of Christianity. If belief in God and immortality are essential beliefs of Christianity, then they are incompatible, for such beliefs are unacceptable to an agnostic. “But, if the word ‘Christianity” comes to be generally used to mean merely a kind of morality, then it will certainly be possible for an Agnostic to be a Christian” (Russell 580). Russell further denies that religion has served as a bulwark to protect people from base and cruel passions. Instead, he maintains that “[religion] has sanctified them, and enable people to indulge in [base and cruel passions] without remorse” and any spirit of tolerance considered to be Christian has, in fact, arose as a product of the questioning and criticism of Christianity by free thinkers (Russell 582).
Agnosticism is also defined in a positive manner. Agnostics live by rules and laws which are based upon secular arguments for their existence (Russell 578, 580-581). He or she is guided by reason when considering matters of fact. When reason is an insufficient guide, such as during consideration of what ends we should pursue (like whether one should travel to Chicago or not), the agnostic should be guided by reason, and also emotion, feeling and desire (Russell 583).
In the third essay under consideration, “Why I Am Not A Christian,” Russell begins by defining a Christian as one who believes in God and immortality and that Jesus Christ “was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men” (Russell 585-586). Russell’s goal is to show why he rejects these beliefs.
To show why he does not believe in God, Russell goes through various arguments for the existence of God and refutes each one of them. The ‘First Cause Argument’ states that each and every thing has a cause. This long chain of causes and effects traces back to a first cause, and that first cause is God. Russell’s counter to this argument is that if each and every thing has a cause, then what caused God? If the long chain of causes and effects does have to have a first cause, why could not the first cause just as well be the world instead of God (Russell 587)?
The ‘Natural Law Argument’ states that within the universe are various natural laws, such as the Law of Gravity. These natural laws must have a source, and that source is God. Russell replies that this argument arises from a confusion between manmade laws and natural laws. “Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way,… but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave” (Russell 588).
Russell describes the ‘Argument From Design’ as follows: “everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it.” Russell denies any trace of design in nature, he attributes the suitability of plants and animals to their environments as a product of natural adaptation. He also suggests that an omnipotent being with eons of time could have created a better world than the flawed and dying one we live in (Russell 589-590).
The ‘Moral Argument For Deity’ is “that there would be no right or wrong unless God existed” (Russell 590). Russell’s counter-argument asks if the difference between right and wrong is due only to God’s command. If it is, then for God, there is no right and wrong and it makes no sense to say that God is good. If it is not, and therefore, right and wrong have meaning independent of God, then they did not come into being through God and existed before God (Russell 590).
The ‘Argument for the Remedying of Justice’ states that “the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world” (Russell 591). Russell implies that this argument is just wishful thinking. If there are any other worlds, or any other lives, he maintains that the reasonable expectation is that they will be just as unjust as this one is. He goes on to state that the reason that people believe in religion is because of religious indoctrination since childbirth, and the wish for personal safety (Russell 591).
Next, Russell discusses his views about the character of Jesus Christ. There are some qualities of Christ which Russell finds appealing are non-resistance, impartiality and benevolence. But Russell states that Christ’s teaching is defective because he taught that he would be coming back within a generation, yet he did not. Russell also regards Christ’s belief in Hell and His teaching regarding Hell to be immoral. Russell also questions Jesus Christ’s morality. Russell believes that to cause fear, pain and anguish by teaching about the existence of Hell as Jesus did is immoral. Also, Russell maintains that such teachings licensed future generations to inflict cruelty and torture on innocent people. Finally, Russell comments that Jesus’ actions in casting the demons into the Gadarene swine and then killing them, and the cursing of the fig tree which was not producing fruit, were unnecessary and harmful and thus immoral (Russell 591-594).
Russell argues that history shows that most of Christianity adherents are wicked, and the religion itself was the most wicked when belief in it was the strongest. He contends, again from history, that Christianity has again and again shown itself to be the enemy of moral progress. He states that even in contemporary society (this essay was first given as a lecture on March 6, 1927) the Church “is in its major part an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness” (Russell 595-596). He ends his arguments about Christianity by stating his belief that religion is based upon fear, “fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, [and] fear of death” (Russell 596). He maintains that these fears can be overcome by relying upon science for the answers to our questions. He calls upon people to face the facts of life squarely and without fear and to do the best that they can to make the world a better place (Russell 596-597).
In the final essay being considered, “Can Religion Cure Our Troubles?”, Russell raises the question of whether religion is necessary to impose moral rules and thus preserve society. Regarding moral rules, Russell defines two categories: “those which have no basis except in a religious creed; and… those which have an obvious basis in social utility” (Russell 598). The moral rules Russell is concerned with are the latter category.
Russell argues that:
imputing a theological origin to morals is inextricably bound up with … grave evils…. As soon as men incline to doubt received theology it comes to be supported by odious and harmful means [such as burning at the stake or ostracizing those who dare to question]…. In this way, any system of morals which has a theological basis becomes one of the tools by which the holders of power preserve their authority and impair the intellectual vigour of the young. (Russell 599-600)
Russell deplores the lack of concern for truth in contemporary society and argues that support for any belief for any reason, other than that it is true, is dangerous. He writes “I can respect the men who argue that religion is true and therefore ought to be believed, but I can only feel profound moral reprobation for those who say that religion ought to be believed because it is useful, and that to ask whether it is true is a waste of time” (Russell 600). In the second half of this essay, Russell accuses Professor Herbert Butterfield, who wrote Christianity and History of doing just that.
Russell questions whether Christianity does in fact have a higher standard of morality than its religious competitors. He argues that the history of Christianity shows that it does not. To answer that the Christian perpetrators of injustice were not ‘true’ Christians is a cop-out to Russell and he accuses Christianity of selectively choosing to follow some doctrines of Christ, while ignoring others. He further accuses Christianity of being, not a solution to contemporary problems (this essay was first published in November 1954), but the cause of them. Russell attributes contemporary society’s problem, along with the rise of Nazism and Communism, the First World War, which, he contends, was thoroughly Christian in origin. He maintains that “what the world needs is reasonableness, tolerance, and a realization of the interdependence of the parts of the human family…. Intelligence, it might be said, has caused our troubles; but it is not unintelligence that will cure them. Only more and wiser intelligence can make a happier world” (Russell 604).
Russell’s opposition to traditional religions, in general, and Christianity, in particular, could be summed up by saying that he believes a religion without dogma is preferable to traditional dogmatic religions, the arguments for the existence of God are refutable, and the character of Jesus Christ is suspect. He also believes that historical and present day evidence shows that the Church fails to live up to the high moral standards it espouses and continually opposes progress and improvement in the human condition. These are the arguments that I intend to counter.
Russell’s argument about dogma seems to be bound up in the definition of dogma. Russell seems to be defining dogma as rules and regulations set down by the Church which are based upon revealed theological knowledge and that coincides with the common definition of dogma. However, Russell also seems to be laying down rules and regulations for his religion. First, the religion should not depend upon any dogmas (Russell 568). Second, adherents of the new religion should worship the ideal good (Russell 569). Third, because the object of one’s worship needs to connect with the worshipper’s reality, “we [also] need the kind of worship which is only given to what exists” (Russell 570). Fourth, “the worship which can be given to whatever exists must not be selective, it must not involve any judgement as to the goodness of what is worshipped, but must be a direct impartial emotion …. but it is an essential part of the worship to wish that [the object] may be as good as possible” (Russell 570). Fifth, “acquiescence in private griefs is an essential element in the growth of universal love and the impartial will …. [so that] the will is led away from protest against the inevitable, towards the pursuit of more general goods which are not wholly unattainable” (Russell 572). Sixth, acquiescence in fundamental evils is necessary because characterizing random or chance events as good or bad is absurd, and because a preoccupation with good and bad “prevents impartial contemplation and interferes with universal love and worship” (Russell 572). Seventh, to the divine love, to which we should aspire, “the division of the world into good and bad …. seems unreal; what is felt to be real is the oneness of the world in love” (Russell 573). Eighth, “we with our ideals must stand alone, and conquer, inwardly, the world’s indifference” (Russell 576). It seems to me that Russell’s non-dogmatic religion is very dogmatic, the only difference being that Russell, and not God, is the source of the dogma. It also seems very ironic to me that Russell, who advises us to avoid dependence “upon dogmas to which an intellectually honest assent grows daily more difficult” (Russell 568), asks us to suspend our faculties of judgement of good and evil regarding the what we worship, what we submit to, and what we love. For additional proof of the dogmatic nature of Russell’s religion refer to the synopsis of his essay “What is an Agnostic?”
In countering Russell’s refutation of various arguments for the existence of God, I will discuss two of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God, the Cosmological, or First Cause, Argument, and the Teleological, or Design, Argument. The Cosmological Argument states that each effect has a cause and this results in a series of causes and effects that extend backward in time. Because such a regression cannot extend infinitely backward in time, there must have been a First Cause, and that First Cause is God. Russell contends that there is no reason why such a regression cannot extend infinitely backward in time, and, if there needs to be a First Cause, the First Cause does not have to be God, it could be the earth.
If you consider everything in our cosmos, each and every thing can either exist or not exist. Second, everything in the cosmos is constantly changing. We, as people, change as we grow older. The earth, the moon, the sun and the stars also change as time passes by. Given an infinite regression of time, constant change, and the infinite permutations of things existing in the cosmos at any one time, then at some time in the past, there was a time when nothing existed. It is obvious that that is not the case now, and since something cannot come from nothing, then there must have been an uncaused First Cause, external to our cosmos, but able to cause effects within it. I believe that that First Cause is God.
Russell’s statement of the Argument from Design is slightly different from my understanding of it. Russell understands the Argument as stating that “everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it” (Russell 589). My understanding of the Argument from Design is that it is an analogy. When we see a man-made artifact like an arrowhead or a watch, we notice the evidence of intelligent design. This we attribute to an intelligent designer. In the same way, when we look at the earth, we see the evidence of intelligent design. The earth is the exact distance from the sun that it needs to be to sustain life. Any closer would be too hot, further away would be too cold. The earth is tilted on its axis. This creates seasons upon the earth and allows a much larger area of the earth to support life. The human eye, the human wrist and the blood circulatory system of humans and animals, all show evidence of design just like, and are more complicated than, a video camera, the Canadarm, and the cooling system on your car.
The usual reply to the design argument is that the present day qualities of everything that presently exists arose out of natural adaptation, not design. However, there are problems with this explanation. Evolution contravenes the second law of Thermodynamics. As I understand it, the law states that in a closed system (as our universe is) things tend toward disorder. Evolution contends that order arises out of disorder. Also, support for evolution in the geological record is scarce. Darwin himself was unable to point to a single example of such evidence (Oldroyd 92). Man, even through artificial breeding, is not able to replicate evolution and develop new species of domestic animals (Oldroyd 132-133). To overcome the problem of the inevitable dilution of the genetic material of any better adapted individuals that arise, Darwinism has to maintain that the environment ensures that better adapted individuals will continue to arise (Oldroyd 133-137). In other words, Darwinism is forced to admit an element of design.
Russell, both in praising Christ and criticizing him takes Bible verses out of context to make his point. This contravenes standard Biblical interpretation methods. A more accurate method of Biblical interpretation is to compare the verse being studied with related Bible verses to better understand its meaning. One of the verses quoted by Russell is: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28 NIV). Mark records Jesus’ words in this way: “And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1 NIV). The same verse as recorded by Luke reads: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27 NIV). The phrases “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” and “the kingdom of God” are usually interpreted as referring to the Transfiguration, which is the next recorded event in the Synoptic Gospels. This interpretation appears to be supported by the words of Peter:
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18 NIV)
There is evidence that suggests that early Christians were expecting Christ to return in their lifetime. However, with regards to his second coming, Jesus said: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32-33 NIV), “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…. So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Mark 24:36,42,44 NIV), and “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Mark 25:13 NIV).
Russell questions Christ’s morality. He regards Christ’s warnings about hell to be immoral because those warnings have caused people anxiety, pain and anguish. Russell would be correct if hell did not exist. I believe Jesus’ assertions that hell does exist and that his warnings are given out of love and concern for us. Regarding the Gadarene swine, a more complete reading of the Biblical passages (Mark 5:1-17, Matthew 8:28-34, and Luke 8:26-37) shows that the demons asked to be allowed to go into the swine. Jesus gave them permission and the swine rushed down the hill toward the sea and drowned. Jesus acted out of love and concern for the demon-possessed man. Russell criticizes him out of concern for the pigs. Because Russell believes that this world is all that there is, he does not believe Jesus is justified in his actions. Jesus acted out of concern for the man’s physical welfare and spiritual welfare, and for his mortal life and his eternal life. Because I believe that there is a physical realm, a spiritual realm, and life after death, I maintain that Jesus’ actions in exorcising the demons out of the man and destroying them are justifiable and without fault.
The accounts of Jesus cursing the fig tree are given in Mark 11:12-14, 20-24 and Matthew 21:18-22. Jesus’ actions seem immoral to Russell, but there is a reason for them. The footnotes of The NIV Study Bible explain:
[Mark] 11:13 not the season for figs. Fig trees around Jerusalem normally begin to get leaves in March or April but do not produce figs until their leaves are all out in June. This tree was an exception in that it was already, at Passover time, full of leaves.
[Mark] 11:14 May no one ever eat fruit from you again. Perhaps the incident was a parable of judgment, with the fig tree representing Israel (see Hos 9:10; Na 3:12). A tree full of leaves normally should have fruit, but this one was cursed because it had none. The fact that the cleansing of the temple (vv. 15-19) is sandwiched between the two parts of the account of the fig tree (vv. 12-14 and vv. 20-25) may underscore the theme of judgment (see note on v. 21). The only application Jesus makes, however, is as an illustration of believing prayer (vv. 21-25).
[Mark] 11:20 In the morning. Tuesday morning of Passion Week. withered from the roots. This detail indicated that the destruction was total (see Job 18:16) and that no one in the future would eat fruit from the tree. It served as a vivid warning of the judgment to come in A.D. 70 (see 13:2 and note on Mt 24:2)
[Mark] 11:21 Rabbi. Hebrew word for “(my) teacher.” fig tree you cursed. See note on v. 14. has withered. Perhaps prophetic of the fate of the Jewish authorities who were about to reject their Messiah. (The NIV Study Bible pp. 1516-1517, from the footnotes)
I believe that the above quotation provides a reasonable explanation for Jesus’ actions. I again contend that his actions are just and moral.
Perhaps the one charge that Christians are most uncomfortable with is that of hypocrisy. Both the Church, past and present, and individual Christians, past and present, have, at various times, failed to live up to the high moral standard that they profess. In fact, there is no defense. There is no defense for Christian progroms against the Jews during the Crusades. There is no defense for burning people convicted of witchcraft on trumped up charges. There is no defense for sitting in the front pew at church on Sunday, and cheating your neighbor in a business deal on Monday. There is no defense, but there is a reason for it. Christians are fallible, sinful human beings just like everyone else. Therefore, they lie, cheat, steal, murder, divorce, and beat their spouses just as non-Christians do. Christian institutions, contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine, are fallible human institutions just like all other human institutions. Therefore, they also make mistakes, act in their own self-interest, sacrifice principles for pragmatism, and commit great wrongs, either by omission or commission.
We do aspire to a high moral standard. We are called to keep not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law as well. Being fallible human beings, the task is impossible, and the law serves to convict us of our sins. We are helpless and cannot save ourselves. But God had a plan. By sending His Son to earth, God planned to reconcile mankind to Him. Jesus Christ, both true man and true God, lived a pure and sinless life on earth. He was, therefore, the perfect sacrificial Lamb, and His substitutionary suffering and death on the cross paid the debt for all of the sins of all people throughout time. Because of that, we humans are now reconciled to God, for in God’s eyes, we are now sinless. This wondrous gift is freely given to us, we can not do anything at all to earn. It is a gift that we receive through faith in Jesus Christ. When we believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and we trust totally in Him for our salvation, we receive this gift of the payment of all our sins, and our salvation is ensured. Jesus not only paid the debt of our sins, but He rose again from the dead, thus defeating death and the grave and giving us the hope of eternal life in the perfect and heavenly world to come. This is the essence of Christianity. This is the essence of my faith. This is what I believe.
Failure, or refusal, to understand the Christian Gospel leads to a misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about. Without the Gospel, all that is left is the Law, and because it is obvious that Christians do not fulfill the Law, they appear to be hypocritical. Bertrand Russell and others may criticize Christianity, if they wish to, but until they understand both the Law and the Gospel, their criticisms miss the mark.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” [Isaiah 29:14]
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25 NIV)
Oldroyd, D. R. Darwinian Impacts. An Introduction to the Darwinian Revolution. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanties Press, 1980.
Russell, Bertrand. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1903-1959. Edited by Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Denonn. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.,
Ryan, Alan. Bertrand Russell. A Political Life. New York: Hill and Wang, 1988.
(This essay was written for Religious Studies 110.6, University of Saskatchewan, 24 March 1998 )