Why I Am Not a Christian

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Why I Am Not a Christian is a 1927 essay by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell hailed by The Independent as "devastating in its use of cold logic",[1][citation needed] and listed in the New York Public Library's list of the most influential books of the 20th century.[2]

History[edit]

Originally a talk given March 6, 1927 at Battersea Town Hall, under the auspices of the South London Branch of the National Secular Society, it was published that year as a pamphlet and was later published, with other essays, in the book, Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (ISBN 0-671-20323-1).

Contents[edit]

Russell begins by defining what he means by the term Christian and sets out to explain why he does not "believe in God and in immortality" and why he does not "think that Christ was the best and wisest of men", the two things he identifies as "essential to anybody calling himself a Christian". He considers a number of logical arguments for the existence of God, including the cosmological argument, the natural-law argument, the teleological argument and moral arguments following what he describes as "the intellectual descent that the Theists have made in their argumentations". He also goes into specifics about Christian theology, alleging defects in Jesus's teaching and his moral character, in particular because Jesus believed in hell and everlasting punishment. He argues ad absurdum against the "argument from design", and favors Darwin's theories:

It is an easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire's remark, that obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them, but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.[3]

Russell also expresses doubt over the historical existence of Jesus and questions the morality of religion: "I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world."[3] Russell concludes:

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes....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.[3]

Similarly-titled works by other authors[edit]

References[edit]

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