Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian

The day of nice people, I fear, is nearly over; two things are killing it. The first is the belief that there is no harm in being happy, provided no one else is the worse for it; the second is the dislike of humbug, a dislike which is quite as much aesthetic as moral. Both these revolts were encouraged by the War, when the nice people in all countries were securely in control, and in the name of the highest morality induced the young people to slaughter one another. When it was all over the survivors began to wonder whether lies and misery inspired by hatred constituted the highest virtue. I am afraid it may be some time before they can again be induced to accept this fundamental doctrine of every really lofty ethic.

The essence of nice people is that they hate life as manifested in tendencies to cooperation, in the boisterousness of children, and above all in sex, with the thought of which they are obsessed. In a word, nice people are those who have nasty minds."

Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, pg. 156

Fascinating couple of paragraphs. I think it illustrates beautifully what happens when a lofty ethic is peddled without authenticity of heart. God's moral standards help decipher life for the one who sets his hope in Him. But to those who look at the standards themselves for life and joy, they will find emptiness and their own delusive hearts (nasty minds).

1 comment:

Mark Case said...

Actually, I was highly entertained by this particular essay by Bertrand Russell. I think that he wrote this "tongue-in-cheek," i.e., the "nice people" were actually what society at large considers "nice people," but not what Mr. Russell considers "nice." All of the characteristics of the "nice" crowd were described in decidedly NOT nice characteristics, which stems (according to Russell) from religious paradigms.

I find it very difficult to disagree with this. I used to be a conservative Christian, but now consider myself agnostic (I haven't gone all the way to the atheism of Russell). This is in some measure because of the inconsistencies of the Christian faith and the people charged with its propagation. The "nice" minister described by Russell is all too familiar to me. If the "unchanging truth" of Christianity were as advertised, those who know it best should be petrified of violating key behavioral precepts pertaining to it; adultery in particular, but also many others. Russell does a good job of humorously explaining this phenomenon in "Nice People," illustrating the fact that in the end, human nature trumps religious dogma at every turn.

I'm done with being an evangelical Christian because of this and several other considerations. It is liberating to see validity in other faith traditions like Buddhism, where one's behavior is the key to enlightenment and spiritual progression. Evangelical Christianity has this in reverse, which is a big reason that it doesn't work as advertised.

So, the "nice" people are disappearing, which according to Russell is a good thing. I'm compelled to agree!