Saturday, November 29, 2014

Arguing with Bertrand Russell

One of the most famous anti-Christian works from the British world is "Why I am not a Christian" by my fellow philosopher, the late Bertrand Russell. It is not my purpose in this brief blog post to debate all the points that Mr. Russell makes in his work, perhaps I will do so in an essay at another time. However, I do want to debate one point that he made in this brief work.

As a believer in Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior of mankind and as the only perfect man who has ever walked the face of the Earth, I find no blemishes in Christ's moral character; rather I believe that as Jesus of Nazareth is in fact divine, it only follows that morality precedes from him. Without him there can truly be no morality.

Mr. Russell begs to differ. In his essay he says "There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation"

I find at least two problems with his argument. First, his argument that no who is profoundly humane can believe in hell. He is here attacking more than just Jesus; he is attacking all who labels themselves as Christian. He seems to not understand that hell is not something that God desires for people, but as he is perfectly just there must be a place for those who are at enmity with him may go. He further seems to believe as many Christians do that hell is a place of fire, while it is clear from the text that this imagery, not an actual account of what happens in such a place. At the end of the day, hell is separation from God from those who ultimately chose that path. Hell can be empty if we choose to make it so.

The second part of this argument that I have an issue with is his comparing Jesus to Socrates. He says that Socrates does not seem hostile to those who do not listen to him, while Jesus of Nazareth seems to show contempt and disdain for those who do not listen to him.

This is a silly comparison for several reasons. First, we do not have a very detailed account of Socrates life, so we do not know how he would have reacted if were put on trial to be crucified for his teachings. We see in the gospels that Jesus willing goes with captors, is respectful to Pilate, and dies with dignity, which shows his deep love and compassion.

Also, keep in mind who these men believed they were. Socrates was a philosopher, and knew that if people ignored him there would be no long term consequences besides laking knowledge in some form. This is not the case with Jesus of Nazareth. Ignoring his teachings meant that one could not inherit eternal life. So, in showing his ultimate and unique humanity, Jesus does show frustration was not heeded. He knew what the eternal consequences would be.

It is Mr. Russell's right to disbelieve as it is my right to believe. However, his arguments on this matter do not hold nearly the water that he erroneously believes they do.


  1. Very perceptive paragraph about the differences in personal mission between Socrates and Christ. Your argument there is solid, as is the rest of your piece. Keep arguing with Bertrand!

  2. In the premortal world Lucifer wanted God to force us all to go to Heaven as well. In order to live in the Celestial Kingdom one has to be able to endure a Celestial glory. In order to endure a Celestial glory, one must live the life God lives. The only way to allow a man to live the way he wants is to prepare eternal rewards with varying degrees of glory. The glory received in the next life will match the Godliness one attains/doesn't attain here. So, if Mr. Russell wants there to only be one eternal reward, either we must all be denied the glory of God or we must all be forced to live God's law. Congratulations Bertrand, you didn't realize it, but you are arguing Lucifer's point exactly!

    And, a common misconception is that the endless in Endless Punishment is temporal. God's name is Endless. "Endless Punishment" means God's punishment not that it'll necessarily last for the rest of forever. The Law of Justice must be met, and be met it will, but not at the expense of the Law of Mercy!

    I do have to say "Well Duh", to your first point. He knew he was attacking all Christians and their beliefs with his statement. Defame the leader and you defame the followers. Any attack on our Saviour is an individual attack on each of us as Christians. Part of the whole taking His name upon us thing.

    Spot on on your comparison between Christ and Socrates though! Well put!

  3. Excellent argument. I look forward to more posts like this one.