Why You Were Not a Christian

Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic. He did extensive work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy, writing his monumental work Principia Mathematica with Alfred North Whitehead..

He has variously been described as “brilliant”, “crotchety” and “opinionated” His colourful life was marked by a string of controversies which included his dismissals from both Trinity College, Cambridge, and City College, New York. In 1949, he was awarded the Order of Merit; and in 1950, the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was actively involved in anti-nuclear protests, and famously protested against the Vietnam War. He died at the age of 97.

This blog attempts to give a critique of his essay, Why I Am Not a Christian which comprises a lecture which Russell delivered at Battersea Town Hall to the National Secular Society in London on March 6, 1927.

In his address, Russell gives four broad reasons why he could not be a Christian.

1. The existence of God cannot be demonstrated by unaided reason. 

Russell sees little value in the Thomistic rational proofs for the existence of God. He first deals with the First Cause argument. He read John Stuart Mill’s autobiography at the age of eighteen and was struck by this sentence in Mill’s book, “My father taught me that the question, ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, ‘Who made God?’” 

That line by Mill sufficiently persuaded Russell and he goes on to argue that if everything needed a cause for its existence, “then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, ‘How about the tortoise?’ the Indian said, ‘Suppose we change the subject.’” 

Russell finds no problem believing that the world could have come into existence without a cause, or that it could well have always existed. In his own words. “There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination.”

He then picks on the Natural Law argument pointing out that natural phenomena such as the regularity and uniformity of nature do not necessarily prove God’s existence. He observes that cosmogonies come and go. In his own day, he saw Newton’s cosmology superseded by Einstein’s.

As for the Design argument, Russell stakes his case on Darwin, saying “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.”

He considers this world to have been defectively designed. “When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it.” 

Russell then takes on the Moral Argument for deity and he frowns upon Kant in that having rightly disposed of the standard classical arguments for the existence for God, Kant should then revert his stand and “invented” the moral argument – something he must have “imbibed at his mother’s knee”, Russell mocks derisively.

2) The character and teaching of Jesus Christ is questionable

When it comes to considering the person of Christ, Russell concentrates on Jesus’ moral teaching rather than on His unique claims to deity and His work of salvation. It is clear here that he has been shaped by the thrust of the liberal teaching of the Church in his day with its emphasis not on the gospel but on morality. Russell does not consider Christ’s moral teaching to be any different from that of other great moral teachers like Lao-Tze or the Buddha. But his activist bent shows when he argues favourably for Christ’s teaching about selling one’s goods and giving to the poor. But Russell has this skewed view that Christ came only to teach people to do good, as if imparting good ethics was Christ’s main calling. But unwittingly, it also reveals the liberalism that plagued the Church of his day.

Russell not only shows no interest whatsoever in the historicity of Jesus, he doubts if the historical Jesus ever existed, adding that “if He did we do not know anything about Him”. 

Russell considers what he terms the Moral Problem of Jesus. He argues that there is a “serious defect” in Christ’s moral character. He cannot fathom how any moral person could believe in an everlasting punishment in hell. He does not think that “a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.” He spurns Christ for having “a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching” as he sees none of that in Socrates. To Russell, “all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty.” He takes special delight in taking exception with Jesus sending the devils into the Gadarene swine when, as an omnipotent being, he could have simply made the swine disappear; and he cannot understand what he called the “curious story” of the cursing of the fig tree that didn’t bear fruit being out of its season. On this score, Russell puts Buddha and Socrates above Christ.

3) People believe Christianity out of fear.

Russell believes that “[one of] the most powerful reasons [people believe in God] is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you.”

He asserts that people come to faith not out of careful reasoning but chiefly on “emotional grounds”. He makes the charge that religion capitalises on people’s fear of the unknown. But now “science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations.” 

Russell would rather, that in the face of the terrors of the world, humans not retreat in fear but build a noble society where each one aspires to be as noble as he may be. He closes his argument with a rallying call to human people to stand on their own feet and look squarely at the world and not cower in fear; to conquer by intelligence and no longer be “slavishly subdued” by the terrors of the world. 

Somehow Russell ties this point to his belief that people are afraid to do away with religion as religion has come to be the foundation of virtuous behavior; the myth around which the morals of a country are bound; “that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion”; and that getting rid of religion would only bring about the collapse of a society or a nation.

4) Christianity is the enemy of progress in the world

Russell makes the charge that all the attempted positive steps towards the progress of society have regularly been opposed by the organised Church, “because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness.” He points out that all dark phases of history, such as the Inquisition, the witch hunt, took place in those times when religious fervour was at its height. To him, the organised church is the one single agent of moral retardation in the world.”

He makes one final censure tracing the very notion of God as having its origin in “ancient Oriental despotism”, something “quite unworthy of free men”, calling on human people to “make the best we can of the world.” He excoriates the church for getting her people to debase themselves by considering themselves miserable sinners. This is “not worthy of self-respecting human beings.” Instead human people “ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face,” and “make the best we can of the world.”

Critique of Russell’s Reasoning

1. The Impossibility of Demonstrating God’s Existence

Russell contends that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated by the unaided reason. He places a huge premium on the place of autonomous reasoning without once questioning how that could be the valid starting point of all knowledge. There are far too many assumptions we regularly hold as our basic working principles that are not derived from reasoning nor could they.

à la Kant, the logical categories of thought with which we employ in order to make sense of anything at all, are not derived through any exercise of one’s autonomous reasoning. They are innate and not some entity that could be observed by any of our five senses, nor explicated by any human reasoning, not even Russell’s.

Russell may well make the charge that God’s existence cannot be validated by the use of  the “unaided reason”, but even as he makes that assertion, he is blithely unaware that that very charge of his was made by the “unaided reason”. Shouldn’t his caution of the reliability of human “unaided reason” rightly apply to judgments he himself makes employing that very apparatus of reasoning?

There are basic categories of thoughts that cannot be demonstrated because whatever arguments you may marshall to demonstrate them, are themselves dependent upon the truth of those principles of thought as their basis. All epistemologies ultimately are grounded on principles which have to be presupposed and which cannot be demonstrated. You will not even be able to formulate any intelligible proposition in consciousness if there were not some such principles at the foundation of all knowing. No one can deny these principles without employing them to generate his denial. You cannot know anything except through the use of such a priori principles. Russell’s epistemology (of autonomous reasoning) cannot explain or justify these characteristics of logical laws. 

Further, Russell assumes that because those Thomistic arguments for God have been less than convincing, that therefore no rational case for God’s existence may be made. He confines “proofs” to rational proofs. This can be seen in his dismissal of the legitimacy of a historical case for Jesus Christ. 

His sweeping statements about the unreliability of the accounts of the historical Jesus, reveal, to say the least, his total ignorance of the entire corpus of ancient history that validates the existence of the historical Jesus in no uncertain terms. This says much of the prejudicial nature of his many assertions about the historical Jesus. But Russell cannot ignore the historicity of the person of Jesus if he is to make any significant statement about him as the case for Christianity rests on both Jesus’ teaching and His life. The two are inextricable.

Russell’s position on Jesus is a reflection of the pervasive influence of the nineteenth century German liberalism on the Church then. Theologians of that day felt the need to make a distinction between what they termed the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith”. Being a child of his age, Russell is more intent on investigating the Christ of the Gospels and casually dismisses the “Jesus of History”.

But the gospels would insist that Christianity is Christ and that the case for Christianity rests on the objective historical event of the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You cannot divorce the “Christ of faith” from the “Jesus of history.”

F.F.Bruce in The New Testament Documents writes: “ . . . the ethics of Confucianism have an independent value quite apart from the story of the life of Confucius himself . . . the philosophy of Plato must be considered on its own merits, quite apart from the traditions that have come down to us about the life of Plato . . . But the argument can be applied to the New Testament only if we ignore the real essence of Christianity. For the Christian gospel is not primarily a code of ethics or a metaphysical system . . . this good news is intimately bound up with the historical order, for it tells how for the world’s redemption God entered into history, the eternal came into time, the kingdom of heaven invaded the realm of earth, in the great events of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.” (1)

Paul the apostle realises how dependent the gospel is on historical realities. He says to Agrippa and Festus, “This thing was not done in a corner,” speaking of the historicity of Jesus’ work on earth (Acts 26:26). John W. Montgomery grounds the gospel solidly on the historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection (2)

Russell summarily invalidates the claims of Jesus based solely on the ground that miracles simply do not happen. But whether miracles are possible cannot be based solely on a priori grounds, but on actual historical investigation.

Russell makes the charge that Christians irrationally believe in God in spite of the evidence to the contrary, but as it turns out, Russell’s many assertion are based not upon careful analytical and historical investigation but upon both prejudice and ignorance. 

2. The Character and Teachings of Jesus

It is not surprising for Russell, who is deeply saturated in his humanistic ideals, to find problems with the idea of God sending anyone to the torments of hell-fire, and for all eternity at that. As a humanist he is committed to the belief in the inherent goodness of all human people.

But Russell has to front up with both history and theology. 

History has repeatedly demonstrated that the humanistic ideal of an utopia has turned out to be an empty pipe-dream. Of course romanticism still survives in small pockets here and there, but the general mood of our culture is one of disillusionment and despair. The two World Wars, together with the countless that humans perpetrated against their fellow human people have all but strangled humanity’s aspirations that we are growing up from puberty into maturity and into a better future. The 20th Century has turned out to be history’s bloodiest centuries. 

Theologically, Jesus’ teaching about hell does not necessarily put a tarnish on his moral character. In fact it speaks of His utter holiness. You make the maximum mistake when you think of God’s wrath as revealing a God who rants and raves and flies off the handle. God’s wrath is not an irrational impulsive outburst of rage. God’s wrath, rather, is His settled, considered, indignation against everything that is evil, unholy and unrighteous. God’s wrath reveals the infinite worth of His holiness. God pours out His wrath on sinners only to vindicate His holiness. Hell is furious because God is holy; Hell is unbearably tormenting because God is outrageously holy; Hell is languishing long because God’s holiness is infinitely precious. If Jesus were incapable of anger, He would not be holy and righteous. A God Who is incapable of an infinite hatred against sin, would be a god who is morally deficient.

But Jesus did more than just come to warn us about hell. He gave Himself over for the payment of our sins. When He hung there on the cross, our sins were imputed to him; the sword of God’s justice was sheathed in him; the curse of God’s wrath which should have rightly fallen on us. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). In this light of this theological reality, Russell’s censure of Jesus’ teaching about hell is both cavalier and casual.

But it is curious why Russell should engage himself about the morality of the right and wrong of the notion of hell.

Would it not be the case that in a godless universe, cruelty is both an empty and an irrelevant notion. If the God of the Bible does not exist you have lost all grounds for making any value judgment, for on what ground ought the notion of morality be a relevant subject matter? In a godless universe on what legitimate basis can you display any moral indignation or outrage? For in such a universe, all we have is one person’s preferences pitted against the preferences of another. On what ground are you right and he wrong. What happens in a world without God just happens. It is what it is. That’s all.

Moral absolutes do not comport with the materialistic view of the universe. If Hitler is evil, before what tribunal is he given that verdict? The atheist surreptitiously presupposes the Christian notion of morality to make a moral judgment call. 

Russell has a repugnance of God. But in what way is this sentiment philosophically cogent and relevant to the truth or falsehood of Christianity? Is God’s existence invalidated on sheer account of his dislike for it? If God does not exist, then, all that Russell has only been displaying, is only his temperamental peculiarity. He is only making his private and peculiar idiosyncrasies known.

3. People Believe Christianity Out of Fear

Russell makes the argument that Christians believe God out of fear and that religion is a crutch for weak people. Religion is but a neurosis. This argument goes back to Freud, who in his book Future of an Illusion, argues that religious people, feeling somewhat lost and afraid in this vast universe of ours, project for themselves a God for their own comfort. It’s a father figure for them.

It is rather odd that as a philosopher, Russell does not realise that he is here engaging in the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (literally: after this, therefore, because of this), or what is called genetic fallacy. It is the fallacy of confusing the origin of a belief with its proper epistemological justification.

Russell makes a judgment call on the value of Christianity by considering it as it actually functions in society, and then based on that sociological investigation alone, pronounces a judgment on its value.

He is using a descriptive statement as though it has the status of a normative statement. He fails to make a distinction between descriptive and normative definitions. His assertion that “all religious beliefs are based upon fear” does not constitute an evaluation of that belief. It merely paints a picture of how some people come to embrace religious beliefs. He indulges in a sociological fallacy; he confuses origin with value when origin in no way determines value. Many people fear fire, but this fact alone says nothing about the merits or demerits of fire. H.G. Woods rightly observes that psychological reasons “do not explain the origin of . . . beliefs. They help to show why men believe. They do not account for what they believe.” (3)

Russell commits this error again when he frowns upon Kant’s moral argument for deity. He derogatorily dismisses Kant’s idea as something he must have “imbibed at his mother’s knee”. Kant’s truth-claim is judged to be irrelevant just because he learned it from “his mother’s knee”. Russell needs to do more than that. He needs to evaluate that claim through rigorous rational argumentation. A philosophical or theological notion is either true or it is not. How those notions came to be imbibed is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of those notions.

Surely the fact that there are people who believe Christianity out of fear says nothing about the truth or falsehood of Christianity. 

But further, Russel’s above argument is technically not an argument. It is a value judgment. 

Value judgments have a way of boomeranging back to you. There was once a chap who heard William Temple preach. He hackled, “You believe what you believe because of your upbringing!” Quick as a flash, Temple retorted, “You believe that I believe what I believe because of my upbringing, because of your upbringing!” 

Since Russell’s “argument” is really a value judgment, it cuts both ways. Freud’s thesis that a belief can be an illusion if it is derived from strong, unconscious, childish needs, may well furnish for us a way to understand the neurotic basis of atheism. For in the same vein, we can make the assertion that atheism is for the weak; that it is a crutch to spare one from having to stand up and be held accountable for the wrong one has done; that atheism is a projection of a desire to never have to meet God, face the music and be held account for the way one has lived. Seen this way, atheism is an Oedipal wish fulfillment. In short, atheism is delusional.

And here the pie comes back to splatter on Russel’s face!

Further, ​​Russell’s argument that religion is a crutch for the weak-minded may be rebutted in another way. If, as an atheist, he believes that minds do not exist, then this assertion that religion is for the weak-minded makes little sense. If, as atheists hold, all our beliefs are the result of chemical reactions, on what basis are we to accord the value of one man’s “thoughts” over that of another? J.B.S. Haldane rightly noted “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to support my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make the sound logically.” (4)

4. Christianity is the enemy of progress in the world

Russell writes: “You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. 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.”

Russell here makes the assertion that Christianity has impeded the progress of human advance. But he produces no evidence for his assertion which in fact has recently been scholarly debunked by Tom Holland. Holland, in his book Dominion, built up a case that the basic factor that shaped Europe and indeed Western civilization, where it pertains to its moral ideals, is Christianity. He argues a case for the fact that the whole spectrum of what we now consider “human values”, equality and dignity, welfare for the weak and the poor, condemnation of oppression, cruelty and slavery, have their roots in Christianity. (5)

The Greeks, Romans, and Persians powers extolled the rich, the strong and the powerful. Christianity both trounced and transcended that by valuing the weak, the poor and the oppressed. Holland’s research rather graphically rebuts Russell’s charge that it was Christianity, through its naive superstitions, that retarded cultural progress until the Enlightenment.

Russell then turns to discredit Christianity on the ground of instances of Christians behaving badly in the local organized church. Admittedly, Christians have not infrequently been bad testimonies for the faith they purport to embrace. But surely this speaks nothing of the truth or falsehood of the Christian truth claim. This is a sophistic argument that is both absurd and puerile.

What are we to make of Bertrand Russell

Stripping the external world of all sources of value, Russell remained, to the very end, a firm humanist. His stoutly held on to a raw brute nihilism although he may not necessarily see it that way. As reflected in these words, his outlook on human life as a whole is bleak. In A Free Man’s Worship, He lamented:

“Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day;”

But in the face of the inevitability of this impending doom, Russell calls upon all people “to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance . . . .”

Here Russell reveals a blatant inconsistency.

If, as he asserts, our values are merely subjective ideals, far removed from any objective reality, if indeed nothing ultimately endures, why make the call to rise up in the face of this cold universe and establish the work of our hands? When Russell argues that “Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s salvation henceforth be safely built,” he will need to show how he is able to derive values out of this apparent bleak raw existence.

In the place of God whom he has rejected, he then posits a blind mother-nature and looks to this “firm foundation of unyielding despair” for not just knowledge, but for a basis of morality and freedom. It would take a measure of faith to believe that out of sheer brute nature you may derive principles of logic, meaning and morality. Wouldn’t it be more honest to affirm that what you posit to be moral principles is nothing more than your preferred reading of the chemical reactions in your brain. It is a great leap in the dark to suggest that one may proceed to accord value from what would appear to be a mere biological twitch! 

Russell makes such a leap proceeding from a “foundation of unyielding despair” to making a claim to have found the ground of salvation for the human longing for meaning, value and significance. Sheer brute force could have no conception whatsoever of morality, rationality or freedom. If he has any warranted epistemological ground to accord such brute force ethical values, he has not demonstrated it.

Throughout his repeated censure of the value of Christianity and the moral deficiencies he sees in the conduct of Jesus, Russell could not notice both the capriciousness and the internal inconsistency of his line of argument.

Any judgment made on any form of morality inadvertently presupposes an absolute standard of moral acumen by which you make your judgment call. Every single judgment call that Russell makes would be meaningless unless he is pitting what he considers an inferior form of morality against what he would deem the ultimate superior principle of morality before the tribunal of which all moral behaviour is measured. Right here, we detect a sleight of hand in his argument. If Jesus’ moral conduct falls short, before what measure of morality is that judged? If Christians are the enemies of human progress, before what touchstone are they judged to be so?

Russell needs to elucidate exactly what this ultimate absolute moral principle is; and further, even if he could identify such a principle, he has to show on what grounds should anyone agree to submit to such a principle.  

We argue here that Russell has been making all these judgment calls against Christianity and Christ employing the very principles of value and thought he has been denying. He smuggles in Christian moral principles through the backdoor, only to argue that Christian principles are inferior.

Further, in his attempt to accord some value to human life and this earth, Russell contradicts himself. For whilst he argues for value, he projects a most pessimistic future for the earth and human existence. He argues that “laws are nothing more than statistical averages describing what has happened”; that this present world may have always existed from time immemorial; that earthly life-forms evolved from a primeval soup as explained by Darwin; and that ultimately this planet will go out in a blaze.

In his masterpiece Free Man’s Worship, he argues that ours is a chance world which bears no evidence whatsoever of design, and that in due course our planet will fizzle out to nothingness.

We must indulge him here for he writes with such eloquence:

“That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” (4)

Russell asserts that “human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system . . . You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending—something dead, cold, and lifeless.” And he goes on to say that nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought that life will eventually die out and nothing ultimately remains. 

But if eventually, all that energy will simply become too thin and too diffused to be able to go on sustaining life; and if, as William Craig puts it, every star will burn out, space will grow colder and colder, all matter will collapse into dead stars and black holes; and there be no light, no life but only copses of dead stars and galaxies grinding slowly into the endless darkness and cold recesses of space, being a universe in ruins, then what are we to make of beauty, truth and significance?

Although Russel insists that ultimately humans are ephemeral and human values are transient and self-created, at the back of his mind, Russell must have hoped this will not be so. For in decrying Christian values, he argued at the same time, rather forcefully, for human dignity, nobility and strength of character. 

Russell’s offer of science as the solution to the human plight is a curious one. For in a sense he is getting us to start where Rene Descartes started – with ourselves; our epistemology, our ethics, our ontology – these all will have to have their ground in ourselves. But this drops and lands us in a quagmire, for who will it be who is to legislate which “self” we must emulate.

As we have seen, in his attack against Christianity, Christ and Christians, Russell has not made an intelligent and compelling case as to why Christianity cannot be true.  He betrays an abysmal lack of competence in his attempt at making a rational case against the validity of the Christian truth-claim. In particular, Why I am Not a Christian is not evidenced by any mark of rational coherence nor does it present us with an existential relevance for his stance. Instead this piece is pockmarked with logical fallacies, prejudicial mud-slinging, and fallacious epistemological warrant.

His purported stance of rational neutrality turns out to be a pretension, even a deception if he indeed is aware of it. For such a bold title which he gives, Why I Am Not a Christian does not furnish one argument that is rationally coherent or existentially relevant. Instead, throughout his diatribe, he betrays a deep personal distaste for Christianity and Christians.

Perhaps the most cogent reply to Russell has come from the hands of C.S. Lewis. In The Business of Heaven he writes:

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning… If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents-the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts – i.e. of materialism and astronomy are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true?” (6)

We submit that Russell’s disquiet and nagging quarrels are just that – personal nags and idiosyncratic perturbation!

Conclusion

Russell believes when he dies, the maggots take over. Anticipating his death he says, “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere; only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

Unbelief is ultimately self-deception. The writer to Ecclesiastes sees everything as ultimately vanity but he does not leave it there. That would be nihilistic, and what in the end is nihilism, but self-deception. 

We may let Pascal have the last word here: “We must know where to doubt, where to feel certain, where to submit.”

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Notes

(1) F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, Inter-Varsity Press, 1976, p.7,8 

(2) John W. Montgomery would insist on what he called the “crux validation” of the New Testament:

  1. On the basis of accepted principles of textual and historical analysis, the Gospel records are found to be trustworthy historical documents — primary source evidence for the life of Christ,
  2. In these records, Jesus exercises divine prerogatives and claims to be God in human flesh; and He rests His claims on His forthcoming resurrection.
  3. In all four Gospels, Christ’s bodily resurrection is described in minute detail; Christ’s resurrection evidenced His deity.
  4. The fact of the resurrection cannot be discounted on a priori, philosophical grounds; miracles are impossible only if one so defines them — but such definition rules out proper historical investigation.
  5. If Christ is God, then He speaks the truth concerning the absolute divine authority of the Old Testament and of the soon-to-be-written New Testament. 

John Warwick Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany Fellowship Inc., 1970, n. 58, p. 306. This summary is based on his book, Shape of the Past, n. 26, pp. 138-39.]

(3) H.G. Woods Why Mr. Bertrand Russell is Not a Christian, p.23 (London: Student Christian Movement, 1928)

(4) Russell, A Free Man’s Worship, originally published in the Independent Review, December 1903; reprinted in Russell, Philosophical Essays, 59-70, in his Mysticism and Logic, 46-57, and in his Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 66-72.1902

(5) Tom Holland, Dominion, Published by Abacus, August 6th 2020

(6) C.S. Lewis, Miracles (1st ed., 1947), 28-29.

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