Going on with Bertrand Russell
In a recent Blog I wrote about my Daughter’s Christianity which she understands to be antagonistic to the Science of Evolution. And my distress that as a Christian she receives lots of Tea Party propaganda against Socialism.
I want to stay connected. So I’m reading the New Testament. For the first time.
It’s amazing. I didn’t totally realize that it’s the source of so much in Western art, literature, genocide and progress.
I am not an Atheist in the strictest sense. I’ve had mystical experiences. And I ‘ve also had delusional episodes in which I “enjoyed” the exstatic paranoia that my leftest Russian grandmother was Anastasia and I as her heir was the darling of both the highest European Aristocracy and the cadres of Socialism.
As I get more and more involved in questions of Religion, Dogma, Philosophy and Science I have vowed to strangle my self-centered creative impulses in the entrails of better minds. To strive less and quote more.
I believe in checks and balances and am a little tired of bearing the scorn of my ex-Catholic, Church-loathing friends, so I decided to balance the Saints with Bertrand Russell, one of the great Socialist atheists of all time.
But please REMEMBER not all Socialists are atheists and visa versa. In fact many Socialists coming out of Latin America have been priests. Their movement is called Liberation Theology. You can watch the film about one of the martyrs of this movement Archbishop Oscar Romero: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romero_%28film%29.
Few people on the planet have been endowed with the mind of Earl Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) whose Wikipedia bio is below. As is his own summary of the meaning of his life.
The quotes here are taken from a wonderful book: Bertrand Russell on God and Religion, edited by Al Seckel that fell into my hands last week via Priceless Books, the used book store in down town Urbana. There is much in the world that is magically helpful.
And by the way you might read Professor Russell with the words of the Apostle Paul in mind: “Finally, brethren [and sistren], whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8.
The wisdom of Zen Buddhist teacher Shunryu Susaki also applies.
Even though you try to put people under control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in a wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good. That is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.
Bertrand Russell believed in Reason.
“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth—more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, carelses of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid…. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief flory of man. But if thought is to become the possession of many, not the privilege of the few, we must have done with fear. It is fear that holds men back—fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest their they themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed themselves to be.”
In the beginning he trusted Mathematics.
“… I wished to persuade myself that something could be known, in pure mathmatics if not elsewhere.”
His great work was Principia Mathematica which he wrote when he was young and confused. I haven’t read it but I checked with my smart friend Brian Foote who explained that it argues that arithmetic, and pure mathematics generally, is nothing more nor less than logic based on uprovable but irrefutable premises.
Russell was an Earl, born into one of the most important families in England (Downton Abby is the seat of an Earl’s family.). As a very young man he believed England and English values were good for the world.
But he changed his mind in 1901:
“In the course of a few minutes I changed my mind about the Boer War about harshness in education and in the criminal law, and about combativeness in private relations. “[The Boer war was England vs. Netherlands for control of South Africa. See below],
He ran for eletion to Parliament on a platform of women’s rights in 1907 which people found ridiculous. They threw eggs at him. And heckled him as to whether his mother knew what he was up to.
The coming of WWI really radicalized him. He was amazed at how excited people were before the first casualties started coming home. He realized a majority were “filled with destructive and peverse impulses” and that nothing would change untill there was “an education that stressed rational thought, skepticism, cooperation instead of competition, and kindness over strife and prejudice” (Seckel).
He was excoriated for his pacifisim and dismissed from his Univiersity gig. Crowds rioted at his talks and the Police let them. He was asked to lecture at Harvard but the British government revoked his passport. He was not allowed to lecture on the English coasts for hear he was signalling German submarines!
As a serious thinker he was alone. He rejoiced at the end of the war
“…but I could find nothing in common between my rejoicing and that of the crowd. Throughout my life I have longed to feel that oneness with large bodies of human beings that is experienced by the members of enthusiastic crowds. The longing has often been strong enough to lead me into self-deception. I have imagined myself in turn a Liberal, a Socialist, or a Pacifist, but I have never been any of these things in any profound sense. Always the skeptical intellect, when I have most wished it silent has whispered doubts to me, has cut me off from the facile enthusiasms of others, and has transported me into a desolate solitude”
Happiness is rooting for the home team.
He was sympathetic with the the aims of Bolshevism, but he couldn’t get with their methods or the idea of final submission to the state.
“Russia seemed to me one vast prison in which the jailors were cruel bigots. When I found my friends applauding these men as liberators and regarding the regime that they were creating as a paradise, I wondered in a bewildered manner whether it was my friends or I that were mad.”
His favorite Biblical text was, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” Exodus 23:2 As for Christ he liked some of what he said in the Gospels: “Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” And “Judge not lest ye be judged.” And, “If thous wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor.” But he didn’t think most Christians took them very seriously. He didn’t think the Prime Minister, a Christian, of course, would turn the other cheek if someone slugged him.
And he had serious reservations about other things Christ said like, “The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Mathew 13:42..
“It comes in one verse after another and it is quite manifest to the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and gnashing of teeth or else it would not occur so often. “
“… I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. … [ a doctrine that] put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take him as his chroniclers represent him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible. “
Like me he was shocked by the story in Mark where Christ curses a poor fig tree until it withers away. Mark 11:12-25. And conluded:
“I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above him in these respects.”
He was attacked by those who feared that without Religion, and Christianity in particular there would be no virtue. His answer was:
“ As to the idea—that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burnt as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion. …And that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step towards the diminution of war, every step towards better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently oppoesed by the organized Churches of the world.
And he went on:
You may think that I am going too far when I say that it is still so…. It is not a pleasant fact but the Churches compel one to mention facts that are not pleasant. Supposing that in this world that we live in today aninexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic Church says:’This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together for life’ and no steps of any sort must be taken by that women to prevent herself from giving birth to syphilitic children. That is what the Catholic Church says. I say that that is fiendish cruelty, and nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.
“There are a great many ways in which at the present moment the Church, by its insistence upon what it chooses to call moraltity, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering… it is in a 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 witth human happiness… The object of morals is not to make people happy. It is to fit them for heaven.”
JUsT A MInUTE anyone who knows enlightened and commpassionate Christians, Anne Lamott, David Kirkpatrick, for example, knows that they are way beyond the narrow morality of the organized dogmas that Russell is railing against.
When distilled (i.e., editing out the 1st Century bullshit) the compassionate ideas of Jesus have inspired great people who have defied the organized churches of their day. Lincoln, Caesar Chavez, Dorthy Day to name a few.
The ideas of sin and punishment cruelty and slavery have bewildered humans all ways in all times. So have the psychologies of cruelty, slavery, racism, sexism. Paul can be over the top revolting but he was evolving! He was coming out of the invested power of organized Judaism. He spoke out of both sides of his nature and experience. On the one hand women were not to be trusted. On the other we have nothing if we do not have love.
But back to Russell and his views on Sin and Christianity
“You could take up the line some gnostics took up… that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment that God was not looking. There is a good deal of truth to be said to that.
“The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.
Russell’s point was that Christ made people miserable with exhortations like “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell.”
“ This was said to people who did not like his [Christ’s] preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about hell. [Such as] ‘Whowever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world nor in the world to come’ “That text has caused an unpeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do 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.
When his children were born in late 1920s Russell became interested in Education and Sexuality. “I believe that nine out of ten of those who have had a conventional upbringing in their early years have become in some degree incapable of a decent and sane attitude toward marriage and sex general.”
Contrary to his reputation he was in not a proponent of sexual liscence. But his objections were ethical and not moral. He was concerned about human happiness not about getting into heaven.
In answer to the question whether the denial of religious dogma meant the denial of marriage and chastity he wrote:
“… one must reply by another question: Does the man who asks this question believe that marriage and chstity contribute to earthly happiness here below, or does he think that, while they cause misery here below, they are to be advocated as means of getting to heaven? The man who takes the latter view will no doubt expect agnosticism to lead to a decay of what he calls virtue, but he will have to admit that what he calls virtue is not what ministers to the happiness of the human race while on earth. If, on the other hand, he takes the former view, that there are terrestial arguments in favor of marriage and chstity, he must also hold that these arguments are such as should appeal to an agnostic. Agnostics, as such, have no distinctive views about sexual morality. But most of them would admit that there are valid arguments against the unvridled indulgence of sexual desires. They would derive these arguments, however, from terrestrial sources and not from supposed devine commands.
Similarly he knew that War is a great evil that causes incredible suffering. But he was not a doctrinaire Pacifist. He thaought that Hitler was intolerable and that the Nazis would make the world and absolute hell if they were not stopped.
Like many scientists and philosophers he realized there were genuine, authentic mystical experiences. And that they arise when the soul gives up it’s questing.
“After passionate struggle for some particular good, there comes some inward or outward necessity to abandon the pursuit of the object which has absorbed all our desire, and no other desire is ready to replace the one that has been relinquished. Hence arises a state of suspension of the will, when the soul no longer seeks to impose itself upon the world, but is open to every impression that comes to it from the world. It is at such a time that the contemplative vision first comes into being, bringing with it universal love and universal worship. From universal worship comes joy, from universal love comes a new desire, and thence the birth of that seeking after universal good which constitutes the will of our infinite nature. Thus from the moment of self-surrender, which to the finite self appears like death, a new life begins with a larger vision, a new happiness, and wider hopes. “
And he recognized valuable elements in Christianity.
There are in Christianity three elements which it is desirable to preserve if possible: worship, acquiescence, and love. Worship is given by Christianity to God; love is enjoined toward my neighbors, my enemies, and, in fact, toward all men. The love which Christianity enjoins, and indeed any love which is to be universal and yet strong, seems in some way dependent upon worship and acquiescence. Yet these, in the form in which they appear in Christianity depend upon belief in God, and are therefore no longer possible to those who cannot entertain this belief. Something, in worship, must be lost when we lose belief in the existence of supreme goodness and power combined. But much can be preserved, and what can be preserved seems sufficient to constitute a very strong religious life. Acquiescence, also, is rendered more difficult by loss of belief in God, since it takes away the assurance that apparent evil in the constitution of the world is really good. But it is not rendered impossible; and in consequence of its greater difficulty it becomes when achieved, nobler, deeper, more filled by self-surrender than any acquiescence which Christianity produces. In some ways, therefore, the religion which has no dogma is greater and more religious than one which rests upon the belief that in the end our ideals are fulfilled in the outer world.
Finally he sorts out the question of Dogma
“All the great organized religions [ including Communism] that have dominated large populations have involved a greater or less amount of dogma, but “religion” is a word of which the meaning is not very definite. Confucianism, for instance, might be called a religion, although it involves no dogma. And in some forms of liberal Christianity, the element of dogma is reduced to a minimum. “
Liberal Christianity, Liberal Islam, and Hinduism have all reduced dogma to a minimum. And, no Virginia, not all Buddhists are liberal and enlightened. In many a shrine you will see men and women on their knees begging Buddha to intercede in their lives. They do not do as Buddha exhorted, find their salvation without him.
Unfortunately the politics of hate based on dogma are faster assimilated in this world that Satan made than the word of a “nobler” acquiescence.
Whatever. Each of us has to work out our own salvation. If we are not to be monsters we have to find a mature and integrated acquiescence.
As for worship I am thinking about Pete Seeger and hope we’ll find ways to sing and dance, holler and howl.
May we support each other and make movements that raise a thoughtful and disciplined ruckus.
And our prayers and meditations in the middle of the night bring us peace.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British nobleman, philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these in any profound sense. He was born in Monmouthshire, into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in Britain.
Russell led the British “revolt against idealism” in the early 20th century. He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege, colleague G. E. Moore, and his protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein. He is widely held to be one of the 20th century’s premier logicians. He co-authored, with A. N. Whitehead, Principia Mathematica, an attempt to ground mathematics on logic. His philosophical essay “On Denoting” has been considered a “paradigm of philosophy”. His work has had a considerable influence on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science (see type theory and type system), and philosophy, especially philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics.
Russell was a prominent anti-war activist; he championed anti-imperialism and went to prison for his pacifism during World War I. Later, he campaigned against Adolf Hitler, then criticised Stalinist totalitarianism, attacked the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War, and was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. In 1950 Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”
Bertrand Russell’s summary of his life:
“ Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy–ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I ought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.”
The Boer Wars from Wikipedia Main article: First Boer War
The Boer War by Richard Caton Woodville
The Boer Wars from Wikipedia
The First Anglo-Boer War (1880–1881), was a fight to keep sovereignty by the South African Republic against British invasion.
- The war was between the South African Republic (ZAR) and the British.
- When the British annexed Transvaal in 1877 the Boers were angered.
- In 1877, the Pedi attacked the Boers of Transvaal, and Boers claimed the British had not adequately assisted them.
- The British wished to bring Transvaal by force into a union, which furthered chances of war.
The South African Republic was victorious.
Second Anglo-Boer War
The Second War (1899–1902), by contrast, was a lengthy war—involving large numbers of troops from the Empire, which ended with the conversion of the Boer republics into British colonies (with a promise of limited self-governance). These colonies later formed part of the Union of South Africa. The British fought directly against the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, defeating their forces first in open warfare and then in a long and bitter guerrilla campaign. British losses were high due to both disease and combat. The policies of “scorched earth” and civilian internment in concentration camps were the cause of suffering in the Boer civilian populations in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. When news of these strategies reached Britain, there was an erosion of support for the war. Ships like RMS Umbria served Britain during the Second War. Her sister ship, Etruria,didn’t go into the war.