Bertrand Russell What I Believe Essay

They had to introduce it because at one time the Freethinkers adopted the habit of saying that there were such and such arguments which mere reason might urge against the existence of God, but of course they knew as a matter of faith that God did exist.

It is used these days in a very loose sense by a great many people.

Some people mean no more by it than a person who attempts to live a good life.

Of course there is another sense which you find in Whitaker’s Almanack and in geography books, where the population of the world is said to be divided into Christians, Mohammedans, Buddhists, fetish worshippers, and so on; and in that sense we are all Christians.

The geography books count us all in, but that is a purely geographical sense, which I suppose we can ignore.

As I said before, in olden days it had a much more full-blooded sense. Belief in eternal hell fire was an essential item of Christian belief until pretty recent times.

In this country, as you know, it ceased to be an essential item because of a decision of the Privy Council, and from that decision the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York dissented; but in this country our religion is settled by Act of Parliament, and therefore the Privy Council was able to override Their Graces and hell was no longer necessary to a Christian.Therefore I take it that when I tell you why I am not a Christian I have to tell you two different things; first, why I do not believe in God and in immortality; and, secondly, why I do not think that Christ was the best and wisest of men, although I grant Him a very high degree of moral goodness.But for the successful efforts of unbelievers in the past, I could not take so elastic a definition of Christianity as that.I think that you must have a certain amount of definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian.The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas.Consequently I shall not insist that a Christian must believe in hell.THE EXISTENCE OF GOD To come to this question of the existence of God, it is a large and serious question, and if I were to attempt to deal with it in any adequate manner I should have to keep you here until Kingdom Come, so that you will have to excuse me if I deal with it in a somewhat summary fashion.It is issued in booklet form at the request of many friends.It should be added that the author alone is responsible for the political and other opinions expressed.The first is one of a dogmatic nature—namely, that you must believe in God and immortality.If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian.


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