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Pourquoi Je ne suis pas Chrétien (1957)

par Bertrand Russell

Autres auteurs: Paul Edwards (Directeur de publication)

Autres auteurs: Voir la section autres auteur(e)s.

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While its tone is playful and frivolous, this book poses tough questions over the nature of religion and belief. Religion provides comfortable responses to the questions that have always beset humankind - why are we here, what is the point of being alive, how ought we to behave? Russell snatches that comfort away, leaving us instead with other, more troublesome alternatives: responsibility, autonomy, self-awareness. He tells us that the time to live is now, the place to live is here, and the way to be happy is to ensure others are happy.… (plus d'informations)

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Collection of Russell`s short critical essays about Christianity. Interesting to see how valid and thought provoking his arguments are 80-100 years later. ( )
  TheCrow2 | Nov 9, 2022 |
I recently read Evan Thompson's Why I Am Not a Buddhist and recalling that 40ish years ago I had only read the first two essays of this, I decided to read it in parallel, all of it, this time. At that time, those 40 years ago, I was in the same trap as Russell; I only knew of one religion... although I had direct experience with a few flavors of it (grew up Catholic until around age 13, then American Baptist - the nice kind, not the brimstone version - until about age 18 when the lack of answers to my questions finally pushed me over to the reason side). Russell's arguments in this collection of essays, speeches and debates, while applicable to religion in general, were still focused on his experiences with Christianity (a couple of its versions). Still, the first two did have an impact on me. I've outgrown Russell, as would be expected four decades later, but it is fair to say he had some influence on my deconversion.

Selected outtakes and my notes on them (my original copy, with those notes was lost to a fire in 2013):

[on TS Eliot's attacks on Russell] "We can see Eliot’s quarrel with Russell as a foretaste of modernity’s long problem with the Enlightenment. Russell stands on reason, belief, truth, science, and analysis, with feeling and emotion being only unfortunate, if strangely important, outriders. Russell thinks religious beliefs are simple beliefs, to be tried at the bar of probability, science, logic, and history, and when tried they are to be found wanting. Eliot classes them with poetry, feeling, emotion, expression, and tradition, while rationality and science, analysis, and probability, are exiled to the margin."
{This is the line in the sand for most of the arguments; one side argues reason, and the weighed-measured-and found wanting conclusion; the other side dismisses reason (or tries to use it apologetically) for "it's a mystery" arguments}

[on the times of Aquinas, Augustine, et al] "In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions.

Nowadays it is not quite that. We have to be a little more vague in our meaning of Christianity."
{And even more vague in today's nowadays because the professing have continued to change what it means.}

[on Christian exclusivity, though not called such] "That is 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."
{intense belief begets more profound dogma, and ... history confirms ... greater cruelty in the name of the religion}

[church influence] "Churches may owe their origin to teachers with strong individual convictions, but these teachers have seldom had much influence upon the Churches that they founded, whereas Churches have had enormous influence upon the communities in which they flourished."
{True. The communities are profoundly influenced.}

[on "natural law" arguments] "We now find that a great many things we thought were natural laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depths of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature. And a great many things that have been regarded as laws of nature are of that kind."

[on Kant…] "He was like many people: in intellectual matters he was sceptical, but in moral matters he believed implicitly in the maxims that he had imbibed at his mother's knee."
{such is the usual limitation of anyone in their time and Kant couldn't be the exception}

[on the origins of belief] "What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason."
{And geography is a big factor... you are what they are where you live your early life.}

[on religion} "As I said before, I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it."
{I got a kick out of that last sentence. Neither have I.}

[on first cause] "‘I and my friends are persons of amazing intelligence and virtue. It is hardly conceivable that so much intelligence and virtue could have come about by chance. There must, therefore, be someone at least as intelligent and virtuous as we are, who set the cosmic machinery in motion with a view to producing us.’ I am sorry to say that I do not find this argument so impressive as it is found by those who use it."

[on Christian morals] "To this day conventional Christians think an adulterer more wicked than a politician who takes bribes, although the latter probably does a thousand times as much harm."
{Nowadays (pardon, please), in the US at least, they REALLY love someone who does both.}

[Russell's take on Christian exclusivity] "The intolerance that spread over the world with the advent of Christianity is one of its most curious features, due, I think, to the Jewish belief in righteousness and in the exclusive reality of the Jewish God.
{Not really. Russell did not really seem to know much about the early Christianities before they resolved into one after eliminating the competition. The Jews were happy having their god all to themselves. The Christians made it a “you’re all wrong and we’re right” exclusivity of hatred for others. }

[on Christian persecution] "At all times, from the age of Constantine to the end of the seventeenth century, Christians were far more fiercely persecuted by other Christians than they ever were by the Roman emperor."
{Well, actually.... from its conception, not just since Constantine. (Elimination of the "wrong" beliefs, and all.)}

[Definitions of righteousness and its opposite] "Righteousness and unrighteousness must be taken together; it is impossible to stress the one without stressing the other also. Now, what is ‘unrighteousness’ in practice? It is in practice behaviour of a kind disliked by the herd. By calling it unrighteousness, and by arranging an elaborate system of ethics round this conception, the herd justifies itself in wreaking punishment upon the objects of its own dislike, while at the same time, since the herd is righteous by definition, it enhances its own self-esteem at the very moment when it lets loose its impulse to cruelty.
The Church’s conception of righteousness is socially undesirable in various ways—first and fore-most in its depreciation of intelligence and science. This defect is inherited from the Gospels. Christ tells us to become as little children, but little children cannot understand the differential calculus, or the principles of currency, or the modern methods of combating disease."
{And we are regressing in this country, with increased professed distrust and denial of science, education, intellect.}

[intellectual curiosity] "The desire to find comfort in metaphysics has, we must all admit, produced a great deal of fallacious reasoning and intellectual dishonesty. From this, at any rate, the abandonment of religion would deliver us. And since intellectual curiosity exists in some people, it is probable that they would be freed from certain hitherto persistent fallacies."
{Wishful thinking}

[on "Nice" people...] "In a homogeneous country population, such as that of an English shire, people are condemned to hunt foxes; this is expensive and sometimes even dangerous. Moreover, the fox cannot explain very clearly how much he dislikes being hunted. In all these respects the hunting of human beings is better sport, but if it were not for the nice people, it would be difficult to hunt human beings with a good conscience. Those whom the nice people condemn are fair game; at their call of ‘Tally-ho!’ the hunt assembles, and the victim is pursued to prison or death. It is especially good sport when the victim is a woman, since this gratifies the jealously of the women and the sadism of the men.
The essence of nice people is that they hate life as manifested in tendencies to co-operation, 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."
{Okay, small spoiling... the essence of that whole essay of snark is revealed at the end. And he keenly observes the Homo sapiens (and, sadly, the Christian) virtue of "screw those who are not us".}

[on sex and morality] "The sense of sin which dominates many children and young people and often lasts on into later life is a misery and a source of distortion that serves no useful purpose of any sort or kind. It is produced almost entirely by conventional moral teaching in the sphere of sex. The feeling that sex is wicked makes happy love impossible, causing men to despise the women with whom they have relations and often to have impulses of cruelty towards them. Moreover, the indirection which is forced upon the sexual impulse when it is inhibited, leading it to take the form of sentimental friendship or religious ardour or whatnot, causes a lack of intellectual sincerity which is very inimical to intelligence and to the sense of reality."
{Russell was fairly progressive - dangerous concept to religions, I know - with respect to attitudes toward sex, and he placed a lot of blame on religions, rightly so, for "sin". I don't disagree.}

[origins of moral thinking] "Cruelty, stupidity, incapacity for harmonious personal relations, and many other defects, have their source in most cases in the moral teaching endured during childhood."
{Otherwise known as: indoctrination}

[on "Freedom and the Colleges"] "The opponents of academic freedom, if they could have their way, would reduce this country to the level of Germany as regards the promulgation of doctrines of which they disapprove. They would substitute organised tyranny for individual thought; they would proscribe everything new; they would cause the community to ossify; and in the end they would produce a series of generations which would pass from birth to death without leaving any trace in the history of mankind."
{We're facing more pushback against academia today than 70 years ago. And, unfortunately, some of that is from within.}

[Russell's answer to whether religion can cure our troubles] "What the world needs is reasonableness, tolerance, and a realisation of the inter- dependence of the parts of the human family. This interdependence has been enormously increased by modern inventions, and the purely mundane arguments for a kindly attitude to one’s neighbour are very much stronger than they were at any earlier time. It is to such considerations that we must look, and not to a return to obscurantist myths. Intelligence, it might be said, has caused our troubles; but it is not unintelligence that will cure them. Only more and wiser intelligence can make a happier world."
{It should be this simple, no? And he furthers with this ...}
"What the world needs is not dogma, but an attitude of scientific inquiry, combined with a belief that the torture of millions is not desirable, whether inflicted by Stalin or by a Deity imagined in the likeness of the believer."

[on an analysis of the prevention of Russell's appointment to the College of the City of New York] "‘The real question,’ Mr Chase wrote, ‘is now one which, so far as I know, has never before been raised in the history of higher education in America. It is whether, in an institution supported in whole or in part by public funds, a court, given a taxpayer’s suit, has the power to void a faculty appointment on account of an individual’s opinion . . . If the jurisdiction of the court is upheld, a blow has been struck at the security and intellectual independence of every faculty member in every public college and university in the United States. Its potential consequences are incalculable.’"
{It's a scary concept that is getting more real by the day.} ( )
  Razinha | May 14, 2022 |
I need to reread this book...
  ennuiprayer | Jan 14, 2022 |
  Murtra | May 17, 2021 |
  Murtra | Oct 9, 2020 |
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Nom de l'auteur(e)RôleType d'auteurŒuvre ?Statut
Russell, Bertrandauteur(e) principal(e)toutes les éditionsconfirmé
Edwards, PaulDirecteur de publicationauteur secondairetoutes les éditionsconfirmé
Alves, MárioTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
Barbosa, GasparTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
Blackburn, SimonPréfaceauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
Buratti Cantarelli, TinaTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
Kaiser, AddyTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
Kurlandzka, AmeliaTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
Martínez Alinari, JosefinaTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
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As your Chairman has told you, the subject about which I am going to speak to you tonight is "Why I Am Not A Christian."
Une vie bonne, ...c'est une vie qu'inspire l'amour et que la connaissance guide.p. 131 Ce que je crois
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This work refers to the collection of essays titled Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, ed. Paul Edwards, first published in 1957. The contents  of the First British and American editions are slightly different but both belong here. Please do not combine with separate editions of the essay "Why I am not a Christian" or with other collections which contain completely different essays than the ones selected by Paul Edwards.
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While its tone is playful and frivolous, this book poses tough questions over the nature of religion and belief. Religion provides comfortable responses to the questions that have always beset humankind - why are we here, what is the point of being alive, how ought we to behave? Russell snatches that comfort away, leaving us instead with other, more troublesome alternatives: responsibility, autonomy, self-awareness. He tells us that the time to live is now, the place to live is here, and the way to be happy is to ensure others are happy.

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