Russell's Criticisms of Christianity & Jesus

Nouveau

Well-known member
This is primarily for @cjab, though of course anyone can participate. I will start by summarizing the main points Russell raises in his well-known short essay Why I am not a Christian. The full text can be read here or here. It should be noted that this was originally delivered as a speech to a general audience, and is accordingly often humorous in tone and not as philosophically rigorous or technical as a written article might be.

What is a Christian?
Russell begins by defining terms, and concludes that three things are minimally necessary for qualifying as a Christian: Belief in God and immortality, and that Jesus was at least the best and wisest of all men. These therefore will be the targets of his criticism.

The Existence of God
While acknowledging that the list is not complete, Russell considers 5 classical arguments for God. The first is The First Cause Argument which he argues cannot have any validity on account of begging the question of what caused God. He says "There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all."
He next considers The Natural Law Argument, which is the idea that God is revealed by the regularity of nature. Russell notes that the simple laws of Newton have been replaced by the less intuitive theories of Einstein and the statistical averages of QM, less suggestive of design vs chance, and then explains the difference between prescriptive human laws and descriptive natural laws, where only the former imply a law-giver. He also points out that God's choice of laws would be either arbitrary or subject to laws independent of God.
The third argument considered is The Argument from Design, and Russell argues that evolution has largely undercut this by showing how organisms have adapted to fit their environment rather than having the environment tailored to fit them. He also observes that this world is far from the perfection unlimited omniscient design could be expected to produce, especially given that the solar system and the universe itself will eventually tend towards conditions making life impossible.
Fourth is the category of Moral Arguments for Deity, which Russell attributes primarily to Kant and rebuts with Euthyphro's Dilemma, arguing that either God's moral dictates are arbitrary meaning God cannot be non-trivially 'good', or God is himself subject to morality and therefore not the source of it.
The final considered argument is what he calls The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice, which is the idea that justice requires an afterlife where the injustices of our known world can be redressed. Russell rebuts this by saying it is as illogical as seeing rotten apples at the top of a crate and assuming there must be lots of good ones underneath to redress the balance.
He also observes that these arguments are rarely what actually motivates belief in God, which is more often due to childhood indoctrination and the desire for there to be someone powerful looking out for us.

The Character of Christ
Russell points out that few Christians take Christ's maxims seriously, such as turning the other cheek, which predates Christ anyway; his injunction against judgement, which hardly any Christian follows; and his command to give away one's belongings to the poor. These points Russell commends as good, if hard to live up to, before moving on to those teachings from Christ which he cannot agree with.

Defects in Christ's Teaching
Russell observes that we cannot know that Christ as depicted in the Gospels ever really existed, but argues that if he did then he cannot be considered the best and wisest of all men. The first reason given is that Christ appeared to believe, quite wrongly, that his second coming was imminent and would occur within the lifetimes of those he addressed.

The Moral Problem
A more significant failing in Christ's teachings is his belief in hell (Matt 23:33, Matt 12:32, Matt 13:41-42), and Russell compares his indignation towards doubters unfavorably with the calmer attitude of Socrates. He says "I think all this doctrine, that hell fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty" and one which has caused a lot of unnecessary suffering.

The Emotional Factor
Russell then considers the claim that we must refrain from criticizing religion because people would become evil and immoral without it, against which he argues that the religious have been equally cruel, that the cruelty of a society has tended to correlate with its religiosity, and that almost all moral progress has been made against the opposition of organized religion.

How the Churches have retarded Progress
Russell further argues that this is still the case today, as religion continues to cause suffering and impede progress by choosing "to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness", focusing instead on making people fit for heaven - and thereby quite unfit for the real world.

Fear for the Foundation of Religion
Russell diagnoses religion as founded upon fear - of death and the unknown - which explains why it so often leads to cruelty. He instead advocates science as a foundation for overcoming fear and making the world a better place.

What We Must Do
Russell concludes on a positive note: "We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world - its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness: see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence... A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men."
 
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CrowCross

Super Member
The Character of Christ
Russell points out that few Christians take Christ's maxims seriously, such as turning the other cheek, which predates Christ anyway; his injunction against judgement, which hardly any Christian follows; and his command to give away one's belongings to the poor. These points Russell commends as good, if hard to live up to, before moving on to those teachings from Christ which he cannot agree with.
Really???
Defects in Christ's Teaching
Russell observes that we cannot know that Christ as depicted in the Gospels ever really existed, but argues that if he did then he cannot be considered the best and wisest of all men. The first reason given is that Christ appeared to believe, quite wrongly, that his second coming was imminent and would occur within the lifetimes of those he addressed.
Really????
 

stiggy wiggy

Well-known member
I told you this in another post, but it's worth repeating in case some of our readers are not keeping up with the latest literary news:

Word has it that Russell has an idea for a sequel, Why I am Still not a Christian, but he's having trouble finding a fireproof pen.

All proceeds will go to the Free Satan Fund.
 

The Pixie

Well-known member
It is interesting that the responses Christians say Russell is in Hell or working for Satan.

This firstly assumes Christianity is true, and secondly in no way suggests he is wrong.

Is this really the best Christianity can muster?
 

Komodo

Well-known member
This is primarily for @cjab, though of course anyone can participate. I will start by summarizing the main points Russell raises in his well-known short essay Why I am not a Christian. The full text can be read here or here. It should be noted that this was originally delivered as a speech to a general audience, and is accordingly often humorous in tone and not as philosophically rigorous or technical as a written article might be.

What is a Christian?
Russell begins by defining terms, and concludes that three things are minimally necessary for qualifying as a Christian: Belief in God and immortality, and that Jesus was at least the best and wisest of all men. These therefore will be the targets of his criticism.

The Existence of God
While acknowledging that the list is not complete, Russell considers 5 classical arguments for God. The first is The First Cause Argument which he argues cannot have any validity on account of begging the question of what caused God. He says "There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all."
He next considers The Natural Law Argument, which is the idea that God is revealed by the regularity of nature. Russell notes that the simple laws of Newton have been replaced by the less intuitive theories of Einstein and the statistical averages of QM, less suggestive of design vs chance, and then explains the difference between prescriptive human laws and descriptive natural laws, where only the former imply a law-giver. He also points out that God's choice of laws would be either arbitrary or subject to laws independent of God.
The third argument considered is The Argument from Design, and Russell argues that evolution has largely undercut this by showing how organisms have adapted to fit their environment rather than having the environment tailored to fit them. He also observes that this world is far from the perfection unlimited omniscient design could be expected to produce, especially given that the solar system and the universe itself will eventually tend towards conditions making life impossible.
Fourth is the category of Moral Arguments for Deity, which Russell attributes primarily to Kant and rebuts with Euthyphro's Dilemma, arguing that either God's moral dictates are arbitrary meaning God cannot be non-trivially 'good', or God is himself subject to morality and therefore not the source of it.
The final considered argument is what he calls The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice, which is the idea that justice requires an afterlife where the injustices of our known world can be redressed. Russell rebuts this by saying it is as illogical as seeing rotten apples at the top of a crate and assuming there must be lots of good ones underneath to redress the balance.
He also observes that these arguments are rarely what actually motivates belief in God, which is more often due to childhood indoctrination and the desire for there to be someone powerful looking out for us.

The Character of Christ
Russell points out that few Christians take Christ's maxims seriously, such as turning the other cheek, which predates Christ anyway; his injunction against judgement, which hardly any Christian follows; and his command to give away one's belongings to the poor. These points Russell commends as good, if hard to live up to, before moving on to those teachings from Christ which he cannot agree with.

Defects in Christ's Teaching
Russell observes that we cannot know that Christ as depicted in the Gospels ever really existed, but argues that if he did then he cannot be considered the best and wisest of all men. The first reason given is that Christ appeared to believe, quite wrongly, that his second coming was imminent and would occur within the lifetimes of those he addressed.

The Moral Problem
A more significant failing in Christ's teachings is his belief in hell (Matt 23:33, Matt 12:32, Matt 13:41-42), and Russell compares his indignation towards doubters unfavorably with the calmer attitude of Socrates. He says "I think all this doctrine, that hell fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty" and one which has caused a lot of unnecessary suffering.

The Emotional Factor
Russell then considers the claim that we must refrain from criticizing religion because people would become evil and immoral without it, against which he argues that the religious have been equally cruel, that the cruelty of a society has tended to correlate with its religiosity, and that almost all moral progress has been made against the opposition of organized religion.

How the Churches have retarded Progress
Russell further argues that this is still the case today, as religion continues to cause suffering and impede progress by choosing "to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness", focusing instead on making people fit for heaven - and thereby quite unfit for the real world.

Fear for the Foundation of Religion
Russell diagnoses religion as founded upon fear - of death and the unknown - which explains why it so often leads to cruelty. He instead advocates science as a foundation for overcoming fear and making the world a better place.

What We Must Do
Russell concludes on a positive note: "We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world - its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness: see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence... A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men."
The thing that's always seemed somewhat off to me about Russell's case here is that it seems to assume the listener/reader is going through a two-step process:
1) Can I establish, through reasoned argument, that God exists?
2) If I can, which of God's supposed prophets/messengers/avatars seems to teach or embody the best moral qualities?

Now this may be the process Russell went through, but of course hardly anybody else approaches religion that way. Which might be irrelevant if all Russell is doing is explaining "why I am not a Christian." But if he's trying in part to imply, "and that's why you shouldn't be a Christian either," then I think he would need to address other, more common reasons for being a Christian: because people were brought up to be Christian and it's worked for them, or because they think they've had some kind of personal, revelatory experience.
 

cjab

Well-known member
This is primarily for @cjab, though of course anyone can participate. I will start by summarizing the main points Russell raises in his well-known short essay Why I am not a Christian. The full text can be read here or here. It should be noted that this was originally delivered as a speech to a general audience, and is accordingly often humorous in tone and not as philosophically rigorous or technical as a written article might be.

What is a Christian?
Russell begins by defining terms, and concludes that three things are minimally necessary for qualifying as a Christian: Belief in God and immortality, and that Jesus was at least the best and wisest of all men. These therefore will be the targets of his criticism.

The Existence of God
While acknowledging that the list is not complete, Russell considers 5 classical arguments for God. The first is The First Cause Argument which he argues cannot have any validity on account of begging the question of what caused God. He says "There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all."
He next considers The Natural Law Argument, which is the idea that God is revealed by the regularity of nature. Russell notes that the simple laws of Newton have been replaced by the less intuitive theories of Einstein and the statistical averages of QM, less suggestive of design vs chance, and then explains the difference between prescriptive human laws and descriptive natural laws, where only the former imply a law-giver. He also points out that God's choice of laws would be either arbitrary or subject to laws independent of God.
The third argument considered is The Argument from Design, and Russell argues that evolution has largely undercut this by showing how organisms have adapted to fit their environment rather than having the environment tailored to fit them. He also observes that this world is far from the perfection unlimited omniscient design could be expected to produce, especially given that the solar system and the universe itself will eventually tend towards conditions making life impossible.
Fourth is the category of Moral Arguments for Deity, which Russell attributes primarily to Kant and rebuts with Euthyphro's Dilemma, arguing that either God's moral dictates are arbitrary meaning God cannot be non-trivially 'good', or God is himself subject to morality and therefore not the source of it.
The final considered argument is what he calls The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice, which is the idea that justice requires an afterlife where the injustices of our known world can be redressed. Russell rebuts this by saying it is as illogical as seeing rotten apples at the top of a crate and assuming there must be lots of good ones underneath to redress the balance.
He also observes that these arguments are rarely what actually motivates belief in God, which is more often due to childhood indoctrination and the desire for there to be someone powerful looking out for us.

The Character of Christ
Russell points out that few Christians take Christ's maxims seriously, such as turning the other cheek, which predates Christ anyway; his injunction against judgement, which hardly any Christian follows; and his command to give away one's belongings to the poor. These points Russell commends as good, if hard to live up to, before moving on to those teachings from Christ which he cannot agree with.

Defects in Christ's Teaching
Russell observes that we cannot know that Christ as depicted in the Gospels ever really existed, but argues that if he did then he cannot be considered the best and wisest of all men. The first reason given is that Christ appeared to believe, quite wrongly, that his second coming was imminent and would occur within the lifetimes of those he addressed.

The Moral Problem
A more significant failing in Christ's teachings is his belief in hell (Matt 23:33, Matt 12:32, Matt 13:41-42), and Russell compares his indignation towards doubters unfavorably with the calmer attitude of Socrates. He says "I think all this doctrine, that hell fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty" and one which has caused a lot of unnecessary suffering.

The Emotional Factor
Russell then considers the claim that we must refrain from criticizing religion because people would become evil and immoral without it, against which he argues that the religious have been equally cruel, that the cruelty of a society has tended to correlate with its religiosity, and that almost all moral progress has been made against the opposition of organized religion.

How the Churches have retarded Progress
Russell further argues that this is still the case today, as religion continues to cause suffering and impede progress by choosing "to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness", focusing instead on making people fit for heaven - and thereby quite unfit for the real world.

Fear for the Foundation of Religion
Russell diagnoses religion as founded upon fear - of death and the unknown - which explains why it so often leads to cruelty. He instead advocates science as a foundation for overcoming fear and making the world a better place.

What We Must Do
Russell concludes on a positive note: "We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world - its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness: see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence... A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men."
A problem with your synthesized gloss is that it seeks to cast Russell as more palatable than he really is.

The root objection to Christ that Russell has is Christ's unequivical condemnation of (his) hypocrisy, which Russell is incapable of dealing with in his own life. Russell knows he's condemned by Christ, but instead of repenting, he seeks to cast aspersions on Christ and ALL the churches indiscriminately.

Notes:
- Fear: Christ puts the fear of God into hypocrites and Russell can't stand the heat.
- What we must do: abandon conventional morality to become Epicureans, which was what Russell was.
- How the Churches have retarded Progress: i.e. Russell deprecates their opposition to his hedonistic lifestyle. It is a lie that the churches have ever "hindered scientific progress" excepting the notorious case of Galileo and the Catholic church.
- The Emotional Factor: Organized religion isn't necessarily Christianity, especially in the case of State churches. Re persecution: Russell maliciously fails to distinguish true religion from the false (as the book of James and all the apostles and Christ do), and so ignores the eternal struggle for truth in religion.
- Defects in Christ's Teaching: Christ never promised to return in person in anyone's lifetime.
- The Character of Christ: Returning the other cheek: Russell fails to see that it is the poor that are obliged to do this all the time in response to the depredations of the rich. It's just that the rich don't notice. Re Christ's cursing of the fig tree: it was a sign that fruitlessness in religion will lead inexorably to judgment and being cursed, which Russell fails to understand applies to him.
 
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Nouveau

Well-known member
A problem with your synthesized gloss is that it seeks to cast Russell as more palatable than he really is.
So it turns out this whole thread was a massive waste of time, as you lied to me about being able to do this without ad hominems.
 

cjab

Well-known member
So it turns out this whole thread was a massive waste of time, as you lied to me about being able to do this without ad hominems.
Ad hominems? Who is guilty of ad hominems? Russel's entire argument is one long list of ad hominems against anyone who might interfere with his hedonistic lifestyle, as is your strategy by making me out to be a liar at the outset. Prove I unconditionally agreed to any such thing as you allege.

You introduced ad hominems in your initial summary (religion is cruel and therefore I am cruel) violating any agreement, implied or express.

I've already argued convincingly in the deleted post against one of his few non-ad hominem arguments: i.e. that belief in goodness independently of God leads to a necessary supposition that goodness is anterior to God, by pointing out that God is outside of time such that "before" God has no meaning because God transcends time itself. Russell merely seeks to debase, limit and contain the idea of God and / or religion such that both can be criticised unreservedly, as a strategic modus operandus, whilst failing to note that it is religion of Jesus that is equally critical of imposture in all things religious.

In the same way as Christ repudiated the Pharisees ad hominens against himself by exposing their own hypocrisy, then such will always be the response to those who use ad hominems against God (e.g. Russell maintaining that religion is "cruel"). Besides which, you're overstating your case as nothing is being alleged against Russell that isn't plainly evidenced.
 

Nouveau

Well-known member
Ad hominems? Who is guilty of ad hominems?
You are. See post #14.

Russel's entire argument is one long list of ad hominems
No it is not. See the OP.

Prove I unconditionally agreed to any such thing as you allege.
Me: "I just need to know firstly if you're willing to discuss without ad hominems, and secondly which philosopher you'd prefer to start with."
You: "I am and I'll leave it to you."

You introduced ad hominems in your initial summary
No I did not. And I never called you cruel.

I've already argued convincingly in the deleted post against one of his few non-ad hominem arguments: i.e. that belief in goodness independently of God leads to a necessary supposition that goodness is anterior to God, by pointing out that God is outside of time such that "before" God has no meaning because God transcends time itself.
And I already corrected you. Russell did not mention time or "before", and simply presented Euthyphro's Dilemma.
 

cjab

Well-known member
You are. See post #14.

No it is not. See the OP.
Russel's entire argument is indeed one long list of ad hominems against Christians who he loathes and despises. He seldom strays far from this central theme.

Me: "I just need to know firstly if you're willing to discuss without ad hominems, and secondly which philosopher you'd prefer to start with."
You: "I am and I'll leave it to you."
I read that as an implication that you yourself would not seek to debate ad hominems. Yet here you are, on behalf of and using the words of Russell, alleging that confessing Christians:

(a) Are implicit hypocrites in "What is a Christian?" as having no necessity to believe in Jesus as their saviour but only that he was the wisest of men (i.e. as per Islam).
(b) Are implicitly disobedient in "The Character of Christ."
(c) Are implicitly irrational in "The Existence of God."
(d) Trust to a liar in "Defects in Christ's Teaching."
(e) Have no grounds to call out hypocrisy, as such is unkind and cruel in "The Moral Problem."
(f) Preclude free speech to promote "morality" in "The Emotional Factor."
(g) Are wrong to believe in the judgement of God which leads to cruelty in "Fear for the Foundation of Religion."
(h) Are against scientific progress in "How the Churches have retarded Progress"
(i) Should be de facto ostracized and ignored in "What We Must Do."

No I did not. And I never called you cruel.
Russell does.

And I already corrected you. Russell did not mention time or "before", and simply presented Euthyphro's Dilemma.
He said "anterior."
 
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Nouveau

Well-known member
Russel's entire argument is indeed one long list of ad hominems
No it is not. See the OP where I summarized his arguments.

I read that as an implication that you yourself would not seek to debate ad hominems.
It was you saying you'd discuss this without ad hominems. But it turns out you had no intention of refraining from ad hominems.

Yet here you are, on behalf of and using the words of Russell, alleging that confessing Christians:
(a) Are implicit hypocrites in "What is a Christian?" as having no necessity to believe in Jesus as their saviour but only that he was the wisest of men (i.e. as per Islam).
(b) Are implicitly disobedient in "The Character of Christ."
(c) Are implicitly irrational in "The Existence of God."
(d) Trust to a liar in "Defects in Christ's Teaching."
(e) Have no grounds to call out hypocrisy, as such is unkind and cruel in "The Moral Problem."
(f) Alleging that confessing Christians preclude free speech to promote "morality" in "The Emotional Factor."
(g) Are wrong to believe in the judgement of God which leads to cruelty in "Fear for the Foundation of Religion."
(h) Alleging that confessing Christians are against scientific progress in "How the Churches have retarded Progress"
(i) Alleging that confessing Christians should be de facto ostracized and ignored in "What We Must Do."
An absurd list of strawmen. It is not an ad hominem attack on Christians to criticize Christianity. If you can't handle a critique then you shouldn't have asked for one.

Russell does.
Where? Quote him calling you cruel.

He said "anterior."
He said "logically anterior" which has nothing to do with time.
 
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