Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell (Review)

Recently I watched the movie God is not Dead (which I did not like).  During the scene where the Christian student stands up to his atheist professor, the professor adds an assignment for the whole class as punishment for this one student’s recalcitrance.  The assignment is to read Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian on top of their other assigned reading.

I chuckled for I was, ironically, reading this very book at the time.  Russell was a world-famous philosopher and outspoken atheist.  The title of the book is really just the title of an essay that is the first chapter.  The essay is included in a variety of editions of books, each with slightly different other essays included.  In the essay Russell quickly moves through a variety of reasons why he is not a Christian.  Due to the scope covered, he does not go very deep into any one reason.  Yet his arguments do manage to pack a punch and his influence on today’s atheists is obvious.

Actually, it might benefit more popular atheist writers to emulate Russell.  I found myself more sympathetic to his arguments then to those of Dawkins, Harris and their ilk, though I am not sure why.  Maybe it is distance – Russell is dead and unable to speak anymore so I only see his writings, not his obnoxious twitter posts.  For whatever reason, there is something about Russell that both makes me like him more and challenges me more then contemporary atheists.

While I am challenged, and I enjoy a good challenge, I have no intention of abandoning Christianity.  I think Christians ought to read books like this because asking and seeking answers to such questions does sharpen our faith.  In the end, I think faith makes sense.  In this vein, I enjoyed reading the debate between Russell and Catholic Frederick Copleston.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I thought Copleston provided better arguments (guess that’s why I am still a Christian).  So I’d recommend this book to Christians who are interested in tough questions, maybe to Christians who have read lots of Christian apologetics but not much from the other side.  Its worth the read, even if I think the Christian case is stronger.

4 thoughts on “Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell (Review)

  1. How is the Christian case stronger? I have not read Russell’s book, but I have read others such as “Mere Churchianity”, by Michael Spencer, “So You Thought You Knew”, by Joshua Tongol, “Love Wins” by Rob Bell, and “Zealot” by Reza Aslan. I have read even more books defending the faith such as “The Case Against Atheism” by Mike Dobbins, and “The Case for Jesus” by Lee Strobel. But in all of my personal experience with church and research, I am yet to find peace with what today’s church teaches.

    1. Thanks for the comment, though I am not sure I can answer your question. I mean, when I say I find the Christian case to be stronger I do not mean to imply that anyone and everyone who just looks at the evidence will agree with me. It is not a point of objectivity, as if we can all just come together and leave our biases at the door and agree. What I mean is that, when I weigh two options (a godless universe and a God-created one) I find the God-created universe more compelling and satisfying. In other words, I look at it as if there are two stories – one story is of a God who created and then came to earth in the person of Jesus while the other story is one of godless emergence of life. For a variety of reasons, I find the Christian story to be just better.

      Eliminate God from the story and there is no longer any basis for meaning or morality. In a godless universe the end of the story just may be one of death and hopelessness and destruction, who knows? The story of Jesus is one of hope, that there is a better world and we have a role to play in bringing it about. I admit a critic could say this is just wishful thinking, and we could discuss that if need be. I guess I’ll close my rambling with your last comment where you mention “research” – reading books and doing research does not seem to be the most useful way to discover truth, though in our culture we do value it above all else. I think it is significant that Jesus called his disciples and then had them work with people right away. He did not teach them in a class for years and then send them out. In other words, I think we learn about God as we live with God. Do not focus only on mind (“what today’s church teaches”), also go out and serve others. Personally, as I serve others I am motivated more to serve others and find meaning in it…and as I reflect on such things the best explanation I see is a creator and savior God.

      Thanks again.

      1. I agree completely on serving others… since I also think that service is one (if not the only) way to “experience God”. But, why not use my God-given mind to try to understand Him and this life? Why limit it to only two ways or two “stories” : the one with a Christian God and one with no God at all ? There is definitely many other possible explanations to this mysterious life. And I am curious to explore them as much as possible. Aren’t you?

  2. Of course you ought to use your mind to try to understand. Sorry, it is hard to chat when I have no idea where you are coming from (limits of the internet!). Likewise, I recognize there are a variety of other stories but I limited it to those two in this context because…well because Russell was an atheist attacking Christianity and I am a Christian. Sure we both could be wrong and some third view could be it!

    Exploring as much as possible is fun, I agree. I would clarify that we all explore from some perspective, I set out on my exploration as a Christian raised in middle-class America with all sorts of biases and presuppositions. I have questioned and rejected some of what I learned growing up, sharpened other points and still hold to some. As a limited being I doubt I will ever be able to explore everything, so I agree with the “as much as possible.” I also recognize the danger that my exploration could put me in a library, closed to the outside world.

    Good stuff.

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