Bertrand Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship” is one of the most eloquent statements of atheism ever written. The question of God is an exquisite problem, intricate as a harp. Only people who know how to use the strings should go near it. The bludgeonite New Atheists go at it with scissors and hammers, thinking that if you destroy the harp you destroy the problem. Russell knew better. In an essay full of humanity and important ideas, he coaxes you into admiring the rationality of his position–a symphony of sense.
Happy New Year!
Religious folk have the advantage of hearing their sacred texts read out, as in a story, during a liturgical year. Unbelievers and humanists have no such advantage, because we believe that no story is so sacred that it demands endless repetition.
Bertrand Russell’s life as a philosopher, logician-mathematician and social reformer can be summarized in one biographical detail: In 1894 he married the American Quaker Alys Pearsall Smith, one of a generation of wealthy buccaneers who propped up British aristocracy through “economic” marriages from Kensington to Blenheim. ”Their marriage began to fall apart,” says Wallenchinsky matter of factly, “in 1901 when it occurred to Russell, while he was cycling, that he no longer loved her.” What could be simpler?
A few texts of the atheist tradition deserve to be enshrined in memory if not in a tabernacle. As we approach…
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