Short Review of Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian

WhyIAmNotAChristianBertrand Russell was a renowned British logician and mathematician, whose “Why I Am Not a Christian and other essays…” collects his writing from the late 1890s through the 1950s.


– Amazed at how Russell’s writing illuminated C.S. Lewis’. It’s not at all clear that they engaged one another directly, which is astonishing, since they were both well-known and lived at the same time. But I think it highly unlikely that Lewis’ Abolition of Man or “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” were not heavily influenced by Russell.
– Russell’s repeated discussions of his ‘rational sexual ethic’ were also very helpful to me in situating Dorothy Sayers’ detective novels (which I loved), which are set against the intellectual backdrop of the 1920s, when Russell was writing.
– His essay on academic freedom (“Freedom and the College”) was excellent. Extremely relevant today.
– He seems to have mellowed out quite a bit with regard to religion in his later years.


– It’s hard to overstate how condescending and hostile his earlier essays on religion were. He also loathed ‘conventional morality.’ Lighten up, man.
– Coupled with (or perhaps, following from) his animosity is a shocking paucity of good argumentation. No, “who made God?” (p. 6) is not a good objection. No, the Euthyphro Dilemma (p. 12, though he doesn’t identify it by name) is not a good objection. No, “millions of unfortunate women” were not “burnt as witches” (p. 20). And his claim that “it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all” (p. 16) is so ridiculous, that it leads me to question his reliability when speaking on historical subjects of any kind (which he does quite often in numerous essays).
– Was struck by how difficult it is to be ‘progressive’, particularly on moral issues, for more than a few decades. Russell saw himself as standing in the vanguard of moral progress and rationalism. But some of the off-handed statements and predictions he makes now sound like utter lunacy (“it will probably be necessary to make childbearing a well-paid profession, not of course to be undertaken by all women or even by a majority, but only by a certain percentage who would have to pass tests as to their fitness from a stock-breeding point of view,” p. 165). It’s hard to stay current.


Overall, I enjoyed the book, some parts far more than others. “What I Believe,” “Freedom and the Colleges,” and the first few pages of “A Free Man’s Worship” were my favorite bits.