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Bertrand Russell on Christianity, Fear, & Dishonesty (Pt. IV of IV)
July 20, 2014 D.J. Clark

Bertrand Russell on Christianity, Fear, & Dishonesty (Pt. IV of IV)

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…continued from Pt. III…

This distinction between belief and acceptance is relevant to our topic at hand. For it seems to me that acceptance is more essential to “the Christian stance” than belief. Someone, for instance, might want very much to believe in the Christian creedal claims, but find himself underwhelmed by the evidence. As much as he wants to believe, he can’t. But this person could still accept the creedal claims. He could still pledge allegiance to the Kingship of Jesus, apprentice himself to his teachings, and enter into fellowship with the historical, Christian community — all without having the orthodox claims presenting themselves to him as true. This person, I should think, we would call a Christian. (Giving the Christian scriptures the say on who counts as a Christian, at least, it would be very hard to call this hypothetical person otherwise. Mk. 9:24 seems to have something like the belief/acceptance buried in it.)

Now consider a person who believed the Christian creedal claims, but who did not accept them. He did not pledge allegiance to the Kingship of Jesus, did not apprentice himself to Jesus’ teachings, and did not enter into fellowship with the historical, Christian community — all while having the orthodox claims presenting themselves to him as true. This person, I should think, we would be much less ready to call a Christian. (James 2:19)

So acceptance seems more fundamental to the Christian stance than belief — acceptance is probably even necessary to the Christian stance.  What is the import of this for our present discussion? Just this: Determining whether emotions (like fear) are a common ground of Christian belief is not sufficient to tell us whether emotions are a common ground of the Christian stance; much more important to consider is whether emotions are a common ground of Christian acceptance.

I don’t have an argument to show that they are. It just seems obvious to me that they are. So I don’t take issue with Russell when he claims that emotions play such a role. I take issue with Russell when he claims that the emotion of fear plays such a role, or when they play the primary role. As I said before, fear probably plays some role in grounding the Christian stance of some; but I don’t think it plays near the role that certain other emotions play.*

Russell does not go after the prime emotional targets. What he should have gone after, if he really wanted to capture the emotions that have kept Christianity so attractive for so long, are these four culprits: Hope, Wonder, Aesthetic Delight, and Familial Affection.

Footnote: * In a longer discussion, it would be worth considering the relevance of the fact that there are different types of fear, some of which we might think are typically healthier than others.

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