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Betrand Russell on Christianity, Fear, & Dishonesty (Pt. II of III)
July 18, 2014 D.J. Clark

Betrand Russell on Christianity, Fear, & Dishonesty (Pt. II of III)

Posted in Forum Post

…continued from part I…

Consider Wilbur, a suitable bachelor. Wilbur greatly desires to be a father some day — to bring a little human unto maturity, to pass on his name, to leave a legacy, and all that. But there is a problem: Wilbur will not so much as date a woman, let alone wed one. Not after the heartbreak he experienced when his high school girlfriend left him ten years ago. He’s afraid of this sort of rejection. So afraid that he won’t go near another women, even though he greatly desires the good of being a father more than almost anything.

How do we think of Wilbur? For most of us, we probably think him lacking in some virtue — perhaps courage. No doubt we pity poor Wilbur. But we do not pity him enough to think him justified in his flight from women. A few different reasons might come to mind: High school relationships are generally far different things from adult relationships; one relationship is an awfully small sample set to base such a bachelorhood upon; and the good of fatherhood is great enough to merit a substantial amount of risk. In his situation, fear is a poor ground for his bachelorhood.

Now consider a Cambodian man or woman circa 1980, who had barely survived the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. Someone who had lost their entire family, spouse, children, siblings to the slaughters. Who had seen – as many Cambodians claim to have seen – infants’ heads smashed against trees, starved old women being forced to dig their own graves, tortures of every sort imaginable. Consider this person. Now consider this person’s decision to flee her homeland, to run away from human institutions as a whole, to never even allow herself to contemplate bringing another child into this world — and let us suppose that these choices are made on the basis of the fear and terror she encountered in the face of that evil. How should we judge this person? Should we think this fear a perfectly reasonable ground for her choices? Or should we think her lacking some virtue: Should we have told her that, were we in her shoes, we would rather “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 and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it.”?

Any sane person, I should hope, would think the idea of charging this survivor with some sort of cowardice absurd. What “good facts” and “beauties” might she expect to compete with the evil and ugliness she experienced? What good could all the intelligence in the world be in light of the terror she met? How could we expect this woman to ever stand upon her feet again, let alone “look fair and square” at the world — as though she could ever give the world a fair shake again?

In her situation, fear seems a perfectly adequate ground for her choice not to have a family.

So we are forced to admit that, even with the same good at issue – in our examples, the good of raising a family – fear may or may not be a legitimate ground for one’s decision to pursue that good. It all depends on context. Fear, sometimes, is something to shun; and sometimes it is something to act upon. (Discerning the conditions under which fear should be shunned or, alternatively, acted upon is not my present concern. And thank goodness: I don’t think I’d be up to that challenge.) The upshot: Acting on fear is not necessarily to act the coward.

Of course, this is not yet to say that the Christian is justified in being motivated by fear. But it is to say that Russell’s assumption (that being moved by fear = a moral failing) is far from obvious. And thus, that his claim that the religious stance is (usually) based in fear – even if it were true – does not just imply that the religious stance is unjustified, immoral, what have you.

What we have said should also open up the reader to consider what sort of worlds – what sort of circumstances – would justify fear as a religious motivation; and whether our world is like that world. Is our situation vis-a-vis our fundamental existential stance in this life more analogous to Wilbur’s situation or to that of the unnamed Cambodian?

Comments (2)

  1. Thea Brescia

    Hi D.J. Clark, Please clarify the meaning of “fear as a religious motivation ” I’m not sure what religious motivation refers to. Could it be something like a person choosing to take a certain action or specific behavior because of a religious belief or a religious principle? Or does it mean fear of religion is a motivator for some people? Maybe it means a person’s fears may drive them to act religious? I’m confused. Would appreciate help to understand. Thank you.

  2. Thea Brescia

    Hi, D.J. Clark. Just read your Part 1 blog on Bertram Russell and found the answer to my previous question . Very thought provoking articles. Regarding your question as to whether our existential stance in life is more analogous to Wilbur’s situation or that of the unnamed Cambodian. Actually one of my coworkers Vanessa is from Cambodia and she and her entire family were brutally forced into slavery, enduring back breaking labor in rice paddies for over 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for 5 long miserable years. She was just a child at the time. One of her younger sisters was murdered at age 4 by the evil captors. Fortunately she and her family were able to survive the griuesome scene and made it to California where she attended school for the first time in years and finally went on to nursing school. Vanessa was raised Catholic. She is amazingly well- balanced, sociable, kind and successful. She displays no evidence of being fear-driven. Not all people go through exteme anxiety and constant fears like Wilbur and the unnamed Cambodian even if they experience the same tragic, traumatic circumstances. What makes the difference? Partly it has to do with our thought system and beliefs. People with distorted thinking and irrational beliefs will suffer many fears, depression, anxieties and even mental illness. Wilbur has distorted ideas and self talk. He’s probably telling himself irrational, false ideas like he’s a hopeless looser who could never attract real love and that every female on the planet would cruelly reject him., and he would instantly drop dead from the rebuff. He needs to argue against his distorted ideas and begin to tell himself the truth. Wilbur, there are indeed ladies out there who would find you appealing and easy to love. , and you can survive the pain of rejection and get past it. So extreme fears that lead to chronic anxiety can be eliminated by cognitive therapy and learning to tell our selves the truth and dumping the lies. Meditating on memorized Scripture can also help remove Wilbur’s hang ups.Bertran Russell has distorted thinking and believes lies when he claims that Christian are fear driven and dishonest. From my experience with distorted atheists, they do not want to believe in God because they don’t want to give up their immoral sex lives.

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