The world, we are told, was created by a God who is both good and omnipotent. Before He created the world He foresaw all the pain and misery that it would contain; He is therefore responsible for all of it. It is useless to argue that the pain in the world is due to sin. In the first place, this is not true; it is not sin that causes rivers to overflow their banks or volcanoes to erupt. But even if it were true, it would make no difference. If I were going to beget a child knowing that the child was going to be a homicidal maniac, I should be responsible for his crimes. If God knew in advance the sins of which man would be guilty, He was clearly responsible for all the consequences of those sins when He decided to create man. The usual Christian argument is that the suffering in the world is a purification for sin, and is therefore a good thing. This argument is, of course, only a rationalisation of sadism; but in any case it is a very poor argument. I would invite any Christian to accompany me to the children’s ward of a hospital, to watch the suffering that is there being endured, and then to persist in the assertion that those children are so morally abandoned as to deserve what they are suffering. In order to bring himself to say this, a man must destroy in himself all feelings of mercy and compassion. He must, in short, make himself as cruel as the God in whom he believes. No man who believes that all is for the best in this suffering world can keep his ethical values unimpaired, since he is always having to find excuses for pain and misery.
— Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
I was introduced to the estimable Bertrand Russell by Jeff, the roommate of Jon Graves, whom I’ve written about previously, during my third year at Penn State.
Jeff was, I think, the first openly outspoken atheist that I had ever met, so one would think that I might recall his last name, but sadly I do not.
In many ways that third year at Penn State was a year about religion. I’ve mentioned Herbie and the New Testament course that we took, but that was also the year that the book The Passover Plot made a stir, though it had come out a few years earlier. At least, it was the year that I read it, but I wasn’t impressed. If I recall correctly, I thought the author arbitrarily picked and chose what he found in the gospels in order to make his argument.
I remember getting into discussions on religion not only with Herbie but with a zealous Christian named Jim Garner. Yeah, like the actor, but not nearly as good looking.
But it was Jeff that I really enjoyed talking to, not only because he was an atheist, but he was an outspoken atheist, and he had clearly given it a lot more thought and done a lot more reading about it than I had.
For example, Bertrand Russell. I don’t think I had encountered that philosopher previously.
But it wasn’t only atheism that we talked about. I gave Jeff the opening chapter of a whodunit that I was trying to write, certain that he’d be impressed. He wasn’t and he let me know.
That was disappointing.
Anyway, if anyone feels they can refute Mr. Russell’s argument, presented at the top of this post, I’d be happy to hear it.
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