Why I am not a Christian


This monologue by Bertrand Russell is still timely.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

50 thoughts on “Why I am not a Christian

  1. Barry says:

    There are a great many Christians who would disagree with his definition of Christianity, especially in those parts of the world where liberal Christianity and progressive Christianity prevail. Of course that rules out the Americas, Africa and parts of Asia. And I daresay that many early Christians would also dispute his definition, especially regarding the divinity of Jesus. His definition may well be that as defined by major church authorities, but not in all eras nor in all churches. So should that be how Christianity is defined?

    While I make no claim to being a Christian, for a great many Christians I know, Bertrand Russell’s arguments are irrelevant as he’s arguing against beliefs they don’t hold, or beliefs they hold to be non-essential.

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    • they might disagree but the base of Christianity is the bible and that is disgusting. Liberal Christians who pick and choose through it aren’t any more able to declare that they are Christians and everyone else isn’t than conservative Christians are.

      They are all making up nonsense.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Barry says:

        There were Christians before the Bible was compiled, so your argument is not entirely correct. I would argue that when the current form of the Bible was established, it reflected the beliefs of the majority of Christian authority at that time. So rather than say Christianity is based on the Bible, I can just as easily claim that the Bible is based on Christian thought at a particular time in history.

        As far as I’m aware, Liberal and progressive Christians don’t declare that other Christians aren’t Christian – they accept that Christianity is diverse and that within it, there are competing complementary and contradictory beliefs. I accept that Christian fundamentalists and many non-Christians see this as a weakness, but I believe that diversity is Christianity’s strength.

        As to whether one thinks the Bible is disgusting, I guess it boils down as to where one believes it originates. I know of no Liberal or progressive Christian who does not believe it to be of human origin. It provides an insight into the evolution of the religious beliefs of a people. It is worthy of study because it tells us much about the progress of human thought, and much about the nature of mankind (and by that I don’t mean that we are by nature intrinsically sinful). What else one takes from it is up to the individual.

        The whole point of my comment was to point out that Christianity never has had a unified voice, and that what it stands for has been evolving for 2000 years and is likely to continue evolving. For better or worse is for history to determine.

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        • Barry, so is the idea of a Christian essentially meaningless since you want to postulate Christians who don’t follow the bible and the stories in it?

          If Christians believe that the bible is human origin, then the resurrection is of human origin, and nothing more than a story. I suspect most, if not all, Christians would wonder about that.

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          • Barry says:

            Meaningless? No I don’t think so. Unless you insist that it must, by definition, be specific. I remember reading an article discussing the definition of religion (I wish I had saved the URL) where more than 20 definitions were examined. So many of the definitions were mutually exclusive that one could be forgiven for concluding that all the scholars were talking through a hole in their collective heads. Yet just like discussing what is good or evil, what is ethical or unethical, they are worth discussing, even if no consensus can be reached.

            I think we can all agree that the Resurrection is a story. While many Christians believe it is a true story (based on facts) many others believe that it has meaning whether or not there is any factual basis to the story. As to what that meaning is, it will differ between individuals and faith traditions. I see discussion about it as healthy, and I don’t believe it is necessary to reach a definitive conclusion. It is simply not possible to to set an idea into stone for all time, so why try?

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          • I think for a word to have meaning, it needs to refer to something specific. If it does not, by definition the term is meaningless if can mean essentially anything at all.

            To also declare that religion can mean anything is also rather bizaare, and seems to be part and parcel of the common theist thing when they don’t want to be part of a religion since that means they might have to be responsible for what they believe in.

            If the resurrection is just a story, why aren’t the claims of a god just stories? And can a Christian not believe in a real god?

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          • makagutu says:

            Barry, isn’t a Christian though he finds some of the teachings of Christianity useful.
            In his defence, there are varied definitions of atheism which I don’t think makes it invalid. All it seem to demand what particular definition one is using. For a fundamentalist, Geering or Sponge are not Christians.

            And for some the resurrection is just a story and god represent our highest inspiration

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          • Yep, I agree to a fundamentlist, someone else isn’t a Christian a good part of the time. But from someone looking from the outside, can they all be called Christians?

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          • makagutu says:

            Definitely. From an outsider, all of them are Christians including Mormons

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          • Barry says:

            I haven’t declared that religion can mean anything at all. I posted an article on my blog some time ago titled “What is religion?” which discuses the definition of religion. I still prefer the definition provided by Sir Lloyd Geering, which is “A total mode of the interpreting and living of life.”

            Not all Christians believe in a deity. For example here in Aotearoa New Zealand slightly more than 40% of all Methodists don’t believe in a deity.

            I’m not quite sure what you mean by a “real god” as I understand God to mean anything from a supernatural being who manipulates nature and humans as he sees fit, to a concept that is a representation of our highest ideals. Look up Don Cupitt, Lloyd Geering, non-realism or secular Christianity.

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          • so, with “a total mode of the interpreting and living of life” we have the complete ignoring of the supernatural part of what religion is. And if we have no supernatural, what separates religion from just having a life?

            It is only in the most modern days that a “god” has suddenly become some vague “highest ideal” which is different for every person. That appears to be a change by theists because they realize they have no evidence for their claims. It’s easy to go from defined god to vague force if you don’t like what the god has supposedly done.

            what a term “secular Christianity”. again, Christians who want to pretend that the few good ideas from the bible started with them, when those ideas were around far longer. That term depends on a lot of ignorance.

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          • Barry says:

            what separates religion from just having a life? From my perspective, absolutely none. In fact this is essentially what my faith tradition has always championed. In many cultures, including those I’m most familiar with outside of “Western” culture – Japanese and Māori – it’s not really possible to separate life into distinct boxes such as the secular, spiritual or religious. Those divisions just don’t exist. It’s quite possible to believe in the supernatural without being religious, just as it’s possible to be religious without belief in the supernatural.

            It is only in the most modern days that a “god” has suddenly become some vague “highest ideal” which is different for every person. Speculation about the nature of gods is probably older than civilisation. Within the Christian world speculation about God has always existed. For much of its history, public speculation was dangerous to life and limb, but fortunately much less so during recent centuries. God as some sort of metaphor has been around for a very long time. These days, people who propose it live long enough to have their ideas debated in public forums such as this.

            The rest of that paragraph is pure supposition not supported by the evidence. As Makagutu has observed, those who promote such ideas, are not treated kindly by most members of their faith traditions – especially the laity. It would be far easier, less stressful, not to mention safer, to keep quiet about their “lack of faith” and simply “go with the flow” or leave it altogether than to openly promote an alternative perspective. Lloyd Geering was offered police protection due to the nature of the threats he received in the 1960s after he made is “heretical” beliefs public.

            what a term “secular Christianity”. again, Christians who want to pretend that the few good ideas from the bible started with them, when those ideas were around far longer. Really? My experience has been that there is no such thing as an “original idea”. All ideas evolve out of earlier ideas. While the “complete packaging” of ideas attributed to Jesus might be unique (and this is speculation on my part as I’m not familiar with all significant teachers, sages and philosophers), not one of the ideas are unique to him or to Jewish tradition. Even the concept of “Love thy neighbour” is not entirely unique, although I’m not aware of another form that expresses it in a better way for me. Secular Christians are Christian because they find meaning and guidance in the teachings attributed to Jesus, not because they pretend he thought of it first.

            I appreciate that you have an unflattering opinion of religion in general and Christianity in particular, and it would seem from your comments, of Christians themselves, but your definition of secular Christianity, is opinion, not fact, and dare I say, depends on a lot of ignorance.

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          • “what separates religion from just having a life? From my perspective, absolutely none. ”

            and there is the problem. You want to claim that religion isn’t different from just having a life, but in reality, it is. It requires belief in something supernatural, even an “ideal” that is not possible and thus not within nature/reality.

            as for my supposed ‘ignorance’ about secular Christians, that is your opinion. We have people who want to follow certain ideas, and want to attribute them to a “Christ” so they are Christians. And these ideas have been around far longer than this concept of a “Christ”. To call themselves Christians presupposes that this Christ had these ideas all on his own.

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          • ” Secular Christians are Christian because they find meaning and guidance in the teachings attributed to Jesus, not because they pretend he thought of it first.”

            Really, then why consider themselves Christians? They attribute *something* special about this Christ version. What is it?

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          • makagutu says:

            In a sense who a christian is can’t be defined. I think that is all Barry is saying.
            Many Christians that I know do not think the bible a work of man. In fact, in our arguments, they keep saying how can one use human reason (do you know of another) to argue against work. But I understand where Barry is coming from.

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        • makagutu says:

          This raises the question of who or what is a Christian? Or to put it differently, other than Paul, has there been a Christian?

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          • Barry says:

            It depends on what one defines as “Christian” 🙂

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          • makagutu says:

            Follower of christ? Or is it Paul’s teachings

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          • Barry says:

            Around these parts, I think the generally accepted idea of what a Christian is would be those who find the teachings attributed to Jesus to be a valuable and inspirational model for life and they live accordingly. This of course, would make a lot of people who claim to be Christian anything but Christian, and would make a lot of non Christians Christian. Paul was a zealot before he his Road to Damascus experience, and he was a zealot after – but for a different cause. The gospel according to Luke provides quite a different perspective.

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          • makagutu says:

            You are right, very right.

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    • basenjibrian says:

      We are devolving into who gets to define Christianity here. If the Christianity he attacks is that dominant in “the Americas, Africa, parts of Asia…), traditional Christianity in Europe (a minority, to be sure, but only in relatively recent decades), then this IS the dominant Christianity in the world today and has been for centuries. It is certainly the politically active one. This may be the fallacy of numbers, but…

      There may a few places where Christianity has become “enfeebled” where your critique is true. I would also argue, though, that any religion so divided among itself that it cannot even agree on fundamental points like the divinity of Jesus loses any ability to claim ANY access to truth. What does “Christianity” even mean given this reality? Our very vocal philosopher is certainly legitimate in attacking the by far dominant threads of Christianity.

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      • Barry says:

        As I pointed out in my reply to clubschadenfreude, Christianity has never spoken with a unified voice, and while our very vocal philosopher has given one definition of Christianity and then argued very effectively as to why he isn’t a Christian based on that definition, I would argue that it is only one definition among many, and to assume it it the only correct or most correct definition is erroneous.

        Even if Christianity as he defines it is dominant, how dominant does it need to before it can be read as being the only form that is relevant in a discussion? In other words at what point should dissenting views be considered when arguing against a dominant view? Where there are a multitude of beliefs, the dominant belief may well be held by less than half. To then argue solely against the belief of the dominant minority while ignoring the dissenting majority is being somewhat ingenuous.

        If, to be Christian, one needed to believe all the points that Bertrand Russell argued against, then I suspect there are very few “true Christians” at all outside the fundamentalist and evangelical movements. By their very nature (the belief in the necessity to spread the “Good Word”), the evangelical and fundamentalist voice is more loudly heard than that of the rest of Christianity combined, even though they do not represent the majority of Christians. At the other end of the spectrum, there are faith traditions that discourage proselytism as they believe faith is a matter of personal discernment, and will be different for every person. Such concepts and especially the concept of religious universalism, which is the dominant view in this country, are ignored in these discussions, yet they should not be.

        I don’t know why you should think increasing diversity means “enfeeblement”. My own faith tradition encourages investigation of other belief systems and to incorporate insights that are meaningful into one’s own understanding of faith and practice, and has done so for several hundred years. And this is by no means unique to my own faith tradition. Lloyd Geering argues that modern secular humanism evolved out of Christianity, and could not have come about except through it. In other words it’s Christianity without supernatural belief. I believe there is a certain amount of truth in his argument, but I’m not as convinced with the same degree of certainty that he has.

        I believe that diversity, and especially the embracing of diversity is healthy and is a strength, not a weakness. This applies to both within faith traditions as well as in the wider society. Just as evolution occurs in the natural world, I believe that evolution occurs within collective human thought. This applies to religion as much as to any other human endeavour.

        Which brings up your point about “truth”. Are you referring to moral and ethical truths – social justice truths? These change according to place and time regardless of whether or not one is a Christian. Are you referring to a particular Christian dogma, which again will change over time? Even where the wording of a dogma may remain constant, the interpretation and meaning of it can change. Why is it necessary for faith traditions to claim exclusive or privileged access to truth however you might like to define that word. Faith traditions don’t need to make such a claim to be relevant and meaningful.

        My point was not that his arguments were invalid – in fact I agree with his arguments. What I wanted to point out as that a significant number of those who claim to be Christian would also support his arguments but not reach the same conclusion about being one.

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        • makagutu says:

          While I agree with you that one does not need to accept that this is the best post of all possible worlds to be a Christian, but it is important to acknowledge this is one of the arguments that theologians and apologists have offered in defence of theism.

          While embracing diversity is a strength, not so with religion. In many occasions, difference have led to schisms and religious wars.

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          • Barry says:

            I have to disagree with you. Refusing to tolerate diversity can result in schisms or worse. Embracing diversity has the opposite effect. What I mean by “embrace” is to welcome, and, enjoy. I do not mean to tolerate, put up with, reluctantly accept. I don’t think religion is any different from other forms of diversity in this regard.

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          • makagutu says:

            No, you are right. Embracing diversity wouldn’t lead to schisms

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        • basenjibrian says:

          I certainly agree with you and Maka that there is no one definition, which leads to my other main point that even speaking of a “correct” definition is meaningless because they are all, at the core, made up. I am being kind by not using the term “nonsense”

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        • basenjibrian says:

          Be “enfeeblement” I primarily mean the church(es) no longer have the authority to ENFORCE their nonsense with violence. Otherwise, I agree. 🙂

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    • makagutu says:

      Barry, you realize the parts of the world with liberal christianity would at best represent less than 15% of all Christians especially in the 1960s. I think for the majority of believers, the definition of the church authorities is their definition.
      The arguments he argues against are held by professional apologists. You should listen to the works of many of them and you’ll find those arguments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Barry says:

        It was in the 1960s that Lloyd Geering was charged with doctrinal error (heresy) over statements about the resurrection and the immortal soul to which the Presbyterian Church in NZ found there was no case to answer. I think that had a similar charge been made against a person with a similar level of authority in other mainstream churches at the time, a similar outcome would have occurred. So 15% would be well off the mark.

        But even if it was accurate in the 1960s, such a number is not insignificant – slightly more than 1 in 7 Christians – and cannot be reasonably ignored as if it didn’t exist.

        Apologists are not necessarily Church leaders, and again going from my experience, trained theologians and clergy are far more liberal/progressive than are the laity they serve. Certainly back in the 1930s and 40s theological colleges here understood that the the Bible and especially the old testament was written by men and was not literally true.

        Most mainstream faith traditions here manage a very delicate balancing act between those who lean towards conservative/fundamentalism and those who lean towards liberal/progressive Christianity. How long this balancing act can be maintained is anyone’s guess. To a large extent, fundamentalism is a reactionary response to liberalism and progressiveness.

        I have listened to apologists, but have learnt nothing. It’s simply not possible to prove an unprovable argument. While I’m more than ready to listen to why a person holds a particular belief, the moment that is turned into an argument that I too should (or must) hold the same beliefs, I loose all interest.

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        • makagutu says:

          I agree most apologists are not interesting. William Craig is a proponent of Divine command theory- everything god commands is good. So we can’t find fault for example with the Canaanite massacre in Numbers.

          To a large extent here, most people are fundamentalist. I should find a way of carrying out a social survey on how they treat the bible and all.

          It is theologians generally and not the laity that have given the church direction. It is them that sort of define the dogma but often, I think, checked by popular culture and criticism from external forces.

          I just did a search of liberal christianity and it does seem some of the proponents have not fared so well with their churches and or institutions. So I don’t know if the trials would in many cases reflect that of Geering or it would be different result.

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          • basenjibrian says:

            I think Maka hints at a major point: the growth in Christianities seems to be mostly in the fundamentalist churches that combine social infrastructure with prosperity gospel-something appealing to poor, relatively newly urbanized populations in places like Kenya or Brazil. Which means in some ways the video critique is MORE relevant. The liberal churches are often not growing-they are declining, as some of the educated populations who might be sympathetic to your arguments leave religion altogether.

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          • makagutu says:

            Brian you point to something that seems to be happening world wide. Where religion is getting more liberal, most people identify as nones. In dysfunctional areas like the bible belt, Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America, Christianity is growing like wild fire

            Liked by 2 people

          • Barry says:

            Perhaps I might speculate here. The anti-slavery movement is no longer the force it was several centuries ago, not because it failed, but because it largely succeeded. The same can be said of the suffrage movement, women’s liberation, and perhaps in time, the feminist movement. Perhaps the values attributed to the teachings of Jesus as perceived by liberal/progressive Christians have become so much the part of the fabric of society, that the movement (the Christian church) is no longer required.

            It would explain why fundamentalism of all kinds increases with dysfunction in society. I think America would be a good example of this in action.

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          • makagutu says:

            this could be something worth diving deeply into.

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  2. I’ve read this before. Good stuff. He was truly a wise man. He lived a long life, too. We need more like him.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m always amused at Christians having a fit about us current atheists and insisting atheists were more “respectful” back in the day. They of course never read Russell or Ingersoll.

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    • makagutu says:

      Or heard of Fr. Jean Messlier

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      • Barry says:

        Although none of his arguments were original. They had all been made before by, of all people, Christians theologians 🙂

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        • makagutu says:

          Are there Christian theologians who had argued for atheism? or general disbelief?

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          • Barry says:

            Each of the arguments had been used to argue against a specific religious claim in an attempt to prove or justify an alternative theistic belief. What the good Father did was that by putting all the arguments together, the only rational conclusion is that God was an impossibility.

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          • makagutu says:

            That makes a sense. A position I can stand behind

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          • Barry says:

            Actually there are Christian theologians who argue against against theism – Geering, Cuppit and Spong for example but there are many more. Geering started to promote his “heretical” ideas while he was dean of the Knox Theological College here in NZ. He doesn’t like to describe himself as an atheist, due to a number of very vocal atheists who are anti religion and are sometimes referred to as New Atheists. He self identifies as a non-theist instead.

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