Russell Files #3: The Ravisher Condemned

With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world’s population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of the churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception.

bertrand russellThe knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.

It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion…

…There is reason to suppose that a hundred years hence Catholciism will be the only effective representative of the Christian faith…

–Bertrand Russell, “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?” 1930.

As we can see, Bertrand Russell was a ravisher of altars, intellectually speaking. We should credit him with forthrightness–most of the enemies of the faith clothe themselves in sheep’s garments.

scales_of_justiceThe question is: Should Russell have been prohibited from teaching at the City College of New York by the Supreme Court of the state of New York? This is exactly what happened in 1940.

Judge John E. McGeehan acknowledged that no written law empowered him to grant relief to a concerned mother who sued the New York Board of Higher Education. The judge ruled under “the law of nature and nature’s God.” A miscreant like Russell could not be permitted to teach. His teaching the young–at taxpayer expense–would constitute an injustice to the God-fearing citizens of the state.

Judge McGeehan rightfully pointed out that teachers exercise an influence over the whole of their students’ lives. It was a red herring for Russell’s defenders to claim that as a philosopher of science he could not influence his students’ morals.

We also have to note Judge McGeehan’s empathy with the aggrieved taxpayer. He was on to something here: A judge who refuses to understand written laws by the light of the higher law of truth and justice will fail in his duty to the poor and defenseless.

Russell dismissed Judge McGeehan’s ruling as the ravings of a benighted, prejudiced, parochial Catholic mind.

Nonetheless, the judge was no friend of justice in this case. He did an injustice to Bertrand Russell. I will explain myself next time.

annunciation-altar1

Our Lady’s Magnificat

mary-mMary said:
The Lord has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent empty away.
(Luke 1:51-53)

Annie Dillard: “Many times in Christian churches I have heard the pastor say to God, ‘All your actions show your wisdom and love.’ Each time, I reach in vain for the courage to rise and shout, ‘that’s a lie!’ – just to put things on a solid footing.

Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard
“‘He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty!’ . . . (Yes, but) I have seen the rich sit secure on their thrones and send the hungry away empty.

“If God’s escape clause is that he gives only spiritual things, then we might hope that the poor and suffering are rich in spiritual gifts, as some certainly are, but as some of the comfortable are too. In a soup kitchen, I see suffering. Deus otiosus: do-nothing God, who, if he has power, abuses it” (For the Time Being, pp. 85-86).

Are our Lady’s words in the Magnificat true?

Let’s give Annie Dillard her due: She is a smart, earnest, good essayist. She is a better person than I am. Her question is an honest one.

Can the words of the gospel be true if the poor and innocent still groan under injustice and cruelty, if bad things happen to good people, if the evil prosper? The Magnificat is about the triumph of justice and goodness, about the almighty power of God, Who loves the weak. Mary sings: With the coming of Christ, the weak and downtrodden have triumphed. Is it true?

51767896Last year at the beginning of Advent, our Holy Father wrote us a letter on Christian hope.

One of the Pope’s chief concerns in the letter is the “privatization” of Christian hope for salvation. Each of us hopes to get to heaven, certainly. But a Christian hopes for more than just his own individual bliss. A Christian hopes for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Pope Benedict identifies the fundamental problem: The modern idea that religion is subjective. If religion is not about objective realities, but just about my own “relationship with God” or “experience” of God, then all I can hope for is my own personal peace.

Religion is not fundamentally subjective. Religion puts us in touch with the most objective reality of them all: the all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful God.

Christ has revealed this: Justice will be done. Truth will win. All that is hidden will be revealed.

We fear the Final Judgment, because we know we will have to rely on God’s mercy. At the same time, we hope for the Second Coming. The Magnificat WILL be completely fulfilled. In the meantime, our best bet is to try to do our little part to make the world better, and to bear the injustices of the world with patient perseverance.

Here is how the Pope puts it:

Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an “undoing” of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgement is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfilment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing. (Spe Salvi, 43)