Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Passionate Sceptic

As an earnest young Christian I was excited and amused by the writings of Bertrand Russell. Another young man, whom I had been asked to see by the Manchester Samaritans, introduced me to them. I had volunteered to befriend Samaritan clients and Glyn was one of them. He had been brought to the brink of suicide by appalling family circumstances, which his father had escaped by hanging himself. Russell was one of Glyn's intellectual heroes and we spent much of our time together discussing some of his more accessible essays and ideas.

As part of his polemic against Christianity Russell somewhere tells of a conversation he had with a Christian missionary recently returned from an evangelistic trip to China. Russell explored with him the logic of evangelism. According to this missionary the heathen had a right to hear the gospel, and he had a corresponding duty to preach it. Those who heard and believed would be saved to enjoy eternal bliss in the nearer presence of the Lord. Conversely, those who heard but rejected the missionary's message would be rejected by God, and go to hell. Russell enquired about the fate of those who had simply never heard the saving truth. What would become of them, eternally speaking? The evangelist assured him that those who 'died not knowing' would not be condemned by God but judged mercifully.

It turned out that on his mission to China the evangelist had preached to a thousand people of whom a hundred had converted to Christianity. Russell sadly concluded that by dispelling the ignorance of his audience he had in effect delivered a hundred of them to heaven, whilst consigning nine hundred to hell. Hardly a proud achievement!

It was this kind of cold but necessary analysis that led me to question the entire basis of evangelical religion from the outset.

Later on in my Christian education I came across an even more disturbing illustration of the logic of salvation, this time as it applies to children. I heard of a primitive tribe, I think it was in South America, though factual accuracy is a bit beside the point, where new mothers, believing that children who die are guaranteed the status of angels in the world to come, figured that the kindest act was to kill their offspring, literally bash their brains out, in infancy rather than run the risk of losing them to Godless ways later. It occurred to me that such an act would be a powerful combination of child-sacrifice and a mother's self-sacrifice, as by acting to secure the child's eternal happiness the mother would be forfeiting her own - an act of supreme selflessness. The logic and morality is impeccable, but it exposes starkly the destructive and life-negating nature of all ulterior religion. Ultimately, it leads to infanticide.

1 comment:

lucy said...

thank you for this thought provoking piece. i will not soon forget the many images it evoked.