God and Religion
by Bertrand Russell
Prometheus Books, 1986, paper
edited by Al Seckel
Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible;
thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and
comfortable habits ...
My Religious Reminiscences
At the age of fourteen I became convinced that the fundamental
principle of ethics should be the promotion of human happiness,
and at first this appeared to me so self-evident that I supposed
it must be the universal opinion.
Until the age of eighteen I continued to believe in a Deist's
God, because the First-Cause argument seemed to me irrefutable.
Then in John Stuart Mill's Autobiography I found that James Mill
had taught him the refutation of that argument-namely, that it
gives no answer to the question "Who made God?"
My I Am Not A Christian
The Existance of God
To come to this question of the existence
of God, it is a large and serious question, and if I were to attempt
to deal with it in any adequate manner I should have to keep you
here until Kingdom Come, so that you will have to excuse me if
I deal with it in a somewhat summary fashion. You know, of course,
that the Catholic Church has laid it down as a dogma that the
existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason. That is
a somewhat curious dogma, but it is one of their dogmas. They
had to introduce it because at one time the Freethinkers adopted
the habit of saying that there were such and such arguments which
mere reason might urge against the existence of God, but of course
they knew as a matter of faith that God did exist. The arguments
and the reasons were set out at great length, and the Catholic
Church felt that they must stop it. Therefore they laid it down
that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason,
and they had to set up what they considered were arguments to
prove it. There are, of course, a number of them, but I shall
take only a few.
The First Cause Argument
Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand
is the argument of the First Cause. It is maintained that everything
we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain
of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause,
and to that First Cause you give the name God. That argument,
I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because,
in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The
philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and
it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but,
apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must
be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say
that when I was a young man, and was debating these questions
very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument
of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read
John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence:
"My father taught me that the question, Who made me? cannot
be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question,
Who made God?" That very simple sentence showed me, as I
still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If
everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there
can be anything without a cause, it may just as well use. world
as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.
It is exactly of the same nature as the Indian's view, that the
world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise;
and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian
said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument
is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world
could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other
hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed.
There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at
all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due
to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need
not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.
The Argument from Design
The next step in this process brings us
to the argument from design.
You all know the argument from design:
everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to
live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different
we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design.
It sometimes takes rather a curious form; for instance, it is
argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot.
I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an
easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire's remark, that
obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles.
That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of
the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because
since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living
creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their
environment was made to be suitable to them, but that they grew
to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There
is no evidence of design about it.
When you come to look into this argument
from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe
that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all
its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience
has been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot
believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence
and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your
world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan,
the Fascisti, and Mr. Winston Churchill?* Really I am not much
impressed with the people who say: "Look at me: I am such
a splendid product that there must have been design in the universe."
I am not very much impressed by the splendor of those people.
Therefore I think that this argument of design is really a very
poor argument indeed. Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws
of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general
on this planet will die out in due course: it is merely a flash
in the pan; it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at
a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature
and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life
for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see
in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending-something
dead, cold, and lifeless.
I am told that that sort of view is depressing,
and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that
they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it
is all nonsense. Nobody really worries much about what is going
to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are
worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves.
They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may
merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered
unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to
this world millions and millions of years hence. Therefore, although
it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out-at
least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate
the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost
a consolation-it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely
makes you turn your attention to other things.
The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice
Then there is another very curious form
of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence
of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In
the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice,
and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one
hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are
going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose
a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth, and
so they say that there must be a God, and there must be heaven
and hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That
is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a
scientific point of view, you would say: "After all, I know
only this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe,
but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would
say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is
injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere
also." Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened,
and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not
argue: "The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress
the balance." You would say: "Probably the whole lot
is a bad consignment"; and that is really what a scientific
person would argue about the universe. He would say: "Here
we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as
that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not
rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords
a moral argument against a deity and not in favor of one."
Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that
I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people.
What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual
argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have
been taught from early Infancy to do it...
The Emotional Factor
... the more intense has been the religion of any period and the
more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been
the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the
so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian
religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with
its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burnt as
witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all
sorts of people in the name of religion.
You find as you look round the world that
every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement
in the criminal law, every step towards the diminution of war,
every step towards better treatment of the colored races, or every
mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been
in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized Churches
of the world...
... the Christian religion, as organized
in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of
moral progress in the world.
What has human happiness to do with morals? The object of morals
is not to make people happy. It is to fit them for heaven."
It certainly seems to unfit them for this world.
Fear for the Foundation of Religion
Religion is based ... primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly
the terror of the unknown, and partly ... the wish to feel that
you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all
your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing-fear
of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the
parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and
religion have gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the
basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little
to understand things, and a little to master them by the help
of science, which has forced its way step by step against the
Christian religion, against the Churches, and against the opposition
of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this
craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations.
Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us,
no longer to look round for imaginary supports, no longer to invent
allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here
below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the
sort of place that the Churches in all these centuries have made
What We Must Do
We 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. The whole conception of God
is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms.
It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people
in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable
sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not
worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and
look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best
we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after
all it will still be better than what these others have made of
it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness,
and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the
past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered
long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free
intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all
the time towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far
surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.
What is an Agnostic?
Belief in hell is bound up with the belief that the vindictive
punishment of sin is a good thing, quite independently of any
reformative or deterrent effect that it may have. Hardly an agnostic
believes this. As for heaven, there might conceivably someday
be evidence of its existence through spiritualism but most agnostics
do not think that there is such evidence, and therefore do not
believe in heaven.
Cruel persecutions have been commoner in Christendom than anywhere
else. What appears to justify persecution is dogmatic belief.
Kindliness and tolerance only prevail in proportion as dogmatic
belief decays. In our day, a new dogmatic religion, namely, communism,
has arisen. To this, as to other systems of dogma, the agnostic
is opposed. The persecuting character of present-day communism
is exactly like the persecuting character of Christianity in earlier
centuries. In so far as Christianity has become less persecuting,
this is mainly due to the work of freethinkers who have made dogmatists
rather less dogmatic. If they were as dogmatic now as in former
times, they would still think it right to burn heretics at the
stake. The spirit of tolerance which some modern Christians regard
as essentially Christian is, in fact, a product of the temper
which allows doubt and is suspicious of absolute certainties.
I think that anybody who surveys past history in an impartial
manner will be driven to the conclusion that religion has caused
more suffering than it has prevented.
The Faith of a Rationalist
Most of us have been brought up to believe that the universe owes
its existence to an all-wise and all-powerful creator, whose purposes
are beneficent even in what to us may seem evil. I do not think
it is right to refuse to apply to this belief the kind of tests
that we should apply to one that touches our emotions less intimately
and profoundly. Is there any evidence of the existence of such
a being? Undoubtedly belief in him is comforting and sometimes
has some good moral effects on character and behavior. But this
is no evidence that the belief is true. For my part, I think the
belief lost whatever rationality it once possessed when it was
discovered that the earth is not the center of the universe. So
long as it was thought that the sun and the planets and the stars
revolved about the earth, it was natural to suppose that the universe
had a purpose connected with the earth, and, since man was what
man most admired on earth, this purpose was supposed to be embodied
in man. But astronomy and geology have changed all this. The earth
is a minor planet of a minor star which is one of many millions
of stars in a galaxy which is one of many millions of galaxies.
Even within the life of our own planet man is only a brief interlude.
Nonhuman life existed for countless ages before man evolved. Man,
even if he does not commit scientific suicide, will perish ultimately
through failure of water or air or warmth. It is difficult to
believe that omnipotence needed so vast a setting for so small
and transitory a result.
Apart from the minuteness and brevity
of human species, I cannot feel that it is a worthy climax to
such an enormous prelude. There is a rather repulsive smugness
and self-complacency in the argument that man is so splendid as
to be evidence of infinite wisdom and infinite power in his creator.
Those who use this kind of reasoning always try to concentrate
our attention on the few saints and sages; they try to make us
forget the Neros and Attilas and Hitlers and the millions of mean
poltroons to whom such men owed their power. And even what is
best in us is apt to lead to disaster. Religions that teach brotherly
love have been used as an excuse for persecution, and our profoundest
scientific insight is made into a means of mass destruction. I
can imagine a sardonic demon producing us for his amusement, but
I cannot attribute to a being who is wise, beneficent, and omnipotent
the terrible weight of cruelty, suffering, and ironic degradation
of what is best that has marred the history of man in increasing
measure as he has become more master of his fate.
Men tend to have the beliefs their suit their passions. Cruel
men believe in a cruel god and use their belief to excuse cruelty.
Only kindly men believe in a kindly god, and they would be kindly
in any case.
An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish
The Ages of Faith, which are praised by our neo-scholastics, were
the time when the clergy had things all their own way. Daily life
was full of miracles wrought by saints and wizardry perpetrated
by devils and necromancers. Many thousands of witches were burnt
at the stake. Men's sins were punished by pestilence and famine,
by earthquake, flood, and fire. And yet, strange to say, they
were even more sinful than they are now-a-days. Very little was
known scientifically about the world. A few learned men remembered
Greek proofs that the earth is round, but most people made fun
of the notion that there are antipodes. To suppose that there
are human beings at the antipodes was heresy. It was generally
held (though modern Catholics take a milder view) that the immense
majority of mankind are damned. Dangers were held to lurk at every
turn. Devils would settle on the food that monks were about to
eat, and would take possession of the bodies of incautious feeders
who omitted to make the sign of the Cross before each mouthful.
Old-fashioned people still say "bless you" when one
sneezes, but they have forgotten the reason for the custom. The
reason was that people were thought to sneeze out their souls,
and before their souls could get back lurking demons were apt
to enter the unsouled body; but if any one said "God bless
you," the demons were frightened off.
Throughout the last 400 years, during
which the growth of science had gradually shown men how to acquire
knowledge of the ways of nature and mastery over natural forces,
the clergy have fought a losing battle against science, in astronomy
and geology, in anatomy and physiology, in biology and psychology
and sociology. Ousted from one position, they have taken up another.
After being worsted in astronomy, they did their best to prevent
the rise of geology; they fought against Darwin in biology, and
at the present time they fight against scientific theories of
psychology and education. At each stage, they try to make the
public forget their earlier obscurantism, in order that their
present obscurantism may not be recognized for what it is. Let
us note a few instances of irrationality among the clergy since
the rise of science, and then inquire whether the rest of mankind
are any better.
The whole conception of "Sin" is one which I find very
puzzling, doubtless owing to my sinful nature. If "Sin"
consisted in causing needless suffering, I could understand; but
on the contrary, sin often consists in avoiding needless suffering.
Some years ago, in the English House of Lords, a bill was introduced
to legalize euthanasia in cases of painful and incurable disease.
The patient's consent was to be necessary, as well as several
medical certificates. To me, in my simplicity, it would seem natural
to require the patient's consent, but the late Archbishop of Canterbury,
the English official expert on Sin, explained the erroneousness
of such a view. The patient's consent turns euthanasia into suicide,
and suicide is sin. Their Lordships listened to the voice of authority,
and rejected the bill. Consequently, to please the Archbishop-and
his God, if he reports truly-victims of cancer still have to endure
months of wholly useless agony, unless their doctors or nurses
are sufficiently humane to risk a charge of murder. I find difficulty
in the conception of a God who gets pleasure from contemplating
such tortures; and if there were a God capable of such wanton
cruelty, I should certainly not think Him worthy of worship. But
that only proves how sunk I am in moral depravity.
I am equally puzzled by the things that
are sin and by the things that are not. When the Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals asked the pope for his support,
he refused it, on the ground that human beings owe no duty to
the lower animals, and that ill-treating animals is not sinful.
This is because animals have no souls. On the other hand, it is
wicked to marry your deceased wife's sister-so at least the Church
teaches-however much you and she may wish to marry. This is not
because of any unhappiness that might result, but because of certain
texts in the Bible.
The resurrection of the body, which is
an article of the Apostles' Creed, is a dogma which has various
curious consequences. There was an author not very many years
ago, who had an ingenious method of calculating the date of the
end of the world. He argued that there must be enough of the necessary
ingredients of a human body to provide everybody with the requisites
at the Last Day. By carefully calculating the available raw material,
he decided that it would all have been used up by a certain date.
When that date comes, the world must end, since otherwise the
resurrection of the body would become impossible. Unfortunately
I have forgotten what the date was, but I believe it is not very
St. Thomas Aquinas, the official philosopher
of the Catholic Church, discussed lengthily and seriously a very
grave problem, which, I fear, modern theologians unduly neglect.
He imagines a cannibal who has never eaten anything but human
flesh, and whose father and mother before him had like propensities.
Every particle of his body belongs rightfully to someone else.
We cannot suppose that those who have been eaten by cannibals
are to go short through all eternity. But, if not, what is left
for the cannibal? How is he to be properly roasted in hell, if
all his body is restored to its original owners? This is a puzzling
question, as the Saint rightly perceives.
In this connection the orthodox have a
curious objection to cremation, which seems to show an insufficient
realization of God's omnipotence. It is thought that a body which
has been burnt will be more difficult for Him to collect together
again than one which has been put underground and transformed
into worms. No doubt collecting the particles from the air and
undoing the chemical work of combustion would be somewhat laborious,
but it is surely blasphemous to suppose such a work impossible
for the Deity. I conclude that the objection to cremation implies
grave heresy. But I doubt whether my opinion will carry much weight
with the orthodox.
It was only very slowly and reluctantly
that the Church sanctioned the dissection of corpses in connection
with the study of medicine. The pioneer in dissection was Vesalius,
who was Court physician to the Emperor Charles V. His medical
skill led the emperor to protect him, but after the emperor was
dead he got into trouble. A corpse which he was dissecting was
said to have shown signs of life under the knife, and he was accused
of murder. The Inquisition was induced by King Philip II to take
a lenient view, and only sentenced him to a pilgrimage to the
Holy Land, On the way home he was shipwrecked and died of exhaustion.
For centuries after this time, medical students at the Papal University
in Rome were only allowed to operate on lay figures, from which
the sexual parts were omitted.
The sacredness of corpses is a widespread
belief. It was carried furthest by the Egyptians, among whom it
led to the practice of mummification. It still exists in full
force in China. A French surgeon, who was employed by the Chinese
to teach Western medicine, relates that his demand for corpses
to dissect was received with horror, but he was assured that he
could have instead an unlimited supply of live criminals. His
objection to this alternative was totally unintelligible to his
Although there are many kinds of sin,
seven of which are deadly, the most fruitful field for Satan's
wiles is sex. The orthodox Catholic doctrine on this subject is
to be found in St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas.
It is best to be celibate, but those who have not the gift of
continence may marry. Intercourse in marriage is not sin, provided
it is motivated by desire for offspring. All intercourse outside
marriage is sin, and so is intercourse within marriage if any
measures are adopted to prevent conception. Interruption of pregnancy
is sin, even if, in medical opinion, it is the only way of saving
the mother's life; for medical opinion is fallible, and God can
always save a life by miracle if He sees fit. (This view is embodied
in the law of Connecticut.) Venereal disease is God's punishment
for sin. It is true that, through a guilty husband, this punishment
may fall on an innocent woman and her children, but this is a
mysterious dispensation of Providence, which it would be impious
to question. We must also not inquire why venereal disease was
not divinely instituted until the time of Columbus. Since it is
the appointed penalty for sin, all measures for its avoidance
are also sin-except, of course, a virtuous life. Marriage is nominally
indissoluble, but many people who seem to be married are not.
In the case of influential Catholics, some ground for nullity
can often be found, but for the poor there is no such outlet,
except perhaps in cases of impotence. Persons who divorce and
remarry are guilty of adultery in the sight of God.
The phrase "in the sight of God"
puzzles me. One would suppose that God sees everything, but apparently
this is a mistake. He does not see Reno, for you cannot be divorced
in the sight of God. Registry offices are a doubtful point. I
notice that respectable people, who would not call on anybody
who lives in open sin, are quite willing to call on people who
have had only a civil marriage; so apparently God does see registry
Some eminent men think even the doctrine
of the Catholic Church deplorably lax where sex is concerned.
Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi, in their old age, laid it down that
all sexual intercourse is wicked, even in marriage and with a
view to offspring.
The. Manicheans thought likewise, relying
upon men's native sinfulness to supply them with a continually
fresh crop of disciples. This doctrine, however, is heretical,
though it is equally heretical to maintain that marriage is as
praiseworthy as celibacy. Tolstoy thinks tobacco almost as bad
as sex; in one of his novels, a man who is contemplating murder
smokes a cigarette first in order to generate the necessary homicidal
fury. Tobacco, however, is not prohibited in the Scriptures, though,
as Samuel Butler points out, St. Paul would no doubt have denounced
it if he had known of it.
It is odd that neither the Church nor
modern public opinion condemns petting, provided it stops short
at a certain point. At what point sin begins is a matter as to
which casuists differ. One eminently orthodox Catholic divine
laid it down that a confessor may fondle a nun's breasts, provided
he does it without evil intent. But I doubt whether modern authorities
would agree with him on this point.
Modern morals are a mixture of two elements:
on the one hand, rational precepts as to how to live together
peaceably in a society, and on the other hand traditional taboos
derived originally from some ancient superstition, but proximately
from sacred books, Christian, Mohammedan, Hindu, or Buddhist.
To some extent the two agree; the prohibition of murder and theft,
for instance, is supported both by human reason and by Divine
command. But the prohibition of pork or beef has only scriptural
authority, and that only in certain religions. It is odd that
modern men, who are aware of what science has done in the way
of bringing new knowledge and altering the conditions of social
life, should still be willing to accept the authority of texts
embodying the outlook of very ancient and very ignorant pastoral
or agricultural tribes. It is discouraging that many of the precepts
whose sacred character is thus uncritically acknowledged should
be such as to inflict much wholly unnecessary misery. If men's
kindly impulses were stronger, they would find some way of explaining
that these precepts are not to be taken literally, any more than
the command to "sell all that thou hast and give to the poor."
There are logical difficulties in the
notion of sin. We are told that sin consists in disobedience to
God's commands, but we are also told that God is omnipotent. If
He is, nothing contrary to His will can occur; therefore when
the sinner disobeys His commands, He must have intended this to
happen. St. Augustine boldly accepts this view, and asserts that
men are led to sin by a blindness with which God afflicts them.
But most theologians, in modern times, have felt that, if God
causes men to sin, it is not fair to send them to hell for what
they cannot help. We are told that sin consists in acting contrary
to God's will. This, however, does not get rid of the difficulty.
Those who, like Spinoza, take God's omnipotence seriously, deduce
that there can be no such thing as sin. This leads to frightful
results. What! said Spinoza's contemporaries, was it not wicked
Nero to murder his mother? Was it not
wicked of Adam to eat the apple? Is one action just as good as
another? Spinoza wriggles, but does not find any satisfactory
answer. If everything happens in accordance with God's will, God
must have wanted Nero to murder his mother; therefore, since God
is good, the murder must have been a good thing. From this argument
there is no escape.
On the other hand, those who are in earnest
in thinking that sin is disobedience to God are compelled to say
that God is not omnipotent. This gets out of all the logical puzzles,
and is the view adopted by a certain school of liberal theologians.
It has, however, its own difficulties. How are we to know what
really is God's will? If the forces of evil have a certain share
of power, they may deceive us into accepting as Scripture what
is really their work. This was the view of the Gnostics, who thought
that the Old Testament was the of work an evil spirit.
In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the
community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose
the parts they like, ignoring the others.
I am persuaded that there is absolutely no limit to the absurdities
that can, by government action, come to be generally believed.
Give me an adequate army, with power to provide it with more pay
and better food than falls to the lot of the average man, and
I will undertake, within thirty years, to make the majority of
the population believe that two and two are three, that water
freezes when it gets hot and boils when it gets cold, or any other
nonsense that might seem to serve the interest of the State. Of
course, even when these beliefs had been generated, people would
not put the kettle in the ice-box when they wanted it to boil.
That cold makes water boil would be a Sunday truth, sacred and
mystical, to be professed in awed tones, but not to be acted on
in daily life. What would happen would be that any verbal denial
of the mystic doctrine would be made illegal, and obstinate heretics
would be "frozen" at the stake. No person who did not
enthusiastically accept the official doctrine would be allowed
to teach or to have any position of power. Only the very highest
officials, in their cups, would whisper to each other what rubbish
it all is; then they would laugh and drink again. This is hardly
a caricature of what happens under some modern governments.
The discovery that man can be scientifically manipulated, and
I that governments can turn large masses this way or that as they
choose, is one of the causes of our misfortunes. There is as much
difference between a collection of mentally free citizens and
a community molded by modern methods of propaganda as there is
between a heap of raw materials and a battleship. Education, which
was at first made universal in order that all might be able to
read and write, has been found capable of serving quite other
purpose By instilling nonsense it unifies populations and generates
collective enthusiasm. If all governments taught the same nonsense,
the harm would not be so great. Unfortunately each has its own
brand, and the diversity serves to produce hostility between the
devotees of different creeds.
The same sort of thing happens as regards whole nations. During
the last war, very naturally, people's vindictive feelings were
aroused against the Germans, who were severely punished after
their defeat. Now many people are arguing that the Versailles
Treaty was ridiculously mild, since it failed to teach a lesson;
this time, we are told, there must be real severity. To my mind,
we shall be more likely to prevent a repetition of German aggression
if we regard the rank and file of the Nazis as we regard lunatics
than if we think of them as merely and simply criminals. Lunatics,
of course, have to be restrained; we do not allow them to carry
firearms. Similarly the German nation will have to be disarmed.
But lunatics are restrained from prudence, not as a punishment,
and so far as prudence permits we try to make them happy. Everybody
recognizes that a homicidal maniac will only become more homicidal
if he is made miserable. In Germany at the present day, there
are, of course, many men among the Nazis who are plain criminals,
but there must also be many who are more or less mad. Leaving
the leaders out of account (I do not urge leniency toward them),
the bulk of the German nation is much more likely to learn cooperation
with the rest of the world if it is subjected to a kind but firm
curative treatment than if it is regarded as an outcast among
the nations. Those who are being punished seldom learn to feel
kindly toward the men who punish them. And so long as the Germans
hate the / rest of mankind peace will be precarious.
Index of Website