Bertrand Russell was to secular philosophy something like C.S. Lewis was to Christianity. He was born in 1872 and died in 1970. He had a large following before anyone had heard of Lewis. He lived 7 years after Lewis died.
A few days ago I realized that Russell had almost as big an impact on my life before I was a Christian as C.S. Lewis has since. He was an icon for the secularists. He epitomized those who disdain religion or any sort of spirituality. He believed he spoke the bright clear truths that centuries of ignorance, superstition, and priestly ambition had obscured.
I don’t think I even knew his name until I was in my twenties. I have known him only from his frequently cited quotes and infamous controversies since that time. Last week as I read a long quote by him, I got curious and began to research his life and philosophy. I had not realized until that moment how much I had been influenced by him and by like minded folk. As I read some of his essays, it occurred to me that his conclusions were virtually identical to those I believed I had arrived at through my own experiences, education, and musing. I am still left to wonder how much I was programmed by folks like Russell and how much was simply a matter of being just as sadly misled and seriously self deluded as he was.
I am very thankful that God exposed the pain and horror that lay at the end of the thinking that I shared with Russell. I have seen no evidence that Russell was ever able to comprehend it. It is very sad to think he may have lived a long, affluent, celebrated life and all the while walked a road to utter despair.
Here is the quote that shocked me into realizing just how much I had been like him:
(1957) Why I am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster; page 108
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs are but the outcomes of accidental collisions of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction … that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.
I thank God that my foundation of despair crumbled. I thank God that I fell into his loving arms. He saved me from an eternity of inhabiting my own soul, separated from him.