Photo of Bertrand Russell
“My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true. Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.”
The lines are Bertrand Russell’s and I’ve been in mind of them for many days. I suppose like most people I endeavor to affirm the rightness of human consciousness by which I mean the hopeful, shy, steady properties of optimism. Obviously it’s a steep task, especially if you’re subject to depression as I often am, and certainly the steepness I speak of is tipped all the more by the suffering and dying we witness–have witnessed–know that we will witness. What I know about hope may feel insufficient hourly, but I know my version of the good is borne out by history and not by the ideas of destiny that are peddled by traditional theology.
Not long ago I saw a minister on TV telling his flock that unless they admitted and re-admitted their fallen condition and gave everything they had to Jesus they would be going to Hell. I found myself talking to the screen saying essentially, “the trees don’t go to hell, the cats and dogs don’t go, the brute whales don’t go, in fact, dear, you’ve reserved only one kind of life for eternal damnation and you’ve done it with sheer inelegance.” That’s what I dislike most about organized religion–it’s sheer inelegance, its lack of grace, and the baldness of its salvation narrative. Religion, as defined by preachers is too ugly for nature and too ugly for god.
I’m in mind of this today both because it’s Christmas Eve and because I’ve been reading poetry about love. There’s more love in poetry and the privacies of hope than in all the churches. This has always true but I felt like writing it down.
Bertrand Russell again:
“One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it.”
Here’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
The Face of All the World (Sonnet 7)
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed away
For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;
And this… this lute and song… loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear,
Because thy name moves right in what they say.