- (Photo: Dan Delzell)
Bertrand Russell was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, and social critic. He is recognized as one of the most important logicians of the 20th Century. He is also credited for showing that the naive set theory created by Georg Cantor leads to a contradiction. This is known as "Russell's paradox."
Seemingly unbeknownst to Russell however, his greatest paradox was actually his faith. He was a man who placed absolute faith in the doctrine of uncertainty. He rejected the notion of absolute truth, except when it came to his firm belief in his doctrine of doubt. Russell explained it this way: "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." Jesus, on the other hand, taught his disciples to always rest certain of His Word and His love for them. Russell taught people to reject any sense of certainty. He said, "I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong." That worship of uncertainty was Russell's undoing and his ultimate paradox.
On March 6, 1927, he delivered a lecture entitled, "Why I Am Not a Christian." It is a revealing presentation which clearly shows the difference between the mind of natural man and the enlightened mind of a Christian believer. In this lecture, Russell accused religion of being "based primarily and mainly upon fear." Not only was he mistaken on that account, but ironically he was the one actually basing his own philosophy on the fear of being wrong. He was terrified to place absolute trust in something because in his mind, it might eventually be proven false. That fear kept him bound in chains to his skepticism. This is where his longing for rationality made him irrational. He was the poster child for fear-based living. It consumed him. It enslaved him. And it motivated him to reject Christ.
Interestingly, Russell's doubts led him to place tremendous confidence in his own intelligence. It is a very proud and misguided position. As the Scripture says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12) For Russell, the world needs man much more than man needs God. In explaining why he was not a Christian, he said the world "needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create."
Christians trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Bertrand Russell trusted in his intelligence as his personal savior. The problem is that his savior cannot truly save. His savior is very weak when compared to God. His savior is limited to human reason and man's understanding. There is a higher level of reason which man desperately needs to acquire. This higher level of sanctified reason is only reached after you trust Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and save your soul. Up until that point, man is basing his conclusions on a limited amount of information and an uninspired level of human reason. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." (1 Corinthians 1:25)
No wonder Russell, amidst all of his intelligence, never found any ultimate satisfaction in life. He repeatedly refused to humble himself before the Lord. Yet he found himself often trying to explain away the very God which he argued wasn't needed or real. He had made a conscious decision during his teenage years to reject God and the Bible once and for all. From that period forward, it was obvious that Russell had an axe to grind with God. There was a chip on his shoulder and Jesus Christ was one of his favorite targets.
In fact, Russell went so far as to say: "Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if he did we do not know anything about him." It is astounding that a man with his intellect could be so ignorant regarding the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. That is how far into the realm of irrationality he was driven by his doctrine of uncertainty. It is truly mind-boggling.
His rejection of Christ was very much related to his denial of his own sinful condition. In his 1927 lecture he said, "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."
Rather than it being an illuminated insight, Russell's rejection of personal sin was his Achilles' heel. He respected himself too much to bring himself to admit before God that he was a sinner and in need of salvation. In the end, his deep struggle was not really an intellectual one. It was a moral struggle. It was a moral refusal to admit fault, blame, sin, and the need for God to save him. Therefore, he resorted to trusting his own intelligence to save him not from sin, but from fear. Even then, Russell found that his savior could not deliver him from the very thing he dreaded the most.
By the end of his earthly journey, Russell's savior left him no different than before. He was just as fearful, if not more so. If any rational person today wants to see where "self-respecting intelligence" ultimately leads, just examine Bertrand Russell. No real hope. No real peace. And absolutely no certainty. A mind is a beautiful thing to waste. And it sure makes a sorry excuse for a savior.
Bertrand Russell was a walking paradox. His life was a permanent contradiction. He ended up doing the very thing he was most afraid of doing, and he trusted in something which he should have known would fail him. His pride blinded him to the contradiction that was his life. It became an infinite loop. A mathematician of Russell's caliber should have been able to recognize such a thing. This loop has continued for him beyond the grave. His worst fears have now been realized.
In fear he ran from fear. In fear he also ran from God. In so doing, Russell became locked in his own mental contradiction. He couldn't, or wouldn't, get out of it. He lived and died without trusting in the One Person who could have delivered him from his paradoxical and misplaced faith. What a sad life and tragic end for a man who had so much human potential. If anyone could ever have been saved by logic alone, it was Bertrand Russell.
God said, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." (1 Corinthians 1:19) Bertrand Russell experienced that frustration more than most. Unfortunately, his life's message was seen as foolishness from the grandstand of heaven. The message of heaven is only understood by those who become humble before their Creator. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Bertrand Russell was too proud to allow himself to be "saved" from anything, least of all his sin before a holy God. He rejected that doctrine as being beneath his dignity and mental superiority. After all, he was Bertrand Russell. Even his four wives and many mistresses over the years seemed to do little if anything to ever make him feel personally guilty for any wrongdoing. He was too self-absorbed to sincerely love God or to truly love a woman. "He seemed detached in mind and body," one mistress wrote, "but all the furies of hell raged in his eyes."
With God out of the way, Russell felt free to explore relationships with many women without being burdened down by any absolute set of sexual ethics. His lustful romantic relationships were every bit as paradoxical as his faith in the doctrine of uncertainty. In fact, they fed off each other and fueled even more exploration and an unwillingness to make a lifetime commitment to one woman or to God's one set of values. At the end of the day, the driving forces of his life were passionate sex with multiple partners and passionate uncertainty in multiple disciplines.
Bertrand Russell is a classic example of how radical skeptics come and go. Meanwhile, "God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God." (Psalm 53:2) When will man wise up and recognize the limitations and contradictions of his own intelligence?