If the only thing I got from this book was Bertrand Russell, it would be 100% worth all the hours and pages.
Amazingly (because I thought it would be extremely boring or maddeningly condescending), I’m about halfway through The Portable Atheist – Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens. I’ve changed my initial feelings about the book and now say they are essential readings by anyone, nonbeliever or believer. The essays have certainly shed a new light (for me) on many authors I thought I knew and helped me to think in a whole new direction. I wouldn’t say the collection has convinced me to become an atheist, but I can see their point of view more clearly.
My problem with atheism is the same as theism. You’re saying you hold a position of belief, one that cannot be proven. I prefer to remain agnostic. I do not know. I have a belief that brings me peace of mind and directs my actions, but I would not go to battle over these beliefs or waste my efforts in forcing anyone else to believe them. My beliefs may change, probably will. In fact, I hope they will, because that means I’m learning and adapting, which seems to be the best way to live.
This past week, I read an essay in The Portable Atheist by Bertrand Russell called An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish. I’ve heard of him, seen quotes from him on social media, but I’ve never read any of his work. I’m sorry that I haven’t, and I’ll certainly be searching out more since I’ve read this.
The following are excerpts that outline some incredibly useful rules for anyone attempting to make their way through this plane of existence.
“To avoid the various foolish opinions to which mankind are prone, no superhuman genius is required. A few simple rules will keep you, not from all error, but from silly error.”
Not ALL error because every human is fallible. We make mistakes, big ones, even incredibly intelligent and famous people, even people in power like government officials and church leaders. Gasp!
#1 “If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself.”
Don’t assume you know something. Go find out firsthand, if possible. And if not possible, you can ask, read, research, and come to your own conclusions, but they will always be yours alone.
#2 “If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do.”
I am SO guilty of this. My husband is much better at being curious. What we should be doing is thinking, “Hmm…this stirs something in me. Why?” And then asking questions to see if that person knows something we don’t.
“The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.”
#3 “A good way of ridding yourself of certain kinds of dogmatism is to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own.”
Getting your news from your favorite radio or television station, or social media, is not the way to do this. Branch out, be curious, see what else is out there and respect other people’s opinions.
#4 “Be very wary of opinions that flatter your self-esteem.”
There’s a perfect example of this in my circle of homeschoolers. We tend to pass around a meme that has a list of all the brilliant people that were homeschooled. It makes us feel good that we are in that company, but it is not proof that it is great and good. It IS, but it isn’t proof. (That’s me being funny. Insert sarcasm font.)
“It is more difficult to deal with the self-esteem of man as man, because we cannot argue out the matter with some nonhuman mind. The only way I know of dealing with this general human conceit is to remind ourselves that man is a brief episode in the life of a small planet in a little corner of the universe, and that, for aught we know, other parts of the cosmos may contain beings as superior to ourselves as we are to jellyfish.”
Maybe you can’t find a nonhuman mind to argue with, Bertrand, but some of us can. I’m not saying who. Let’s just say, some of us have ways of getting off this planet, and some have ways of getting on. At least, that’s what I’ve been led to believe by Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Rick & Morty.
#5 “Other passions besides self-esteem are common sources of error, of these perhaps the most important is fear.”
Fear. Yoda has it right, my friends. Fear is what keeps us from the greatest things in life and drops us into the depths of human depravity.
“Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.”
Let me repeat that last line because I believe it is now my new mantra.
“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.”
Simple, right? I know that it isn’t. We get one down and then forget another. I’d like to create a poster with these and frame it on the wall where I read, write, and socialize most, my living room. Maybe then, I’d do a little bit better.