Is faith the origin of evil?

Jesus Christ died and then resurrected – today is the anniversary – to redeem the sins of the world.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 04:20
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Is faith the origin of evil?

Jesus Christ died and then resurrected – today is the anniversary – to redeem the sins of the world. I don't quite understand what that means. Well, I don't understand it at all, especially not taking into account the history of the last two thousand years.

I'm in good company. Check out this quote from Bertrand Russell: “There is something a little strange to me about the ethical assessments of those who think that an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent deity, after preparing the ground for many millions of years with lifeless nebulae, would be adequately considered rewarded with the eventual appearance of Hitler and Stalin and the hydrogen bomb.”

But if neither I, nor Russell, nor a few others get this thing about religion, maybe it's our problem. If we did not limit ourselves to the logical and the visible, if we had faith, holy faith, we would see everything more clearly. All. Or so believers have always told me, starting with my parents and the priests at school.

This is not a preamble to rant against religion. But yes to rant against faith in general: believing in things, whatever they are, without reason.

I do not subscribe to those who say that religion has been the main cause of the great evils of humanity, because I think that without it we would have found other pretexts to do the same. In fact, the two great ideologies that caused so much horror in the 20th century denied the existence of God and the comfort of life after death.

But here's the point. What heavenly religion and earthly ideology have in common is the mental habit of faith. There lies the damage. There is Satan. Faith in all its manifestations has been the cause of the most atrocious sins against humanity. Faith disappears and the path to redemption opens. Here on Earth, I say.

My guide is not an invisible god. My guide is the man I mentioned a moment ago, Bertrand Russell, who was a philosopher, mathematician and political activist. He lived from 1872 to 1970, but his sayings do not expire. That is why he chooses this day, eternal for so many, to share a brief selection of the Gospel according to Saint Bertrand, beginning with his commandments, his secular variant of the Holy Trinity.

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life,” Russell declared shortly before his death. “The longing for love, the search for knowledge and an unbearable sorrow for the suffering of human beings.”

Consistent in everything, Russell had several loves during his 97 years of life, he delved like few others into books and science, he was imprisoned for refusing to fight in World War I, he was a horrified witness to Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and he led protests against the Vietnam War, the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands and nuclear weapons. Today he would be on the street denouncing Putin, Trump and Netanyahu.

“I cannot stand the idea,” he said, “that millions of people can die in agony alone, solely, because the rulers of the world are stupid and evil.” And because millions believe in them. Against faith, Russell said, is doubt. “The great problem in the world is that fools and fanatics are always so sure of themselves, while the wisest people are full of doubts.”

He extended critical thinking to everything, without excluding his own political ideas, which he defined as left-liberal. “The essence of the liberal approach lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: rather than held dogmatically, they are held tentatively and with the awareness that new evidence can at any time lead to their abandonment,” he noted.

This was his experience with Marxism-Leninism. “I went to Russia as a communist,” he wrote, “but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified my own doubts a thousandfold, not about communism itself, but about the wisdom of holding on to a belief so firmly that for it men are willing to inflict widespread misery.”

He added: “Before I went to Russia, I imagined I was going to witness an interesting experiment in a new form of representative government. I saw an interesting experiment, but not in representative government.” He later changed his mind about communism and his verdict on Marx was devastating: “If a philosophy aims to bring happiness, it should be inspired by kind feelings. Marx pretended that he wanted the happiness of the proletariat; what he really wanted was the unhappiness of the bourgeoisie.”

Both great thinkers and political leaders, like everyone else, have as their main driving force not goodness or the improvement of the human species, Russell thought, but vanity. “It is hardly possible to exaggerate the influence of vanity on everything… from the three-year-old child to the potentate before whose frown the world trembles. Mankind has even committed the impiety of attributing similar desires to the deity, whom they imagine eager for continuous praise.”

In a similar vein, Russell said: “I observe that a large portion of the human race does not believe in God and suffers no visible punishment as a consequence. And if there were a God, it seems very unlikely to me that he would have such fragile vanity as to be offended by those who doubt his existence."

I dare to have my doubts with Russell. He is more anti-religion than me. “In recent years there has been a rumor,” he said, “suggesting that I have become less averse to religious orthodoxy than I used to be. This rumor is completely unfounded. I believe that all the great religions of the world – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Communism – are as false as they are harmful.”

I agree with the communism thing, but for me conventional religions are not always harmful. I have seen that, for many, they have their value as comfort in the chaos of life. Nor do I rule out, true to the spirit of Russell, that I may be the one who is wrong.

But I am with him without reservation, and Jesus Christ would be too, in the first of his three commandments. “To fear love is to fear life,” he said, adding: “Love is wise, hate is foolish. In this world, which is becoming increasingly interconnected… we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which are absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”