Selected Books


It has been my experience that certain books seem to land in my lap at key moments to bring understanding of conundrums that percolate in my barely subconscious pondering place. Such is the case with one that arrived in a box from an unidentified donor. Some may think that I only read the Bible or those things by individuals that agree with my view of God. That is not the case. I have been an avid reader of many views over my lifetime. I have a certain preference for some, but occasionally find it helpful to read well outside my preferences in order to gain greater understanding. But I am not inclined to read anything and everything that hits the “best seller” lists. I do not have the time nor the curiosity to read some of what passes for popular. And I know from my own book-buying habits and the donated books that come to Titus two without having ever had the binding bent that many of the books purchased that figure into “best seller” lists never get read.

As I was going through the box of donated books to determine which would be added to the Titus 2 classroom library, I found this one: “Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell” (copyright 1927, renewed 1955).  I knew he was a humanist and agnostic who wrote on many topics, but I didn’t know anything more specific than that. A casual saunter through his own selected writings is probably adequate to discern what he believed.

On page 110 in an essay entitled “Education”, the unknown owner of this now donated book had bracketed the following with the margin note “essence”:
“The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our efforts are to create. It should be inspired, not by a regretful hankering after the extinct beauties of Greece and the Renaissance, but by a shining vision of the society that is to be, of the triumphs that thought will achieve in the time to come, and of the ever-widening horizon of man’s survey over the universe. Those who are taught in this spirit will be filled with life and hope and joy, able to bear their part in bringing to mankind a future less somber than the past, with faith in the glory that human effort can create.”

This thought a few pages later in an essay entitled “Science and Art in Socialism”, provides a red thread of connection between the self-described “moderate” socialist’s beliefs about progressivism in education and government and socialism:
“Viewing the life of mankind as a whole, in the future as well as in the present, there can be no question that a society in which some men pursue knowledge while others endure great poverty offers more hope of ultimate good than a society in which all are sunk in slothful comfort.”

This, it appears to me, is the truth about socialism. It is not about equalizing economic prosperity for all, as its contemporary proponents proclaim. It is about a few having unlimited access to resources in order to pursue knowledge, pleasure, and unfettered personal privilege. This brings to mind “progressives” like former vice-president and #1 climate change drum-beater Al Gore whose lifestyle of luxury and excess have been written about and which seem to be in direct contradiction to everything he propagandizes as “best for the world”, i.e., the rest of us.

Education in philosophy seems to create disdain for education itself as evidenced in this essay, “The World as it Could be Made”:
“When we consider the evils in the lives we know of, we find that they may be roughly divided into three classes. There are, first, those due to physical nature: among these are death, pain, and the difficulty of making the soil yield a subsistence (in other words, as I would interpret Bertrand’s remark “work.”) These we will call “physical evils.” Second, we may put those that spring from defects in the character or aptitudes of the sufferer: among these are ignorance, lack of will, and violent passions. These we will call “evils of character.” Third come those that depend upon the power of one individual or group over another: these comprise not only obvious tyranny, but all interference with free development, whether by force or by excessive mental influence such as may occur in education. These we will call “evils of power.” A social system may be judged by its bearing upon these three kinds of evils………The main methods of combating these evils are: for physical evils, science; for evils of character, education (in the widest sense) and a free outlet for all impulse that do not involve domination; for evils of power, the reform of the political and economic organization of society in such a way as to reduce to the lowest possible point the interference of one man with the life of another. We will begin with the third of these kinds of evil, because it is evils of power specially that Socialism and Anarchism have sought to remedy.”
He promotes the idea of “guild socialism”…..control over society by groups or “guilds” that set standards and which train, and enforce them. For instance, here is his solution:

“Education should be compulsory up to the age of sixteen, or perhaps longer; after that, it should be continued or not at the option of the pupil, but remain free (for those who desire it) up to at least the age of twenty-one. When education is finished no one should be compelled to work, and those who choose not to work should receive a bare livelihood, and be left completely free; but probably it would be desirable that there should be a strong public opinion in favor or work, so that only comparatively few should choose idleness. One great advantage of making idleness economically possible is that it would afford a powerful motive for making work not disagreeable (which he compared to “slavery); and no community where most work is disagreeable can be said to have found a solution of economic problems. I think it is reasonable to assume that few would choose idleness…….” Uh, I think the last 60 or so years in the social experimentation of the U.S. have proven that assumption wrong. At least in the United States it seems that those who are provided a bare financial existence and are allowed to live in “idleness” will do so.

He said, “The system we have advocated is a form of guild socialism, leaning more, perhaps, towards anarchism than the official Guildsman would wholly approve. It is in the matters that politicians usually ignore- science and art, human relations, and the joy of life – that anarchism is strongest, and it is chiefly for the sake of these things that we have included such more or less anarchist proposals as the “vagabond’s wage.” It is by its effects outside economics and politics, at least as much as by effects inside them, that a social system should be judged.” What is the “vagabond’s wage”? It is Russell’s term for Universal Basic Income (UBI)…..a subsistence level of income provided to everyone regardless of work, sufficient for survival but not for luxury……that he advocated for all people in order to give them the “freedom” from the slavery of “disagreeable work” to pursuit creative pursuits, education, or pleasure. The problem is that no matter what standard is established as the UBI, the number of people opting to take it will rise and their voice will increasingly demand that the standard for financial support be raised more and more.

Russell described himself as “utilitarian.” The definition from Wikipedia of utilitarianism is this:
“Utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism, which states that the consequences of any action are the only standard of right and wrong. Utilitarianism considers the interests of all beings equally.
Proponents of utilitarianism have disagreed on a number of points, such as whether actions should be chosen based on their likely results (act utilitarianism) or whether agents should conform to rules that maximize utility (rule utilitarianism). …… the seeds of the theory can be found in the hedonists Aristippus and Epicurus, who viewed happiness as the only good……..It has been applied to social welfare economics, the crisis of global poverty, the ethics of raising animals for food and the importance of avoiding existential risks to humanity.”

Russell’s ideal world is one in which globalism and freedom are one and the same. He writes, “The world that we must seek is a world in which the creative spirit is alive, in which life is an adventure full of joy and hope, based rather upon the impulse to construct than upon the desire to retain what we possess or to seize what is possessed by others. It must be a world in which affection has free play, in which love is purged of the instinct for domination, in which cruelty and envy have been dispelled by happiness and the unfettered development of all the instincts that build up life and fill it with mental delights. Such a world is possible; it waits only for men to wish to create it.”

Russell’s redeeming good seems to be in the fact that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Nor should we. He writes: “None of our beliefs are quite true; all have at least a penumbra of vagueness and error. The methods of increasing the degree of truth in our beliefs are well known; they consist in hearing all sides, trying to ascertain all the relevant facts, controlling our own bias by discussion with people who have the opposite bias, and cultivating a readiness to discard any hypothesis which has proved inadequate. These methods are practised in science, and have built up the body of scientific knowledge. Every man of science whose outlook is truly scientific is ready to admit that what passes for scientific knowledge at the moment is sure to require correction with the progress of discovery; nevertheless, it is near enough to the truth to serve for most practical purposes, though not for all. In science, where alone something approximating to genuine knowledge is to be found, men’s attitude is tentative and full of doubt.” ( Russell in “The Will to Doubt” )

With regard to religion, Russell described himself as an agnostic……For most of his adult life, Russell maintained religion to be little more than superstition and, in spite of any positive effects, largely harmful to people. He believed that religion and the religious outlook serve to impede knowledge and foster fear and dependency, and to be responsible for much of our world’s wars, oppression, and misery. He was a member of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association and President of Cardiff Humanists until his death.

To say he was an idealist is to put it mildly. He appears to have chosen to ignore the reality demonstrated throughout human history of the debased nature of the human condition. But then, the brokenness of the human conscience, the moral depravity that exists in the world, and a devolving tendency of the world toward chaos (but for the restraining protective hand of God) rather than an evolving tendency toward moral and intellectual idealism achieved by means of humanity’s own efforts is inherent in the Christian worldview and provides the basis for the need of an intervening Savior provided by God to guide us into our “higher selves.” Atheists and agnostics are people of faith, it is simply not faith in God. It is faith in the capacity of humankind to solve all of its own problems through its own wisdom. Each era thinks it has the answer…… just this “one more thing” is needed to solve all the problems of the world. But the only “thing” that will bring about the humanist’s ideal view of the world is embracing the means and the goal for the world that was created by God and to which God alone will eventually lead us.

Needless to say, there is a reason that we review and select the books that go into the shelves at Titus 2. Not everything is helpful for new Christian minds in the process of being formed. Until they have begun to embrace and discern the Mind of Christ in the Word, some things can sidetrack and distract them. And that is exactly what satan desires……and will bring it to our little cloister any way he can!

Christians are all for education, debate, and diverse thinking. Having a firm foundation and cultivating the ability to test what one hears against the truth revealed by God’s Spirit can serve well to help one grow, not stifle the intellectual life.