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November 2013
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“Undoubtedly the most important source of religion is fear”

Undoubtedly the most important source of religion is fear; this can be seen in the present day, since anything that causes alarm is apt to turn people’s thoughts to God. Battle, pestilence, and shipwreck all tend to make people religious. Religion has, however, other appeals besides that of terror; it appeals specifically to our human self-esteem.

If Christianity is true, mankind are not such pitiful worms as they seem to be; they are of interest to the Creator of the universe, who takes the trouble to be pleased with them when they behave well and displeased when they behave badly.

This is a great compliment.

We should not think of studying an ants’ nest to find out which of the ants performed their formicular duty, and we should certainly not think of picking out those individual ants who were remiss and putting them into a bonfire.

If God does this for us, it is a compliment to our importance; and it is even a pleasanter compliment if he awards to the good among us everlasting happiness in heaven. Then there is the comparitively modern idea that cosmic evolution is all designed to bring about the sort of results which we call good — that is to say, the sort of results that give us pleasure. Here again it is flattering to suppose that the universe is controlled by a Being who shares our tastes and prejudices.

Bertrand Russell, från

“Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?” (1930)

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