As one of the world’s more famous atheists, Bertrand Russell always had the knack of combining a brilliant intellect and profound insights with a startling clear expression of his ideas. Here’s a classic example.
I have a few favourite moments. He describes how he examined religious ideas and found no good reason to believe in them. When asked by the interviewer whether religion is useful to some people to help them through their lives, Russell says:
“If you can’t find out whether it’s true or whether it isn’t, you should suspend judgment. But it seems to me a fundamental dishonesty and fundamental treachery to intellectual integrity to hold a belief because you think it’s useful and not because you think it’s true.”
The interviewer then asks whether faith nevertheless provides people with a solid foundation for morality, to which Russell replies:
“They could probably be able to find a rational morality that they could live by if they dropped this irrational taboo morality that comes down from savage ages.”
The interviewer suggests that many people would be unable to do this for themselves and need something imposed on them from outside. Russell dismisses this with:
“What is imposed on you from outside is of no value.”