Glass has stated on This American Life that he is a committed atheist. “It’s not like I don’t feel like I’m a Jew. I feel like I don’t have a choice about being a Jew. Your cultural heritage isn’t like a suitcase you can lose at the airport. I have no choice about it. It is who I am. I can’t choose that. It’s a fact of me … But even when I was 14 or 15, it didn’t make that much sense to me that there was this Big Daddy who created the world and would act so crazy in the Old Testament. That we made up these stories to make ourselves feel good and explain the world seems like a much more reasonable explanation. I’ve tried to believe in God, but I simply don’t.”
Atheism notwithstanding, “some years I have a nostalgic feeling to go into a shul and I’ll go in for a High Holiday service,” discloses Glass, who has fond memories of his childhood rabbi’s beguiling discourses. “Rabbi Seymour Esrog was really funny, a great storyteller. He was so good that even the kids would stay and watch him. He’d tell a funny anecdote, something really moving, and go for a big finish. That’s what the show is,” he competes, recognizing the rabbi’s effect.
In this interview with religious anthropologist Jim Henderson, Glass says he thinks Christians get a genuinely bad rap in the media. The NPR star said the way Christians are often represented in pop-culture is totally different from the way the Christians he knows personally actually are in real life. “The Christians in my life were all incredibly wonderful and thoughtful and had very ambiguous, complicated feelings in their beliefs. And seemed to be totally generous-hearted, and totally open to a lot of different kinds of people in their lives.”
Intellectual arguments for the existence of God, based on reason and observation Of the many attempts to prove the existence of God, arguably the best are the five proofs, or five ways, that were offered by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) in his unfinished work Summa Theologica (1265-74) They are:
motion (motion cannot begin on its own and so there must have been a first mover);
causation (the sequence of causes that created the universe must have a first cause);
contingency of creation (all things depend upon other things for their creation, so there must be a being that caused the initial creation);
degrees of perfection (there are differing degrees of beauty in the universe, so there must be a perfect standard-God to which all things are compared);
intelligent design (the universe follows laws that appear to have order, which implies the existence of a Great Designer).
Technically more of an attempt to clarify the ways in which people conceptualize the creator as described in Christianity, the five proofs are generally seen as earnest arguments for the reality of God. Thus, like many other philosophical claims, the five proofs have taken on a significance different to the one intended by their author. After all, Aquinas, being a Roman Catholic, already knew of God’s existence through faith. In Summa Theologica (1265-74), St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “It is better to … deliver … contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.”
The adequacy, or inadequacy, of the five proofs brings up the provocative issue of the relationship between the divine and rationality. Indeed, the five proofs highlight the strained relationship between that which is known a posteriori (through experience) and that which is known a priori (through reason), which then calls into question the priority of philosophical inquiry over scientific inquiry, and vice versa.
British philosopher and Nobel Prize winnerBertrand Russell argued very persuasively through his writings and speeches that religion was merely a fallacy and, notwithstanding any positive effects that religion might have on a person’s emotional or psychological well-being, the concept of religion is for the most part detrimental to people. Bertrand Russell resolutely believed that religion and a religious point of view serve to hinder knowledge and cultivate a fear of anxiety, fear, and dependency.
Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes … . A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.
Bertrand Russell on Belief and the Value of Religion
TV Interviewer: Why are you not a Christian? Bertrand Russell: Because I see no evidence whatever in any of the Christian dogmas. I have examined all the stock arguments in favor of the existence of God and none of them seem to me to be logically valid.
TV Interviewer: Do you think there is a practical reason for having a religious belief for many people? Bertrand Russell: There can’t be a practical reason for believing what isn’t true. I rule it out. It is impossible. Either a thing is true or it isn’t. If it is true, you should believe in it. If it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it is true or it isn’t, you should suspend judgment. It seems to me fundamental dishonesty and fundamental treachery to intellectual integrity to hold a belief because you think it is useful and not because you think it is true.
TV Interviewer: I was thinking of those people who find that some kind of religious code helps them to live their lives — it gives them a very strict set of rules — the right and the wrongs. Bertrand Russell: People are generally quite mistaken. Great many of them do more harm than good and they would probably be able to find rational morality that they could live by if they drop this irrational traditional taboo morality that comes down from savage ages.
TV Interviewer: But are we, perhaps, the ordinary person, perhaps, is not strong enough to find his own personal ethic. They have to have something imposed upon them from outside. Bertrand Russell: I don’t think that is true. What is imposed on you from outside is of no value whatever. Doesn’t count.
TV Interviewer: You were brought up, of course, as a Christian. When did you first decide that you did not want to remain a believer in the Christian faith? Bertrand Russell: I never decided that I did not want to remain a believer. Between the ages of 15 and 18, I spent almost all my spare time thinking about Christian dogmas and trying to find out whether there was any reason to believe them. By the time I was 18 I had discarded the last of them.
TV Interviewer: Do you think that that gave you an extra strength in your life? Bertrand Russell: No, I don’t know. No I shouldn’t have said so. Neither it’s a strength nor the opposite. I was just engaged in the pursuit of knowledge.
TV Interviewer: As you approach the end of life, do you have any fear of some kind of afterlife? Bertrand Russell: No, that is nonsense.
TV Interviewer: There is no afterlife? Bertrand Russell: None whatsoever.
TV Interviewer: Do you have any fear of something that is common among atheists and agnostics who have been atheists or agnostics all entire lives, who are converted just before they die to a form of religion. Bertrand Russell: Well, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as religious people think it does. Because, religious people, most of them, think that it is a virtuous act to tell lies of the deathbeds of agnostics and such. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t happen very often.
Bertrand Russell’s Books on Religion, God, and Atheism
The Conquest of Happiness: Bertrand Russell uses analytic empiricism to discuss the psychological issues of ennui, enthusiasm, envy, sin, indulgence, persecution, populism and public opinion, zest, and other topics.