Atheists at the Creation Museum
He lives, people. That’s what he does. Very few people do this any more. It’s too risky. First of all, it’s a hell of a responsibility to be yourself. It’s much easier to be somebody else or nobody at all. Or to give your soul to god like St. Therese and say: the one thing I fear is doing my own will. Do it for me, God. There are problems and questions which rise to the surface out of this.
-Sylvia Plath, on those who question Ted Hughes’s livelihood, from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, p. 435.
Or, My Brief Conversations With a Guy Whose Mother Knew Bertrand Russell, I Think.
I’m currently a certified teacher in NY state, and I did my student-teaching in Westchester county; fairly close to the city. One of the teachers with whom I was placed encouraged me to use some of my own material to motivate students to write. I was a philosophy minor, so I was excited to use a paper in which I argued for a theory of forms based on the writings of Bertrand Russell (The Problems of Philosophy, to be exact). When this teacher saw that my paper involved Bertrand Russell, he dropped a piece of knowledge on me that weighed me down with awe:
“My mother took a class in philosophy when she was goin to college, he was her teacher.”
I was amazed. At first I was confused. “Did she go to school in Britain?” “Nah, she went to City College. A lotta people didn’t like him though.”
Later on, sittin in my pj’s and sippin coffee at home, wikipedia confirmed this account of Russell’s career with horrifying details:
“Before the Second World War, Russell taught at the University of Chicago, later moving on to Los Angeles to lecture at the UCLA Department of Philosophy. He was appointed professor at the City College of New York in 1940, but after a public outcry, the appointment was annulled by a court judgement: his opinions (especially those relating to sexual morality, detailed in Marriage and Morals ten years earlier) made him “morally unfit” to teach at the college. The protest was started by the mother of a student who would not have been eligible for his graduate-level course in mathematical logic. Many intellectuals, led by John Dewey, protested against his treatment. Albert Einstein’s often-quoted aphorism that “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds … ” originated in his open letter in support of Russell, during this time. Dewey and Horace M. Kallen edited a collection of articles on the CCNY affair in The Bertrand Russell Case. He soon joined the Barnes Foundation, lecturing to a varied audience on the history of philosophy; these lectures formed the basis of A History of Western Philosophy. His relationship with the eccentric Albert C. Barnes soon soured, and he returned to Britain in 1944 to rejoin the faculty of Trinity College.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_russell)
It’s pretty bad that NYC kicked Russell out before long. Why are people so afraid of alterity? It could be argued that this was the ‘40s, that his views were very extreme for the time, but people today would have a problem with his perspective. It’s comforting to know, though, that Dewey and Einstein stood up for my man Russell.
That’s what this teacher called Dewey: “My man Dewey”; so I started saying “My man Russell.” In a subsequent conversation, after this teacher had looked up more info about Russell, he approached me with “Man, Russell didn’t like religion!” You see, this teacher, like most of the people from Westchester, is Catholic and Republican. He didn’t like Russell’s atheism and liberal views on sexuality. So I kept my mouth shut for the rest of my time at the school and focused on simply how to write about such things rather than asserting beliefs; you see I, unlike Russell, couldn’t afford to be shunned from the school I was in. It just goes to show that there are people even today who can destroy education simply by considering their beliefs more valuable than a penchant for learning and liberal discussion.
Education is the key, my friends, and I’m still working on it.
Despite mama always saying that religion should never be a party topic, I thought Shelley makes an interesting point I’d never thought of before.