Fear, the Foundation of Religion


‘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. Fear is the basis of the whole thing — fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a better place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.’

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 596


Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

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8 thoughts on “Fear, the Foundation of Religion

  1. great quote. just opening my eyes on a new kind of Christmas season. one without Christ. by the way, my wife has a blog post on a book done about the Salem Witch Trials. bookalogue.wordpress.com
    the book is fictional account of the historical events, from one family’s POV of one of the victims of the type of ‘Christian extremism’ that operates when not checked by reason, logic and rational thought. I think you may enjoy her comments and the book, The Heretic’s Daughter.

  2. It is fear that first brought gods into the world.
    — Petronius —

  3. KIA – from the sound of things, you found a good woman who helped pull you from the quicksand – would that be close to accurate?

  4. I have always found history a fascinating way to understand mankind. It is my contention from a historical perspective that, without terrorism there could be no organized religion. All successful religious movements were achieved through the extreme use of terror and bloodshed. From the commands of YHWH to the Israelites to exterminate the peoples of the lands they were conquering to the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the jihads, the pogroms, and endless forced conversions – it’s all there, in history. That conclusion is not even a matter for debate. That religion succeeds in maintaining or re-establishing itself even among purportedly rational societies is due to cognitive dissonance – a common mental disorder afflicting all “civilized” societies.

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