The Rational Habit Of Mind Is A Rare One
I am, in this age when there are a great many appeals to unreason, an unrepentant Rationalist. I have been a Rationalist ever since I can remember, and I do not propose to cease to be so whatever appeals to unreason may be made. We have listened to a speech, by which I think we were all much moved, about the pioneers in the past who have done what they could to promote the cause of freedom of thought. I suppose it is for me to speak about the great need of continuing this work in our own day, and about how much there is that remains for all who sympathize with its objects to accomplish. We are not yet, and I suppose men and women never will be, completely rational. Perhaps, if we were, we should not have all the pleasures that we have at present; but I think complete rationality is so distant a prospect that we need not be much alarmed by it, and the nearest approach that we are likely to get is sure to be all to the good. I certainly find that there is a very great deal of irrationality still about in the world.
While Professor Graham Wallas was speaking about the bequests that have been made to the Rationalist Press Association I was thinking: What is its creed, what is its dogma, and what is going to be the, so to speak, doctrine that these benefactions are going to be devoted to propagating? You have, of course, to be a little careful, when you find yourself landed with endowments and benefactions, lest you should become another endowed church. (Laughter.) As far as I can see, the view to which we are committed, one which I have stated on a former occasion, is that we ought not to believe, and we ought not to try to cause others to believe, any proposition for which there is no evidence whatever. That seems a modest proposition, and if you can stick to that you will be fairly sure that you are not going to become a sort of ossified endowed church. We ought not to commit ourselves to dogmatic negations any more than to dogmatic affirmations; we ought merely to say that there are a great many propositions about which men and women feel pretty certain, but, concerning which they have no right to feel certain, and it is our business as Rationalists to try to make them see that those things are not certain. I am told that that is a very wicked position to maintain. I have here a book recently published which I commend to your attention. You may or may not know that some little time ago, under the auspices of the National Secular Society, I delivered a lecture on "Why I am Not a Christian." Now, It appears that I did not know why it is that I am not a Christian; and here is a book which will tell you why I am not -- by Mr. H. G. Wood, who is a somewhat eminent member of the Society of Friends, a body for which I have the greatest respect. His book is called Why Mr. Bertrand Russell is Not a Christian. It seems that the reasons are not those which I thought they were. He says in one sentence: "The main reason why he is not a Christian is that he simply does not know what religion is." One might say that Mr. Wood is not an Agnostic because he does not know what Agnosticism is. After all, I had all the benefits of a Christian education, and he did not have the benefits of an Agnostic education; so that possibly the argument might be considered two-edged. Nevertheless, I commend the book to your attention, and you will then know why it is that I am not a Christian.