THIS PASSAGE FROM MILL'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY WAS CHOSEN
BOTH FOR CONTENT AND STYLE.
Mill's father James had obtained a measure of fame from works in economics
(influenced by his friend David Ricardo), in psychology, and a history of India. James was also an associate and friend of
Jeremy Bentham, who became John's godfather. Educated by James, John was a child prodigy, who could read and converse in Latin by
the age of five. John made significant contributions in the fields of psychology, logic, ethics, political science,
and economics. He became, without campaigning, an MP for Westminster--but only for one term. The Encarta Encyclopedia says
of John, "His advocacy of women's suffrage in the debate on the Reform Bill of 1867 led to the formation of the suffrage movement."
John died within a year of the birth of his godson Earl Bertrand Russell. This was unfortunate, for Bertrand
was raised by his Victorian dowager aunt. Inspite of--or possible because of--he became quite un-Victorian: an
outspoken atheist and free thinker. He was married 4 times, jailed during WWI for his opposition, a founder
of the British movement opposing nuclear weapons, and during the Vietnam War a leader in opposition thereto. To
disassociate himself from wealth and title he by the age of 30 had given away his entire estate.
All three (Bentham,
John Stuart Mill, and Russell) were child prodigies with a social vision and an activitism which made a difference.
has so much been said in so few words.
Growing Up Without God
Those who admit an omnipotent as well as perfectly just and benevolent maker and ruler
of such a world as this, can say little against Christianity but what can, with at least equal force, be retorted against
themselves. Finding, therefore, no halting place in Deism, he [Mills father] remained in a state of perplexity, until, doubtless
after many struggles, he yielded to the conviction that, concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known.
is the only correct statement of his opinion; for dogmatic atheism he looked upon as absurd, as most of those, whom the world
has considered Atheists, have always done. These particulars are important, because they show that my fathers rejection of
all that is called religious belief was not, as many might suppose, primarily a matter of logic and evidence; the grounds
of it were moral, still more than intellectual. He found it impossible to believe that a world as full of evil was the work
of an Author combining infinite power with perfect goodness and righteousness. His intellect spurned the subtleties by which
men attempt to blind themselves to this open contradiction....
As it was, his aversion to religion, in the sense usually
attached to the term, was of the same kind as that of Lucretius; he regarded it with the feeling due not a mere mental delusion,
but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality; first by setting up factitious excellenciesbelief
in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kindand causing these to be accepted
as substitutes for genuine virtues; but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals, making it consist in doing
the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently
I have a hundred times heard him say that all ages and nations have represented their gods as wicked, in
a constantly increasing progression, that mankind have gone on adding trait after trait till they reached the most perfect
conception of wickedness which the human mind can devise, and have called this God, and prostrated themselves before it. This
ne plus ultra of wickedness he considered to be embodied in what is commonly presented to mankind as the creed of Christianity.
Think (he used to say) of a being who would make a hell-who would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge,
and therefore with the intention-that the great majority of them were to be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment.
The time, I believe, is drawing near when this dreadful conception of an object of worship will no longer be identified
with Christianity; and when all persons, with any sense of moral good and evil, will look upon it with the same indignation
with which my father regarded it. . . . The world would be astonished if it knew how great a proportion of its brightest ornaments-of
those most distinguished even in popular estimation for wisdom and virtue-are complete skeptics in religion.
religious person holds fatuous beliefs as truths, including that the world is much stranger than it is, that logic and
science are frequently confuted. As a consequence such a person has limited his ability to understand and act according
to the dictates of reason and is thus more likely to make unsound choices on matters of health, of morals, on personal happiness,
on politics, and in a myriad of other ways. He is a runner with a 20-pound cap
upon his skull: sure, he can run, but but awarkedly—jk.