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Good Morning Nanty Glo!
           Wednesday, April 16 2003 

Jon Kennedy, webmasterBertrand Russell's essays

My current reading is, strangely for the last week of Lent (in Orthodoxy, my communion) a book of short essays by an atheist writer, Bertrand Russell (British, 1872-1970). Russell is better remembered as a philosopher and a socialist reformer than a writer of essays, but this book is actually a recent collection of short columns he wrote for a New York daily newspaper in the 1930s, on topics that would be considered "popular" or easily accessible by people not schooled in philosophy or not particularly interested in Russell's radical political views.

I would not probably have borrowed the book from a library if I'd noticed it on a shelf there and surely wouldn't have bought it (though the great majority of the books I read are ones I buy). But I'm reading it on the recommendation of a friend and co-worker who found it among some books his son had left at the house from his university days. And because it's a collection of short columns in a general-circulation newspaper, I suspected I'd get some ideas for topics for these Jonal entries from some of Russell's compositions.,

For such a high-flown intellect, Russell's essays are easily accessible and often witty, and full of quotable lines, sentences, and paragraphs. From quotes I've seen over the years, I imagine that these are similar to essays by H. L. Mencken, the Baltimore columnist of world reknown in the same era. The friend whom I borrowed the book from said the essays are timeless, which is also maintained in the foreword, but I'm surprised that many of them seem "dated" in a way I hadn't expected. Though the essays aren't political polemics (as articles supporting or opposing the Iraqi incursion would be, for example), they raise questions and propositions about social attitudes and places where reform may be needed. And many of these reforms have already come to pass, though Russell usually seems to think they will take much longer to occur. Corporal punishment of students in schools is the most telling example. Russell was against it, but doubted in 1932 that it would be abolished any time soon. But I doubt that it is any more common today in English schools than it is in American ones, and it is so far gone here now (except, possibly, in very strict private schools) that when it's used at all, it makes headlines. Some of Russell's proposals for the liberation of women have also far out-succeeded his expectations.

When I started reading the book I thought I'd give it a few days of my reading time, sampling 30 or 40 pages of it and then returning it to its owner. But because of its quotable lines, I'm hooked and expect now to finish all 150 or so pages. Many of his topics are highly suggestive for use here. Unfortunately, however, as it's a borrowed book, I feel duty bound to return it to its owner promptly, knowing that if I kept it for future reference the "future" would probably turn from weeks to months and the book might never be returned. I should, however, jot down some of the topics for possible adaptation.

If you're interested in a closer look, here is a page of links to writings by Bertrand Russell.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

 You know you're a Pennsylvanian if...

You know what a township, borough, and commonwealth are. (At least you vaguely remember.)
You can identify drivers from New York, New Jersey, or other neighboring states by their unique and irritating driving habits.
A traffic jam is 10 cars waiting to pass a horse-drawn carriage on the highway.
You know several people who have hit deer more than once.
You carry jumper cables in your car and your female passengers know how to use them.

— Sent by Mary Ann Losiewcz

Lenten thought for today

A single organism | The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ's words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organizm.... The male and the female were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.

As a consequence, Christianity teaches that marriage is for life.

— C. S. Lewis, 1897 - 1963
Quoted in Daily Vitamins for Spiritual Growth, Anthony M. Coniaris

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