Bertrand Russell, religion and human existence by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

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Today I landed upon two interviews of Bertrand Russell that were recorded sometime in 1955. One interview was aired by BBC while the other was conducted by Alan Watts. It was interesting to hear Bertrand Russell speak about human condition with special emphasis on his approach towards defining human life, religion and the destructive force of fanaticism.

Although I admire Mr. Russell for his contribution to evolution of thought but I tend to disagree with his view on religion and the nature of life. His views of religion are primitive as he believes that religion has failed to contain the animal instincts of men in achieving moderation. Secondly, he attributes failure of society to eliminate dogma or to differ about it to be the fault of religion.

The attitude towards religion by Mr. Russell could have been because of his belief that human life is bi-elemental i.e. body and mind. In his view since soul can not be explained through a scientific method our identities are defined by the consciousness we achieve in life. The consciousness of each person is unique to him because of their own experiences, history and level of education.

I disagree with Mr. Russell on both these points. In my view life is an interaction of three elements i.e. body, mind and soul. Body is the vessel that has evolved to be able to habitat the earth based on its physical condition i.e. availability of oxygen, water and nutrition. Mind is the repository of all knowledge to which a person gains access through education, experience and intuition. The level of intellectual consciousness of a person will depend on his own eagerness to acquire knowledge that is hidden in the deep recesses of mind. The evolutionary nature of men suggest that so far men has not been able to gain complete consciousness of what is in the mind.

A body is not capable of thinking and acting for itself. Brain is the organ while mind is the consciousness or a portion of knowledge that has been activated. We don’t know exactly where the consciousness resides in the brain. We do know which portion of the brain is activated by the sense perceptions. Consciousness is acquired through logic and pure reason or at least that’s what we believe. But in reality irrational emotions are also part of our consciousness and contribute towards our history and identity. We deduce this because a person consciously feels irrational emotions like love, loneliness, sadness and hate. Even those scientists and philosophers that believe in pure logic and reason can not say that they don’t have emotions.

Intuition results from the ambition of the soul to explore new thoughts. Thoughts are passive in its essence and require an outside agent to act on it. Soul is that agent which acts on the thought with an ambition to achieve higher consciousness by constantly processing logic and facts. This enables it to uncover the hidden recesses of mind and gain access to new insight. This new insight produces more thoughts and the cycle repeats itself throughout our lifespan. The aim of life seems to be to achieve the highest level of consciousness by uncovering the complete knowledge of the mind. In religious terms only Prophets achieve that level of consciousness.

The soul begins its career at birth. Life is the journey of the soul dealing with the body and the conscious mind that provides every person a unique identity. At the time of death the body loses its utility as a vessel and is returned to earth. Although the history of the person continues to affect the life on earth by their past actions whose consequences are still unfolding. Extent of these consequences will depend on the kind of life that person lead. For instance the consequences of life of Mr. Russell are still unfolding even after his death over 5 decades ago.

After death, the soul continues on to the next stage of its career but in a different dimension where the physical condition could be different than earth hence no need for a body. The soul carries with it the history of its career on earth as well as the knowledge and wisdom it acquired in life. The condition of the soul will be determined by its level of consciousness and any burden that is produced by exercising it.

Since science deals mostly with the physical environment we live in, it is difficult for it to fully grasp and understand the condition of soul in an unknown environment.  To alleviate this anxiety, about an unknown future, religion provides some clues. Without presence of these clues the soul will be too restless to live a peaceful life on earth. That is the main utility of religion for man kind.

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The writer is a former President of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA and member of Advisory Committee of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf. He has authored three books titled Islamic Social Contract, Freedom by Choice and Lessons from Quran. He can be reached at facebook.com/abdul.quayyum.kundi

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