John Bagnell Bury writing on Voltaire in 1914:
"Perhaps no writer has ever roused more hatred in Christendom than Voltaire. He was looked on as a sort of anti-Christ. That was natural; his attacks were so tremendously effective at the time. But he has been sometimes decried on the ground that he only demolished and made no effort to build up where he had pulled down. This is a narrow complaint. It might be replied that when a sewer is spreading plague in a town, we cannot wait to remove it till we have a new system of drains, and it may fairly be said that religion as practised in contemporary France was a poisonous sewer. But the true answer is that knowledge, and therefore civilization, are advanced by criticism and negation, as well as by construction and positive discovery. When a man has the talent to attack with effect falsehood, prejudice, and imposture, it is his duty, if there are any social duties, to use it."
I've read a few gnu religionists complaining that atheists nowadays are just not as clever and theologically well-read and nuanced (and respectful!) as olden day critics of religion such as Voltaire and Nietzsche and Russell (no, not you, the other one). I can only guess they've never read them.
I like that.
Russell, could you give us a source for that quote?
It's from A History of Freedom of Thought, first published 1914. The readily available edition from General Books (the quote is from pages 57-58) is very unsatisfactory, unfortunately - it's a cheap and nasty scan with all sorts of typos, layout problems, garbled text ...
Sounds interesting. Just ordered a copy. Thanks for the suggestion!
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