The Atheism of Bertrand Russell and Julian Huxley by Robert Graves. (The New Republic, April 28, 1958)
Bertrand Russell spent the first thirty years of his life as a subject of Queen Victoria, in an era of profuse material prosperity, political toughness, social inequality and assiduous church-going. He was born a member of the over-privileged class which then controlled all departments of government, including the Established Church; and is indeed, though he dislikes being reminded of it, a belted Earl. What I miss from this collection of talks and essays is a short biographical statement about Russell’s childhood and adolescence that would justify so provocative title as Why I Am Not A Christian: the sort of statement provided by the late Dr. Ernest Jones in his account of the younger Freud to explain certain intemperate obsessions which vitiate the elder Freud’s psychological researches. The resentful hatred implicit in all Russell’s discussions of early religious and moral training suggests that he lived as a child under constant threats of hellfire, and as an adolescent under frantic obsessions of sexual guilt.
Warm human affection being apparently denied him, and success at games eluding him because of myopia, he began to cultivate his intellect (which will have left him even lonelier in a sternly anti-intellectual Public School society) and by the turn of the century had become one of Britain’s foremost mathematicians. Then, though mathematic genius is as short-lived a flower as athletic prowess—it slowly wilts after the middle twenties—he presently achieved equal eminence in logic and metaphysics. His main obsession seems to have been the desire to free himself from the terrors of his youth, and to free others exposed to the same cruel conditioning.
Read the rest here.