Leicester Secular Society


Quotes and Misquotes

Ideally the precise sources and original texts of quotes should be cited, but there is a tendency for these references and details to get lost, and as a concomitant of that, for the original version to become garbled or abbreviated or 'improved' by anonymous middlemen. This may indeed often be an improvement in wit, clarity and mordancy, since the original is often buried in context irrelevant to the lesson to be obtained from it by readers of later generations. The first section concerns quotes where some variation has been shown or controversy aroused. Then follows a group of quips for which I can cite the original source (but can't guarantee to have checked them myself). Unsourced quotes are relegated to a separate section. We conclude with some views on religion expressed by the Founding Fathers of the USA, and a list of Links to even more quotes. [GPJ]

Contested Quotes

"If Fascism fails, God's cause goes with it." (Cardinal Hinsley of Westminster, Catholic Times, October 18th, 1935.)

This appears to be a condensed version of the original, which I've not seen, but Joseph McCabe cites a longer version: "As Cardinal Hinsley, head of the Church in Britain, said at a later date, Fascism was "in many respects unjust" but it "Prevented worse injustice -- if it goes under, God's cause goes with it." God's cause is, in the mouth of a cardinal, the power of the Church: and the end justifies the means." Strangely most encyclopedias on the web all say, using exactly the same words: "Cardinal Hinsley was noted as a foe of German and Italian fascism." According to IHEU other catholic priests on the continent were even more explicit: "The priests and Catholic folk must give their unreserved support to the great German State and to the Fuhrer" (Cardinal Innitzer of Vienna, 1938). "Adolph Hitler is an envoy of God" (RC Archbishop Stepinac of Zagreb 1941). This is of course part of a wide literature on the role of the Vatican in world politics, particularly during the second world war.

Versions of the following poem are often attributed to Martin Niemoller.

First they came for the communists,
and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

More about the origin and history of this can be found in the wikipedia.

Sourced Quotes

"In the beginning, God created the universe. This made a lot of people very angry and is generally regarded as a bad move." (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, page?)

"Bertrand Russell started off as a mathematician and then degenerated into a philosopher and finally into a humanist; he went downhill rapidly!" (Gregory Chaitin, Lecture 30 April 1999 at UMass-Lowell).

"I think it's interesting that we generally call theological theories more "sophisticated" the less God actually contributes to the universe. Surely therefore the most sophisticated theological theory of all is atheism." (Bob Churchill, 'Bobsie', Brights Forum, 25 Oct 2006)

"It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." (W. K. Clifford, 1845-1879, Ethics of Belief)

"—Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum god— [Thomas Aquinas]. / That's an argument? You might just as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God." (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion 2006, p.79)

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. ... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee." (John Donne Meditation XVII.)

"It's true. Historians now realize that the Nazis got started by criticising other people's punctuation — the use of semicolons in particular. The next thing you know, the tanks were rolling. If only we had recognized that first sign of trouble!" (R. Everitt Brights Forum 19 July 2006.)

"It is precisely because the scientific view is neither privileged nor above critique that it has great value. Scientific claims are subject to the most withering scrutiny and criticism, and when they stand the test, we can assume that they have some value. This is in contrast to post-modernist cultural relativism, which rejects any claim --philosophical or scientific--if it offends the muddle-headed notion that all world views have equal value." (R. Everitt Brights Forum 31 August 2006.)

"Everything can be reduced to elementary physical components. My car, my house, my computer can be reduced, through analysis, down to crystals, fibers, molecules, atoms, electrons, etc., but it is not generally useful to do so. In order to get any use out of my car, I must think of it as a car. I must relate to it at a level of abstraction that is far above atoms and molecules. Occasionally, out of necessity, I must drill down one level of componentry and deal with spark plugs and wiring, but that's about as far as I need to go. Similar statements can be made about my house, my computer, and even my own body. / The same is true of morality, and the secular spiritual realm. The 'self' is a level of abstraction, and so is morality--even though they are ultimately based in networks of neurons. We can (and must) relate to ourselves, and each other, at these high levels of abstraction. They are valid, and we need have no discomfort whatever about their material basis." (R. Everitt Brights Forum 26 December 2006)

"Naturally, all sorts of self-contradictions and hypocrisies must flow from taking pride in one's own humility." ('Godlovesatheists' comment in The Guardian on-line 8 January 2007.)

"When George Eliot lost her faith in God she did not lose her sense of duty. On the contrary, the voice of duty spoke to her more insistently. But she was quite clear that this was a moral idea and not a new name for a God in whom she had once believed. Respect atheism for what it is, a brave and often profoundly moral response to the world. We only cheapen it by calling its human values 'God'." (Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, 'Face to Faith' The Guardian 25 September 1993; cited on the Sea of Faith website))

"Science does not challenge my faith - it strengthens it" ... "God is that reality whose existence makes a total difference to the believer's life, changing their whole perspective on everything in a way that pure logic by itself cannot do." (Richard Harries, Observer)

"Beauty is in the eye of the survivor." (George Jelliss LSS Newsletter Summer 2003 p.26)

"I keep six honest serving-men / (They taught me all I knew); / Their names are What and Why and When / And How and Where and Who." (Rudyard Kipling, 'The Elephant's Child' Just So Stories 1902.)

I find every sect, as far as Reason will help them, make use of it gladly: and where it fails them, they cry out, It is a matter of Faith, and above Reason. (John Locke Concerning Human Understanding 1690 - Encyclopedia Britannica Inc, Chicago, Great Books of the Western World, Vol.35, 1952, p.381).

"The Rationalist case needs no straining of evidence and always gains by the severest self-criticism." (Joseph McCabe, A Rationalist Encyclopedia, 1950, p.114)

"There is no such thing as a Scientific Mind. Scientists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing different things in very different ways. Among scientists are collectors, classifiers and compulsive tidiers-up; many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers; some are artists and others artisans. There are poet- scientists and philosopher-scientists and even a few mystics. What sort of mind or temperament can all these people be supposed to have in common? Obligative scientists must be very rare, and most people who are in fact scientists could easily have been something else instead." (Peter Medawar, 'Hypothesis and Imagination', Times Literary Supplement, 25 Oct 1963.)

"Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. (Peter Medawar, 'Review of Teilhard de Chardinís The Phenomenon of Man', Mind, 70, pp 99 to 105.)

"Faith has more to do with trust in the system and the community than it does in belief in a particular proposition about the nature of reality." (mslongjr Brights Forum 24 July 2006.)

"God is dead; but considering the state the species Man is in, there will perhaps be caves, for ages yet, in which his shadow will be shown." (Friedrich Nietzsche Die frohliche Wissenschaft III.108) — presumably the 'caves' and 'shadow' refer to Plato's metaphor about reality.

"The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism." (William Osler, Montreal Medical Journal Sept 1902 p.696.)

"I wish I loved the Human Race; / I wish I loved its silly face; / I wish I liked the way it walks; / I wish I liked the way it talkd; / And when I'm introduced to one / I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!" (Walter Raleigh, 'Wishes of an Elderly Man' Laughter from a Cloud 1923)

"According to Christianity one of the great virtues is faith. ... According to me this is a terrible mistake, and faith is not a virtue but a positive vice. More precisely, there is, indeed, a virtue often called faith but that is not the faith which the Christians make much of. The true virtue of faith is faith as opposed to faithlessness, that is, keeping faith and promises and being loyal. Christian faith, however, is not opposed to faithlessness but to unbelief. It is faith as some opposite of unbelief that I declare to be a vice. ... Christian faith is not merely believing that there is a god. It is believing that there is a god no matter what the evidence on the question may be. Have faith, in the Christian sense, means 'make yourself believe that there is a god without regard to evidence.' Christian faith is a habit of flouting reason in forming and maintaining one's answer to the question whether there is a god. Its essence is the determination to believe that there is a god no matter what the evidence may be." (Richard Robinson, An Atheistís Values, date? page?)

"Into every tidy scheme for arranging the pattern of human life, it is necessary to inject a certain dose of anarchism." (Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays).

"All great truths begin as blasphemies." (George Bernard Shaw, Annajanska 1919 p.262)

"The third major characteristic of God - "infinitude" - is the catchall, the universal modifier of Christian theology. God is not merely a being; he is infinite being. God is not merely good; he is infinite goodness. God is not merely wise; he is infinite wisdom. And so on down the list. God is exaggeration run amuck." (George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God 1979 p.68)

"Alas, Islam turned against science in the twelfth century. The most influential figure was the philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, who argued in The Incoherence of the Philosophers against the very idea of laws of nature, on the ground that any such laws would put God's hands in chains. According to al-Ghazzali, a piece of cotton placed in a flame does not darken and smoulder because of the heat, but because God wants it to darken and smoulder. After al-Ghazzali, there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries." (Steven Weinberg)

Unsourced Quotes

"If God did really exist, it would be necessary to abolish him." (Mikhail Bakunin, 1814-1876)

"Five questions for politicians: 1. What power have you got? 2. Where did you get it from? 3. In whose interest do you exercise it? 4. To whom are you accountable? 5. How can we get rid of you?" (Tony Benn)

"Within the field of a secular society, which is a sort of neutral frame that allows individuals to develop their own lives, so long as they don't annoy their neighbors too much, each of us has an individual myth that's driving us, which we may or may not know." (Joseph Campbell) [quoted by 'Limbo' Brights Forum 24 July 06]

"I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose." (Clarence Darrow)

"It sounds superficially fair. But it presupposes that that there is something in Christian theology to be ignorant about. The entire thrust of my position is that Christian theology is a non-subject. It is empty. Vacuous. Devoid of coherence or content. I imagine that McGrath would join me in expressing disbelief in fairies, astrology and Thor's hammer. How would he respond if a fairyologist, astrologer or Viking accused him of ignorance of their respective subjects?" (Richard Dawkins in an interview about the book Dawkins' God by Alister McGrath)

"The Yapping Terriers of Ignorance" (Richard Dawkins)

"To ask about the 'source' of rights or morals assumes an erreous conclusion. To ask about the source of morals is to assume that such a source exists. As if it existed outside of human constructed systems. The 'source' is the human ability to learn from experience and to entrench rights in our laws and in our consciousness. Our rights come from our long history of wrongs." (Alan Dershowitz}

"The Religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide." (R. W. Emerson).

"I was born not knowing, and have only had a little time to change that here and there." (Richard P. Feynman)

"Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." (Richard P. Feynman)

"Secularism: its first principle — that Reason should be the first judge of Human Conduct." (F. J. Gould, cited on LSS programme 1957.)

"God is, as it were, the sewer into which all contradictions flow." (G. W. F. Hegel, 1770-1831)

"I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people." (Katherine Hepburn)

"I have had some trouble in regarding evil as having been intended by infinite Goodness." (Robert Ingersoll)

"On the day of resurrection, / Must I be raised from where I rot? / Meet again the whole collection? / Let's hope not." (Walter Marchant, LSS member).

"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. / The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo." (Karl Marx)

"There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong." (H. L. Mencken)

"Where it is a duty to worship the sun, it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat." (John Morley)

"The philosophies of one age have become the absurdities of the next, and the foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow." (William Osler.)

"Patriots always talk of dying for their country, and never of killing for their country." (Bertrand Russell.)

"Each religion necessarily contradicts every other religion, and probably contradicts itself. Religions, like languages, are necessary rivals. What religion a man shall have is a historical accident, quite as much as what language he shall speak." (George Santayana)

"Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them." (Peter Ustinov)

"What is moral is simply what does not hurt others. Kindness . . . sums up everything." (Barbara Walker)

Quotes from the Founding Fathers of the USA

It is often stated that America is a christian nation, or founded on christian principles. These quotes counter that impression.

"It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [formation of the American governments] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven..." (John Adams)

"The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity." (John Adams)

"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason." (Benjamin Franklin)

"Lighthouses are more helpful than churches." (Benjamin Franklin)

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ..." (Thomas Jefferson, Treaty of Tripoli)

"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature." and "Religions are all alike - founded upon fables and mythologies." (Thomas Jefferson)

"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution." (James Madison)

"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise." (James Madison)

Other Sources of Quotes


Top Atheist Quotes

Bertrand Russell Texts
Russell: Why I am not a Christian
Russell: Why I am a Rationalist
Russell: Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilisation?

Mark Twain Quotes

Quotes from the 'American Taliban'

Bjorn (of Abba) on Humanism