Of all the philosophers I have read, I love Bertrand Russell the most. Of course the first reason is his sense of humor. To give but one example, when nuns told him, "You forget the Almighty God" in reply to his question about why they bathed in bathrobes when there was no-one there to see them, he says, "They obviously think of God as an Omnipotent Peeping Tom, who can see through walls but is foiled by bathrobes".
The more important reason, though, is the fact that he is one of the very few philosophers who neither followed nor created any 'ism'. The problem with 'ism's - whether in philosophy, politics or in religion - is that, sooner or later they turn to dogmas and end up stifling any free thought or dissent. This, of course, is a consequence of the fact that “A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.” Not merely inaccurate but dogmatically inaccurate as well, since 'stupid men' who follow the originator are incapable of thinking for themselves and prefer to follow the leader - in the manner in which they understand him - blindly.
Russell set off no such tradition, considering that he held that "I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn't wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine." Leave alone philosophy, a measure of doubt is not even entertained by people when it comes to their own tastes - so much so that people cannot even grant the possibility that something that they dislike can be liked by someone else and speak as if their distaste for something ought to be universal. So, how will they ever entertain doubts about their philosophy?
But then, as Russell says, "The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately." The problem also is that "Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones." That explains the persistence of beliefs in things that have long been discredited. I would not be too surprised to see a cult, which expects to fall off the edge of a flat Earth, arise and flourish.
A belief, which is wrongly held, is not as harmless a folly as it appears to be. Russell says, "Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false." History gives ample evidence of the fact that the greatest atrocities have been committed on the basis of false beliefs - including false scientific beliefs. Eugenics is a case in point for a false scientific belief that resulted in the unbelievable atrocities of Nazi Germany.
The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." This, in effect, means that the 'fools and fanatics' are willing to work to further their beliefs while the 'wiser people' are still dithering about the pros and cons of the issue - till it is too late. Whenever I see someone very sure of his own faith - and, no matter how virtuous the faith may be - it frightens me because the chap could well be a fool (insofar as he is no narrowly focused on his truth and his way that he fails to see the complete ramifications of his course of action) even if not a fanatic. I'd rather have dithering wiser men than confident fools running countries.
A follower of a creed is a greater danger. For the leader may be one who belongs to the category of “We have in fact, two kinds of morality, side by side: one which we preach, but do not practice, and another which we practice, but seldom preach.” Taken in by what is preached, the follower can be a far more potent harbinger of change than the leader - being far more convinced of the rightness of his cause - and may end up crowning the leader, literally or metaphorically. AND, followers could tend to believe the leader, 'even with bad grounds', which may end up with Society having to deal with what the leader 'practices but seldom preaches.'
Which is why, in ideas or in creeds, I prefer someone who, like Russell, says,“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” For, truth be told, anyone who says he would die for his beliefs actually means that he would kill for his beliefs.
If you read 'beliefs' to mean 'moral values' (for me and, I think, for Russell as well, they are two different things), my apologies for wasting your time with this post.