In this interview with Douglas Berger of the Glass City Humanists in Toledo, Ohio, I talk about my past interfaith work and present writing. Give a listen and let me know what you think.
Glass City Humanists Interview
“Some of the more liberal clergy people, and not just Christian, but Jewish tradition and Buddhist traditions and others, would kind of pat me on the back and work with me and say you’re doing the work, you’re doing the work, as long as you’re out there with people and helping them as best you can walking with people, sitting with people, listening a lot, that kind of presence ministry that I did for many years, it just, you know, that whole theology thing really didn’t fit anymore. So, I sometimes describe it as a little bit like faith evaporated. It was, and I always tell people, you know, I didn’t lose my faith, it just sort of evaporated. And when I left my ordination, about 20 years ago, now, it was really, it was a reasonable decision. And to me, it was a logical, natural step for me to, in a sense, take that piece of paper I got, after all that education, all that seminary training, all those tests to make sure I was, you know, a good believer, and giving it back, like taking the paper off the wall, that degree off the wall and handing it back and saying, thanks, but I don’t need this anymore, to do the work, to be the person I am.”
“Humanism almost came naturally to me. looking around for a philosophy, a way of life, a way of understanding the world that includes people, it’s about justice, it’s about building bridges, instead of blowing them up. You know, humanism is a very creative, positive approach to life and just makes a lot of sense. So I’m with Thomas Paine on that one, I’m into common sense.”
Photo: in the street chaplain years
From everything I’ve read and thought about this topic and merged with my own personal thoughts, feelings, and intuitions, I strongly believe you have taken the correct path. Its unfortunate that more people, despite their background and education, cannot see this path themselves, or, if they have intuited it, became entrenched in habit or the expectancies of others. Keep up the good work, Chris. And I would indeed meeting with you personally someday
Thank you, Jed. Nice thing about being a freethinker is the paths can change in the search for truth. As Emerson said, using a different image, the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks.
Intriguing and inspiring to hear bridge-building in process! — when the sensitive subject of atheist-to-religionist relations came up. Startling to catch your serenely friendly tone of voice at points where I myself would have felt and sounded defensive and anxious. You are a supremely needed voice in our brittle days
Thank you so much
Yes, both Thomas Paine and Emerson were humanistic in their concerns. However neither Thomas Paine nor Emerson was an atheist. On the contrary Emerson was a Transcendentalist, the opposite of atheism. And Paine was part of the Enlightenment. Based upon my own reading of most of his writings, I would say he was an engaged deist who had adopted some of the moral realism of Quakers.
Yes, Daniel, I certainly agree that Paine and Emerson were not atheists. I would not say Transcendentalism is the “opposite” of atheism. To many religious believers of his time and perhaps ours, Emerson’s beliefs were “atheistic” at least in terms of traditional theologies. My post above refers to Paine’s “common sense,” not his theological leanings. Thanks for commenting.
Chris, Thanks for your reply. However Transcendental means to transcend matter and energy. Think of Emerson’s the “Oversoul.” Of his essay, Nature” where he speaks of “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” Doesn’t sound atheistic at all.
As I said, “Emerson’s beliefs were ‘atheistic’ at least in terms of traditional theologies.” We could proof-text Emerson all day. His use of the term “God” is often a placeholder, as perhaps it is for many people. I often return to his journal comment “Every one of my expressions concerning ‘God,’ or the ‘soul,’ etc, is. . .the nearest word I could find to the thing.” (Feb, 1867).
Chris, Thanks for answering again. Clearly, we very strongly disagree about the nature of Emerson’s views of reality. Nearly all that I have read by him over the years, plus a long biography, etc. shows his views to be very unatheistic. I suppose, also, we are defining the term, “atheist” differently. I use the definition that we used as teachers for years from the M-W Collegiate Dictionary. And, I guess our extreme different view of Emerson is somewhat semantic and connotative. One could say that I am atheistic because all of my adult life I have totally rejected the gods of creedal Christianity, Islam, orthodox Judaism, Hinduism, etc.. However, I am about as far from atheism as one can get.
I think you’re beginning to understand what I’ve stated, Daniel. Definitions matter. Those who may call you an atheist because you don’t believe in their Divine Definition, might also see Waldo that way. Thanks for the opinions.