Wednesday, November 25, 2009

all was spirit and all was life...

I had a talk yesterday with a friend and member of our church who has had a powerful spiritual experience (indeed is living a powerful spiritual experience) and has rejoined the Catholic Church.  Whenever I talk to this deeply passionate and articulate man, I am struck by many things. Yesterday, I was most struck by his combination of deep faith and his strong belief that such faith was not bound to any one religion or denomination.  It is a tendency (probably to some degree in all of us) to bind the two and liberal religionists are certainly no exception.  This morning, my devotional reading included James Freeman Clarke's "The Word of God Not Bound."  One of the guiding reasons for this blog is to relate the combination of deep piety and "rational religion" of the Boston Unitarians...this from Clarke is a pretty fine statement of that spirit.


LIBERAL Christianity may be defined, not as any belief, nor as any system of opinions, but as something going deeper. It is a habit of mind ; a way of considering all opinions as of secondary importance ; all outward statements, methods, operations, administrations, as not belonging to the essence of religion. Liberal Christianity comes from that spiritual insight which penetrates the shell and finds the kernel; sees what is the one thing needful, and discovers it to be not the form, but the substance; not the letter, but the spirit; not the body, but the soul; not the outward action, but the inward motive; not the profession, but the life.

In this sense, the Apostle Paul was the first Liberal Christian, and the founder of that Liberal Christianity which is not confined to any sect or party, any denomination or church; but which inspires and animates to-day the best men in all denominations, from the Roman Catholics on the one side to the most radical come-outers on the other side. And the motto and maxim of Liberal Christianity, everywhere, is given in our text, that " The word of God is not bound." The most zealous Roman Catholic is a Liberal Christian when, however strongly he believes in the superior value of his own church, he yet does not believe that the word of God is bound to it, but cheerfully admits that there may be good Christians outside of it. A Trinitarian is a Liberal Christian who, holding the dogma of the Trinity himself, does not think it the only essential form of words according to which God may be seen and worshipped. A Unitarian is a Liberal Christian only when he believes that a sincere believer in the Trinity can be as much of a liberal and rational Christian as himself. Liberal Christianity does not exclude zeal for one's own church, or one's own belief ; but it fully recognizes that these belong not to the vital and eternal part of religion, but to the temporal and fugitive part.

If this be so, why, you may ask, do I not call Jesus himself the founder of Liberal Christianity? Because, as long as he taught, all Christianity was liberal, and could not be otherwise. The body had not come, the forms had not arrived ; as yet dogma did not exist. Christianity was then all life, essence, spirit. It had not begun to run into any ruts of routine....All was spirit and all was life."



David G. Markham said...

Dear BU:

What a blessing your article today is about Clarke's ideas about liberal Christianity.

Your purpose of demonstating the integration of deep faith with reason is a most ambitious and most needed one. You are doing extremely important work and your blog is a wonderful way to disseminate your work.

Happy Thanksgiving.

David Markham

slt said...

Hi David,
Thank you very much for the kind words-I very much appreciate it.
I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Blessings, BU