Ecstatic Humanism


From my earliest wondering about such things, I’ve been receptive to religious sensibilities.

This was not a family inheritance. Though church goers – New England Unitarians — church was a social event for them. To be Unitarian was to be a ‘free thinker’ — scornful of Irish Catholic or haughty British Episcopalian traditions.

I’m still suspicious of starting up with an embrace of Christian dogma. I’ve hoped for a Christian way of life independent of ground-floor confessions of belief. Love of neighbor ought to speak for itself — to be cherished apart from commitments to a Biblical God. Christians should be known by their kind hearts – not by their recitation of creeds.

In my teens I exalted in Emerson’s essays. He was a Unitarian preacher who left the pulpit when he could no longer lead his congregation in creedal recitation. Later, I became immersed in passages in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. I rummaged in Taoist and Confucian texts. As a professor I taught Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, not least for their struggles with Christianity.

Insofar as practices of neighbor-love and openness to strangers draw me in, I’m Christian (though recently I think I’m becoming Jewish).  Am I a Theist? I’ve been drawn to Quaker Silence – to their deep respect, as I understand it, of friendship. They are, after all, The Society of Friends. Sitting in silence on a Sunday without leader or pulpit removes any confessional basis for their Christianity.  It’s a quiet Meeting of hearts and a pacifism free from theological dogma.

A Quaker wouldn’t ask for Theistic credentials as the price of admission. From his pulpit in Cambridge, England, my friend, Andrew Brown, has called himself a “Christian Atheist,” and more recently, an “ecstatic humanist.” A Christian Atheist can be devoted to neighbor-love and good works but averse to any core theological dogmas. Christianity is then measured by neighbor-love.

My friend preaches in a Unitarian Church. From the pulpit he has called himself a Christian Atheist, and more recently suggests that he could also be called an “ecstatic humanist.” It’s not that his humanism leaves him happily ecstatic — his humanism escapes stasis.  It overflows any static formulation or practice linked to a time and place. It’s open-ended, evolving, not to be corralled.  Here is the piece that triggered my thoughts: The case for an Ecstatic Humanism—being “skeptics with naturally religious minds” or “open-minded ‘reverent’ humanists”

One comment on “Ecstatic Humanism

  1. dmf says:

    sounds like the American Pragmatists.

    The godless “dance out” rather than “speak out.”
    The betrayal of love is its own reason for being, but some
    see reward as its own punishment. The dead angel is the hard lines
    you feel upon you. The way of the cremated leads through earth.
    We are the burnt offerings.
    The mother had to conceive them.
    The father had to deliver them. The concrete thing
    is the blind man who leapt into the fire laughing.
    I don’t want to be
    the dead body of that blind man.
    I am in the fire.
    Fire is spread through the church,
    the church rings with cries,
    hearts sing with fire,
    the fire spreads through joy,
    through great overpowering
    explosions of love, light pours out of the congregation.

    Lewis MacAdams, “Live at the Church”

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