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”