Friday, February 24, 2012

Correction - Warren County NY

Many letters and much news bumped my letter in the Chronicle. It did go directly to the County Board. I did some more research and discovered that the number of households earning $250k or more is more likely 2.4% or 3.1%.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Pay My County Taxes Gladly

While I catch up reading books and doing my music theory assignments, here is a letter that will appear in the Chronicle of Glens Falls today. (Warren County is named for one of my claimed ancestors, Dr. Joseph Warren, of Bunker Hill fame. The population is 65,700, 10% of whom are below the poverty line. 1.4% (920) of households earn $250,000 or more.)

To the Board of Supervisors, and
the Office of the County Administrator
Warren County, New York

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the receipt for my county taxes and for the information provided on the yellow insert. I appreciate having access to that data.

However, the insert seems to assume that taxes are a bad thing. Unfunded mandates probably worked well when the economy was booming. You could have noted that Gov. Cuomo has already taken action to reduce them. The Medicaid mandate will be reduced and ultimately eliminated by his actions in conjunction with the Affordable Health Care Act (the so-called “Obamacare”) when it takes effect in 2014.

I have no objection to the Welfare or “other” New York State mandates. Of course there is nothing that can’t be improved. Any waste in these programs should be ferreted out. There should be regular review of these programs and how they are funded to make them more effective.

What I want to tell you most of all is that I have NO objection to paying my $789 a year to help the poor, the sick, children in need of special education, and the many other services and expenses covered by these taxes. I know that there are many people in our county who have not had the opportunities they need to succeed. Others have abilities that are unneeded in today’s economy. I find it astounding and greatly satisfying that you can provide so many good works in my name, in addition to the Sheriff’s Department, Health Services, Office for the Aging, Dept. Of Public Works, Westmount Health Facility, Countryside Adult Home, County Clerk, District Attorney, and their support services.

The insert implies that our taxes are too high. It seems to support political groups that oppose all taxes. I think that you can find a more objective way in which to share this important information with us.  You could do it in ways that show how representative democracy, federalism, and shared responsibility for the common welfare work. We should find ways to celebrate the good things that the county does. I would like to think that the county would provide all these services, even if some of them were not mandated.

Thank you for any efforts you make both to reduce costs and to provide more effective services to those in need.

Dennis L Maher
Lake Luzerne

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Christianity After Religion - Part III - Why the Churches Are Emptying and What Is This "Spirituality?"

I watched an interview with Diana Butler Bass on YouTube and read her article on Huffington Post. She revealed more of her book. I applaud her analysis of some causes for the across the board decline in church membership and attendance. I had spotted 911 as a breaking of the American “sacred covenant.” (We will be good and God will make us powerful and great, will always protect us.)[See Sept. 16 blog post.]

Diana has gone further and says (1.) that 911 connected religion to violence for many people in new ways. (2.) In 2002 the revelation that a large number of Roman Catholic priests had abused many children over many years, established a new connection of religion to sexual abuse. (3.) In 2003 the Episcopalians made a gay man a bishop! I think that this connection of gay orientation and behavior to religion goes two ways: For some it highlighted the prejudice and meanness against gays by churches and religious people; for others it was offensive that a church would accept gay leaders. (4.) The role of evangelicals in re-electing George Bush president showed the unholy connection of religion to political power, to military power unleashed in Iraq, and to empire. (FINALLY, someone said this out loud.) (5.) In 2008 the financial crisis revealed that we lived in a bubble. (I’m not sure what she will say about this.) I had not connected all of these things together as she has.

Another contribution that Diana makes to our understanding of churches in the 21st century is her description of how we have turned upside down our ways of thinking about religion. In the past we needed to belong and have identity as a member or part of an institution. From that flowed our sense of what we would do (vocation), the people who would be our companions in community, the actions we would take to make meaning of our lives. Today we take actions first, find our Facebook friends, build a life, and join institution if and when they fit what we have assembled. (This is a rough understanding of Bass’ theory.)

My very large problem is with discussions of “spirituality” as a way of being religious. It is a “fuzzy” term with multiple and not very clear definition. My first encounter in the church with this mushy stuff was when I returned to Chicago in ‘86 and went to a get acquainted group for new members at Lincoln Park Presbyterian. We went around the room and told about ourselves and our “journeys.” Then one woman pulled a large crystal from her purse and told us how this connnected her to the spirit of life. I wasn’t the only one in the room who became uncomfortable. I guess we just didn’t “get it,” in today’s parlance.

Diana defines spirituality.  "While 'religion' means institutional religion, ‘spirituality’ means an experience of faith. Large numbers of Americans are hankering for experiential faith whereby they can connect with God, the divine, or wonder as well as with their neighbors and that lead to a more profound sense of meaning in the world. Maybe Americans once called this "religion," but no more. Americans call it "spirituality."

My sister-in-law was ahead of the curve on this stuff, and said to me 20+ years ago, “The church doesn’t own God. Or Jesus. And not the Spirit.” Wow. Yes. Churches are all about mediating God, Jesus, and the Spirit to the people.
Dominic Crossan, in, e.g., Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography continually speaks of the original Jesus movement as “unmediated” religion. (Even Jesus isn't a mediator!) Bultmann (I hope someone still reads Theology of the New Testament) explained how Jesus’ way was lost: “The proclaimer (of the Kingdom of God) became the proclaimed.” From there everything was downhill (or “developed,” depending on your point of view). Was Jerusalem the center or not? Were Christians Jews or could gentiles be Christians? Do we follow Paul or Thomas or John or Luke? A tremendous variety of Christian groups grew.

In 381 A.D.: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State, Charles Freeman tells how a tradition of religious pluralism and tolerance was common throughout the ancient world. Christianity was dynamic but bishops lumped all their enemies together into “gnostics” and “Arians” in the same way that enemies of the right wing today lump their enemies into the evil categories of “liberals” and “socialists” and liberals lump theirs into "fundamentalists." (All subordinationists were/are not Arians. Crystal gazers may be “Christian,” I suppose. Even I have limits.) It ended in 381 when Theodosius declared all but the Nicene faith to be “heresy” and the bishops like Ambrose of Milan went nuts with it. The church adopted the model of empire for its institutional organization.

My prof Tom Parker said that no one individual can go too wrong because the community will self-correct, and no single congregation can go too far “off” because the larger church is self-correcting. Hmm. Seems to me history is replete of instances where things didn’t “self-correct.”

Is there a “great transformation” or a new “axial age?” Darned if I know. I do know that many churches have too many people who are sticking with the old ways and will not change likely ever. (Clergy have always prayed for the right funerals.) So congratulations to congregations that have found a new way of being sort of non-institutional. More will follow. More and more people will stay away from the rest of them.

I am still researching “spirituality.” I have thoughts on how to organize a participatory congregation. Based on a comment made to Diana on Huff Post, I am thinking about whether or how much or why the political right wing avoids “spirituality.” Could it have to do with CHANGE? or ADVENTURE?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Christianity After Religion - Part II - Congregations and Spirit

A friend asked “Where are you going with this?” in regard to my last post. I have two goals: First, to address the question of the utility and fate of congregations in our increasingly post-Christian society. Second, to address what I think Diana Butler Bass is concluding about the subject that is the title of her book, Religion After Christianity. Alas, I cannot review it until I have received and read it, so I reflect only on her lecture last Sunday on the web.

John Shuck had raised the question of the authority of scripture in very stark terms. John and I long ago abandoned such authority (literal and revealed) in favor of a much broader concept: We may look to all of the religious and wisdom traditions of the world as sources for our own meaning-making. John and I and others will make our meanings without reliance on the supernatural. [Digression: The issue of religion as supernatural wasn’t 100% clear to me until I saw the wonderfully fun 1999 Roman Polanski film, The Ninth Gate, staring Johnny Depp and Frank Langella. Langella asks Depp, the very rational scholar, “Are you religious?” Depp looks puzzled so Langella asks him, “Do you believe in the supernatural?” Instantly I realized that I did not believe in the supernatural but that I had been proclaiming a lot of it until then.]

I said to John that my question was whether community fellowship and activities are enough to sustain congregations without magic and scriptural authority to support them. He agreed that it is a question to be asked every day.

I think congregations are very important for sociological reasons. Wade Clark Roof wrote a little piece in the '80's on mediating institutions in society. Churches figured very large. "Mediating institutions" are places where people can practice parliamentary procedure and other facets of public life, with less intimidation than city council or Congress. Democracy needs the participation in public life that churches have provided. As churches and the Moose and other lodges and clubs expire, I think that we are experimenting with social media as the model for mediating institutions that are to replace the old ones.

Tom Parker (can’t find a photo), my theology prof from McCormick Seminary, was working on a book for understanding the formative factors of theology for various religious groups: It is a circle with three pie shaped wedges, one each for “tradition,” “experience,” and “culture.”  (I think his book was sidelined when James D. And Evelyn Whitehead published Method in Ministry, which expounds a very similar theory.) In this scheme, e.g., Catholics have tradition as the largest piece of the pie, Pentecostals eat large from experience, and Unitarians prefer culture for dessert. This explains how traditions developed in relation to different worldviews and personality types.

What does this model say about revelation, which is the medium for knowledge about the supernatural, divinity, and the spiritual? Tradition is about revelation that took place in the past. Experience is about present, personal revelation. Culture uses and tolerates revelation from the past but lives mostly without reference to it. Culture tolerates personal revelation but puts you on meds if your revelation gets too specific.

As I have said elsewhere, I treasure some of the symbols of Christianity, perhaps most importantly the centrality of the table (no altars, please). When I was teaching stewardship and promoting mission in Chicago Presbytery, I attended Lincoln Park Presbyterian, which I had attended just before and during my time in seminary. I realized that the reason I contributed to that congregation was the totality of the life and ethos of the congregation. The people and my history there had partly formed my identity, so that I had “ownership” of the place and was a “stakeholder” in its future.

The UUA congregation I have attended in my area this past year is looking for a new minister and going through all the studies that congregations do in the interim period. When I leave there on Sundays after our gathering and fellowship time (can’t really call it worship) I feel good. I feel that all of the values I have developed in my lifetime have been affirmed. We share a basic trust in reason and science. Love and respect are elevated. I see that the glue that holds us together is our reliance on each other, our dependence on and participation in the life and ethos of the congregation, and the positive emotional force and relief that arises from being accepted despite our individual eccentric opinions and beliefs, behaviors, and life situations.  We acknowledge the many strong and weak secular and religious traditions from which we come and to which we turn for wisdom. The only authority that the congregation has comes from these powers that each of us gives and receives. John is right on that “one task of religion might be (is!) to encourage one another to create, refine, and trust an internal moral compass.”

Diana says that people are fleeing religion for direct experience of the spiritual or sacred. I agree and I want to see what she has written about that. I have problems with experience as a source for theology and the spiritual as a category of experience. What the hell is “spirituality” anyway? I think I need to write on it to figure it out. So for 24 hours I have been nibbling on William James, Daniel Day Williams, John Caputo, Derrida, Julian Jaynes, Froese and Bader, and another book with a title that relates to Diana’s: After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950's by Robert Wuthnow. And maybe her book will arrive in a few days.

I told Tom Parker ten or 15 years ago that the questions Christianity tried to answer were not sufficient for the present. He was visibly shaken that I would say such a thing.

Jack Stotts was my ethics prof, then president of McCormick and later Austin Seminary. In 1991 he led the writing team for the “Brief Statement of Faith” that he had helped develop for the new PCUSA (after reunion of the UPCUSA and Southern PCUS). I asked him if he didn't think that the Bible was becoming “too old” to have the impact on future generations that it had possessed for past generations. He was aghast. Scripture was the authoritative basis for his faith and ethics in a way that it could no longer be for me. But he captured some new thinking in the Statement. After affirming the Trinity (a nod to the past and the supernatural), it began with Jesus, spoke of who God was in terms of Jesus’ teachings, and affirmed the Holy Spirit as “giver and renewer of life.” Scripture then enters the statement:
"The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles 
     rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, 
     engages us through the Word proclaimed, 
     claims us in the waters of baptism, 
     feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, 
     and calls women and men to all ministries of the church." 

Does this Spirit rule our faith and life through scripture? There is a lot of supernatural in this poetry. When I was little we spoke of the “Holy Ghost.” Then it became “Spirit.” More on this spooky character and fuzzy thing in the next post. I think most folk talking about spirituality and experience do so as a way of talking about the supernatural.

Diana is absolutely right about how the questions that religion is supposed to answer have changed in the past 50 years. We don’t care so much “what we believe.” We have moved to “how we believe,” and “what we do,” she says, and returned to existential questions such as “who am I,” and “whose am I.” (Hope she isn’t going supernatural on the last one.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Christianity After Religion - Part I - Trying to Understand and Manage the Decline of the Church

Diana Butler Bass is a popular writer on religion, congregations, and culture. I happened to watch her live on a webcast from All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena CA last Sunday. She was speaking of what she has written in her newest book, Christianity After Religion. The title caught me because I had read a book by Don Cupitt in the ‘90's called After God. Don also sees a symbiosis of religion and culture, and has commented on a new reformation taking place in churches as well as in his and our minds. There are other books with similar titles such as After Christianity and After Christendom. This conversation began a long time ago, even pre-enlightenment. I have dated it to Lucretius in an earlier blog post.

This post discusses only the context of what Diana and others today are saying.

From within the churches, the notion that something was very, very wrong began for many of us with John A.T. Robinson and his 1963 book, Honest to God, which brought Bonhoeffer and Nietzsche into our awareness. Diana’s thoughts sent me to another book that in 1966 was formative: The Secular City by Harvey Cox. That book is now seen as somehow wrong, even by its author. People did not flee religion for secular humanism, as many thought the book suggested.  I see that I need to review that prescient and misunderstood book here soon. Add to these The Social Construction of Reality by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman (1967).

Inside the churches, I and other administrative staff collected degrees in organizational development and the sociology of religion in the ‘70's and ‘80's.  (The church is like a womb; when I worked for the PCUSA I understood that I was in “the belly of the beast.” There we do not see the larger context of what we are saying and doing. We do not see the harm we do, and yet there we were in a nursery of transformative thinking.) We began to talk of Thomas Kuhn and “paradigm shifts” in the ‘80's. In 1991 Loren Mead’s book, The Once and Future Church, had such clarity about our problems that we invaded the churches with it for study by congregational leaders and members. We saw that the church was changing, that it had changed more than we had realized, and that the change was outrunning our ability to understand it and cope with it.

My friend John Shuck ( has raised some questions about scripture that he will deal with in four sermons and blogs. We are friends from Westar, and both Presbyterians. John may be the most progressive pastor in the PCUSA. He wonders about the authority of scripture. Leaders of congregations leaving the PCUSA cite the reason for their leaving as the presence of “variant views of the authority of Scripture” in the denomination. John asks: What is the authority of scripture? Why and how does it have authority? What is our authority for speaking of God?

The old paradigm was that we gathered around the (written) Word of God which was given by God. God had chosen the pastor or priest who told us what it meant. God held the power of life and death, even eternal life or torment. Therefore, if we didn’t listen up and make some effort to obey, we were subject to everlasting damnation. This model was strengthened by the matching relations and arrangements in government, work, and family. The King was like God. The Boss was like God. The Papa was like God.

The concert band in which I play is working on the dances from Fiddler on the Roof. It occurred to me recently that the greatest irony in the song “Tradition” is that persecution of the Jews was the “tradition” of the Russian Orthodox and Royalty. There has always been a dark side to tradition, and a paradox built into the reverencing of tradition. I think one way to describe the current problems of the churches is to say that we don't know what to do with our traditions.

Without a written “Word of God” and without a patriarchial monarchical slavedriving judgmental and punishing God, what is left? What is the authority of a “church” that has moved away from or abandoned the old view of God?

There is a special problem for Presbyterians: We think that we must say what we believe and believe what we say. That is why we fight over words. We seek precision of language. Another problem: Our Form of Government until last year began with “Christ is the head of the Church.” (Now in faithful obedience to Leslie Newbigin, it begins with God’s “mission,” the new way of speaking of God’s “will.”)  This very convenient fiction of giving the leadership of the church to Christ removed the problem of tyranical popes, bishops, and priests. No person is in charge. In the PCUSA authority on earth is given to the people (represented by equal numbers of clergy and ordained elders). In the US the equivalent is giving authority to the rule of law with a constitution that can be amended only with great difficulty. Fighting within the body of Christ was unseemly in this system, but it was possible of course based on revelation from God in the Bible.

Preaching for Episcopalians in 2001, I learned that the Anglicans speak of Worship “Formulary,” meaning that what is said in the liturgy need not be “believed.” Presbyterians couldn't live with that! And of course my theology prof, Tom Parker, had said that the most difficult of the words in the Apostles’ Creed were the first two: “I believe.” (I spoke of faith as "vision" or "worldview" here a few weeks ago.)

More about “Christiainity without religion,” Diana Butler Bass, John Shuck, and congregations tomorrow.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, Abe. Best Wishes, Barry

There are so many parallels in the presidencies of Obama and Lincoln I won't list them here. Google “Obama Lincoln” and you will see them. I didn’t see them until I was reading America Aflame by David Goldfield. Happy birthday, Abe. Watching for a second term, Barry.

First the book gave me a broader context for understanding religion in America, so that the conflict this week about contraceptives and religious freedom was no surprise [see post above]. Second, Goldfield frightened me by describing politics in America during the 1840's and 1850's, because they were so like our own. When our Senators today begin to attack each other physically, as they did then, I will know that civil war is imminent. Third, Lincoln was presented in a different light, not the superhuman, saintly figure of American mythology. The political maneuvers that led to the death of the Whig party and the birth of the Republican party parallel the struggles within the Republican party of today. Columnists plead for a rebirth of that party so that we can have substantive debate in this country.

Lincoln did not promise to end slavery before or even after his election as President. He argued against the spread of slavery to the west. The “South” saw that they would become a smaller minority in Congress and the Senate as more states were added to the Republic. Their way of life, their economy, and their political power based on slavery was threatened. They seceded based on their fears. They hated Lincoln because he supported growth, development, and entrance into the modern world. He was seen, perhaps correctly, as the tool of railroad and other interests that would benefit financially from westward expansion. (I think the railroads were actually a bust, but there was money to be made in trading stocks.) The rest of the modern world had already given up slavery or soon would.

Obama is hated by many Southerners and others who represent the old South and its mythology. His haters make up all sorts of things about him, often contradictory complaints. Is he a radical Black theologian, a Muslim, or an atheist who hates all religions? His actions are thoughtful and pragmatic and yet he is accused of being a dangerous radical. His actions may have saved capitalism, but he is called a socialist or a communist by people who can’t define those words. He compromises but is called a tyrant. He drives his supporters crazy and can’t seem to work with Congress.

Lincoln couldn’t get his programs through, either. He couldn’t find a general who would fight and win for more than two years. Obama can count several war successes much to the consternation of his base supporters. Both gave intelligent speeches that often didn't inspire.

Enough of this for now. I still fear for Obama’s life. If he were martyred, the narrative of his comparison with Lincoln would flood the world. In the background of Lincoln’s Presidency, Charles Darwin, also born on Feb. 12, was presenting the world explanations that would propel natural science into the future. Schliermacher, D.F. Strauss, Feuerbach, and others were deconstructing scripture and writing theology based on human experience. The same forces that oppose Obama deny Darwin’s Truths and rely on Sunday School faith as adults. Somehow I feel sometimes that I am actually living in the 19th century.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Christian Century Ignores Bible – or – We need a film about Judeo-Christian ZOMBIES!

Rodney Clapp helped me out this week in explaining the increasing presence of zombies and their meaning in American culture. But not a word about zombies in the Bible! Isn’t that what resurrection is about???

In 1 Kings 17:22 Elijah raised a boy from the dead. In 2 Kings 4:34-35 Elisha raised a boy from the dead. In 2 Kings 13:20-21 a man is raised from the dead when his body is tossed into Elisha's grave and his body touches Elisha’s bones. Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter in Matthew 9:18–26. Even Peter raises a woman from the dead in Acts 9:40-41 and Paul raises a man from the dead in Acts 20:9-20. Of course Jesus is top zombie. The problem is that these are single events of the resurrection of individuals. You might think this is because it is miraculous and doesn’t happen every day.

But in the movies and on TV zombies come in HORDES! Here they are: Ezekiel raises the bones of all Israel in 37:1-14. In Matthew 27:52 we have the ultimate Bible Zombie story, that rarely is preached: When Jesus dies the graves around Jerusalem open and “many saints” were raised. Jesus was the preeminent Zombie!

In these Bible zombie stories nothing is said about the “second life” of those raised from the dead. Except for Jesus, who was “raised” for only 50 days and then was seen “rising” into the heavens (sky). Resurrection is supposed to be about life, not death, the subject of zombie tales. Such stories raise questions about life and about being human. Do resurrection stories do this? Those raised from the dead in the Bible had to die again, right? How did they deal with this? Or are they still with us?

Why are zombies dangerous to us? Only in certain 20th century films do we learn that zombies crave human flesh or even brains. We shouldn’t read that back into the Bible. It turns out that zombies live even in other cultures, such as Tibetan “lo-rings,” who walk stiffly and can’t bend over, leading to the construction of low doorways to keep them out. This in a culture that believes in reincarnation. There used to be a series of beer commercials that said “You only go around once.” It made for great sermons against reincarnation. Maybe we need to dig out those sermons to explain or counter belief in zombies. Are they“living” dead or only “walking” dead? Zombie characters are soulless, which has led now to “philosophical zombies.” Where will it all end??

Shame on CC for missing all of this. It is a test for Biblical literalism. It is also a test for all who disparage Jesus Seminar scholars who study the texts for actual history. Bob Funk said he always carried Mt. 27:52 in his pocket, so to speak, with some other verses. When other scholars would tell him that he no right or ability to decide what Jesus said or did, or didn’t say or do, he would ask them which verses they would leave out of the gospel narrative or of the red letter words of Jesus. If they had no answer he would ask about the zombie stories, or about Jesus riding both a donkey and a colt in Matthew 21, or the more mystical discourses of John.

For years I quoted John Cobb: “The resurrection is a symbol for the possibility of our own transformation.” Later I discovered that quote almost word for word in David Freidrich Strauss, from the 1840's. For me it was one of those explanations of a symbol that warmed my insides, but I admit it doesn’t have any magic about it. It has never been well received, and it convinces others that I am a muggle vis a vis religion. Maybe we can alter it for the living dead: “Zombies are symbols for our fears that we may not be fully alive or become fully human.”

At least it's not a problem that people believe in zombies. But maybe I'm wrong.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Religion in America – Same Old, Same Old

America Aflame by David Goldfield has provided me with a foundation for understanding 19th century American history and our own time. I had said in an earlier post that he insists that evangelicals were a big cause of the so-called Civil War. I was not convinced so I dug deeper.

One other source I found was Redeeming America: Evangelicals and the Road to Civil War (1993) by Curtis D. Johnson. The title seems to give it away: Evangelicals somehow paved that road or led the parade down that road. This is the sort of history book I love. He lays out the data about religious groups, beliefs, and cultural positions of the various church groups. Then he creates a taxonomy of religion in America for that time.

I wanted a graphic description, so I created one that I show here. It isn’t complete. “Other Protestants” includes Mormons, Unitarians, and Universalists, Friends, and other small groups. I am concerned here with the 60% of the country Johnson identified as “evangelical.” He describes how disestablishment of the Church of England after 1789 created a wide-open diversity of religious groupings in which religion was voluntary and a matter of choice. The “First Great Awakening” in the first half of the 18th century had established the need for personal faith and morality leading to salvation over ritual as a basic model for religion in America.
What I want others to see is how this grouping of Protestants so closely describes religion in 20th century and even now in 21st century America. Revivals, decline, and the rapid rise and slow establishment of previously outlying groups is the pattern. The other chart on this posting shows how the formalist churches (such as Presbyterians and Congregationalists) grew little through the two centuries. From within these churches the growth probably seemed substantial, such as after WWII, but rarely did the growth of Prebyterians or Congregationalists (and UCC) keep up with the growth in population. The Methodists and Baptists, the first beneficiaries of 19th century revival, grew more rapidly. Then the adventists; all who emphasized the imminent second coming of Christ. Think Darby, Scofield, and the Millerites.

As a child I read Signs of the Times, established by William Miller (not pictured). Some friend of my Mother’s thought we should read it. I thought it some kind of fantasy speculation. My question usually was "How could they know?" Later I read how Washington Gladden (photo), a progressive Social Gospel hero of mine had been plowing in the fields as a young man in 1844, on the day Miller had predicted the arrival of Christ. It didn’t happen and profoundly affected Gladden’s approach to religion.

I don’t harbor regrets about going into the ministry of the church, but I wonder – Would I have done so if the history of American religions and of the entire Christian enterprise had been more clearly presented to me as Johnson has done? It wasn’t, but the hard-wired inclination to follow spiritual and emotional religious experience and visions, and to find answers to basic life questions was strong. It will always be strong for young men and women who are seekers. I can only hope that they have more facts to guide the direction of their seeking. E.g., there are scholars now who acuse Athanasius (4th century), whom I once thought so godly, of murdering some of his enemies. If not, someone needs to explain the group of thugs he seems to have kept close by him. OK, so maybe they were bodyguards.