Friday, March 03, 2006

Resurrecting Ralph

In a sermon preached in the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, California on November 11, 2001, the Reverend Judith E. Meyer argued that “Religious pluralism in America may well have begun in Mary Moody Emerson's parlor in Concord, Massachusetts. . . . She was the one who first introduced Ralph Waldo Emerson to the sacred scriptures of the East. And she remained throughout her life her acclaimed nephew’s spiritual director and support.”

Dr. Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale and energetic proselytizer for neo-Gnosticism, commends Emerson’s “Divinity School Address” of 1838 as the supreme “American vision of Christ.” Bloom describes what he calls the “American Religion” as “solitude, individuality and pragmatism of feelings, acts, and experiences rather than thoughts, desires, and memories.”

Emerson writes,

“That is always best which gives me to myself. . . . The Puritans in England and America . . . . Their creed is passing away, and none arises in its room. I think no man can go with his thoughts about him, into one of our churches, without feeling, that what hold the public worship had on men is gone, or going. It has lost its grasp on the affection of the good, and the fear of the bad. In the country, neighborhoods, half parishes are signing off. . . . It is already beginning to indicate character and religion to withdraw from the religious meetings. . . . Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone. . . . Dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

“Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, 'I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks.' . . . But what a distortion [of] his doctrine and memory . . . [in] the following ages!”

Emerson’s vision clearly anticipates the resurgent paganism of the 21st century, what David Wells calls the convergence of resurgent paganism and primal spirituality.


Sophia Sadek said...

Thanks for the posting!

I've just completed a study of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was an extraordinary American. And, he still is.

Your comment about paganism has me a bit puzzled. Could you elaborate?

jazzycat said...

Good post. Much is going on in the blogosphere as bloggers are really pushing their theology on things like free grace theology, federal vision, emergent church movement, theological liberalism and so on. Calvinism is being mischaracterized and attacked with a vengence by some of these bloggers. I hope this blog can help keep us informed on these things even more

Bradford Mercer said...

G.K. Chesterton once quipped that "the term 'pagan' is continually used in fiction and light literature as meaning a man without any religion, whereas a pagan was generally a man with about half a dozen." Being "spiritual" is in. But this "new" pagan spirituality wants nothing to do with the Christian Church, with an inerrant Bible, with the sacraments, with church authority. It seeks the same sort of inward divine spark that characterized Emerson's self-reliant pantheism. Bloom and others are seeking to reintroduce and popularize Emerson's aggressively anti-Christian worldview.

Sophia Sadek said...

Thanks for elucidating the "pagan" thing.

One of my favorite "pagan" authors is Plutarch. His essay on superstition has disturbed many devout Christian theologians. Emerson mentions the influence of Plutarch on himself and other influential literary figures.

The gist of the essay on superstition is that those who fear divinity are worse than atheists. When people comment to me that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, I point out that, "Yes, that is true. But it is not the *end* of wisdom."

If you seek to exterminate pagan influence in western culture, you'll have to burn all of the libraries in western civilization. That includes private as well as public libraries.

Also, to characterize the pagan influence as "anti-Christian" is unfair to Christ. After all, he was a pagan philosopher. Most of the founders of the Church were educated in one pagan school or another. Catholics have been worshipping pagan gods as saints since the days of Theodorus. Not to mention all of the pagan holiday figures such as the Easter bunny and Santa Claus.

May the blessings of divinity reign at your house!

Bradford Mercer said...
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Bradford Mercer said...

Thank you for your feed back. You might enjoy reading C.S. Lewis' (an Anglican writer and literary critic) perspectives on paganism in "When Myth Became Fact" in God in the Dock. Also see his Surprised by Joy and Till We Have Faces. Let me know what you think.

Sophia Sadek said...

Bradford, thanks for the recommendations. Unfortunately our library did not have "God in the Dock." I did, however, read "Surprised by Joy" and "Till We Have Faces." Both were a pleasure to read.

The big difference between the paganism of our current era and the paganism that Lewis describes is the cult of blood sacrifice. In fact, opposition to blood sacrifice in pagan ritual goes back to the days of Pythagoras.

Most Americans have a roast of some sort on holidays, so the sacrifice still exists. Instead of a priest performing the deed, it is done at the slaughterhouse.

At the time of Christ, there was a debate over blood sacrifice between the Essenes and the Pharisees. The Essenes opposed the practice. They said the temple of Jerusalem had been polluted by it.

I don't think anything Emerson wrote or did points in the direction of renewing the practice. In fact, he opposed the traditional communion sacraments, which can be seen as a shadow of blood sacrifice.

As for the writings of C.S. Lewis, there is a strong hint of gnosticism in his approach. This may come from his eclectic education.

Thanks again!