An old schoolmate sent me an e-mail I received late one afternoon that turned out to be food for thought. I pondered it all through an early dinner and over dessert. Then I answered as follows:
I'm not sure why I should be disappointed after someone had already told me she is a Unitarian. But I was, sort of, let down when you confessed to being an atheist. I guess I was more or less hoping you might be a "high-church" Unitarian, which as George Will has observed, is sort of like being a very liberal Republican. A "high-church" Unitarian would make you more or less like that pathetic excuse for a Catholic priest, the Jesuit from Fairfield University, who wandered into one of our seminars years ago and could not, or would not, tell you if he believed Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God. (Do you remember asking him that?)
I might have at least hoped you were an agnostic, rather than an atheist. Then you could, as Garrison Keillor suggested, come to my house at night and burn a question mark on my lawn. Reviewing what you have said here, I realize how little has changed in the last 40 years — or 400 or more years. Indeed, in a few years we will be observing, and much of Christendom will be celebrating, the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran revolt, marked by the nailing of the 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg.
Today's world seems to have too little time for 95 theses. It barely has time for the question mark. There seems little time for debate, political or theological. Again George Will: "It was a Lincoln-Douglas debate, except there was no Lincoln, no Douglas and precious little debate." You are, I think, more aware than most, but many people seem to think the old heresies are newly discovered truths. And you may think that your doctrines, if I may call them that, are benign. I believe they are potentially cruel, tyrannical, and dangerous.
You say, for example, it is possible to be "good without God." True, I suppose, though even Jesus disputed the idea that He was good except by virtue of being One with the Father and acting in accordance with His will. "Let us with caution," said Washington in his Farewell Address, "indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." And in the same speech he observed:
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Jack Kenny (photo)