Thomas Jefferson anchored the entire good of Christianity in the morals of Jesus. Ralph Waldo Emerson, ever striving for the universal to be found in nature, anchored it all in “moral sentiment.” Both Jefferson and Emerson, though, thought the days of Christianity were numbered and soon to expire — so the next chp in Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America’s Imminent Secularization.
How Emersonian is the Christian vision today? Where are you seeing the Emersonian vision in the Church today?
Emerson’s problems were Church institutions, creeds, forms, churches, and buildings. Emerson saw their imminent demise in the anarchy of choices running rampant in his day, and he thought that what would remain would be a religion that was moral science and reasonable, but fashioned in the soul and spirit of each person. The religious work of churches, he thought, was being replaced by the social work of philanthropy.
Here’s a potent statement: “How many people are there in Boston? Two hundred thousand. Then there are so many sects. I go for churches of one.”
Emerson, who was a Unitarian minister for a few years but who became convinced Christian rituals, esp the Lord’s Supper, were things that no longer spoke, was caught between Calvinism and Unitarianism. And his vision of transcendantalism was an “attempt to reenchant Unitarianism while still accepting many of its basic critiques of Christian orthodoxy.”
Emerson distinguished spirituality (good) from religion (church); and he thought sermons were good if they converted life into truth (not truth into life). His contemporaries were Whitman and Thoreau.