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4.0 out of 5 stars Gets to the heart of the major intell.contribution of T-ism., 14 Mar 1999
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Perry Miller, The Transcendentalists. . .
The Unitarian reliance on miracles can be expressed through an Aristotelian syllogism: a. miracles occur b. nature cannot produce miracles * c. a supernatural force must exist. To Unitarians, that supernatural force must be God. George Ripley does not doubt that miracles occur, he simply says that whether miracles occur or are "new development[s] of nature" (p. 132) mistaken for the supernatural is irrelevant to whether God exists. After all, to the 19th century observer, magnetism and electricity seemed supernatural. To Ripley, it was better not to preface one's argument for the existence of God on an unprovable premise. He therefore calls for a "better mode of examining the evidence of Christianity" (p. 132) than is employed by the Rationalist Unitarians. Instead of premising a rational argument for the existences of God on miracles, Ripley states that the "better mode" is "the study of the human consciousness" (p. 132). He suggests that a more appropriate discussion is one which discusses the meaning of the "expression, often used, but little pondered,- the Image of God in the Soul of Man" (p. 132). From a multitude of other writings, one can surmise that the existence of God need not be proven logically or externally. We carry the answer with us everyday. By immersing oneself in nature, the eternal will be discovered. Miller sees this controversy as a "crisis in modern liberalism" (p. 129). To Miller, the question was one of sincerity and true meaning of Christian doctrine. The Unitarians had rejected Original Sin; man was no longer burdened by guilt, and he was free to have dignity. But, the Unitarians said man was free to hold onto his dignity only through supernatural intervention (p. 130). Miller sees this as intellectual duplicity. While protesting a belief in its dignity, ultimately Unitarians did not trust humanity. Ripley issued a doctrinal challenge to the Unitarians to follow their own philosophy to its necessary conclusion. The Unitarian Martin Luther Hurlbut expresses the larger implications of these competing philosophies. Without ruling miracles unreal, by simply challenging their historicity, Transcendentalism challenged faith itself, and it raised a host of questions that skirted, and in the hands of the mischievous Emerson, leapt over, the line of heresy. If miracles are mere "'natural facts'" (p. 173), then what purpose is there in faith? If physical science and reason banish Christ's miracles to the dustbin of mythology, then was Jesus indeed the Messiah; was He the Saviour? Was He the Son of God? Without the miracles, Jesus becomes a wise man, even a prophet according to Emerson (p. 192), but not the Messiah, not the Son of God any more than the rest of us. More importantly, and absolutely essential to understanding the revolution in New England, is the logical conclusion of such a line of investigation: do the words of Jesus Christ, without the miracles giving them the weight of the supernatural, carry the authority of God? Miracles affirm God's role in Christ's Passion. Without the miracles, the authority of the New Testament itself is called into question. To its opponents, Transcendentalism ceased to be Christianity. The dean of Harvard Divinity School said of Emerson's Commencement Address (p. 192) "that the part if it that was not folly was downright atheism" (p. 198). Andrews Norton, perennial opponent of Ripley, et al., said, "Nothing is left that can be called Christianity, if its miraculous character be denied" (p. 211). Thus Emerson took what was a breach in the Unitarian ministry and turned it into a new, perhaps secular philosophy. And this philosophy took liberalism to its high water mark. As Brownson says:
They claim for man the power, not of discovering but of knowing the spiritual world. . . . We may know that God exists as positively, as certainly, as we may know that we feel hunger or thirst, joy or grief. . . . The unlettered ploughman is placed, so far as evidences of his religious faith are concerned, on a level with the most erudite scholar or the profoundest philosopher. Christianity by this is adapted to the masses . . . (p. 244-246).
Each person should be able to explore for him or herself (truly in Transcendentalism) "the whole field of truth, in morals, in politics, in science, in theology, in philosophy" (p. 199). In this sense, Transcendentalism, by "recognizing in man the capacity of knowing truth intuitively" (p. 246), represents the ultimate democratization of faith and ideology. Not only does each individual have the right to choose in which God to believe, but the existence of that God can only be ascertained by the intuition of the believer.
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The Transcendentalists: An Anthology
The Transcendentalists: An Anthology by P Miller (Paperback - 1 July 1950)
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