I started this commentary just about sixty years ago!
It was a very cold day. I was sitting in my little 1951
powder-blue Ford across the street from the Methodist Church in
Bradford, Massachusetts. I was the pastor of the church. I was
deep in thought. My brother and I had just finished the most
horrible experience any person could possibly imagine! We had to
chop up the frozen remains of the cows that had been killed in that
terrible fire that wiped out all of our dreams for a happy future for
us and our families. We had to use chain saws to make pieces small
enough to be hauled away. My brain was still numb.
remember glancing across the street at the church. It was the
loveliest little church any pastor could hope to have. But, my
brother and I wanted to be dairy farmers! Too late for that now!
Also, I could pick up the pieces and go on with being a pastor.
But, it was too late for that also. It was too late for that
because whatever religious faith I had left before the fire was now
pretty much extinguished. As I watched the embers from the barn
slowly cool, I could feel my faith cooling as well.
Try to imagine my mood that cold morning.
It was in sharp
contrast with the bright white of the snow.
I wanted to get out of the warm car and begin work in my cold
office in the church. My body, though, wasn't moving. Some
part of me didn't want to cross the street. I haven't crossed
the street yet.
I began thinking about religion. In a kind of daze I began
wondering how it all began. (I'm still wondering and wandering!)
I tried to imagine a time before buildings like the one across the
street, before creeds and beliefs and bibles and gods and
preachers and altars and all the things we associate the word
Archeology tells us that religions as we think of them began to take
shape about 11,700 years ago at the end of the last great ice age when
homo sapiens began leaving the forests as hunter-gatherers and began
to practice primitive agriculture. But my imagination was trying
to reach back beyond that. Anthropology tells us that the
deepest roots of man's religions here on planet earth emerged long
On that cold morning, when this commentary began to germinate, I
knew even less about anthropology than I know now! But that
didn't stop my curiosity! Linguists estimate that language in
its earliest forms emerged about 100,000 years ago. Let's try to
picture homo sapien existence even before that. Studies of
Pacific Island anthropology give us a few hints to go on.
Religion in its earliest, purest form seems to have begun as pure
Make a real effort to relive these simple creatures hearing thunder or
Or, watching the sun rise only to slowly disappear.
[etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.]
As soon as the
first homo sapien began to think about this pure awe, the
contamination commenced. All kinds of spirits were created in
their brains. This was the beginning of theology! Ages and
ages later, when language evolved, they not only thought about
it, they spoke about it. Woe is AWE when we try to speak
about the utterly unspeakable!! Then, once the Sumerians and the
Egyptians developed writing, it was hopeless. The contamination
The ultimate enemy of religion is theology!!!
The only thing
worse than thinking is speaking!!!
The only thing worse than speaking is writing!!!
The good news is that we can cultivate whatever is left of our AWE.
Stop long enough to be amazed. It doesn't matter what you're
amazed at! Just stop long enough to be amazed about something.
That is religion in its earliest and purest form. Everything
else is just contamination!