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Leslie Weatherhead

I believe passionately that Christianity is a way of life, not a theological system with which one must be in intellectual agreement.

Leslie Dixon Weatherhead (14 October 18935 January 1976) was an English Christian theologian in the liberal Protestant tradition. He served as minister of the City Temple, London, for nearly twenty-five years. He was author of numerous books, including Life Begins at Death, The Will of God, and Prescription for Anxiety, all published by Abingdon.

QuotesEdit

The Christianity of tomorrow will embrace all truth wherever it is found or however men have come to apprehend it, whether through specifically Christian teaching or through Buddhism or Mohammedanism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism or even through the bleak desert of apparent atheism.
Why do men hug words to their hearts after the living truth has long since fled from them?

The Christian Agnostic (1965)Edit

"Dr. Weatherhead contends that the theological demands of Christianity are a barrier to an honest participation by a great number of people and that many agnostics are much closer to belief in the true God than many churchgoers.

It is from this viewpoint that he writes in this unconventional book. He makes a strong case for his contention that loyalty to Christ and to his spirit can go hand in hand with the rejection of unlikely theological dogma and creed.

Traditionalists may be shocked by the opinions expressed here; others will come to welcome them. Regardless of your own views, The Christian Agnostic demands to be read and pondered." (Description from back cover)

“In fact, many professing agnostics are nearer belief in the true God than are many conventional church-goers who believe in a bogy that does not exist whom they miscall God.” (Preface, p. 14, sentence 12.)

“Since I have talked with many self-styled “atheists,” I have come to believe that the true species does not exist, and that atheism, so-called, is either an emotional deviation in the same category as neurotic illness and with a similar causation, or else the denial of the existence of a mythical figure who certainly does not exist.” (Preface, p. 15, sentence 4.)

“I believe passionately that Christianity is a way of life, not a theological system with which one must be in intellectual agreement. I feel that Christ would admit into discipleship anyone who sincerely desired to follow him, and allow that disciple to make his creed out of his experience; to listen, to consider, to pray, to follow, and ultimately to believe only those convictions about which the experience of fellowship made him sure.” (Preface, p. 16, sentences 2,3.)

“Why do men hug words to their hearts after the living truth has long since fled from them?” (Preface, p. 18, sentence 5.)

“Though not as important as loving, believing certainly matters. It matters so much that, if it has any relevance to the business of living, it must be born in the individual mind, not thrust by church authorities on others.” (Preface, p. 19, sentences 3,4.)

“As I see it, all questions regarding the factual accuracy of Biblical statements—notably such ‘miraculous’ events as Virgin Birth, Resurrection, etc.—are wholly irrelevant to the true issues. Indeed, I should go so far as to say myself that the whole value of the Gospel story to mankind—and it is very great—lies not in its historical but in its legendary, mythical, or ‘typical’ character. It is not, I think, the Sermon on the Mount—or at least not this alone—that constitutes the peculiar contribution of Christianity to human thought, for very similar maxims are to be found elsewhere, and in any event could be deduced from first principles. It is to be found, rather, in the affirmation that all that is best and highest in man, as typified in the person of Jesus, is bound to arouse opposition, is often persecuted and apparently destroyed—yet is in fact indestructible and does perennially ‘rise again’, triumphant over seeming disaster.” (Preface, p. 20, sentence 3. Quoted from Whately Carington,Telepathy, pp. 145-46 (Methuen 1945).)

“Each thinker has the right to do what Paul did, to set forth truth as he sees it, in the thought-forms of his own day and generation, as long as he does not willfully distort truth merely to fit his own ideas.” (Preface, p. 21, sentence 7.)

“Christianity is a love relationship with Christ far below—or above, if you like—differences of belief or different ways of worshiping, far above differences of language or of color.” (28)

“The Christianity of tomorrow will embrace all truth wherever it is found or however men have come to apprehend it, whether through specifically Christian teaching or through Buddhism or Mohammedanism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism or even through the bleak desert of apparent atheism.” (28)

“Every denomination within organized Christianity contains a valuable truth, but none contains all truth. Each mirrors at its best something of Christ but all are only caricatures of him.” (28)

“The essential in Christianity, past, present and future, is loving Christ and one another, and if the Quaker finds God in the silence and the Salvation Army in the band, the Roman Catholic in the Mass and the Baptist in immersion; if the High Anglican likes incense and ceremonial, and the Methodist puts his emphasis on personal experience, the fellowship of the authentic class meeting and Charles Wesley’s hymns, why talk of disunity?” (29)

“If Christ can—and he does—hold in utter loyalty the hearts of St. Francis and John Knox, of Calvin and St. Theresa, of General Booth and Pope John, of Billy Graham and Albert Schweitzer, who hold irreconcilably different beliefs about him, how can belief and uniformity of belief be vitally important? Further, where in the Gospels are we ever told that Christ demanded belief in some theological proposition before he would admit a seeker into discipleship?” (29)

“In the cases of nearly all of us, what our fathers were, we are, and we make up our reasons afterwards.” (29)

“When people said to me, ‘I should like to be a member of the City Temple, what must I believe?’ I used to say, ‘Only those things which appear to you to be true.’” (30)

“When I really believe a thing, I mean that its truth possesses me. . . Truth is self-authenticating, and when it possesses me, nothing can shake it from its enthronement until some greater truth displaces it or gives it less prominence.” (31) [ellipsis added]

“We still make of prime importance matters about which Jesus said nothing. How can a matter be fundamental in a religion when the founder of the religion never mentioned it? (31)

“No argument or logic carries the same degree of conviction as insight, and it is the kind of conviction by which we know that dawn over the Alps on a perfect morning is beautiful. Argument cannot produce it and doubt cannot remove it. The outward beauty meets the inward recognition and in our hearts we know.” (33)

“Any man, to the extent to which he is good, reveals the nature of God.” (38)

“Thought must be free to range as it likes over all phenomena and philosophy, unhampered by compulsions. A man cannot be bludgeoned by vulgar threats of damnation, into accepting that what other people say is true.” (42)

“. . . there is only one authority. . . that is the authority which truth itself possesses when it is perceived to be true by the individual concerned. . . the alternative procedure, the delegation to external authority, must itself follow an individual’s subjective decision. (49) [ellipsis added]

“Men glibly turn to an infallible Bible, or an infallible church, or an infallible Pope, or an infallible conscience, or an infallible Christ, and say that that authority is sufficient for them and enables them to accept truth. I believe all that kind of talk is false. It is false psychology or a failure of insight, and it is the fruit of mental laziness; a refusal to think things through. The most important convictions in religion cannot really be reached on the word of another. We can assent to propositions out of laziness of thought, or a desire to please, or an inability to argue, but one of the reasons why, in a crisis, men often feel let down by their religion is that they glibly assented to this or that, and falsely called their assent ‘belief.’” (50)

“I hold that the self-authentication of truth, or, in other words, seeing, is the authority, and the only authority there is in the field of religion.” (52)

“The factor that makes us question the authority of the expert is that we are personally emotionally involved in the result.” (53)

“I am saying that truth may certainly be true whatever my opinion may be, but it has no authority with me until I perceive it to be true.” (56)

“My plea is not for an impossible subjectivism. But the so-called infallible church or book has no power unless I feel that what it says is true. And who can decide that but myself?” (57)

“I am not prepared to hand over to any other person, though wise and learned, or to any institution however ancient or sure of its position, my inalienable right to search for ever-growing and ever-expanding truth. I believe the craving for security in belief is one which arises from within ourselves, and can only be met adequately from resources which are within ourselves. It seems to me that it is far more important for a soul in evolution to believe a few things because it has struggled, thought and suffered to discover and possess them, than it is for it to have a comfortable and orderly faith which it has adopted from any source outside itself.” (58) (Dr. Raynor Johnson: A Religious Outlook for Modern Man. 1962. Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 122-23)

“I reject unchecked subjectivism as the authority in religion. No one can suppose that the final authority in religion is what the individual happens to think is true, unless his decision is preceded by long meditation, the weighing of all the available evidence and prayer for guidance.” (58)

“. . . while we must not thrust beliefs on people, belaboring their minds to try to make them accept orthodoxy, we may set these same beliefs before people, showing them the rich truth which we have found and which they may come to receive as their questing mind develops and grows.” (61) [ellipsis added]

“I would like to be able with authority to present the case for believing in God, but I would far rather be an authoritative argument for believing in God. The saints are the best argument for Christianity. They have the highest authority in the world for they coerce us and yet our coercion is a willing one. They drive us along the way which in our best moments we want to go. When we read their lives, and even more when we touch their lives with our own in day-to-day living, we meet Christianity’s unanswerable argument. We know, with an authority nothing can resist or overcome, that Christianity changes lives and that if Jesus Christ were given a chance he would change the world.” (63)

“For myself, I refuse mentally to close the canon as if inspiration had run out! Why should we follow traditional thought more than modern thought?” (65)

“We must resolutely refuse to judge Jesus by the Bible. We must judge the Bible by Jesus; by the total effect of a consistent personality made upon us from all sources, including our own experience.” (66-67)

“There is no authority for God’s existence except the inward conviction that is born of mystical experience.” (72)

“No doubt analytical psychologists could tear it all to bits and explain it in the jargon of this or that psychological school. Critics could trample on my dreams and say that it was too much in the realm of feeling to have any value, but so is falling in love. Is that not real, and highly significant, and life-changing? So is the state of mind induced by music, or by some of the glories of Nature, or by some of the works of man. . . All I can say is that to me it was an experience of God, never to be denied. . . No one who has had such an experience can ever doubt but that in the end good will triumph over every form of evil, and that every life, however humble, frustrated, indifferent or even careless, is in the care of this Power and within a Plan, vast beyond our power to imagine, which will work out in a blessedness which brings utter satisfaction and quality of bliss for which there are no words.” (76-77) [ellipsis added]

“We experience moments in which we accept ourselves, because we feel that we have been accepted by that which is greater that we. If only more such moments were given us! For it is such moments that make us love our life, that make us accept ourselves, not in our goodness and self-complacency, but in our certainty of the eternal meaning of our life.” (77-78) (Paul Tillich: The Shaking of the Foundations. 1963. Pelican Books. p. 164)

“Reason will take us so far on firm ground. But then there must be the leap in the same direction, if the truth of those facts in religion which are only reached by faith are to by enjoyed. . . It is taking the road of evidence as far as it will go and then, with the energy provided by meditating on the character of God as Christ revealed him, making a leap of faith, only to land finally in a conviction as strong as proof can supply.” (79) [ellipsis added]

“We use the word “divine” because the word “human” is not big enough. He is so much more like God that any other. But the word “divine” is really only an expression of Christian agnosticism. I am quite ready to say that I believe in the divinity of Christ, but I do not know what it means, nor can I find anyone who can explain what it means, least of all some of the theologians from Paul onwards. I sincerely believe that he is the Savior of the World, and if I am immediately challenged about what he saves men from, my answer is that he saves men from the utter despair which would fall upon a thoughtful man, who, conscious of high aims and immense possibilities within himself, was condemned to try to achieve them without any aid save his own, and purely human help of his fellows.” (94)

“To acclaim that the Bible contains the Word of God is not to say that all its words are the words of God.” (96) (Unnamed “scholarly writer”: London Times. December 4, 1954)

“Divinity is not proved by having one parent instead of two. It could be argued that such a person is removed from us and could not have been truly man. As to sinlessness, we men are a wicked lot, but all the evil in our children does not come from us. Mothers can pass on evil as well as fathers, and sinlessness cannot be physically determined.” (99)

“How can a doctrine be essential in a religion if the founder of the religion never mentions it, or teaches his apostles to pass it on?” (99)

“Virgin Birth, then, neither proves sinlessness, incarnation or divinity. We just do not know what divinity connotes, save that it implies a plus to his humanity, a plus which was both achieved and endowed.” (99)

“I suspect that, living on the moral and spiritual levels on which Christ lived, he must have had temptations so subtle that I should not have had enough spiritual sensitiveness to see them as temptations at all.” (100)

“In my opinion, the strongest evidence of his sinlessness is that, if one had sinned, unless one were vicious, one would never let others think one sinless.” (100)

“The universe must be law-abiding, and if Christ suspended law it would be a criticism of his Father as one whose laws were inadequate for certain possible situations which might arise. “We say,” said St. Augustine profoundly, “that all portents (=miracles) are contrary to nature, but they are not so. For how is that contrary to nature which happens by the will of God, since the will of so mighty a Creator is certainly the nature of each created thing?”” (106) (Augustine: The City of God. 21:8)

“The word “virgin,” both in Hebrew (almah) and Greek (parthenos), simply means a mature young woman, not a “virgo intacta,” and more may have been deduced from the word than is warranted by its use.” (100-101)

“The nature of a Divine Being is seen more clearly in deeds which are loving than in deeds which are marvelous. He does not need miracle to make us love him or to prove that he is more than man. The unanswerable argument for his religion is that wherever he is sincerely followed men’s lives are changed.” (112)

“Paul was a great theologian as well as a great saint and a heroic missionary, but we are not bound to imprison our minds in his theories. Newton was a great scientist, but it is no disparagement of Newton to realize that even schoolboys today know more than he did about atoms. Thought moves on in every field of inquiry.” (117)

“We must seek another interpretation of the cross, and at the same time we must realize that the generations ahead will discard our interpretations.” (119)

“His death is a revelation of the nature of God, and a pledge that God will stand by me until I am made one with him. . . It was a revelation of God’s reaction to human sin. To be hurt and hindered by it, but to go on loving, and go on loving, and go on loving, without reprisal or answering violence until men see what sin is and what sin does, and turn with loathing from that which has so grievously hurt the greatest Lover of the human soul. . . It is not what God once was, or Christ once did, that can save us, but what Christ once did is the sacrament and visible pledge to us of what He is and does for ever. . . He committed himself to the task of recovering all humanity to God, however long it might take, however arduous the way, however unrewarding the toil.” (120-123) [ellipsis added]

“. . . Christ does not bow before the Father in supplication that God will have mercy on his own children, but rather that Christ endlessly is at work with and within man, by all the ways open to love—without coercion, or bribing, or favoritism—to effect a unity, an at-one-ment between man and God.” (124) [ellipsis added]

“When we chant or say the General Confession we pray that hereafter we may live “a godly, righteous and sober life.” But I wonder sometimes if we are too sober. The impression made by the apostles was that they were drunk; intoxicated with God.” (154)

“All lovers of Christ can believe in him without believing the same things about him.” (161)

“Christianity must have a marvelous inherent power or the churches would have killed it long ago.” (163)

“True, there are some great passages in Revelation, but the book on the whole is like boarding-school plum pudding, where the plums are scarce and far apart.” (192)

“The piety that sees a sign of divine favor in escape from a sudden danger which destroys other lives, is a spurious and egotistic travesty of the faith that knows that ‘God spared not His own Son, but freely gave Him up for us all.’ The true Christian will ask for no immunity from the common lot, for no freedom from the hardships of experience, for no miraculous deliverance from impending calamity, but he will ask for the power to overcome the world in a spirit that is courageous as well as meek, militant against all forms of evil while profoundly thankful for what seems good in his life.” (207) (Dr. E. Griffith Jones: Providence, Divine and Human. 1925. Hodder and Stoughton. p107.)

“The idea that God’s Providence means that he looks after those who serve him by a special use of his power in terms of favoritism is an immoral idea and insulting to both man and God. No true Christian wants to opt out of the trials that beset others, and no worthy idea of God could include his establishment of a kind of insurance scheme by which, if God be worshiped, cancer, for example, could be avoided.” (208-209)

“The eyes would soon grow dim if they had no correspondence with light. The lungs would soon perish without any correspondence with air. The mind that has no relation with truth is said to be in a state of unbalance, and the spirit too must have some traffic with God, its relevant Environment, if it is to maintain its fullest health.” (220)

“We must go on praying, for sometimes prayer seems so to alter mental attitudes and reinforce mental energies as to strengthen the patient’s resistance to disease and even overcome it, and in any case to sustain him in the bearing of it. But we must not lose faith when God does not answer prayer in the way we think we should if we had his power.” (224)

“It is so very important to remember that, while all healing is of God, we must find the answer to the question, “Which is the most relevant way of cooperating with God in the case of this particular patient?” It may be surgery, or medicine, or psychiatry, or prayer. Prayer is not relevant in many cases, save as an aid to the patient’s mental condition, and God is not going to make of prayer an easy magic, just because we have not used our human resources of money and men in wiser ways.” (224)

“No honest mind can exclude doubt, or ignore criticism, or shut its ears against reason. And if we could do these things we should be left, not with faith, but with a head-in-the-sand superstition.” (225)

“Some laymen feel that, out of loyalty, they ought to cling to ancient ways of expressing the Christian faith and that to doubt is to sin. But doubt is not the enemy of faith. It is the growing edge of faith. . .” (227) [ellipsis added]

“Let us never imagine that faith can ever be furthered by suppressing doubt, let alone by suppressing evidence. All truth is one, and religion must be as eager as science to know the truth as far as man can perceive it. If something we have treasured as truth is really contradicted by unanswerable evidence, then in the name of the God of truth we must part with it however venerable it may be. Let us never suppose that we can take over faith from our parents without examination, or believe anything merely because another says it is true. But let us not be content with a static agnosticism which never rouses itself to make inquiry. Let us examine the evidence and then in complete loyalty to its trend make a leap both of intellect and will, and, committing ourselves, acting as if all were established, try out in life the faith that carries us on wings after the hard road of fact and reason stops.” (231)

“. . . I have excluded the idea of the Fall of Man. . . man has made a long climb from the status of the animal until the time when he could recognize right from wrong. That recognition, at first, was based on behavior that paid, that avoided the retribution of the tribe and the gods, and that enabled the primitive society to function. Yet, however lowly in origin—and I am referring to a period centuries before right seemed to be worth following simply because it was right, or because man’s dignity and status were sustained by doing right; centuries before right was conceived as pleasing to God because he was holy and righteous—that earliest recognition of a difference between right and wrong was an immense advance, even though wrong was chosen.” (236-237) [ellipsis added]

“Man’s tragic apostasy from God is not something which happened once for all, a long time ago. It is true in every moment of existence. . . . It involves no scientific description of absolute beginnings. Eden is on no map, and Adam’s fall fits no historical calendar. Moses is not nearer to the Fall than we are, because he lived three thousand years before our time. The Fall refers not to some datable, aboriginal calamity in the historical past of humanity, but to a dimension of human experience which is always present—namely, that we who have been created for fellowship with God repudiate it continually; and that the whole of mankind does this along with us. Every man is his own ‘Adam,’ and all men are solidarily ‘Adam.’ Thus, Paradise before the Fall, the status perfectionis, is not a period of history, but our ‘memory’ of a divinely intended quality of life, given to us along with our consciousness of guilt.” (237) (John S. Whale: Christian Doctrine. 1941. Cambridge University Press. p. 52)

“Behavior that was innocent and amoral on the animal level of man’s development became immoral as man moved upward on his evolutionary path, and, assisted by prophets, seers and saints, higher and higher moral peaks were discerned. When we come to Jesus, the moral demand made upon man by his new insights was impossible to reach were it not that he offered “power to become” and claimed himself to be the “Way” as well as the Goal.” (243-244)

“He revealed what God must be like and what man may be like, and he pledged himself to stand by his little brothers until they too achieved God’s age-long purpose on this minor planet; until all the sons of men realized their possibilities and became the sons of God.” (245)

“I know we can go too far and try to whitewash what is plain “sin”; to seek to excuse really bad behavior and to account for it in terms of infantile environment, traumatic experiences, psychological complexes and the like. But I regard it as a sign of progress that we are at last doubting the value of the cane and tawse in the schoolroom and the birch and the hangman’s rope in the jails.” (246)

“. . . I believe that the annihilation of even one soul spells a defeat of God’s purposes, a denial of Christ’s teaching and a closure of heaven against those who love the “lost” soul.” (253) [ellipsis added]

“Death itself seems not to make a great difference. Certainly man’s eternal destiny is not determined by the act—often the accident—of dying. Spiritually, and apparently mentally, he goes on where he left off. . .” (266) [ellipsis added]

“I believe that all men, whatever their religion or lack of it, pass on into another phase of being, to another class in God’s school.” (266)

““Death,” we are told, “should be left to God.” We do not leave birth to God. We space births. We prevent births. We arrange births. Man should learn to become the lord of death as well as the master of birth.” (269)

“Faith in God includes faith in those who help God.” (269)

“There is not one judgment day, surely, but a thousand! Every time we confront beauty, truth, goodness or love, our response to them judges us.” (278)

“Hell may last as long as sinful humanity lasts, but that does not mean that any individual will remain in it all that time. The time of purging can only continue until purification is reached. And a God driven to employ an endless Hell would be a God turned fiend himself, defeated in his original purpose.” (282)

“No words used in the Gospels can legitimately be twisted to mean unending punishment, and indeed, such an expression is self-contradictory. The main motive of punishment surely is to reform the sufferer; in school, to make a better scholar; in the State, to make a better citizen. If the punishment goes on forever when does the sufferer benefit by the punishment or use the lesson he has learned so painfully? If Hell were endless it would be valueless.” (286)

“It seems strange indeed that so practical and pressing a truth as that of purgatory should be dismissed, while so remote and impractical a doctrine as the absolute everlastingness of hell should be insisted on.” (287)

“Of course, the human soul will always have the power to reject God, for choice is essential to its nature, but I cannot believe that anyone will finally do this.” (287)

“It may take some eons, as we think of time, or even many reincarnations, but we have the highest authority for believing that the Great Shepherd himself will not be content if one of his sheep is missing from the final fold.” (287)

“The life of Jesus was a translation into humanity, of the life of God, as far as man is capable of discerning the latter. In the same way, the church is not something born on earth which grew to divine proportions and significance, but a translation into terms of space and time of the divine community eternally existent in heaven.” (Location unknown)

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