Friday, December 25, 2015

* Facebook post 12/25/15


It is worth noting on this Christmas day in a world where religion is used to divide people, that I was named by my parents after their youth minister, Douglas Macintosh, a theologian who spent 41 years on the Yale faculty and whose thesis was,  It doesn't matter if the historical Jesus did or did not exist, Christianity is a "reasonable" religion:
Pretty mild given the rhetoric of the last 2000 years.

He died at age 71, the same birthday I will celebrate in three days.

Hear what the author of "Hear I Stand", Yale's Roland H. Bainton has to say about Douglas Macintosh:


Roland H. Bainton
Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History Emeritus
Yale University Divinity School

In 1959 when the Macintosh fellowship was established I composed a little brochure to be given to each of the recipients. It contained brief sketches of the donor Hope Conklin Macintosh and of Douglas. He commenced his teaching at Yale in 1909. Here he was responsible for establishing in the Graduate School the Department of Religion, of which he was the chairman from 1920-1938. As for his views and his influence on students I venture to repeat what I wrote in the brochure.
He described his own religious position as that of "untraditional orthodoxy." While always a defender of the faith, he considered the best defense to be the relinquishment of the untenable. This meant that the theologian could not hold out against the historian: whatever happened in the past happened, and whatever did not happen did not happen., and the only way to find out is through examination of the documents. The scrutiny must be as rigorous in the case of the Biblical documents as for any other. But research implies uncertainty and religion can brook no uncertainty, at least not on points of vital importance. Therefore, religion must be independent of history, even the Christian religion, which takes its rise from the Jesus of history. Should it be proved, as it had not been, that Jesus never lived, Christianity might nevertheless survive. On this assumption, in a book entitled The Reasonableness of Christianity, Macintosh devoted one hundred and thirty-five pages to a defense of Christianity without mentioning Jesus at all. In defense of the procedure he said:
"It has been through no oversight that nothing has been said of Christology or the historical Jesus. There is an important tactical advantage in showing how extensive and vital is that content or essence of Christianity which can be defended successfully without any assumption as to particular facts of history. We escape the danger of infecting the entire content of essential Christian belief with the necessary incertitude of historical opinion. All that has been said of the reasonableness and truth of Christianity is demonstrably valid, whether we have any Christology or not, and whatever we may or may not believe about the historical Jesus. It would still be valid if it should turn out that Jesus was essentially different from what has been commonly believed, or even that he was not truly historical at all . . . it is the systematic thinker's task to lead faith to a sure foundation, independent of the uncertainties of historical investigation."
But if, then, the certitude of the Christian religion does not rest on the facts of history, on what does it rest? Where is the assurance to be found? This question led to wrestling with the problem of knowledge - - - in general and with reference to religion. Two of Macintosh's books were devoted to the inquiry: The Problem of Knowledge in 1915 and The Problem of Religious Knowledge in 1940. He was in the tradition of the Scottish Common Sense Realists. Current philosophy, he held, had wandered in the ways of sophistication until it fain would fill its belly with the husks of skepticism, thus invalidating not only religion but also science. At the same time science was arrogant in assuming on its part a knowledge more assured than that of religion. Knowledge rests on experience, and in the name of common sense we can assume immediacy of experience with reference to the natural world, though to be sure our sense impressions require critical correction. So in religion, there is an immediacy of experience of the divine, again fraught with error and in need of rational check. The body of assured data, available to those who make the "right religious adjustment" is, however, so large that one may speak of Theology as an Empirical Science., the title of one of his books in 1919.
The social implications of Christianity, though lying outside the immediate field of theology, concerned him gravely and occasioned in 1919 a book entitled Social Religion. His interest was more than academic. During the first World War as a chaplain to the Canadian forces in France and later as a Y.M.C.A. worker with the American troops, he had to face the problem of the Christian attitude toward war. At that time he was able to urge upon the men the obligation the supreme sacrifice, which for the Christian is not to die but to kill. Later disillusionment as to the "iniquitous 'peace to end all peace' " engendered a "profound distrust of war as a way of settling anything." When he applied for U.S. citizenship in 1929, he "would not promise in advance to bear arms in defense of the United States unless he believed the war to be morally justified." The Supreme Court in 1931 denied him citizenship by a vote of five to four. The dissenting opinion was delivered by Chief Justice Hughes.
Douglas Macintosh was a stimulating teacher who engendered and fructified the thinking of a generation of distinguished students. In 1937, they dedicated to him a collection of essays under the title The Nature of Religious Experience, in which they testified to their "respect for his wisdom . . .their admiration for his integrity and their love for him as a friend." Integrity was a well-chosen word. Professor Werdermann of Berlin spoke of him as candida anima, a spirit without guile. The English word "candid" applied to him also. He was as frank as he was friendly in disclosing to another his faults. But he was never censorious and was especially glad to be encouraging to those who needed encouragement. Seelye Bixler, who was to become president of Colby College, in 1922 needed guidance and reassurance about his profession and about himself. Of the help which he received from Douglas Macintosh, he reports, "He made scholarship seem not hopelessly difficult, but within the range of one's own feeble capacities. So strikingly clear were all his pronouncements that you felt the lure of the subject matter as irresistible and had no interest in your doubts about yourself."
There was Souren Vetsigian , who has been now for many years in Bulgaria. In 1931 he gave a report which elicited no enthusiasm from a seminar. He was depressed until Macintosh told him that it had the making of an article. That encouragement started him toward the production of several books which have appeared in Armenian. The professor's concern extended to the wives and children of students also. When the Peter Goertz family, en route to China, was at the station in Vancouver, B.C., whom should they meet but Douglas Macintosh! While Peter was attending to tickets the professor sat down with Mrs. Goertz and gave her words of cheer. The Baintons remember him holding their first baby during the cutting of her toenails.
He was twice married, first to Emily Powell on February 13, 1921. She died died on November 2, 1922 [in childbirth, as did the baby]. The following week happened to be his assignment for chapel. He did not flinch but on the first day read as his Scripture the verse from the prophet Habakkuk: "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall the fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

* Banish Armageddon from the Religious Canon

Letter to the Editor
The New Haven Register

Dear Editor:

The Rev. Gregory Sterling, Dean of my alma mater, Yale Divinity School, has written me in response to my claim in a letter in your paper 12/9/15 that the namby pambly teaching of eschatology( an Armageddon belief-system) as a benign academic category at my alma mater permits its poisonous impact to multiply in believers in many faiths , not excluding Christianity and Islam.

Dean Sterling informs me , " I am not convinced that eschatology is the issue with those who embrace a jihad. You should know that we have been working with the UN to try to remove religion as a rationale/cause for extreme violence. We held a quiet workshop for Iran and the US State Department last fall and had a panel session at the UN this fall. Eschatology has not been the focus of these nor is it likely to be in the future."

Graeme Wood in a September Atlantic article "What does ISIS want?" describes such bridge-building efforts by Muslims in concert with Christians as naïve, "a cotton-candy view of . . .religion ' in the words of Princeton Islamic scholar Bernard Haykel.

Mr. Wood continues, "Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature ... are rooted in [what Haykel calls] “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

Dean Sterling, Graeme Wood and Bernard Haykal, see the trees but not the forest: All religions which include Armageddon as a belief-system, are throwing gasoline on the inflamed minds of wannabe martyrs, terrified of eternal torment and hungry for eternal bliss.

Religious scholars need to acknowledge their cotton candy complicity in this dangerous scenario by minimizing the role of religion in turning believers into killers, at Jonestown, Guyana , at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, at the Boston marathon, at a Fort Hood Colorado Army compound and in a San Bernadino special needs facility staff gathering.

Armageddon should be banished from the religious canon as a paranoid delusion, not taught as benign theological embroidery.
Paul D. Keane

Thursday, December 10, 2015

* Yale needs a deeper 'soul searching': New Haven Register

LINK to Register Letter to Editor

Religious scholars need to amputate eschatology from  all religions like the malignant appendage it has become.



Letter to the Editor:

Yale needs deeper

'soul searching'



Yale shouldn’t simply change the name of Calhoun College to that of an alumnus who is not a white supremacist. It should re-examine the mission of the Divinity School (where I received a Master of Divinity degree in 1980) which treats eschatology like a benign academic theological category, instead of the dangerous and incendiary belief-system that it is, in whatever religion it appears.

It is not Christianity or Islam which is responsible for many of the mass killings we have seen in my lifetime. It is the unchallenged belief in eschatology (end time; final judgment; apocalypse) which has produced Jim Jones, David Koresh, the Tsarnaev brothers, Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, and the San Bernandino husband and wife shooters, all in the last half-century.

It is time for President Peter Salovey’s challenge for Yale to engage in soul searching to be expanded to include the Divinity School on a topic equally as poisonous as institutional racism: the belief that God will punish mankind for not obeying his sacred word, by imposing a final judgment in an end-time of hellfire and torment or of eternal bliss.

— Paul D. Keane
White River Junction, Vermont

Sunday, December 6, 2015

* Traffic

Saturday, December 5, 2015

* Call for papers: Thornton Wilder and Queer Studies

Lincoln Konkle
Executive Director
Thornton Wilder Society

The Thornton Wilder Society invites proposals for a panel on Queer Readings of Thornton Wilder.  As documented by recent biographies Thornton Wilder: A Life by Penelope Niven and Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward by Justin Spring, Thornton Wilder lived as a deeply-closeted gay man.  Recent revelations of the author's secret sexuality present new opportunities for Wilder scholarship in the field of Queer Studies. Possible approaches include Wilder's depiction of "secret lives" or "lives separately led"; the author's presentation of both traditional marriage and same-sex relationships (e.g., Barnaby and Cornelius in The Matchmaker); issues of gender in Wilder's Stage Manager characters; characters as autobiographical surrogates for the author (e.g., Theophilus North, Dolly Levi, or Simon Stimson); and Wilder's texts in conversation with gay authors (e.g., Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Lanford Wilson).  Proposals on Wilder's plays, novels, or other writings will be considered.  For info about his works and available editions, as well as published Wilder scholarship, go to

We encourage graduate students as well as established scholars to submit 500-word proposals and C.V.s to Park Bucker by January 4, 2016.

Miss Wilder and my parents:
Thornton Wilder Commemorative,




Miss Isabel Wilder

1975 -1995



I have been asked  to write about “Thornton Wilder’s sexuality” for the Thornton Wilder Newsletter announcing the call for papers on the topic: Thornton Wilder and Queer Studies.

I certainly don’t know anything about Wilder’s sexuality. I only met him once, the year before he died, and exchanged a few letters and cards with him. And  besides, who “knows” what is going on in the head of another person, especially about the excruciatingly private matter of eroticism.

The reason I have been asked to write about this topic, I think, is because I was friends with Thornton’s lifelong companion, his sister Isabel, for the twenty years after Thornton died. 

She treated me like a grandson, for which I am very grateful, even funding my apprenticeship to become a public school teacher in Vermont in a real-life Grover’s Corners, in 1987/88, a career from which I retired three years ago after 25 years.  I miss her and wish she could see me now.

I was present in her home at Whitney Center in Hamden when Miss Wilder reacted to having been given by the editors the manuscript of Gilbert Harrison’s official biography of Thornton, The Enthusiast, including (and especially) the section on his sexuality in 1983. “I’m an old lady. I’m reading along and I come on some old homosexual experiences they dug up which Thornton had.  They gave me no warning.  I can’t be treated that way. After all, I’m an old lady .” She was 83.

I knew Miss Wilder was waiting for my reaction.  She was testing the waters, I thought, to see how the general public (me) would react.  I said, “Oh they say that about all bachelors” and brushed it off, quite intentionally.  I knew her feelings were hurt, and we were friends.  I didn’t want to open this wound further. I was 38 in 1983.  We remained friends till she died in 1995 at age 95.

Miss Wilder’s older brother, Amos (who died at 98 in 1993 ) warned literary critics  in his 1980 memoir  Thornton Wilder and His Public about the inaccuracy of speculating  about his famous brother’s choice of vocation, clearly suggesting that that choice was the sublimation of an artist.

I don’t know anything about that.

I do know that when Thornton Wilder died in 1975, homosexual acts were a crime in every state of the Union. In 1963 the penalty was 2-10 years imprisonment and a fine of $2000. 

Thornton Wilder was an intellectual.  He knew the self-defeating mistake of Oscar Wilde’s public defiance. The stage-manager  of his own life , Wilder wasn’t about to defy convention even if he did advocate the theatre as a place where   “window-breaking ideas”  should  thrive.

What interested me about Miss Wilder’s reaction was that she didn’t deny the accusations.  She artfully reframed the argument to make the issue not Thornton’s sexuality, but the rudeness of the editors in not warning her that when she proofread the manuscript she would encounter some passages about her brother’s bedroom behavior.

She was implicitly accepting “old homosexual experiences” as nothing shocking.  Would I do so too, as the private audience to her dismay at having been treated poorly, not by the official biographer, but by the rude editors?  The answer was, yes.

She later recounted to me having attended a dinner in celebration of the official release Harrison’s biography. She told me “I was asked to give a toast and I toasted the man. I didn’t say a word about his book.”

Ever the lady, ignoring the spirit of the occasion while being courteous to the scholar being honored, she managed to choreograph a civilized ‘punishment’  for the biographer’s transgression, if indeed she even saw it as a transgression. 

Since the issue had been transformed in Miss Wilder’s inimitable  manner  from the official  biographer’s scholarship  to editorial rudeness, the matter of the text’s veracity would now be forever fogged over by her indignation as “an old lady,” as far as she, Thornton’s literary executor, was concerned.

It was Isabel Wilder’s velvet “No comment.”

But I’m not sure about that “old lady” bit.  The same year, 1983, at a time when no one wanted to be associated in any way with the frightening new, always  fatal, illness called AIDS, which had the stigma of being a “gay disease,”  Miss Wilder quietly and courageously funded a brochure entitled AIDS, SEX, and YOU , written by a Yale biology professor.  After considerable lobbying, I persuaded, Yale’s president, A. Bartlett Giamatti, to provide that pamphlet to all Yale graduate students. 

Miss Wilder read the pamphlet cover to cover in my presence and she did not ask to edit it in any way despite her financial underwriting of the project.  Frankly, I was surprised that she did not blink an eyelash at any of the coarse and graphic language.  She understood the urgency of responding with information to a fatal disease with no cure and no biologically identifiable cause  (1983: HIV had not yet  been discovered).

Clearly she was able to look that reality in the eye, bedroom or not. I thought she was a “groovy” old lady, to use a 1980’s expression.    

Miss Wilder insisted that I not reveal her role in this effort during her lifetime. I kept that promise until last year, nearly 20 years after her death in 1995. 

I know little about Queer Literary Criticism.  I should think that unlike Tennessee Williams or Truman Capote who didn’t really fear scandal, the warning of Amos Wilder makes it clear in 1980 that he as firstborn, and his remaining siblings, including Miss Wilder (who by then  was Thornton’s literary executor) )  felt the need to warn the public about the irresponsibility of speculating about  artist Thornton’s complex personality.

Queer Studies would have appalled the Thornton Wilder’s family in 1980.  But it is a new time and a new world in 2015 .

Thornton Wilder is buried 50 yards from my parents’ cemetery plots. I used to tend his grave for Miss Wilder when she gave up driving at age 85.   He went to that  grave in 1975  knowing that he lived in a country where homosexuality was not just a scandal but a crime.

This year, 2015, gay marriage became the law of the land;  but, for nearly three decades after Thornton was laid to rest in Hamden’s Mt. Carmel Burying Ground,  potential disgrace hovered over homosexuality itself in the United States, until Lawrence v. Texas (2003) decriminalized sodomy and made homosexual acts a matter of personal freedom.

The irresponsibility of speculating, as Amos Wilder had admonished, Thornton’s ‘public’ not to do,   is now a benign --- and  perhaps even charming ? --- variation in the art of literary criticism.

I wish The Thornton Wilder Society well in its courageous call for papers on Wilder and Queer Studies.


Paul D. Keane
M.A., M.Div., M.Ed.