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."

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