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Faith without works is dead. Works without Faith are dead. We have all heard that. It is true. Faith without works summarizes the academic. Works without Faith summarizes the layman who dismisses the idea outright as foolish.

Faith without thought is empty.

In the middle ages men hied off to monasteries to devote themselves to prayer so that they could become, they believed, closer to God. They turned their backs on the world the rest of us live in. They viewed, as most do who take this silly course, that those of us who live by choice or by necessity in the world they had turned their backs on are sinners.

As we approach Christmas it is important to remember that in the gospels Jesus has not a single harsh word for those viewed conventionally as unclean:

“Now when the Pharisee who had bidden Him saw it, he spoke within himself, saying, ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is who toucheth him, for she is a sinner.’”–LUKE 7: 39 .
We hear in Christmas songs how the angels of God first announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the hills:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. .

What most do not know is that those same shepherds were despised by the orthodox because their work made them neglectful of religious observance. (Saint Luke, G. B. Laird, pg. 61, The Pelican Gospel Commentaries).

In that brief passage we are given a look into false faith and true faith and where it is to be found.

I can not be a Roman Catholic. Why?

Well, here is where faith with thought comes into play.

And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven.”

“9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”

Admittedly there are vast numbers of people who have no problem calling Father Brown Father Brown.

There is, however, one thing which has escaped it seems the mind of G. K. Chesterton’s astute detective. That one thing is that the Christ he serves tell us to call no man father on earth.

We have a choice. We can follow the multitude. We can walk alone.

I walk alone.–Reg Hartt 2017–11–30.


Matthew 7:13-14Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

13 Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat.

14 How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!


STRAIT: used in reference to a situation characterized by a specified degree of trouble or difficulty.
“the economy is in dire straits
synonyms: a bad/difficult situation, difficultytroublecrisis, a mess, a predicament, a plight;More

Kurt Vonnegut, Christ-Loving Atheist

Dan Wakefield | 

Despite his freethinking humanist views, no other major American novelist of the postwar era expressed such a fascination with Jesus, nor referred to him as often in his work (both fiction and nonfiction), as Kurt Vonnegut. Except for John Updike, a confessed Christian, and James Baldwin, who had been a junior minister at a Pentecostal church as a boy in Harlem, it is hard to think of any other leading writer of the era who mentioned Jesus at all, except as a curse word. (Baldwin told me that one of the publishers who rejected his autobiographical first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain,  said they’d be willing to publish the book “if I took out the ‘Jesus stuff.’”)

Vonnegut’s initial fascination with Jesus began when his Uncle Alex introduced him to Powers Hapgood, a fellow Harvard grad and nationally known labor organizer who came from a wealthy Indianapolis family. Kurt, who thought he might try to work for a labor union after he got out of the army, describes the lunch with his father, Uncle Alex, and Hapgood in July of 1945, in an autobiographical prologue to his 1979 novel Jailbird.

Hapgood, who had led picketers protesting the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, fought with United Mine Workers organizers who he thought were too right-wing, and later was jailed for his role as a CIO strike organizer, had been in court that morning, testifying about violence on a picket line some months before. Hapgood told the Vonneguts that the judge asked him, “Why would a man from such a distinguished family and with such a fine education choose to live as you do?”

“Why?” Hapgood said. “Because of the Sermon on the Mount, sir.”

The Sermon on the Mount became a kind of keystone in Vonnegut’s talks, and pops up in novels and essays as well. In his sermon at Saint Clements he told the congregation, “I am enchanted by the Sermon on the Mount. Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have received so far. Perhaps we will get another idea that good by and by—and then we will have two good ideas.”

In his book of essays The Man without a Country, Vonnegut wrote that “For some reason the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But often, with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.”

Next to the Sermon on the Mount, the words Vonnegut quotes most often in his work were spoken by his fellow Hoosier, Eugene V. Debs, while running for president on the Socialist Party ticket: “While there is a lower class I am in it. While there is a criminal element I am of it. While there is a soul in prison I am not free.” In Timequake, Vonnegut called those words “a moving echo of the Sermon on the Mount.” He quoted them again as an epigraph to his novel Hocus Pocus, which he dedicated to the memory of Debs, “a Socialist and a Pacifist and a labor organizer.”

Vonnegut found another “echo of the Sermon on the Mount” in the work of Mark Twain. In a talk he gave on the hundredth anniversary of the completion of Mark Twain’s “fanciful house in Hartford, Connecticut,” Vonnegut declared himself “a skeptic of the divinity of Christ…confirmed of my skepticism by Mark Twain in my formative years.” He then cited these words of the author as “a profoundly Christian statement, an echo of the Beatitudes:”

When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography, I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before—met him on the river….

“The river, of course, is life,” Vonnegut said. “Mark Twain is saying what Christ said in so many ways: that he could not help loving anyone in the midst of life.”

The idea of mercy came up in Kurt’s conversation as well as in his work. He told me several times that Marx’s famous line that “religion is the opiate of the people” was usually misunderstood. “Marx wasn’t putting down religion when he said that. He meant that in the era when rich people used opium to ease their pain and poor people couldn’t afford it, they needed something that would make them feel better, and religious belief really did that.” Kurt felt that was “merciful,” and though he declared himself “a scorner of the notion that there is a God who cares how we are or what we do,” he honored the role of religion in the life of believers.

“My great war buddy Bernard V. O’Hare, now dead, lost his faith as a Roman Catholic in World War Two,” Vonnegut wrote in Timequake. “I didn’t like that. I thought that was too much to lose…. I knew Bernie had lost something important and honorable.”

In his 1999 commencement address at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, Vonnegut told the graduates:

[Jesus’s] greatest legacy to us, in my humble opinion, consists of only twelve words. They are the antidote to the Code of Hammurabi, a formula almost as compact as Albert Einstein’s ‘E = mc2’…. Jesus of Nazareth told us to say these twelve words when we prayed: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….” And for those twelve words alone, he deserves to be called “the Prince of Peace.”

And how does Vonnegut reconcile his appreciation of Jesus and his message with his humanist beliefs that derived from the freethinking tradition of his ancestors? This is how he explains it to the graduates of Agnes Scott:

Some of you may know that I am a humanist or freethinker as were my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and ancestors—and so not a Christian. By being a humanist, I am honoring my mother and father, which the Bible tells us is a good thing to do.

But I say with all my American ancestors, “If what Jesus said was good, and so much of it was beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not? If Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.”

It didn’t matter to Kurt whether Jesus “was God or not,” and to him it was clear that Jesus was not divine, but “the most humane of human beings.”


It was because of Vonnegut’s belief in the need for “extended families,” rather than a belief in Christianity, that he wrote to a friend that “When I, an atheist…hear from a man about to get out of prison who has no family waiting for him, who wants to know what to do with his freedom, I tell him ‘Join a Church.’” Then he added: “The risk of that, of course, is that he might join the wrong one, and end up back in the cooler for blowing up an abortion clinic.”

Kurt often wrote and spoke about the need for extended families, and in a 2000 letter to his friend Dr. Robert Maslansky he cited “this conclusion by the late Harvard theologian Harvey Cox: What made Christianity comforting to so many was the congregation. Surprise, surprise, an extended family, as essential to human health as food….”

Vonnegut believed that providing people with extended families explained “the fantastic growth of Christianity in a Roman Empire which was so cruelly opposed to it. The state religion formed crowds of strangers to propitiate gods in enormous buildings or plazas. Christians prayed with cozy little bunches of friends who met regularly in cozy little places, which felt much better….”

In a Playboy interview, Vonnegut said “I admire Christianity more than anything—Christianity as symbolized by gentle people sharing a common bowl.”

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