The Ministry and Thought of Paul Hamilton Beattie

Daniel Ross Chandler


Paul Hamilton Beattie was born an American citizen in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on May 7, 1937. The growing boy was raised in Cleveland's inner city by his mother in a single-parent, low-income family. From age nine until he became a full-time minister, he held summer and part-time jobs, working in a steel mill, serving as a camp counsellor, selling men's clothing.

Seeking higher eduction at every turn, Paul Beattie received a B.A. from Mount Union College in 1959 and a B.D. from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago during 1961 and a complete year-long interim ministry at Unity Unitarian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1961-1962. The following year he returned to Chicago, working in the practicum at the counselling center maintained by the University. The youthful scholar would go on to pursue doctoral studies seriously in the University's English Department. Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine articulated a common observation:

  • Paul was deeply intellectual. He loved the world of ideas. His view of the ideal religious community was a continuous open dialogue of opposing view in which ideas and beliefs would be taken seriously.

    A lover of the ancient Greeks, he embraced the tragic view of life. Greek tragedy was neither pessimistic nor despairing. It was heroic. The heroic person confronts a morally indifferent universe, with all its unavoidable and undeserved calamities, with resolute courage and defiance and with a determination to live. 1

The aspiring minister served several congregation, coming to exert a powerful influence upon the humanist movement. Between 1963 and 1969 Beattie was minister of the Unitarian Church in Concord, New Hampshire. During this productive six-year period, he served as both president of the local ministers' association, and as president for the Emerson-Ballou Ministerial Association comprised of Unitarian Universalists in New Hampshire and Vermont; he also volunteered as a board member of the Concord Red Cross, the New Hampshire Social Welfare Council, and the Greater Concord Mental Health Association.

Beattie's interest in relating psychology to religion secured expression during three years when he participated in a continuing conversation among the professional staff who attended the alcohol division of the state hospital. These ongoing discussions emphasized and explored case studies and were coordinated with readings in Sigmund Freud's central writings.

Beattie's increasing influence upon the liberal religious movement in the United States was evident when he became minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Indianapolis from 1969 until 1982 and of the First Unitarian Church in Pittsburgh between 1982 and 1989. He served several terms on the board of the American Humanist Association. For seventeen eventful years he served as president of the Fellowship of Religious Humanists and edited this present journal, religious humanism.

An inquisitive individual with insatiable intellectual tastes, he was granted a sabbatical from his Indianapolis congregation between 1976-1977. This allowed him to commence the aforementioned doctoral studies in English literature at the University of Chicago, where he concentrated on the concept of tragedy in nineteenth-century American authors. Simultaneously he served as minister-in-residence and visiting lecturer at Meadville-Lombard Theological School where he taught a course on the ministry and presented five lectures on the thought of Sigmund Freud.

While residing in Indianapolis, he served on the boards of the Social Health Association, the Indianapolis Council of World Affairs, and an organization for developing low-cost housing.

Among Paul's outstanding achievements was his work as the founder and first president of Unitarian Universalists for Freedom of Conscience on behalf of which he labored incessantly to maintain and expand political and religious pluralism within the UUA. An articulate and ardent proponent of intellectual freedom, Beattie affirmed the primacy of individual conscience, renouncing the hegemony of any political or religious ideology within the free church community.

Another extraordinary accomplishment was his leadership in conceiving of the idea and helping to establish the Humanist Institute (sponsored by the newly founded North American Committee for Humanism) as a graduate-level educational institution for training humanist religious leaders. As Jean Kotkin, Humanist Institute administrator, explained:

  • The idea for the Humanist Institute originated in Pittsburgh in 1976 and was the brainchild of Paul Beattie, a Unitarian Universalist minister. In August 1982, Rabbi Sherwin Wine organized a gathering of forty-five humanist leaders at the University of Chicago [where] the North American Committee for Humanism [NACH] was formed with Rabi Wine as president.

    This new alliance was a response to the urgent need to defend humanism against the assaults of its enemies and to find an effective way to bring the message of humanism to a wider public. It was at this meeting that the Humanist Institute was voted to be established. 2

As a graduate school intended for educating professional humanist leaders, the Humanist Institute identifies potential leaders, provides training, cooperates with other educational insitutions to offer courses that are relevant to the Institute's curriculum, and assists in placing these leaders in existing or newly established positions.

Paul Beattie was, clearly, a dedicated parish minister, an outstanding humanist leader, and a prolific writer. His career exeplified the learned ministry. As an author he contribued articles to numerous periodicals such as Free Inquiry and religious humanism and books, including The Encyclopedia of Unbelief and The Future of Global Nuclearization: World Religious Perspectives. He died on May 22, 1989 while undergoing surgery to correct heart problems. At a beautiful memorial service conducted at the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, St. Louis ministerial colleague Earl Holt summarized Beattie's enduring legacy:

  • Many people knew Paul at a distance, through his writing and intellectual leadership as well as by his involvement in institutional causes. In this regard he came as close as anyone of his generation to fulfilling the ideal of what is called the Learned Ministry, a tradition, I should say, more often honored in word than in fact. Paul did honor it. The range and scope of his scholarship was truly astounding and even intimidating. He was in this sense a minister's ministeróan intellectual resource: what I mean is that almost everybody stole sermon ideas from him! 3

Another minister predicted that "in historical perspective fifty or a hundred years hence, his sermons and writings will stand the test of time better than those of any other minister of our generation."4 Almost ironically Beattie had written:

  • When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I remember many things too easily forgotten: the purity of early love, the maturity of unselfish love that asksódesiresónothing but another's good, the idealism that has persisted through all the tempests of life.

    When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I find quiet assurance, an inner peace, in the core of my being. 5

Not especially surprising, the minister who professed religious humanism poured his life into the people and events that he knew and cared about; his autobiographical reflections were cometimes expressed in his sermos. Beattie reported that his childhood church was Christian; he attended a fundamentalist Baptist church but became a liberal Methodist. 6 Following his freshman year in college, he concluded that he was not a Christian although Christianity was acknowledged for nurturing numerous humane and exemplary lives on the one hand and on the other, practicing absurdities such as burning books and instituting the Inquisition. Nevertheless Beattie was not a Christian:

  • These then are my reasons for not calling myself a Christian: I cannnot put Christ at the center of my life; I cannot feel comfortable in any religious group that would exclude humanists, agnostics, and atheists, or that insists that [everyone] should believe in God; I cannot put the Bible at the center of my devotional or intellectual life; I am not comfortable with the Christian moral tradition whch sees issues in terms of black and white, which is often judgmental, and which cuts [people] off from naturalistic ethics; and finally, I am not a Christian becasue I cannot identify with much that has happened in Christian history, so often has Christianity fought the very things that I believe in most stronglyósuch as freedom and the scientific quest. 7

Convinced that he was not a Christian, he concluded that he would study the world's great religious teachers: Buddha, Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Zoroaster, Mohammed, and others. Beattie described himself as "an agnostic leaning toward atheism"8 and contended that "no one at the present time can prove or disprove whether or not there is a cosmic spirit or mind at work in the universe."9 No evidence proves the existence of God; neither can God's existence be disproved; believeing in God requires a leap of faith. From the scientific viewpoint, no reason requires a God-concept; postulating God neither expands human knowledge, provides insightful understanding, or initiates new directions for scientific research. Nonetheless, Beattie was unconvinced that God's disappearance would be beneficial; he believed that a culture collapses when its value system degenerates; historically, cultures that abandoned religion tended to collapse. Concluding that humanism represents the finest hope for providing an adequate framework for interpreting humanity's exploding knowledge, he maintained:

  • Man must take his destiny into his own hands. For the first time man knows through an increasingly sophisticated evolutionary theory how he came to be what he is. Now he must try to make human life self-directing. To do this he must unify his understanding of the human past with the new insights that are emerging in all fields of human endeavor, and especially in the sciences. The old theologies simply do not provide a world view capable of integrating and systematizing our growing store of knowledge. 10

Beattie believed that an intelligent individual can either reformulate concepts about God consistent with scientific knowledge or conclude that religion without God is possible. A contemporary concept about God should embrace scintific knowledge, repudiate supernatural possibilities, and renounce naive personalism or teleological superimpositions thrust upon a naturalistic world order. Beattie recognized the striking similarities between a theist and a humanist, emphasizing that humanism is religious:

  • Every man who would live harmoniously and well in this world and with his fellow man must live by religious principles. Religion for the humanist and theist alike, is a life-long search for the most adequate response to all of life. Religion is a man's attitude toward the concerns which for him constitute the meaning of life. Religion for the theist and humanist alike is a man's attempt to transform himself evermore completely by the light of the highest good he knows. 11

The Tragic View of Life

Paul Beattie's religious philosophy stressed the tragic view of life expressed in classical Greek culture. This unconventional preacher maintained that the Greeks exhibited a serene greatness characteristic of Apollo and the passion and tolerance associated with Dionysus. Christian civilization, to the degree that Western civilization is Christian, perceives the ancient Greeks inaccurately. Paul maintained that the Greeks explored the complete range of human experiece, and that the Judeo-Christian and Greek world-views are antitheitical. The Greeks attempted to overcome suffering through heroic exertion of the human will, while the Hebrews sought harmony with the will of Yahweh as a resolution for their suffering: no other concept comes closer to what is uniquely Greek than tragedy, and no other concept is more alien to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Although reconstucting the Greek concept remains difficult, tragedy expresses not despair, but triumph over it and confidence in the value of human life. Tragedy arises when a person consciously recognizes calamity yet remains serenly confident in the face of it. The tragic view of life stems from the realization that within the universe human can become over-whelmed by forces beyond their control. However, some individuals, through some nobility discerned within their character, are not defeated by terrible reversals in fortune even when they are destroyed. A person who exhibits heroic character prefers fame above longevity. The tragic view promises no assurance beyond the grave; existence in a shadowy world provides no compensation; there is niether an escape from fate nor guaranteed recompense. Life is considered as a great good but always uncertain. Humans confront a world in which they can be instantaneously obliterated. A person's fate is beyond a god's command; gods can attempt to affect the outcome, but they cannot determine an individual's destiny. Hence a hero's life, whether one endures or is destroyed, transpires within an uncertainty that evades human control. Struggling with this awareness humans comprehend that while their actions can affect, they cannot determine the final outcome or ultimate consequences. Sometimes a tragic hero facilitates one's own destruction through an error in judgment. Thus the tragic view confirms the significance intrinsic to human experience, especially suffering.

From an historical perspective, said Beattie, the tragic view begins with Homer. This concept was developed subsequently through Athenian drama. The great Greek dramatistsóAeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripidesódepicted the struggles that humans wage against fate although each writer advanced a different interpretation. According to Beattie, the tragic view secured a different expression through Socrates, who exhibited a different personality or character. Socrates marked a turning-point in world history by dislpaying what Paul termed "heroic moral character":

  • Until his day the Greek civilization was in many ways mainly external and self-conscious in its achievements, while, after Socrates, Greek civilization became internalized. 12

Socrates, the founder of Western moral philosophy, espoused teachings predicated neither upon supernatural revelation nor divine dictates. Socrates attempted to analyze human attitudes and behavior using a distinctive process of reasoning. Preceding Socrates, the heroic character portrayed in the Homeric writings and Greek tragic drama presented godlike individuals struggling against fate; after Socrates, the heroic individual was an individual who maintained self-control, tranquility, and goodness regardless of external circumstances. Soctrates's behavior, perhaps the first instance of civil disobedience in history, confirmed his enormous respect for the rule of law. Beattie explained that with Socrates, heroic character became a philosophic calm that remains unshaken in the conviction as to what is right and appropriate. Socrates was a tragic figure because he met his destiny alone, unflinching and unshaken. Beattie concluded that besides Homer and the Greek dramatists, Socrates presented a third enduring concept through which the tragic view eventually became expressed through almost unlimited variation. As Beattie points out:

  • We end by noting that Socrates stands in stark contrast to Jesus. Jesus is not a tragic figure. Jesus went to his death to fulfill a divine plan. He rose from the grave to prove, in the words of St. Paul, thath he had "overcome the law of sin and death." Some Christians have tried to portray Jesus as a man who died to consecrate his ideas, but such attempts diverge from the Christianity of the New Testament. The early Christians saw Jesus, not as an heroic individual struggling against fate, but as a divine supernatural savior. 13

The Classical Greek Tradition

Beattie drew heavily upon the classical Greek tradition in developing his distinctive religious humanism. His love for the classics was informed by a strong historical perspective. Describing an epoch-marking moment when philosophy became a search for truth rather than a contemplation of myths, he indicates:

  • A change of similar magnitude began in the Mediterranean world around 600 B.C. where, by that time, the ancient Greeks were scattered in city-states throughout Greece, Asia Minor, and southern Italy. A new type of thinking evolved among the Greeks of Ionia. We call it philosophy. It was the first systematic and sustained attempt to make sense of the world through analytical reason. 14

Beattie described Protagoras as the most famous Sophist who believed that laws and customs do not represent divine absolutes and who might have been the first philosopher to include an existentialist or individualist dimension within his epistemology. 15 Paul thus believed that historical consciousness commences with Homer; that Homer was the educator of Greece who suppied the Greek traditions with their "ideal type;" and that the Iliad and the Odyssey constitute the first Western literature, indeed, the first great literature. 16 Homer, Paul argued, freed human culture from bondage to any single authority or controlling concept and that within his writing can be seen "civic consciousness among a free people beginning to arise." 17 Beattie identified Socrates as among humanity's great moral heroes who bequeathed to us a contribution greater than the progress prompted by either Moses or Jesus: admittedly, Moses transformed his people's tradition while Jesus summarized and initiated a new influence in prophetic Israel. Beattie stated that Moses, Jesus, and Socrates remain uncovered through historical research, although more is known about Socrates. Socrates, he said, gave a new direction to Greek culture, and exemplified the notion of character development and an analytical philosophical style. 18 Socratic method inspired the dialogues of Plato and the logic of Aristotle. A greater champion of free inquiry can hardly be imagined.

  • Never has the principle of the freedom to think and to speak been more clearly or beautifully stated than in Plato's Apology which was inspired by Socrates and is surely one of the most historical of Plato's dialogues.

    Four hundred years before Jesus, Socrates made this first, profound defense of the citizen's right to think and speak... 19

Beattie reported that Epictetus arose from slavery to become a renowned philosopher; Epictetus's example confirms that Stoicism was not a philosophy that paralyzed human achievement or inhibited individuals' capacity for enduring difficult moments. 20 Epictetus realized that some aspects are within a person's control and others are not: people possess the power to place their own interpretation of meaning and appropriations of emotion upon the events that transpire in their lives. Greeks thus provided a mirror in which Western people throughout their history could discern their portrait.

The classics scholar who loved ancient Greek culture and studied their literature and history also studied their mythology and analyzed its content. Beattied employed a reference to Plato's Republic where Glaucon reminds Socrates about the myth of Gyges who discovered a ring with which a person could become invisible. 21 The preacher questioned how humans would behave if they could travel anywhere, see anything, and do anything without being seen. This myth, he insisted, remains painfully pertinent when modern technology has grown increasingly powerful Beattie contended that unless a significant number of individuals add new dimension to their moral and intellectual sophistication, this generation could become terminal:

  • None of us will ever get to try the Ring of Gyges, and so we can never be sure how we would have used it. But in another sense we all are wearing the "Ring of Gyges." The magnitude of power, the technology that is commonplace in our world, give us the power to do almost anything we try to do. This is why our religious-ethical stance has become more important than ever before. For ours could very well be the last human experiment on this planet. 22

Declaring that living religion is that which emphasizes strong ethical behavior and effective social responsibility, Paul concludes:

  • To grow stronger for good in the course of life, not weaker; to grow more honest with age, not less; to become a little more thoughtful and kind with each passing day; to let the hurts and the scars of the years teach us gratitude for what we have been given and courage for the future; to face the years ahead with the knowledge that we have lived fully and well, with a good conscience, this is our goal. 23

In a sermon discussing mythology, Beattie discussed myth as fiction, as history-poetry, and as a perspective yielding ultimate esoteric truth. The preacher described myth as the method with which most persons attempt to understand the world, human nature, and the purpose of human existence. He maintained, however, that truth derived from myth is uncertain because myths are ultimately subjective through retelling and thereby change constantly. Consequently, a philosophical approach ultimately abandons mythological interpretations and asserts a more mundane, commonsense approach. Beattie believed that philosophical method produces various ways of knowing that are preferable to a mythological world-view. He questioned whether myths have encouraged human progress or exerted an inhibiting influence. Beattie recognized that innumerable individuals experience difficulty in distinguishing folk tales from myths. "Western literature," he said, "is studded with meaningful and enlightening references to mythologcal figures,and, for this reason, knowledge about myths can be enriching and an important part of life for every educated person." 24 Another method for analyzing myths attempts to gain insight for understanding the increasingly complex patterns within modern life; this approach assumes that myths provide a unique window upon the world, a perspective that has profound metaphysical meaning. Some people affirm that myths impart meanings that are discovered exclusively through immersion in mythological thinking; myths, in other words, constitute a category of truth. Beattie nonetheless concluded that sacred traditions, primordial insights, and exemplary models found in myths assist us little in living effectively in today's turbulent times.

The Sacred Scriptures

Taking a critical approach toward the Bible consistent with the finest contemporary scholarship, Beattie explained that the word, Bible, comes from the Greek, meaning "the books" He stated that the books contained in the Hebrew, Roman Catholic, and Protestant collections are different. The Jewish tradition honors thirty-nine books; Roman Catholics add another twenty seven and fourteen other books called the Apocrypha; the Protestant collection contains fourteen fewer books than the Roman Catholic compendium. Paul attributed bibliolatry to a two-thousand year-old Christian tradition and a thirty-five-hundred-year-old Jewish tradition. Beattie criticized exegetical preaching that represents a "depsrate attempt to punp meaning into a moribund, irrelevant, scriptual passage." 25 He dismissed as absurd the assumption that "an ancient compilation of books is more relevant, week after week, than are the current writings of historians, psychologists, economists, philsophers, and other teachers representing the whole range of learning emanating from the modern university." 26 Although the speaker acknowledged that some sections in these books contain profound psychological and religious truth and that people are illiterate unless they know and appreciate the profundities found within Biblical literature, Beattie refused to establish the Bible as central to his religious life.

Moreover, he claimed that large sections of the Bible are unfit for children. He recalled that as a child he was saturated with biblical information and that his own children received discrete doses. Although the biblical passages receive different interpretations, he described some teachings as barbaric and denounced "a fanatic intolerance at the heart of the Bible," noting that in the Old Testament the death penalty is prescribed for gathering firewood on the Sabbath, consulting wizards, unchastity, and intercourse during menstruation. 27 Substantial psychological observation as well as common human experience sustain Beattie's argument that "Countless lifes have been perverted by an insance search for unrealistic purity, a purity that would have human beings be disembodied spirits." 28 He remarked that the Bible exceeds a popular 1950s novel, Peyton Place, with numerous stories about adultery, incest and sexual pandering. Beattie concluded that perhaps the greatest defect in the Bible is its humorlessness: he dismisses the authoritarianism expressed in the scriptures as anti-democratic, anti-intellectual, and anti-scientific. He criticized "a harshness, a good-bad, right-wrong, black-white dichotomy to the prophetic tradition that has led to an immoral, self-righteous sort of morality." 29 Ever ethically sensitive, Paul described the Bible as an "adult book" that might provide a rewarding reading experience with its biography and mystic, poetic world-view. In sum:

  • As adults, we are uneducated if we do not have an acquaintance with the Bible as literature; but were areignorant if we expect the Bible to solve the perplexities of modern civilization; and we are fooolish if we are not extremely cautious in the way that we expose our children to the famous, but also infamous, book. 30

Beattie observed that technological innovations, such as breakthroughs in making flint arrowheads, penetrate cultural boundaries more easily than religions or ideologies. The speaker noted that humnas have lived largely in ignorance about beliefs different from their own; humans generally exhibit a tendency toward ethnocentricity. Beattie suspected that Ralph Waldo Emerson was chiefly responsible for encouraging the insightful employment of religion different from one's own; with Emerson, something new happened in approaching religion. Paul suggested a reason for this significant changeónamelyóthat people walking the streets of Salem and Boston conversed with the sailors and sea captains who had "actually talked with oriental heathens." 31 He emphasized:

  • Our bible is never finishedóit is the loose-leaf bibleóa changing, growing collection, some things being added, some things falling away, of insights which move us deeply to a better life. The loose-leaf bible is a book of insights which help us aspire to be better people; it is filled with insights which enlarge our appreciations and our view of life's possibilities. 32


Beattie recognized that the traditional God has vanished for Westerners and that Jesus disappeared in a similar manner. The preacher maintained that Jesus was primarily a subjective phenomenon and that for New Testament scholars, Jesus resembles a puppet that can do anthing. Beattie summarized by saying that Jesus is presented variously: a good man and ethical teacher who professed love to God and one's fellows; a fanatic who wanted the world to end, and professing an imminent eschatology; a minor revolutionary who was executed by the Romans; an historical accident that inspired individuals to endure the collapsing Greco-Roman civilization; and a schemer who poltted his own resurrection. St Paul made Christianity something more than a Jewish sect; during the ensuing process, the "dogma of Christ outlasted the historical man." 33 Beattie specified four different perspectives about Jesus that remain relevant: Jesus as an historical figure who was an ethical teacher and prophet; Jesus as a Jewish prophet who remained within the Jewish tradition and never intended to establish a new religion; Jesus as a central informing myth for contemporary Christianity; and Jesus as unimportant for modern humans. 324 He contended that people should know something about Jesus and his teachings as they are understood within Western society; but Beattie concluded that a modern secularist discovers little in either Jesus or the Christian tradition that provides integration for living their lives.

Beattie questioned whether Jesus, a man credited with inspiring the Christian religion, could be considered a proto-Christian. He concluded that Jesus "died a lonely suffering Jew on a Roman cross." and that later "the Christian church resurrected the dead Jew by making him into a diving supernatural saviour." 35 Beattie concluded that Jesus was a man who cannot be comprehended when separated from the country where he was born or the religious beliefs embraced by his people. As a Jew, Jesus was loyal to the Torah and the prophets. Jesus considered himself a Jew; Jesus was not the first Christian, Paul was. Beattie speculated that had Jerusalem not been destroyed, the Christian religious as popularly known might never have arisen; the concept about Jesus that Paul preached would have been contradicted by a more authoritative tradition emanating from a competing community composed of persons who actually knew Jesus. Beattie contended that acceptance of the conclusion that Jesus was a Jew and neither God nor a Christian, would terminate the triumphalist assertion that Christianity constitutes the only true religion. Beattie envisioned persons drawing insight and inspiration from all the world's great religions; such expanded perspectives might encourage people to open themselves to a splendor emanating from the entirety of human experience; persons could draw knowledge from all the exemplars who enrich humanity's seemingly diverse religions. With this perspective, persons would be encouraged to preserve the best that humans know and have known, while welcoming new truth discovered at the frontiers of knowledge.

On Easter Sunday, 1984, Beattie stated that although few religious liberals within the UU movement would affirm Jesus's physical resurrection, several helpful meanings arise from serious reflction. Said Beattie:

  • The pilgrimage Jesus makes from his entry into Jerusalem to his death on the cross is symbolic of the pilgrimage all must make, for it portrays the agony which is life. The agony of life grows out of the fact that the struggle for authenticity is painful. The struggle to maintain and be true to one's highest values is difficult, sometimes painful, and at times even demands sacrifice. The agony of life is that if we would choose the good, if we would choose excellence, then we must, part of the time, suffer for our values. 36

Beattie believed:

  • No one can step between illness and usóor face death for us. Friends and loved ones can give a little companionship and comfort, but they cannot remove the feeling of solitariness and isolation which surrounds every human being during the ultimate moments of life. To repress this essential solitariness is to dull ourselves to our ultimate responsibility, which is to live our own lives as best we can and to encourage other people to take responsibility for their lives. It is noteworthy that while the New Testament assumes that God exists and that, as Jesus says, not even a sparrow falls without God knowing it, yet Jesus is completely alone on the last day of his life. 37

The speaker remarks that during the Passover meal when Jesus broke bread and shared wine, perhaps using these elements to symbolize himself and his mission, the important instruction for Christians was the inner reality that these symbols awaken in believing Christians. Beattie indicated that humans may never know whether Jesus actually intended to institute a new rite or whether the early Christian community invented it. He concluded: If Jesus had not died on the cross, there would have bene no Christian religion, for Christianity grew out of the response of the early disciples to the death of their Lord." 38 Citing the scholarship of S.G.F. Brandon, Beattie speculated that following the Jewish revolt in 70AD when Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, there cease to be an authentic source indicating what Jesus actually taught and that a compensatory necessity arose for constructing an historical record that was apologetic. 39

Understanding and acknowledging the wisdom found in the world's religions and philosophies, Beattie encouraged resorting to Greek, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other traditions rather than confining oneself within a single tradition. Focusing upon Jesus and Socrates, he concluded that their approaches toward the world comprise some unreconcilable presuppositions. Paul explained that there exists more plausible and substantial information about Socrates, maintaining that "an ironic twist of fate turned a minor Jewish sect, the followers of Jesus the Jew, into a new religion which conquered the world." 40 He observed accurately the Christianity borrowed numerous ideas from the mystery religions existing in this geographical region, laying the foundation for the synthesis combining innumerable different religious elements found in the Mediterranean world. 41 Having survived persecution as a minority movement, the church, when eventually empowered, established religious conformity and imposed a straitjacket intellectual uniformity. Christianity, he contended, became a successful mass movement by demonstrating a capacity for unifying and inspiring emormous populations over a long period of time. Beattie concluded that Socrates has two advantages over Jesus: (1) the Greek philosopher represents a reasoned approach toward life that is compatible with emerging scientific knowledge; (2) his method was developed within a roughly democratic society that accomodated the ideal of the civic-minded individual whom Socrates himself exemplified. Among the contributions coming from ancient Greek culture that Beattie described as incompatible with the biblical traiditon are philosophy, the concept of tragedy, the beginnings of the scientific method, and the concept of democracy. Beattie regretted that countless persons may never appreciate philosphers like Socrates, preferring to worship charismatic saviors instead.

Political Activism and Intellectual Freedom

Paul Hamilton Beattie espoused the principles of individual intellectual freedom anchored in ancient Greek culture. He recognized that throughout history, most people lived in societies that permitted minimal intellectual and religious liberty. Beginning when Europe was dominated by Christianity around 500 A.D., the new state religion of the Roman Empire permitted no dissent from "the faith once delivered to the saints." Neither was the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century ever intended to advance religious freedom. No organized religious group in Europe during this period advocated individual intellectual freedom. Beattie said:

  • Even dissenting groups who wanted freedom for themselves, did not grant it to others; and they insisted on conformity among those in their own community. The great glory of Unitarianism is that ours was the first religious group in Western history to espouse and practice freedom of conscience.

    Through the urging both of Francis David and John Sigismund, the Diet of Torda gave its seal of approval to an edict of the King which was published in 1568. This edict was the first legal enactment of religious toleration in Western history, and it was issued by the first and only Unitarian king in history. 42

In powerful pulpit discourse, he traced the historical development. In 1644 John Milton wrote the first defense championing a free press appearing in the English language. In 1689 John Locke composed one of the strongest, most persuasive statements advocating freedom of conscience, A Letter Concerning Toleration. Thomas Jefferson was the first to affect enactment into law the principle of separation of church and state whe the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom was approved in 1786. Theodore Parker was among the first critics who attacked the concept of miracle contained in the Bible, using as his tool, emerging German biblical criticism. Beattie discerned that, "Every generation, apparently, has to learn anew that it is pernicious and cruel to try to compel the conscience." 43 Against this historical perspective, he denounced the tendency among contemporary religious liberals to compormise freedom of conscience by initiating political activism.

  • In the late 1950s, 60s, and 70s, American and Canadian Unitarian Universalists have gone quite far in betraying the principle of freedom of conscience. What has happened is that some Unitarian Universalists, who would never think of imposing a theological creed, have in various ways imposed a social or political creed. 44

Persistently did he remind his contemporaries that the belief that a society can tolerate and flourish while allowing conflicting ideas and institutions to exist emerged initially during the eighteenth century. 45

Beattie reported abundant testimony from numerous churchmen stating that the church's primary purpose is to reform society. He stated that chruch involvement in initiating social action is nothing new and that the history of church-induced social activism has been astonishingly disastrous. Even with the church's long-standing commitment to promoting social justice, society remains almost unmodified by the chruch's pronouncements. He insisted: "The invention of refrigeration and its widespread use has done more to save lives and improve health and living standards than the combined church social action programs of all denominations." 46 He denounced insitutional social action initiated at the national level as ineffective. The churches can exert a profound influence upon persons' lives, but the churches are unsuccessful vehicles for promoting social change. The preacher described the church as a voluntary association and suggested a primary purpose:

  • The main purpose of the church is that it is a community of healing and wholeness. We exist to help those individuals who come to us to restore a balance and tone to their lives. We exist to lift people when they feel down and to goad consciences when they become too confortable. But how can a church be a place of healing, a place of worship, a sanctuary for the spirit if it is constantly a place of acrimonious debate? 47

Like a prophet crying within the wilderness, he cautioned his fellow liberals against becoming politically sectarian, ceasing to encourage lively dialogue on important questions, and becoming a dogmatic political sect.48 Beattie warned that the movement was searching for a mission outside its parameters without becoming uniquely prophetic or especially effective. Insisting upon individual intellectual freedom, he envisioned the "free church" in a pluralistic society:

  • The church I am describing is a religious community which is committed primarily to the educational process. It sees religion as a search rather than a set of answersÖSuch an approach to religion involves a conscious attempt to develop religious communities which are pluralistic. To live comfortably in such a community one must have a tolerance for religious or philosophical lifestances different from one's own. A life-philosophy, or a theology, or a political ideology does not represent some absolute truth, or realityóit is a grid, a set of "though-categories" into which we pour our experience of reality for the purpose of sharing our perceptions and for the purpose of organizing and directing our lives. 49

Beattie encouraged the church the includes Christians, theists, humanists, and others; a religious community composed of Republicans, Democrats, consumerists, and libertarians; and a fellowship hospitable to Marxists, socialists, capitalists, and free enterprisers. This cordial and congenial company could accomodate Milton Friedmanites and John Kenneth Galbraithians. Beattie acknowledged that withing a democratic society, numerous free forums are found where proposed programs for solving social problems are discussed and debated outside the church. he cautioned that political acrimony arising within the church undermines genuine educational experience and impedes the search for truth. The church that stands within a religious tradition that sustains a non-creedal affirmation has a opportunity to create a uniquely inclusive community for dialogue in a society splintered into endless pressure groups. Beattie emphasized that initiating institutional social action violates the historic tradition that champions the "free mind" by imposing a social creed. The preacher maintained that churchmen change their convictions not through acrimonious controversy and taking political positions, but from their participation in an inclusive, non-threatening community where thoughts and feelings are openly shared and respected. The free pulpit should provide a position from which individuals are convinced to accept and fulfill their social responsibilities; but persons should never be compelled or coerced to promote causes that contradict their conscience.

Religious Humanism: a Response to Life

Paul Hamilton Beattie preached a distinctive "religious humanism" describable as a reasoned response to the human situation that requires intellectual, emotional, and spiritual reflection. The unconventional minister saw life as a living and a dying, a success and a failure, a depair and a hope. In a manner suggestive of Hindu similarity, he said: "Life is an endless cycle of birth and death, a cycle within which human consciousness has arisen and replicated itself with increasing power for countless generations." 50 Life is harder, he surmised, when life is self-conscious; this situation makes persons characteristically human. In a manner that distinguishes religious humanism as a persuasion, he maintained that the test of a person's convictions is not the theological statement by how a human spends one's life. 51 Emphasizing an inescapable "tragic dimension" that pervades human existence, he repeated an uncompromised conclusion: "Yet it is the pain, the sorrow, the discomfort, the fear, and the anxiety in life that can teach us most about ourselves." 52

Thoughtfully he pondered the religious dimension within human experience. Beattie speculated that for any tribe or people, culture constitutes a single seamless web that is inevitably interconnected. Within this unity, religion contains the positive and the negative, the progressive and the repressive, the living and the dying. Beattie claimed that primitive religion required absolute certainty and complete commitment to beliefs and behavior that an individual must accept without questioning. Religion has been substantially tradition-oriented and sustained with sanctions ascribed to "supernatural inspiration." To take a sweeping historical stance: religion may be said to have prompted frenzied fanaticism and penetrating seriousness. With Christianity, the center was changed. Rather than providing glue for solidifying an empire, religion became a support-system sustaining individuals and small communities scattered around the Mediterranean. The "ultimate commitment" became personal; beliefs and behavior were calculated as a means for securing "heavenly rewards." In scrutinizing humans' historical progress, Paul concluded that scientific knowledge, democratic self-government, and attempts to improve the human situation are clearly secular achievements.

As a reasoned response to human existence, religion cannot guarantee success in an uncertain world but can provide a daily process whereby humans grow wiser, kinder, and more self-reliant. "Religion," he said, "is a whole response toward all of life that moves us toward the good as the good is progressively understood, discovered, and created." 53 Beattie explained:

  • I define religion as our whole response to all of life, the core of attitudes and values out of which we live and make life decisions. Worship ascribes value or worth to something, and it is a public process buy which we condition and maintain that whole response to life which is our religion. 54

A central conviction was that religion can remain deeply emotional and at the same time be predicated upon scientific knowledge rather than tradition or opinion:

  • Religion becomes and ongoing synthesis of the best of modern thought coupled with the great religious myths and insights of all religions which are enhanced through and appreciation for the humanities and the cultural achievements of humankind. Evolution becomes the epic which binds the spectrum of thought and experience togetheróthe evolution of the solar system, of this galaxy, of this planet, of life, of intelligent life, of human history and culture. 55

He maintained that the important thing at any time in an individual's life is that one has some religious stance that is one's own and from which that individual sincerely seeks to live in the service of goodness, truth, and beauty regardless of the specific names given to these elemental realities. 56 Beattie believed that there can be no absolute standard for determining a religion. 57

As much as and possibly more than any modern minister, Beattie gave shape and direction to humanism as a distinctive religious persuasion. Beattie presented religious humanism as a philosophy of life that claims that a person's lifestance must emanate from their understanding of the essential human condition and actual human experience. A humanist's life-stance is based upon human knowledge and human limitation rather than alleged divine revelations and supposed unsolvable mysteries. A complete flowering of humanism became possible during the nineteenth century with the writings of Darwin, Freud, and Feuerbach. Beattie professed:

  • The humanist does not deny that millions of galaxies larger than humans exist; nor does the humanist deny the ecological realities of life on this planet and the integrity which must be granted other life forms. All the humanist claims is that, when it comes to making value judgments, human beings are, as far as we can tell, alone. No other creature thinks about goodness, truth, and beauty. To the best of our knowledge, human beings are the only self-consciousóand therefore, the only trustworthyóarbiters of the choices human civilization must make. 58

He maintained that religious humanism in the United States generally reveals these characteristics: a naturalistic world-view informed by reason and scientific method; the democratic process as the decision-making method; a special appreciation for the rational emphasis found in classical culture; religion and history comprehended as a cultural condition stemming from human need and directed progressively toward earthly goals; and an appreciation for the values emanating from the gradual secularization of the Western world. 59 For the humanist, science and the scientific method provide "the core of religion." 60 Although innumerable expressions of humanism exist, most humanists conclude that speculation about God or divinity remains fruitless in satisfying essential human needs or providing satisfactory guides for shaping human destiny. Religious experiences are explained as products from human minds rather than as objective statements describing reality.

Indicating that religious humanism provides a helpful frame-of-reference, Beattie concluded that the entire human venture constitutes an epic for the humanist. He stated:

  • In summary, humanism is high culture (a historically conditioned commitment to goodness, truth, and beauty), welded to the scientific method and committed to the democrtatic process as the best decision-making tool making certain that all available knowledge is applied to any public question and that the people involved in a decision are consulted. 61

Humanism provides a ground for continuous dialogue rather than a package containing acceptable poltical nostrums. Religious huamnism articulates no divinely sanctioned message but draws upon the classics and growing human knowledge; this persuasion embraces no single charismatic founder but recognizes countless heroes and heroines within the humanist tradition. Beattie professed that the content within his religious humanism was informed with the secular perspective found in Western history, observing that the forces that created Renaissance humanism inaugurated the process of secularizing the Western world. Paul identified this process as a central defining characteristic of western history and culture throughout most of modern history. He indicated:

  • Today most humanists are agnostic, atheistic, or ignostic. Most humnaists are hellenophiles, most accept the scientific method as the most trustworthy way of knowing, most think of the evolutionary hypothesis as the central metaphor for self-understanding and for best understanding how to direct human destiny, and most humansits believe in the democratic process and the ideals of the Enlightenment as interpreted in the Bill of Rights of the American Constitution. 62

Paul Hamilton Beattie strongly exemplified the religious humanist as minister, counsellor, and a friend serving the human spirit. He was a teacher and colleague, assisting individuals in finding their own answers. He was a visionary convinced that religion can increasingly become one with scientific knowledge even as ethics and social justice are one with religion. From his experiences as a minister, he concluded that from counselling persons he had assisted others in restoring their lives simply by listening and that through and empathetic relationship he had held others by simply participating in one of the most importnat aspects of the creative process that is inherest in life. He said:

  • I have spoken with many who are seeking short term financial aid; I have taken bags of groceries to bums in run-down hotels; I have counselled separated couples; I have entered homes during domestic quarrels to preclude violence; I have searched bus stations for runaway teenagers; I have helped hospitalize people suffering a psychotic episode and married pregnant girls to their boyfriends when no other minister would marry them. I have had people call me at all hours of the day and night for encouragement or just to lay bare a plaguing problem. To be a minister is to be involved with people, during their highs and their lows, during their best moments and their worst. 63

His experience as a minister revealed to Paul that the quality of dialogue constitutes a central component within effective ministry. He knew: "What endless power for renewal there is iin a genuine and full commitment in community to the uninhibited, never ending dialogue of the mind!" 64 This challenging, intellectually inquisitive minister was an independent individualist steeped in the classical tradition who expressed a person-centered humanism addressing the fundamental questions that all serious seekers usually ponder.


1. Sherwin T. Wine, "President's Message," The NACH Quarterly (Summer, 1989), VIII (3), P. 3.

2. Jean Kotkin, "The Humanist Institute News," The NACH Quarterly (Summer, 1989), VIII (3), p. 2.

3. Earl K. Holt, III, "Reflections," religious humanism, (Autumn 1989) XXIII (4), p. 160.

4. Donald W. Rowley, "Reflections," religious humanism, (Autumn 1989) XXIII (4), p. 166.

5. Paul H. Beattie, "When My Mind is Still," The Community News, (October 16, 1983), P. 3.

6. Beattie, Why I am Not a Christian," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, December 9, 1973.

7. Ibid., p. 4.

8. Beattie, "Why I Don't Believe in God," The Humanist, (January-February, 1974), p. 21.

9. Ibid., p. 21.

10. Ibid., p. 23.

11. Beattie, "Religion Without God is Possible; Life Without Religion is Difficult," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, February 9, 1969, p. 4.

12. Beattie, "The Tragic View of Life," an unpublished paper presented to the Prairie Group, Chicago, 1974, p. 25. See Beattie, "The Tragic View of Life," religious humanism, (summer 1985) XIX 93) p. 111-121; (autumn 1985) XIX (4), p. 166-173., See Beattie, "The Tragic View of Life," religious humanism (autumn 1989) XXIII (4) p. 192-195.

13. Beattie, "The Tragic View of Life," P. 29.

14. Beattie, "Protagoras: The Maligned Philosopher," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, April 24, 1983, p. 1.

15. Ibid., p. 4.

16. Beattie, "The World of Homer," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, February 3, 1985, p. 3.

17. Ibid., p. 9.

18. Beattie, "The Great Socrates," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, September 19, 1982, p. 3.

19. Ibid., p. 5.

20. Beattie, "The Secret of Epictetus," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, September 11, 1983.

21. Beattie, "The Ring of Gyges," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, May 19, 1985.

22. Ibid., p. 8.

23. Ibid., p. 9.

24. Beattie, "A Perspective on Mythology," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, February 3, 1980, p. 3.

25. Beattie, "A Critical View of the Bible," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, September 24, 1984, p. 3.

26. Ibid.

27. Beattie, "Is the Bible Fit for Children?," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, December 4, 1977, p.1 See Beattie, "How Are Ethics Related to Religion?" Free INquiry (summer, 1982) p. 59-61.

28. Beattie, "Is the Bible Fit for Children?," p. 2.

29. Ibid., p. 6.

30. Ibid., p. 7.

31. Beattie, "The Loose-Leaf Bible," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, January 11, 1987, p. 4.

32. Ibid., p. 6.

33. Beattie, "Where is Jesus?" a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, July 16, 1967, p. 4.

34. Beattie, Radical Pluralism: A Program for Unitarian Universalists in the 80s," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, October 5, 1980, p. 5.

35. Beattie, "Was Jesus a Christian?," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, September 14, 1969, p. 1.

36. Beattie, "The Agony of Life," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, April 22, 1984, p. 2.

37. Ibid., p. 4.

38. Ibid., p. 8.

39. Beattie, "Why did Jesus Die?," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, April 3, 1983, p. 3-5.

40. Beattie, "Jesus or Socrates: Why I Prefer Socrates," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, March 6, 1977, p. 3.

41. Ibid., p. 4.

42. Beattie, "The Great Unitarian Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Compel Conscience," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, October 28, 1979, p. 1.

43. Ibid., p. 3.

44. Ibid., p. 4.

45. Beattie, "Beyond Tolerance to Radical Pluralism: A New Doctrine for the Liberal Church," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, February 8, 1987. See Beattie, "Radical Pluralism: A Program for Unitarian Universalists in the 80s."

46. Beattie, "Can the Church Reform Society?," a sermon preached at All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis, April 1, 1973, p. 1.

47. Ibid., p. 4.

48. Beattie, "A New Kind of Church," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, OCtober 30, 1983,. p. 6.

49. Beattie, "The Only Basis for Unitarian Universalism," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, January 5, 1986, p. 13-14.

50. Beattie, "The Agony of Life," p. 60.

51. Beattie, "Religion Without God is Possible," p. 4.

52. Beattie, "The Courage to Grow," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, April 27, 1986, p. 2.

53. Beattie, "The Ring of Gyges," p. 4.

54. Beattie, "Twenty Years in a Unitarian Pulpit," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, April 15, 1984, p. 4.

55. Ibid., p. 6.

56. Beattie, "Why I am Not a Christian," p. 5.

57. Beattie, "The Religion of Secular Humanism Versus Anti-Religious Secularism," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, March 3, 1985, p. 9.

58. Beattie, "Protagoras," p. 5-6.

59. Beattie, "The Humanist Option in American Religion," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, January 12, 1986.

60. Beattie, "Unitarian Universalist Options: Christian, Theist, Humanist," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, February 27, 1983, p. 7.

61. Beattie, "Humanism in the 1980s: Cult or Culture," Free Inquiry, (Winter 1987-1982) p. 24.

62. Beattie, "The Religion of Secular Humanism," P. 8.

63. Beattie, "Twenty Years in a Unitarian Pulpit," p. 5.

64. Beattie, "Goodness, Truth, and Beauty," a sermon preached at the First Unitarian Church, Pittsburgh, May 20, 1984, p. 4.