Thoreau, the most Christian non-Christian

It confuses me how often I find atheists and non-believers knowing more about the Bible than Christians.  It’s like some way, somehow they’re closer to understanding God than those of us who profess Him;  and I don’t get it. It’s kind of like looking at a flat map your whole life and thinking Russia is the farthest point from Alaska, and then looking at a globe and not being able to grasp the fact that they’re somehow ridiculously close.

Enter my beloved friend, Thoreau, a non-Christian man who sadly got Christianity generations before the Church did. And, well in the South, we still haven’t quite gotten in yet.

These are excerpts from his compilation titled “Sunday,”  circa 1850 –


As we passed under the last bridge over the canal, the people coming out of church paused to look at us from above, and apparently, so strong is custom, indulged in some heathenish comparisons; but we were the truest observers of this sunny day.

I was once reproved by a minister who was driving a poor beast to some meeting-house horse-shed among the hills of New Hampshire, because I was bending my steps to a mountain-top on the Sabbath, instead of a church, when I would have gone farther than he to hear a true word spoken on that or any day.  He declared that I was “breaking the Lord’s fourth commandment,” and proceeded to enumerate, in a sepulchral tone, the disasters which had befallen him whenever he had done any ordinary work on the Sabbath.  The country is full of this superstition, so that when one enters a village, the church, not only really but from association, is the ugliest looking building in it, because it is the one in which human nature stoops the lowest and is most disgraced.

It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the universal favor with which the New Testament is outwardly received, and even the bigotry with which it is defended, there is no hospitality shown to, there is no appreciation of, the order of truth with which it deals.  I know of no book that has so few readers.  There is none so truly strange and heretical and unpopular.  To Christians it is foolishness and a stumbling block.  There are, indeed, severe things in it which no man should read aloud more than once. — “Seek first the kingdom of heaven.” — “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth.” — “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”  Think of this, Yankees! Think of repeating these things to a New England audience! Who, without cant, can read them aloud?  Who, without cant, can hear them, and not go out of the meeting-house?  They never were read.  They never were heard. Bribed with a little sunlight and a few prismatic tints, we bless our Maker, and stave off his wrath with hymns.

It is necessary not to be Christian to appreciate the beauty and significance of the life of Christ.

A man’s real faith is never contained in his creed.


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