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Theodore Parker
by [?]

We loose the pouter, the tumbler is forgot, and we get slaty-gray men and women ruled by ruffed Jacobins.

* * * * *

Christianity is one thing; the religion of the Christ is another. Christianity is a river into which has flowed thousands upon thousands of streams, springs, brooks and rills, as well as the sewage of the cities. In the main it traces to pagan Rome, united with the cool, rapid-running Rhone of classic Greece. But the waters of placidly flowing Judaism, paralleling it, have always seeped through, and the fact that more than half of all Christianity prays to a Jewess, and that both Jesus and Paul were Jews, should not be forgotten.

The blood of all the martyrs, rebels and revolters who have attempted to turn the current of this river has tinted its waters. That its ultimate end is irrigation, and not transportation, is everywhere evident.

To keep religion a muddy, polluted, pestilential river, instead of allowing it to resolve itself into a million irrigating-ditches, has been the fight of the centuries. The trouble is that irrigation is not an end–it is just a beginning. Irrigation means constant and increasing effort, and priests and preachers have never prayed, “Give us this day our daily work.” Their desire has been to be carried–to float with the tide, and he who floats is being carried downstream. Men who have tried to tap the stream and divert its waters to parched pastures have usually been caught and drowned in its depths. And this is what you call history.

All new religions have their beginning in exactly this way: they are streams diverted from the parent waters. And the quality and influence of the new religion depend upon the depth of the new channel, its current, and the territory it traverses.

As before stated, most of the rebels were quickly caught, Moses rebelled from the religion of Egypt; Jesus rebelled from the religion of Moses; Paul rebelled from Judaism, adopted the name and led the little following of the martyred Savior; Constantine seized the name and good-will, and destroyed rebellion and competition by a master stroke of fusion–when you can not successfully fight a thing, all is not lost, you can still embrace it; Savonarola was an unsuccessful rebel from Constantine’s composite religion; Luther, Calvin and Knox successfully rebelled; Henry the Eighth defied the Catholic Church for reasons of his own and broke from it; Methodism and Congregationalism broke from both the canal of John Knox and that of Queen Elizabeth and her lamented father; Unitarianism in New England was a revolt from the rule of the Congregational Church, and Emerson and Theodore Parker were rebels from Unitarianism.

Emerson and Parker were irrigators. They gave the water to the land, instead of trying to keep it for a fishpond. Neither one ever ordered the populace to cut bait or fall in and drown. As a result we are enriched with the flowers and fruits of their energies; they bequeathed to us something more than a threat and a promise–they gave us the broad pastures, the meadows, the fertile fields, and the lofty trees with their refreshing shade.

* * * * *

Theodore Parker was the first of his kind in America–an independent, single-handed, theological fighter–a preacher without a denomination, dictated to by no bishop, governed by no machine. He has had many imitators, and a few successors. The number will increase as the days go by. Parker was a piece of ecclesiastical nebulae thrown off by the Unitarian denomination, moving through space in its orbit towards oblivion, the end of all religions, where one childless god presides, Silence. The destiny of all religions is to die and fertilize others. It is yet too soon to say what man’s final religion will be.