James Luther Adams

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Adams, James Luther (1901—1994)

Son of a Baptist country preacher, Adams became attracted to John H. Dietrich’s “scientific humanism.” He then studied with Irving Babbitt, the Harvard “neo-humanist,” but upon becoming a Unitarian minister Adams emphasized social engagement in “Taking Time Seriously” (Christian Century, September, 1939).

A social ethicist, he has been ranked with Henry W. Bellows and William Ellery Channing as among the three greatest leaders of Unitarianism. In 1965 when his Paul Tillich’s Philosophy of Culture, Science, and Religion was published, he was cited as one of the leading Tillich experts in addition to being an authority on ethics.

Adams showed bravery in the time of McCarthyism, by protesting the Vietnam War and by taking part in civil rights struggles. Adams once wrote:

  • Very often the person who revolts against fundamentalism or orthodoxy only sets up a new orthodoxy. There are two principal reasons why the critical spirit and freedom of thought are in perennial danger. These reasons may be epitomized in two words: ignorance and idolatry. . . . Perhaps the greatest danger to the liberal spirit, however, is idolatry, the submission to some idea or ideology that is revered as an absolute and exclusive loyalty. . . . The average religious man is one who is hot for certainties, and though the answers he gets are dusty answers, he is inclined to view them as infallible. He wants an infallible Truth, a divine book true from cover to cover, a divine Founder for his religion, a divinely instituted Church outside which there can be no salvation. . . .
  • What the orthodox overlooks, however, is this: The most pretentious pride of all is that of the man who thinks himself capable of recognizing infallibility, for he must himself claim to be infallible in order to identify infallibility. He may accuse those who do not accept his “divine” and infallible truths of being proud and of lacking humility. But he forgets that he claims to be infallible when he says he can select an infallible guide. How otherwise can he assert with assurance that he knows the infallible when he sees it?
  • It is true that much religion in the world is a racket; and it is absolutely necessary to identify and attack that sort of religion. Indeed, the great enemy of religion is not anti-religion; it is pseudo-religion. It is not materialism; it is pseudo-spirituality, pseudo-idealism. That is why atheism and hostility to “religion” are often of great value and may even be a necessity.

{U; U&U}