It is my karma to observe and notice religious intolerance. Once a volunteer for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Paris, I was at the greeting table. Unknown people came up to me. I explained that UU was about each finding their own spiritual path and that we were no longer exclusively tied to the Bible as of the late 19th century after having roots in the Protestant Reformation. We were kicked out of our host church l’Eglise Protestante de Pentemont that very year for religious reasons. It was not exclusively because of my indiscretion, but I did get the ball rolling.
My father David Mann shunned religion for himself and militantly accepted the religions of others. He was the youngest Associated Press general desk news editor ever because of his asthma. During WWII, he was in Times Square fielding the horrors of the War. His father Joeseph had fled Austria because of the persecution of the Jews and converted to Christianity after coming to America.
I was stripped of my membership from the UU Fellowship of Paris after many years of ideological differences: not disagreements, but differences. Two historical events touched me in the Unitarian Church. The first was Emma Darwin’s letter to Charles Darwin (1844) where Emma had to reconcile that Charles may not go to heaven, leaving Emma lonely. The second was Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s exclusion from the Unitarian Church after his Harvard Divinity School speech and his re-inclusion over 20 years later after Hinduism influence, hence convincing the Unitarian Church to drop the exclusivity of the Bible and influencing all Protestant Religion to include a pastor’s own life in preaching.
I am preparing for my (probably river) baptism on September 7, 2019, in the Loire near the Abbaye Fleury into the American Church in Paris by it’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Scott Herr, ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) founded by John Calvin. My path to baptism started in a conversation with Scott over a decade ago with the observation that a prayer is a form of listening and the question about how a Unitarian can be a Christian. Almost exactly 500 years before our discussion, Calvin had written a paper defending his role in the burning of Michael Servetus for that very reason: claiming to be a Christian and refuting the Trinity (Anabaptist Anti-Trinitarian). A survivor of Servetus, Francis David, planted the seed of what is today the Unitarian (Christian) Church of Transylvania with apparently 70,000 followers.
The Unitarian Christians consider themselves Christian and preach from the New Testament even though just a few miles north in Poland for example, they would not be considered Christians by others. Thomas Jefferson, as most east-coast founding fathers, were Unitarians. Jefferson curated his own New Testament in Greek, Latin, French and English that can still be obtained today as Jefferson’s Bible. That Bible excludes supernatural references to Jesus.
Today, I am being welcomed (and I hope still being welcomed after this article) not only to Calvin’s Church but also to Sebastian Castellio’s Church. Read these words from Sebastian Castellio from 1554 in Vaticanus #77, and then I will tell you Sebastian’s exclusion from Calvin’s Church only to better form the beauty of the Church I am now joining, a beauty I see even today in the American Church in Paris in our religious tolerance.
To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man. When the Genevans killed Servetus, they did not defend a doctrine, they killed a man. To protect a doctrine is not the magistrate’s affair (what has the sword to do with doctrine?) but the teacher’s. But it is the magistrate’s affair to protect the teacher, as it is to protect the farmer and the smith, and the physician and others against injury. Thus if Servetus had wished to kill Calvin, the magistrate would properly have defended Calvin. But when Servetus fought with reasons and writings, he should have been repulsed by reasons and writings.Sebastian Castellio, 1554, Vaticanus #77
Sabastian Castellio had translated the New Testament to his native French and requested that his mentor Calvin endorse it. Calvin refused and shunned Sebastian. Whereas Calvin had played a major role in promoting Sebastian to the post of Rector of Geneva, Sebastian found himself poor and homeless with eight dependents. This was not the burning, like the public execution of Servetus, but it is a violent act also. Sebastian accepted his sort, and stayed true to his religion. I am proud to consider and be considered for admission into the community of Christ through the Church of Calvin, Scott and Castellio. I consider Castellio part of the story of the Presbyterian Church and at least an honorary member through his acceptance of Calvin. I also have a feeling that Calvin has also a positive lesson for my heart (yet to learn).
Alger Hiss was a family friend. Alger introduced me to the plight of the untouchables in India. Alger is best known for being sent to prison for an affaire indirectly related to spying, but his best contribution was the United Nations itself since Alger was the General Secretary of its founding conference in 1946. I consider Hiss the American Dreyfuss had Zola not existed. After his three years of prison, Hiss first worked as an administrative clerk for a manufacture of women’s hair combs and then as an office-supply salesman. It was in this latter position where Hiss met my father. Hiss, like Castellio, lived the remainder of his life in poverty and some despondency. The only recovery was being the first lawyer ever to be reinstated to the Massachuset’s bar.
So I hosted a picnic yesterday for the American Church in Paris. It was an honor. One member wanted a coffee. Another member sent a photo of a coffee and joked that it was her karma to be busy elsewhere. The first member sent back a copy of the definition of karma as Hinduist or Buddhist belief in reincarnation with a cross and a question mark.
Yes. When the Unitarian Church invited Emerson back in the later 19th Century, Emerson had Hiduist influence, including the concept of karma, without necessarily “really” believing in it. And that influence led Emerson to also ask that the Unitarian Church of America no longer exclusive use the Bible as doctrine. In that case, yes, the Unitarian Church in American became essentially the American Transcendentalist Church (my imaginary name) and no longer a Christian church (if you can ever consider it a Christian church, but that is not the point here). So karma is not Christian, but neither is persecuting others for such beliefs if only to respond by not turning the other cheek.