Happy 178th Birthday, Chaplain Muir!

John_Muir_by_Carleton_Watkins,_c1875

Honoring one of the original secular chaplains, John Muir, born in Dunbar, Scotland on April 21, 1838.

Here’s a response I wrote to some naturalistic clergy:

“Good to keep in mind that to say Muir was “spiritual” is as slippery as a mossy boulder in a mountain stream!  I refer to Muir as a freethinker, a type of “secular chaplain.”  Not to say he didn’t employ many words from his biblical indoctrinations as a child, and not to say he didn’t have some kind of “spirituality.”  But it was anything but other-worldly.
The sauntering Scotsman surely enticed people into the beauty. . .because for him “the best synonym for God is Beauty.”  What was his evangelistic intent?  To a spiritual point of view?  To a religion?  To a theology?
Absolutely not.
He knew that people would have a “spiritual experience” in the wild and wonderful places.  But this had nothing to do with theology or “finding God.”
Muir may have toyed with a bit of pantheism, but here’s my point (a perspective I’ve gained after reading and writing about him for a number of years):
John Muir had no time to be distracted by god-talk and bible-versing.  He used archaic terms in order to communicate to people (lowlanders) so he could translate his religionless Nature religion in a language they could understand. Many of his friends and family and colleagues had religious faith, so he used the most exalted “heavenly” words he could to convert them to his faith beyond faith–his deep love for the wild places.

He was indeed “in Church” up in his beloved mountains, but this was a fully secular cathedral, inclusive and open and wild for any and all.

I’ll let others comment on this now, but I will say that there are many who want to see Muir through “spiritual glasses” and I’ve heard some try their damnedest to wedge him back into the Christian tradition.  Almost painful to see that torturous argument
(almost as nonsensical as wedging the Man of Nazareth into a Christian!).

No, it’s fairly clear to me that Mr. Muir got excited and amused and thunderstruck and reflective about Nature. . .but Nature and Nature’s Beauty was really his first and only devotion. . .almost like worship. . .but more like participation, identification, or even making love.
Love seems the only word that might best describe his ecstasy.”


{To readers of Secular Chaplain:  my little series of nature meditation books has now sold about 65,000 copies.  Meditations of John Muir continues to lead the pack. . .of course! Muir was a speedy saunterer!  I still find it a great privilege to spread his “gospel of Nature” and to hear from many enthusiastic converts to his wild secular sermons}

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