The Judaeo-Christian Tradition

The first National Unitarian Fellowship distributed sermon of June 1963 (preached at Manchester College, Oxford, on 24th February, 1963), by Rev. Francis Terry, was interested in the question of the world and whether we find it satisfactory and the true grounds for happiness. Linked to this is the idea of purpose that lifts us from the ordinary and the drudgery of existence.


Francis Terry makes the connection to something of greater purpose and reward with the Christian faith: "of mourning turned to joy and death swallowed up in victory", and with the Buddhist entry into the Pure Land. It has to be said here that Buddhist Pure Land salvation belief is a very small view rejected by most Buddhists.

The Christian one is more interesting set against the Stoicism of Epictetus. Rather than hoping for something greater, Epictetus states we have simply received the gift of an interesting life and we deserve no compensation or reward for what seems unfulfilling. We should just be grateful and enjoy the life experienced. Every detail is a source of joy.

Francis Terry rejects the stoicism offered on the basis that:

...it assumes that we are spectators of our situation rather than fully engaged in the business of living.

The school of thought was too much based on being detached and not getting emotionally involved. Francis Terry advises involvement, "to live as we ought to live." (Where this ought comes from is unclear: presumably from the Judaeo-Chritian tradition). It means accepting responsibilities with their burdens. Such a matter of toil can be a source of joy: it is just that the toil must be recognised and even experienced.

Prophetic religion comes in on the basis here that:

Men like Jeremiah and Jesus have brought new life to [hu]mankind; only because they were willing to be men of sorrow.

Joy can be increased and enriched knowing the pain involved. But joy, as in an artist's vision, may be a necessary experience now as an incentive to keep people on direction. Enjoyment, however, has a due time and should not be taken too early. Short lived enjoyments can be corrupting.

He concludes with a view that there is a "spirit of life" which sustains faith and nourishes the good and beautiful. This is his broader vision side then of involvements in the pain of life and seeing enjoyment.

The word he does not use in his preference for the Judaeo-Christian model over Stoicism is redemption. He is talking about its redeeming the world but not with this term. This is the difference between a world of pain which produces, in time, and with the work of God, its redeemed joy, and with the Stoics appreciation of what is presented as a gift that is interesting to observe and be within.

The problem is that to prefer redemption needs a mechanism of change. This is such a mechanism:

The Christian expectation of mourning turned to joy and death swallowed up in victory.

However, he describes this real pain transformed to joy as a position of faith of another. Instead he states his belief in a more one sided (goodness) spirit of life. It is not the same. The position of the other, Judaeo-Christian God, is a God of suffering because it is in the same essence and at the same time a God of Hope and a God of History, and Francis Terry does not seem to believe in this.

If his God it is not the same as the one of suffering and transformed hope, is there really any difference from the position of Epictetus however involved one may be: even if involvement in the pain of some activity gives a better sense of involvement in the joy? I do not think so, and Francis Terry is closer to the Stoics than he might like to admit. Nietzsche saw the difference after the death of the redeeming God, and ended up saying Yes to life. Epictetus had said Yes to life in all its pain and misery because it was still received as a gift. The Judeao-Christian tradition says more.


Adrian Worsfold