Wise words from the Secular Prophets


Wise Warning from Lincoln


“The mountains are fountains of human beings as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil.  The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able people whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains– mountain-dwellers who have grown strong there with the forest trees in Nature’s workshops.”

~John Muir, Journals, July, 1890


“No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord. . . .  I pressed Yosemite upon [my companion] like a missionary offering the gospel, but he would have none of it. . . .  Such souls, I suppose, are asleep, or smothered and befogged beneath mean pleasures and cares.”

~John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911)


“Miles and miles of tree scripture along the sky, a bible that will one day be read!  The beauty of its letters and sentences have burned me like fire through all these Sierra seasons.  Yet I cannot interpret their hidden thoughts. . . .  How complete is the absorption of one’s life into the spirit of mountain woods.”

~John Muir, Letter to Jeanne Carr (September, 1874)


“The simple Bard, unbroke by rules of art,

He pours the wild effusions of the heart;

And if inspired, ’tis Nature’s powers inspire;

Her’s all the melting thrill, and her’s the kindling fire.”

~Robert Burns (d. 1796), “Motto Prefixed to the Author’s First Publication”


“Oh the wisdom that grows on trees, that murmurs in the streams, that floats in the wind, that sings in the birds, that is fragrant in the flowers, that speaks in the storms–the wisdom that one gathers on the shore, or when sauntering in the fields, or in resting under a tree, the wisdom that makes them forget their science, and exacts only their love–how precious it all is!”

~John Burroughs, Field and Study (1919)


“In the order of nature we may behold the ways of the Eternal. . . .  There was never any more revelation than there is now, never any more miracles or signs and wonders. . . .  This is the modern gospel; this is the one vital and formative religious thought of modern times.”

~John Burroughs, The Light of Day (1904)


“The natural and common is more truly marvelous and mysterious than the so-called supernatural.  Indeed most of the miracles we hear of are infinitely less wonderful than the commonest of natural phenomena, when fairly seen.”

~John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911)


“But divinity abounded; the day was divine and there was plenty of natural religion in the newborn landscapes that were being baptized in sunshine, and sermons in the glacial boulders on the beach where we landed.”

~John Muir, Travels in Alaska (1914)


“I like to think of the old weather-worn globe as the mother of us all. . . .and that humanity, with our arts, and bibles, and religions, and literatures, and philosophies–heroes, saints, martyrs, sages, poets, prophets–all lay folded there in the fiery mist out of which the planet came.”

~John Burroughs, “The Divine Soil,” Leaf and Tendril (1908)


“[In Thoreau] we see a crucial moment in the shift from the old religion of God to the new religion of nature, and the beginnings of the modern views of nature as sacred, and her pollution as profane.”

~Robert Richardson, Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind


“My belief is that the supernatural has had its day. . .  Being satisfied that the supernatural does not exist, humanity should turn their entire attention to the affairs of this world, to the facts of nature.”

~Robert Green Ingersoll, The Best of Robert Ingersoll


“[Walt Whitman] wrote a liturgy for humankind; he wrote a great and splendid psalm of life, and he gave to us the gospel of humanity–the greatest gospel that can be preached.”

~Robert Green Ingersoll, A Tribute to Walt Whitman, 1892


“The Indian mind is not content with the 330 million Hindu gods with additional gods of other monotheist religions, all dwelling in the other world. So we install deities in the earthly rivers, mountains stones, animals, trees, souls of the departed, ghosts, saints, fakirs and what not. Instead of conserving the revered rivers, mountains, trees and animals we ruin them in the name of religion.”

~Suman Oak, Indian activist, Anti-Superstition Org


“Paine suffered then, as now he suffers not so much because of what he wrote as from the misinterpretations of others. He has been called an atheist, but atheist he was not. Paine believed in a supreme intelligence, as representing the idea which other men often express by the name of deity. His Bible was the open face of nature, the broad skies, the green hills. He disbelieved the ancient myths and miracles taught by established creeds. But the attacks on those creeds — or on persons devoted to them — have served to darken his memory, casting a shadow across the closing years of his life.”

~Thomas Edison (friend of Burroughs, “The Philosophy of Thomas Paine,” 1925)


“Instead then of studying theology. . .it is necessary that we refer to the Bible of the Creation.  The principles we discover there are eternal and of divine origin; they are the foundation of all the science that exists in the world, and must be the foundation of theology.”

~Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (Second Part, 1795)


“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal. …To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

~Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man (quoted by David Brooks in the NYT)


“The first act of awe, when [humanity] was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience.”

~Henryk Skolimowski, University of Michigan


“The love of God and his creation, delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence, though but an atom, a molecule organic in the universe, are my religion.  Howl, snarl, bite, ye [clergy], if you will.  Ye will say I am no Christian!”

“Allegiance to the Creator and Governor of the Milky Way, and the Nebulae, and benevolence to all His creatures, is my Religion.”

~John Adams, Letters to Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1813 and December 3, 1813


“The result of your fifty or sixty years of religious reading, in the four words, ‘Be just and good,’ is that in which all our inquiries must end.”

“We may hope that the dawn of reason, and the freedom of thought in these United States, will do away all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated Reformer of human errors [Jesus].”

~Thomas Jefferson, Letters to John Adams, January 11, 1817 and April 11, 1823


“Man is the most insane species.  He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible nature.
Unaware….That this nature he’s destroying is the God he’s worshipping.”

~Hubert Reeves (astrophysicist, quote shared by Dan, Winter Quarter class)


“How fond of and warped to the mountains it would be easy to become!  For every cliff and limb and edge and jutty has its own nobility.”

~Gerard Manley Hopkins, Journals, July 11, 1868


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