Thoreau on Clergymen

March 15th, 2009

The Blog of Henry David Thoreau is a nice place to go now and then.  It’s refreshing to read his thoughts, realizing how little some things change.  

Here’s an observation from his Civil Disobedience as valid today as it was in his time:  “The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.”

Thoreau has been described as a poet, historian, naturalist, tax resister, surveyor, development critic, philosopher, leading transcendentalist, and individualist anarchist.  We’re fortunate that he lived among us, and we would be even more fortunate if he were with us today.

Here’s an entry from his journal for February 28, 1857:

It is a singular infatuation that leads men to become clergymen in regular, or even irregular standing. I pray to be introduced to new men, at whom I may stop short and taste their peculiar sweetness. But in the clergyman of the most liberal sort I see no perfectly independent human nucleus, but I seem to see some indistinct scheme hovering about, to which he has lent himself, to which he belongs. It is a very fine cobweb in the lower stratum of the air, which stronger wings do not even discover. Whatever he may say, he does not know that one day is as good as another. Whatever he may say, he does not know that a man’s creed can never be written, that there are no particular expressions of belief that deserve to be prominent. He dreams of a certain sphere to be filled by him, something less in diameter than a great circle, maybe not greater than a hogshead. All the staves are got out, and his sphere is already hooped. What’s the use of talking to him? When you spoke of a sphere-music he thought only of a thumping on his cask. If he doesn’t know something that nobody else does, that nobody told him, then he’s a telltale. What great interval is there between him who is caught in Africa and made a plantation slave of in the South, and him who is caught in New England and made a Unitarian minister of? In course of time they will abolish the one form of servitude, and, not long after, the other. I do not see the necessity for a man’s getting into a hogshead and so narrowing his sphere, nor for his putting his head into a halter. Here’s a man who can’t butter his own bread, and he has just combined with a thousand like him to make a dipped toast for all eternity!

The last sentence is classic.  He was thinking of Unitarian ministers, but the same sentiment could be applied to many other groups these days.


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