Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Harry T. Cook, on death.

"Death is a frequent theme in any literature worth reading. That is because death is at the root of every human fear. It is also because death is difficult to face and accept, so we make up stories and poems about it. Often enough such stories and poems speak of death being overruled. Outside of the frequent Reader’s Digest stories of people insisting that they died, saw the other side and came back, only the irrational and delusional believe such things."

In light of the conversation with my FIL, I thought Harry Cook had a timely sermon.
The entire "sermon" can be read at the following URL:
I hope he doesn't mind the link.


Anonymous said...


It's rare to hear these things from active Christian clergy, but Harry calls 'em like he sees 'em.

You might want to ask Harry if you can copy the sermon onto your blog if you want your readers to have access to it. Harry's weekly sermons and essays are replaced each Thursday or Friday.

Vincent said...

"Outside of the frequent Reader’s Digest stories of people insisting that they died, saw the other side and came back, only the irrational and delusional believe such things."

So people who say they died and came back are NOT irrational and delusional?

Anonymous said...

"death is at the root of every human fear"

I just don't get this. I, for one, do not fear death. If it's going to be prolonged and painful I fear dieing but I do not have a fear of death. I think many of those who fear death fear the uncertainty of something they think lies beyond.

Anonymous said...

So people who say they died and came back are NOT irrational and delusional?

Vincent, I thought he was saying exactly the opposite: those who say they've died and come back ARE irrational and delusional. But, I could be wrong.

death is at the root of every human fear"

I just don't get this. I, for one, do not fear death.

I think what Mr. Cook was saying is very astute. He's not making a claim for EVERY individual...he's saying that, in general, "death is at the very root of human fear". essence, people are afraid of the black widow because they could die from the bite. They fear the rattlesnake (or any snake) because they fear dying from the snake bite. If you tear apart most, if not all, fears - the heart of the fear is that there's a threat to your life. I'll throw one of my fears out there: crowds. I have agoraphobia. And, I know that it's not the people that I fear. I love people! I enjoy meeting new people. What scares me is the thought that the crowd could trample me or invade my personal space and cause me harm. I fear the germs in a crowd. So, my real fear is that the crowd will, in some way, lead to my death.
I don't think Harry was saying that everyone fears death, I think he was saying that most fears/phobias have a root in death.

I thought the quote was interesting because it was coming from a clergymen. Clergy usually LOVE putting the fear of God in their flock. Mr. Cook is asking them, in my opinion, to examine their REAL fears. He's asking them to examine their thoughts about life and death, but without the threat of a supernatural hell/heaven. I think he's pushing them towards a more rational approach.
Of course, I could be completely wrong! ;)

George said...

That's quite an interesting view, and I wouldn't have expected it from a theist of any stripe. I have to confess that I hadn't heard of this Harry Cook before, but I might have to do a little research.

Incidentally, I was wondering if you had read any of the columnist Johann Hari's writings on atheism and religion, which can be found here. Whether or not you agree with his other politics, his stuff on religion is excellent.

Anonymous said...


In other postings on your blog, you have seen Harry reject the supernatural out of hand. By his own words he has shown himself to be a rationalist, empiricist, freethinking humanist. From Harry's perspective, man is the keeper of the keys to his own future. The supernatural doesn't figure into man's decision-making whether morally or intellectually.

Other commenters here have been as taken aback with Reverend Cook's willingness to publicly state his views as the few who have commented on this thread so far. On Feb 9, 2007 in the thread "Moxie," Harry Cook was discussed in more detail.

If people would take the time to ask him, Harry will openly discuss his views. He can be easily contacted through the web referenced in your post.

Here, for people's convenience are some questions I asked Harry and the answers he gave on another thread on this blog.

1. You don't appear to exalt Jesus as divine, a position more similar to we atheists than the run-of-the-mill Christians, so how do you characterize your thoughts about supernaturalism, especially as it relates to religion?

2. If you do not hold Jesus sacred, how do you justify remaining in the clergy?

3. What do you see as the function of the Christian religion in people's lives, if Jesus is not divine?

4. Do you consider human morality to have a supernatural source?

5. If you are free to do so, will you share the names of others in the Christian clergy who share your views?

Thank you and best wishes,


OK, from the horse's mouth.

To the questions posed above, Reverend Harry Cook responded exactly as follows:

1.Supernaturalism is phony-baloney stuff. Nature is enough for human beings to deal with. I give it no thought whatsoever.

2. Jesus didn't believe Hillel the Elder was sacred (or maybe you mean "divine.") And neither did most followers until the fathers of the Nicene Council decided by majority vote that such was so. There are plenty of us in the clergy who, on the basis of evidence and its research, that "Jesus" as he is variously depicted in the gospels is a fiction -- ok, a "sacred" fiction if you want.

3. Some one is on record in the early part of the First Century C.E. as having articulated a marvelous ethical vision of how human beings can live together in peace, security and opportunity. It's all summed up in the Jesus riff on Hillel's summary of Torah: WHAT YOU HATE, DO NOT DO TO ANOTHER or "do unto others..." The day that the critical mass of human beings adopt that wisdom and live by it is the day the world will be saved from itself. Maybe then I'll be ready to talk about the divinity of whoever said that stuff in the first place.

4. I do not consider morality or ethics to have a supernatural source. The celestial hand proffering the etched tablets to Charlton Heston (apparently unarmed at the time) is a metaphor representing the much longer and more difficult process the ancient Hebrews endured in figuring out how to keep people from killing each others. They figured out that if you made stealing taboo, fewer people would kill to get. And if you made envy taboo, few people would steal. Since it was the elders in the early tribes who figured out that stuff, it was necessary to mandate the honoring of father and mother, and after those early generations passed away, successor elders transferred the tribal honor to the spirits of the dead elders and, finally, to an unseen god whence the elders had come in the first place.

5. Try Ian Lawton at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, Mich. I frankly don't know of many others.


All of these are consistent with what Harry has communicated through his weekly essays over the past couple of years.

Anonymous said...

I don't think people who say they died and came back and saw the other side in the process are *really* irrational. Delusional yes, by the very meaning of the word. It's like a vivid dream you have where your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend does something bad, and you wake up pissed off at them for a few hours. Only on a MUCH larger scale. Something so very real is hard not to believe.

Sure, deciding that it actually did happen and it wasn't just your brain freaking out, that would be irrational on it's own. But when you assume that Christianity is true, then it's not an irrational belief at all. In the framework of their minds, it makes perfect rational sense. They're no more irrational for believing that they came back from the dead than they are for believing in Christianity.