The Essence of Religion on Earth

Daniels, Jonathan

  • Jonathan Daniels, editor of the News and Observer, relates a story from his religious upbrining about the remarkable testimonials told in his religious community and explains that equality of all men before God is what drew him to the Episcopalian Church.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Jonathan Daniels is the editor of the News and Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina. He has been working for this newspaper for over thirty years. During World War II he served as administrative assistant and press secretary to President Roosevelt. He was American delegate to the United Nations Committee for the Prevention of Discrimination, and was an advisor to the Economic Cooperation Administration. He is the author of several books, including A Southerner Discovers the South and The Man of Independence. His most recent book, published last May, is
The End of Innocence. Here now are the personal beliefs of Jonathan Daniels.
I doubt that any of us come to our faith alone. I did not. Ours was a small city American house, to which the preacher, sometimes the bishop, came to dinner. But I remember that after grace, no sanctimony was served. There was as much humor as solemnity in my religious instruction, and I recall particularly one story which was a part of my teaching. It was about Woodrow Wilson's father, the Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, who was a minister at the Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, North Carolina, to which many members of my mother's family belonged. In the Methodist Church, to which my father belonged, those were the days of testimonial meetings, which sometimes became
such occasion of boasting about sin, in the guise of repentance, that they had to be stopped, not merely for the sake of decorum, but of decency.
In my mother's Presbyterian Church too, there was a time when laymen and clergymen were expected to testify about their religious experiences. Some were remarkable. Events like St. Paul's experience on the road to Damascus were apparently commonplace to Carolinians. He was a poor preacher, who had not had his private burning bush or individual miracle. Many such stories were told by the confident or the proud at a meeting which Dr. Wilson attended. He was silent. At last his silence was so significant that one of the elders dared to ask, "Dr. Wilson, haven't you had any
religious experiences?" And the old man replied, "None to speak of."
I'm afraid I feel that way too. I shall never escape the Methodism of my father, or the Presbyterianism of my mother. I even keep as an important part of my personal religion that significant aspect of the Quakerism of my mother's ancestors, which was a concern for large and small aspects of God's world. One reason why I am a happy Episcopalian, I think, lies in the fact that in the important services, particularly the burial of the dead, without any special eulogy for anybody, the same great and unchanging words are used for the prince and the pauper, for the rich parishioner who endowed the chapel and the back-bench member, who but for social security would be on his way to Potter's Field.
My basic faith lies in the fact that I know that God's eye watches equally the Pope and the sparrow, and that in serving Him, we cannot escape concern for all who are the creatures of God. And that seems to me to be, not only the essence of religion on Earth, but the basis of democracy, and a necessity for freedom too. Also, I think it is the only sure foundation for happiness in any one heart or a whole world. It is a much lesser thing to say that it seems to me to be the only basis for the security which seems, more than anything else, to preoccupy so many people today. I am not sure that a secure world would be a happy one. This I do believe: that only a happy world, joyous in its faith, can be secure.
Those were the personal beliefs of Jonathan Daniels, editor of the Raleigh, North Carolina News and Observer.