Faith is a simple thing. Either you have it or you don’t. But the ABC World News last night offered an interesting kink to my oversimplification.
The teaser to last night’s report hinted at a number of pastors hiding something from their flocks, leaving us to stew during the commercial break what their secret might be. Clearly some denominatinos have more to hide than others–matters of sexual abuse, for example. But the revelation last night shouldn’t have surprised anyone: many ministers–who spend hours studying the Bible, scouring its text for sermons, counseling, etc.–have concluded that what we take for its richness is simple contradiction. They have lost their faith through the study of its principal source. Father Karcher must have sought consolation in those pages, shifting six times among four denominations during his lifetime and, perhaps, never finding peace from his study of The Book or its many interpretations. I can identify.
I cannot claim for the 19th century a range of spirituality broader than that in our own time. J. K. Karcher was hardly typical of his age, but his spiritual odyssey makes the point: people shifted between and among religions with frequency and conviction, if not with permanence or ease. In America, this was true for denominational change within Christianity, as it was for sectarian change between Christianity and other faiths. Today most of us would find the phrase “liberal religion” a contradiction in terms; I do not and neither would many during the 150-plus years that Agincourt has existed.
At times of stress and indecision, I too have searched for answers in religion. But even Unitarian-Universalism has left me stone cold sober and shaking my head in confirmed disbelief. So, while I can imagine a group who’ve elected to share that quest, and while I might also welcome such a client’s need to give form to that collective inquiry, I must also agree with Groucho Marx: “I won’t belong to any organization that would have me as a member.” And with Thomas Jefferson, who was the only member of a denomination of one.
For Agincourt, I’ve decided once again to borrow someone from my research files: Frank H. Irons, itinerant journalist and real estate agent, who was both an Episcopalian and a Unitarian during the years he lived in Fargo. The story of Frank and Susan Irons is doubly tragic–perhaps a decisive test of their faith–because they lost two children to a needless epidemic brought on by laissez faire city government disinterested in regulating Capitalist free enterprise within the Fargo corporate limits.
Though the story is not fully formed, I think Franklin Irons will be station agent for the Milwaukee Road, beneficiary of the bureaucratic snafu that delivers two water towers some time in the 1930s. The site: a twenty-five-foot square of junk real estate, on Carousel Alley behind Hradek’s shoe repair.