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A brief reminiscence of Union Theological Seminary

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I entered Union Theological Seminary in 1958 and graduated in 1961. My time there was mixed. While it was the top seminary around, I felt its courses were high schoolish with emphasis on memorizing and a lack of intellectual rigor. I think I was beginning to feel the same resistance to the suppositional and speculative nature of Christianity that I now feel explicitly. I was not impressed by its being the end of the Tillich-Niebuhr era at Union. I edited the seminary paper and closed out with a piece on the lack of community there that set the then-President on a bit of a tear. I made good friends. Notably Al Carmines who was a close friend all his life. Bob Helm became more of a friend when I later joined the church he and Al were pastors of - Trinity Presbyterian in NYC. The most important intellectual moment was hearing a lecture from H. Richard Niebuhr in which he skewered both neo-orthodoxy and liberalism and said he has no idea what was coming. With that I heartily agreed and it was years and many books later that I finally began to come to a theological understanding which I now seek to articulate. My current theology seems to appeal more to atheists than Christians.  My long term sense of Union is that it has aped the Christian liberal line with all of the hypocrisy that that entails. At the same time I have maintained a relationship with Union, lecturing there in earlier years and seeking in more recent times to make contact with successive Presidents. I  have failed miserably the last three attempts. A final note. When I worked at Austen Riggs Center following my time at Union I became privy to the files that recounted the inner life of the faculty in the 1950s and the suicide of a popular dean. It was a shocking indication of the moral lassitude that existed even in these sacred precincts. I discussed it with Erik Erikson at the time. My sense of things now as I look back at Union is that it continues to regard itself as the flower of progressive theology and deludes itself by refusing to confront the church and theology of which it is a part. That criticism has been consistent over time and it has grown in intensity.


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