Reece (Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness, 2006) identifies and advocates a strain of American spirituality that values the philosophical wisdom of Jesus over his function as a savior.
The author assures us that he has found numerous precedents in American thought for a spirituality that merges the proven benefits of religious devotion with a more progressive social agenda, all while skipping the leaps of faith required to believe in the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting. Reece points to several revered thinkers, including Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry, who reject fundamentalism’s emphasis on the hereafter as destructive to the human spirit and to the environment, yet keep the radically compassionate message of Jesus intact. The kingdom of God is not in the afterlife, they believe, but all around us. This “good news” has its philosophical basis in the controversial Gospel of Thomas, which Reece claims as the most authentic representation of Jesus’ teachings. For the author, the search for an alternative to the dominant Puritan reading of the Gospels resulted from witnessing the devastating psychological effects of fundamentalism on his grandfather and father, both Baptist ministers. Reece’s grandfather found solace in a strict dualism of right and wrong, heaven and hell, whereas his father lost the struggle with feelings of doubt and depravity, eventually committing suicide. For the most part, Reece uses these autobiographical details as powerful illustrations, not expressive ends unto themselves—although his own story underlies the narrative throughout. Written with a scholar’s precision but in frank, readable prose, the book advances an optimistic, intellectual, environmentalist reclamation of sacred Christian beliefs and of Americans’ complex relationship with Jesus.
Uplifting, heretical or irrelevant, depending on the reader’s religious beliefs.