Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Harry Emerson Fosdick

American Liberal Protestant Minister, Teacher, Author

"Don't simply retire from something; have something to retire to."

"Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat."

"It is cynicism and fear that freezes life: it is faith that thaws it out, releases it, sets it free."

"No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined."

"On its highest level man's contemporary desire to escape responsibility expresses itself not in emphasis on luck, or in emotional submission to fate, but in a thoroughgoing deterministic theory, ascribing all personal qualities to heredity and environment."

"One never finds life worth living. One always has to make it worth living."

"Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world - making the most of one's best."

"The search for truth is, as it always has been, the noblest expression of the human spirit. Man's insatiable desire for knowledge about himself, about his environment and the forces by which he is surrounded, gives life its meaning and purpose, and clothes it with final dignity... And yet we know, deep in our hearts, that knowledge is not enough... Unless we can anchor our knowledge to moral purposes, the ultimate result will be dust and ashes - dust and ashes that will bury the hopes and monuments of men beyond recovery."

"We settle things by a majority vote, and the psychological effect of doing that is to create the impression that the majority is probably right. Of course, on any fine issue the majority is sure to be wrong. Think of taking a majority vote on the best music. Jazz would win over Chopin. Or on the best novel. Many cheap scribblers would win over Tolstoy. And any day a prizefight will get a bigger crowd, larger gate receipts and wider newspaper publicity than any new revelation of goodness, truth or beauty could hope to achieve in a century."

"A man's life is made by the hours when great ideas lay hold upon him. And, except by way of living persons, there is no channel down which great ideas come oftener into human lives than by way of books."

"Anyone who starts out to chase happiness will find it running away from him. We get happiness by indirection."

"Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people."

"God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done."

"He who knows no hardships will know no hardihood. He who faces no calamity will need no courage. Mysterious though it is, the characteristics in human nature which we love best grow in the soil with strong mixture of troubles."

"It is magnificent to grow old if only one stays young."

"It is not marriage that fails: it is people that fail. All that marriage does is to show people up."

"Life consists not simply in what heredity and environment do to us but in what we make out of what they do to us."

"No one can get inner peace by pouncing on it, by vigorously willing to have it. Peace is a margin of power around our daily need. Peace is a consciousness of springs too deep for earthly droughts to dry up. Peace is an awareness of reserves from beyond ourselves, so that our power is not so much in us as through us."

"Nothing in history has turned out to be more impermanent than military victory."

"Nothing in human life, least of all in religion, is ever right until it is beautiful."

"Picture yourself vividly as winning, and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success."

"Religion is action not diction."

"The tragedy of war is that it uses man's best to do man's worst."

"The very core of peace and love is imagination. All altruism springs from putting yourself in the other person's place."

"There need not be in religion, or music, or art, or love, or goodness, anything that is against reason; but never while the sun shines will we get great religion, or music, or art, or love, or goodness, without going beyond reason."

"Whatever you laugh at in others, laugh at yourself."

"One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world -- making the most of one's best."

"The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth."

"Watch what people are cynical about, and often one can discover what they lack."

"A person wrapped up in himself makes a small package. "

"Every human life involves an unfathomable mystery, for man is the riddle of the universe, and the riddle of man in his endowment with personal capacities. "

"He who cannot rest, cannot work; he who cannot let go, cannot hold on; he who cannot find footing, cannot go forward."

"He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determines the end. "

"I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it."

"It is by acts and not by ideas that people live. "

"Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have. "

"Life asks not merely what you can do; it asks how much can you endure and not be spoiled. "

"Our power is not so much in us as through us. "

"To keep the Golden Rule we must put ourselves in other people's places, but to do that consists in and depends upon picturing ourselves in their places. "

"We cannot all be great, but we can always attach ourselves to something that it great. "

"Already all of us must have heard about the people who call themselves the Fundamentalists. Their apparent intention is to drive out of the evangelical churches men and women of liberal opinions. I speak of them the more freely because there are no two denominations more affected by them than the Baptist and the Presbyterian. We should not identify the Fundamentalists with the conservatives. All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists. The best conservatives can often give lessons to the liberals in true liberality of spirit, but the Fundamentalist program is essentially illiberal and intolerant."

"Hold a picture of yourself long and steadily enough in your mind's eye and you will be drawn toward it. Picture yourself vividly as defeated and that alone will make victory impossible. Picture yourself vividly as winning, and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success. Do not picture yourself as anything and you will drift like a derelict."

"Peace is an awareness of reserves from beyond ourselves, so that our power is not so much in us as through us. Peace is the gift, not of volitional struggle, but of spiritual hospitality."

"No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. One of the widest gaps in human experience is the gap between what we say we want to be and our willingness to discipline ourselves to get there."

"Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it. Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it. Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it. Bitterness sickens life; love heals it. Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes."

"Death is a great adventure, but none need go unconvinced that there is an issue to it. The man of faith may face it as Columbus faced his first voyage from the shores of Spain. What lies across the sea he cannot tell; but his special expectations all may be mistaken; but his insight into the clear meanings of present facts may persuade him beyond doubt that the sea has another shore."

"Divinity is not something supernatural that ever and again invades the natural order in a crashing miracle. Divinity is not in some remote heaven, seated on a throne. Divinity is love... Wherever goodness, beauty, truth, love, are - there is the divine. "

"God outside of us is a hypothesis; God inside of us is an experience. "

"Granted that ritual in any realm from courtesy to worship can become formal, empty, and stiff. Nevertheless, with all its dangers it is an absolute necessity. We cannot… train children in the spirit of religion if the appropriate activities of worship and devotion are forgotten."

"I believe we come close to God wherever there is beauty, love, integrity, truth. "