Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Harry Emerson Fosdick

American Liberal Protestant Minister, Teacher, Author

"Moral evil is still the central problem of mankind. "

"One of the supreme hours of human experience arrives when a man gets his eye on something concerning which he is persuaded that is the eternal truth."

" Only a theoretical deity is left to any man who has ceased to commune with God and a theoretical deity saves no man from sin and disheartenment. "

"Our wills are the slaves of the accumulated influence of our interior companionships. What we can do is to get new mental images. "

"Prayer is the hospitality of the soul entertaining the Most High. "

"Religion is something that only secondarily can be taught. It must primarily be absorbed. "

"The first question to be answered by any individual or any social group, facing a hazardous situation, is whether the crisis is to be met as a challenge to strength or as an occasion for despair."

"The place where man vitally finds God... is within his own experience of goodness, truth, and beauty, and the truest images of God are therefore to be found in man’s spiritual life. "

"Two opposing mysteries are in the world – goodness and evil. If we deny God, then goodness is a mystery, for no one has ever suggested how spiritual life could rise of an unspiritual source, how souls could come from dust. If we affirm God, then evil is a mystery, for why, we ask, should love create a world with so much pain and sin? Our task is not to solve insoluble problems. It is to balance these alternatives – no God and the mystery of man’s spiritual life, against God and the mystery of evil."

"We have no definition of God; we have only a roadway that leads out toward God. We are convinced beyond peradventure that he who travels merely the path of electrons, atoms, molecules toward a vision of the ultimate misses it, and that he who travels the road of spiritual values – goodness, truth, beauty – finds it. The eternal and creative Power cannot be adequately approached through the metrical world alone; the innermost nature of the ultimate is revealed also in the personal world of spiritual values. "

"We used to say that we were punished for our sins, as though God were a judge on a bench who passed on the case and meted out penalty. The truth goes much deeper than that. We are not punished for our sins, but by them. It is our sins themselves that rise to slay us."

"When will the churches learn that intolerance, personal or ecclesiastical, is an evidence of weakness: The confident can afford to be calm and kindly; only the fearful must defame and exclude."

"One of the most devastating experiences in human life is disillusionment. Of course there are some illusions the disillusionment of which is healthy. It takes two things to bowl over a tree - a heavy wind outside and decay inside. Much of the moral wreckage is caused by inner cynicism - a disgust with life's futility, an inability to see sense in it. A person in that mood is an easy mark for the next high wind."

"All altruism springs from putting yourself in the other person's place."

"At very best, a person wrapped up in himself makes a small package."

"Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable."

"Always take a job that is too big for you."

"Granted the endless variations of moral customs, still the essential standards persist. As in a scientific laboratory, all else may change but the standards are unalterable- disinterested love of truth, fidelity to facts, accuracy in measurement, exactness of verification-so, in life as a whole, the towering ethical criteria remain unshaken. Falsehood is never better than truth, theft better than honesty, treachery better than loyalty, cowardice better than courage."

"God has put within our lives meanings and possibilities that quite outrun the limits of mortality."

"Consider how impossible nobility of character would be if our goodness were untried innocence instead of victorious virtue."

"I hate war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatreds it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in the place of democracies, and for the starvation that stalks after it. I hate war, and never again will I sanction or support another."

"I renounce war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatred it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in place of democracy, for the starvation that stalks after it. I renounce war, and never again, directly or indirectly, will I sanction or support another."

"It is going to be a long, hard haul; it will require patience, courage, faith that hangs on when hope fails, if we are to tame the rude barbarity of man, so that the atomic age becomes a blessing, not a curse. There never was such a day for the Christian gospel. God help us all in these years ahead to make that gospel live in men and nations!"

"Life is a library owned by an author. It has a few books which he wrote himself, but most of them were written for him."

"Men will work hard for money. They will work harder for other men. But men will work hardest of all when they are dedicated to a cause. Until willingness overflows obligation, men fight as conscripts rather than following the flag as patriots. Duty is never worthily performed until it is performed by one who would gladly do more if only he could."

"He is a poor son whose sonship does not make him desire to serve all men's mothers."

"He is a poor patriot whose patriotism does not enable him to understand how all men everywhere feel about their altars and their hearthstones, their flag and their fatherland."

"Money is a person's personal energy reduced to portable form. It can go where he could not go; speak languages he could not speak; lift burdens he could not touch with his fingers; save lives with which he cannot deal directly."

"No character is ultimately tested until it has suffered."

"No man is the whole of himself; his friends are the rest of him."

"No man need stay the way he is."

"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 until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined."

"Nothing in this world is more inspiring than a soul up against crippling circumstances who carries it off with courage and faith and undefeated character—nothing!"

"Of all mad faiths maddest is the faith that we can get rid of faith."

"One watches people starting out in life quite adequately, handling life with active vigor, as they run, one after another, into experiences where something deeper than vigor is needed. Serious failure, for example. Some night in his lifetime everyone comes home to find a new guest there-disappointment. What he had set his heart on has gone. . . . If one is to come through difficult experiences unembittered, unspoiled, still a real person, one needs deep resources. . . . Not alone in such experiences as sorrow and failure does this need arise but in man's search for the indispensable spiritual requirements of a satisfying life - inner peace, for example, some serenity in the soul to come home to at night and to out from in the morning. Who does not need that? But 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."

"Picture yourself vividly as winning and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success. Great living starts with a picture, held in your imagination, of what you would like to do or be."

"Preaching is personal counseling on a group basis."

"Religion is not a burden, not a weight, it is wings"

"Religion is something that only secondarily can be taught. It must primarily be taught."

"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 all but unanimous judgment seems to be that we, the democracies, are just as responsible for the rise of the dictators as the dictatorships themselves, and perhaps more so."

"The half is greater than the whole."

"The men of faith might claim for their positions ancient tradition, practical usefulness, and spiritual desirability, but one query could prick all such bubbles: Is it scientific? That question has searched religion for contraband goods, stripped it of old superstitions, forced it to change its categories of thought and methods of work, and in general has so cowed and scared religion that many modern-minded believers... instinctively throw up their hands at the mere whisper of it... When a prominent scientist comes out strongly for religion, all the churches thank Heaven and take courage, as though it were the highest possible compliment to God to have Eddington believe in Him. Science has become the arbiter of this generation's thought, until to call even a prophet and a seer 'scientific' is to cap the climax of praise."

"The most extraordinary thing about the oyster is this. Irritation gets into his shell. He does not like them. But when he cannot get rid of them he uses the irritation to do the loveliest thing an oyster ever has the chance to do. If there are irritations in our lives today, there is only one prescription: make a pearl. It may have to be a pearl of patience, but…make a pearl."

"The process has now run full circle: Preaching originates in personal counseling; preaching is personal counseling on a group basis; personal counseling originates in preaching. Personal counseling imparts to the preacher a practical familiarity with human nature which he would not otherwise obtain."

"The real war is inward of which the outer action is but the echo and reverberation."

"The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are made of the same water. It flows down, clean and cool, from the heights of Herman and the roots of the cedars of Lebanon. the Sea of Galilee makes beauty of it, the Sea of Galilee has an outlet. It gets to give. It gathers in its riches that it may pour them out again to fertilize the Jordan plain. But the Dead Sea with the same water makes horror. For the Dead Sea has no outlet. It gets to keep."

"The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in men becoming like Him."

"The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it."

"Whatever the situation and however disheartening it may be, it is a great hour when a man ceases adopting difficulties as an excuse for despondency and tackles himself as the real problem. No mood need be his master."