Magazine article Anglican Journal

(Ernest) Harrison Made People Think

Magazine article Anglican Journal

(Ernest) Harrison Made People Think

Article excerpt


THE 1990s have Episcopal Bishop Walter Righter - branded a heretic for acting on his beliefs and currently being tried in Bishops Court for his actions (Bishop Righter ordained a non-celibate homosexual).

The 1960s had Rev. Ernest Harrison - also branded a heretic for his beliefs, to wit: espousing the popular "God is dead" theology of his day.

Ernest Harrison died in Toronto on March 26 at the age of 79.

A scandal erupted in the mid-1960s when he made headlines saying that he didn't believe in an after-life. At a lecture in 1966, he questioned whether belief in God was necessary for faith and was quoted in the secular press, "The church as we know it? There's no hope for it ... we should put it quietly to sleep."

In his position as associate-editorial secretary of the department of religious education of the Anglican Church of Canada, he commissioned agnostic Pierre Berton to write about the state of the church.

Mr. Berton's book, The Comfortable Pew, which contained a forward by Mr. Harrison, criticized the Anglican Church for its stuffiness and complacency. It was a bestseller in North America, with more than 250,000 sold.

Ten theologians, led by then-Rev. Tom Harpur, now a newspaper columnist and religious broadcaster, denounced Mr. Harrison as a heretic and called for his removal from ministry.

Mr. Harrison later wrote his own book, A Church Without God, which said there was no God, speculated about the sex life of Christ and questioned the idea of life after death. Its radical views prompted the bishop of Toronto, George Snell, to refuse Mr. Harrison permission to officiate in the diocese.

"It stirred things up pretty badly ... things that the ordinary person had never questioned," said Bishop Snell in a recent interview. Now retired, the bishop said the average person in the pew in the 1960s was not ready for the concept of "no God in the bright blue sky."

Rev. Michael Creal, Mr. Harrison's boss and general secretary of religious studies from 1959 to '65, said he doubts that Mr. Harrison would face the same backlash for voicing similar views today.

"Ernie Harrison was an extremely bright, challenging, provocative sort of guy," said Mr. Creal, now retired but teaching at York University. …

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