In middle age, after a youth of unreflective atheism, I began to have a serious interest in the role of religion in human affairs, and in the doctrine and philosophy of the great religions. I determined to educate myself, with a particular focus on the history and teachings of Christianity and Islam. I’m still an unbeliever, but my fascination with this topic continues to grow, and my view of the importance of religion is very different now.
In my early life I had two tremendous resources, right at home, that I would give almost anything to be able to draw upon now. Sadly, they are both gone.
When my parents moved to Princeton in 1956, two years after emigrating to Canada from the U.K., they became very close friends with two families, the Montgomerys and the Davies. Throughout my childhood, they were my extended family, particularly since we had no relatives living in America.
The partiarch of the Montgomery clan was Robert P. Montgomery, a tall and distinguished-looking man who was Princeton’s most prominent Presbyterian. He had done graduate studies at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate from the seminary at Princeton; he went on to become the chaplain of Princeton University. He also joined the department of philosophy at John Jay College in New York, and was for many years the department chair. To me, however, he was just “Uncle Bob”. He died, too young — he was only 68 or so — in 1987.
I’ll confess that it was not until just recently that I realized the depth of the other great resource I managed so completely to ignore. This was “Uncle Horton” Davies, a soft-spoken, balding Englishman with a kind and serious face. I knew that he taught at Princeton, but what I didn’t know was that Uncle Horton was in fact one of the greatest living scholars of the history of Christianity. He died in 2005. You can read the obituary of this truly remarkable man here.
What I might have learned from these men!