Alfred Cole Unmasked:
The Provenance of the Universalist Preaching Commission
Jay Atkinson ©2012
The Universalist Preaching Commission, “Go out into the highways and by-ways . . .Give them, not hell, but hope and courage”—long attributed to John Murray—is shown to have been written by Alfred S. Cole in 1950. The source of the misattribution is identified as a 1962 book by Henry Cheetham, and the trajectory of the misattribution’s subsequent transmission into the circles of Unitarian Universalist legend is traced. In addition, the aptness of Cole’s words as an accurate expression of the thought of Murray and of Zeitgeist of the late eighteenth century is examined and found wanting in significant historical and theological respects. The paper concludes with some reflections on how contemporary canons of historiography, especially within UU circles, foster the proliferation of such misattributions and what scholars should consider in moving toward more responsible practices in the writing of UU history.
This paper, in revised form, may be found in:
The Journal of Unitarian Universalist History XXXVII (2013-2014), pp. 100-125.