John H. Dietrich: The Father of Religious Humanism


Book Review

By George B. Kauffman

John H. Dietrich: The Father of Religious Humanism, By Mason Olds, Fellowship of Religious Humanism, 1977, paperback, $15.95. 67 pp. Available from Humanist Press 1777 T St. NW Washington, DC, 1-800-837-3792

This informative pamphlet tells the fascinating story of the life and ideas of the Unitarian minister who, shortly before World War I, became the person most responsible for giving modern humanism its name and clarifying its major tenets.

John Hassler Dietrich (1878–1957) was a Unitarian minister, born at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is called the “Father of Religious Humanism.” He was educated at Franklin and Marshall College and at the Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, ordained in the ministry of the Reformed Church in 1905, and defrocked in 1911 for failing to affirm primary Christian beliefs. His religious development evolved to Humanism and Unitarianism, in which he served various pastorates, including First Unitarian Society of Spokane (1911-1916), and then First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis (1916-1938). He retired to Berkeley, California, where he died. He is buried in the crypt of First Unitarian Church of Chicago. He was the author of The Gain for Religion in Modern Thought (1908); The Religion of a Sceptic (1911); Substitutes for the Old Beliefs (1914); From Stardust to Soul (1916); The Religion of Evolution (1917); The Religion of Humanity (1919); and The Fathers of Evolution (1927).


George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno and Guggenheim Fellow, is recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach, and Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.