Theodore M. Greene

by Lois Ann Yensen De Sha '60

As a first-year student in Browning Hall, whenever I sat at a dining table with seniors, they spent their time raving about Professor Theodore M. Greene, the Hartley Burr Alexander Chair of Humanities. I sat with those seniors as often as I could, but I had nothing to add to their discussions about religion, as I had never even gone to a church.

The second semester of my first year, I decided to take Professor Greene’s “Philosophy of Religion.” As a result, I became a philosophy major with a religion minor. Scrippsies, this is not a smart major and minor. It prepares you for nothing in the real world. Still, it has meant the world to me.

We studied T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy. Everyone sat at a table around Professor Greene, and most everyone smoked along with him. He used a cigarette holder and gestured with it, and the smoke curled as he talked. He kept us all excited about what we were learning. I remember I wanted to know if any religious experience was the same in Buddhism as in Christianity. He did not know, but he made me want to know. Also, how did we define the Christ consciousness, and was it the same as the Buddhic Atman? I was full of so many questions because I had grown up without Christian boundaries. Professor Greene said I asked questions that were impossible to answer. Still, the Socratic way he taught made you want to make connections; made you want to know, not just question, so that you could experience the Truth for yourself. He sent me on a 45-year quest for God.

I’m sorry to say I started smoking, and it took me far too long to quit. I wrote my thesis with Professor Greene on Paul Tillich’s The New Being.

I graduated, got married, and moved to Georgia. Professor Greene was then teaching at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. I went to hear him lecture. It was such a joy to be in his presence again. He, too, had quit smoking.

I made an appointment to see him. The day of the appointment, we had tornado warnings. I called and cancelled. The next time I called the college, someone told me he had gone to his cabin in the mountains for vacation, and the cabin had burned down with him and his wife in it. I was probably the last person from Scripps to see the dear man.

T.S. Eliot said in Four Quartets:”We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploration will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” The pebbles Professor Greene threw into the pond are still making ripples in my soul.