Chapter 10: Time for Reflection

So, what difference has this learning and experience had for me? For anyone else?

First, my parents helped me build a solid foundation of trust and thankfulness. From my observations, particularly of brothers, it would appear that they at least implicitly invited some degree of freedom of thought and were not afraid of deviation from “the family way.” I have related either here or elsewhere my own flight from familiar places and ways and of my father’s acceptance of me as I was and as I have become.

My brother, Richard, a medical doctor, became convinced of the natural role of evolution in the life of the world. He was not afraid to express that and did so, with mixed reaction. My brother, Leon, for a time was a Seventh Day Baptist pastor. I recall one summer at a church conference he appeared wearing a black arm band in a test of something that I do not recall. My brother, Willie, has faced cancer several times during his life, beginning the year after his graduation from high school, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, which was, at that time considered fatal. Over the years, whether influenced by his fight against this cancer and the results of that, by other life experiences, the influences of a good friend of his, David Bowyer, or just by study, he has become fundamentalist in his beliefs. I believe that he would be willing to classify himself politically with the Republican religious right, and likely the Tea Party. I have one sister who is openly aligned with the Tea Party and another that, at least politically, would likely be aligned with that. My youngest brother, with whom my parents, in their later years, had been living, is very open to our parents that he does not share their religious ideas. Nonetheless, he acknowledged to me one time during the last few years that during his childhood, Dad would often ask him what he thought, and Dad valued his responses. At family gatherings, we boys, particularly, enjoyed visiting among ourselves, usually one-on-one with perhaps an onlooker, about religion, medicine and science, but particularly about religion. Dad did not enter into those discussions, usually busy with something else at such times; Mom would usually be within earshot of the discussion but expressed no interest in it, whether of approval or disapproval. Theological discussions have never interested Mom. For her, religion is not something that you discuss, although you may share your faith; rather, religion is something that you do.

In these discussions I noticed that although there may be among us different beliefs as to the reasons for caring about and serving people, or for loving nature or caring for it, there is no disagreement concerning not only our obligation, but our desire to care and to serve. In our family some more fundamentalist members are convinced that the Bible is God’s revelation directly to man, from which they can determine what is God’s will. There are others who not only do not share those convictions, but may even deny the “existence” of such a God. That statement, as I see it, does not necessitate the conclusion they fail to see the sacredness in life about us and in our living within it. When one of the members of our family has expressed concern to me about the “disbelief” of another member, I have in recent years responded, “Don’t worry about that. Jesus taught, ‘by their fruits you will know them.’ [He or she] clearly bears good fruit.”

I have come to appreciate people of other religions and faiths, and, despite any possible disagreement with me, they show that they care for others and demonstrate “respect for life” in the myriad ways that it is presented to us. I don’t need to see God as a great designer, as a great protector nor as rewarding right belief. I don’t have a good definition of God; in fact, I firmly believe that any attempt to define God or, for that matter, to name God, whether that be “Our Father in Heaven,” “Lord,” “Allah,” or “Yahweh,” the name can only point toward that experience of the divine, but can never contain it. I believe that an appropriate response to an experience of the divine, or of a perception of God’s presence or activity in our own lives, is reverence, awe and gratitude – but especially gratitude. Without gratitude, one risks becoming self-congratulatory, arrogant and self-important. I have learned that “no man is an island.”

I believe that the “program” for the “kingdom of God on earth” cannot be accessed except by compassionate living; it will not be imposed from without but obtained from within; it will be inclusive of the whole of life in all its manifestations and exclusive of no one; and it will be kindled by love. We don’t have to wait; rather, it is at hand. We need but open our eyes and our arms and claim it. We are more likely to experience it if, rather than going alone, we take others and all life with us.

 

Return to Table of Contents: https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/my-own-faith-responses-to-my-own-life-experiences/

Chapter 9: Home Alone: Meaning from Fragments

A couple of years ago, Dawn bought me a Kindle, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Whereas I had previously spent most of my time reading to learn, for the first time I read novels which not only stimulated my mind, but also my imagination. I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Shack, Crime and Punishment, Les Miserables, The Autobiography of Gandhi, Tale of Two Cities, and many more. Because of declining physical function, both as to ambulation and energy, in February, 2012, as earlier stated, I quit volunteering at school and stayed home to rest and hopefully recover. During that time, I had more opportunities to read and to write. In March, in preparation for counseling for codependency and obsessiveness, I wrote my history involving those issues, entitled, Getting over Childhood. In mid-April I began this project of collecting and summarizing my notes in an attempt to draw together into a meaningful whole my spiritual journey. My Kindle permits me to highlight portions of books that have meaning to me. Over the last six months or so my reading has intensified, perhaps because I realize that both multiple sclerosis and post polio syndrome have a history of taking a toll on mental functioning: use it or lose, or, use it while you have it. The following is a summary of some of those notes.

I had read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship some years ago but I recently revisited it in the light of circumstances at our local church over the last two years with a new pastor and a woman that was his associate pastor: A powerful family in the church who wanted to reclaim the church from “gays and lesbians” (who they felt entitled to identify and castigate) and from “liberals,” particularly “the usual liberal United Methodist pastor.” Through a series of machinations, they were able to oust the pastor that we had and to obtain from the Bishop appointment of a fundamentalist minister from the Omaha area who was well known to them and others as being “anti-gay.” Shortly after his arrival, he confiscated materials of a support group that he felt promoted acceptance of the GLBT community of our church, and he orchestrated the dismissal of two women in the front office of the church that had served our church between 17 and 20 years, each, without any forewarning, without demonstration of appreciation for their long service, and without any severance pay, leaving one of them destitute and both of them feeling devastated. They took down from display boards and all walls all materials that were associated with the United Methodist campaign to “Rethink Church,” as well as any literature or reference to the public commitment of United Methodist’s to “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Then they removed the Wednesday night meal service to members of the church and to the poor in our community, posting a sign at the entrance to the Fellowship Hall stating that all were expected to make a minimum contribution to the meal of three dollars. I and others felt that these actions were unchristian and unbecoming of a United Methodist Church. I discussed my concerns about the firing and retreat from Christian values and Methodist openness and acceptance in a spirit of love with leadership and discovered that they entirely supported the pastor’s actions. In time, we got so much resistance to making it right with the women they fired that I began a blog under the title, Heal Our Church, which described the injustices done by the church leadership and the pastor, the efforts to obtain justice for those who were hurt, and the roadblocks and diversions thrown up against our calls for justice. Ultimately, after four months, we were able to obtain for the women who were fired a reasonable severance pay sufficient for them to get back on their feet. Thereafter, in what would appear to be the largest church conference in any church that I have ever attended, those in attendance overwhelmingly supported the pastors and approved a remarkable 20% increase in their pay from that granted to them less than six months before. In the following year they again were each granted significant increases in pay. During both of those same years the church has failed to meet its financial obligations which were previously called apportionments and are now called mission shares, intended for the administration of the United Methodist programs, including missions.

That first year, the senior pastor tried to justify his actions in firing the women by preaching on forgiveness. His message was that forgiveness is forgetting a wrong that another has done to you, as though nothing happened. That caused me to download The Cost of Discipleship to my Kindle and re-examine it. In that book, Bonhoeffer addressed this situation where the pastors were demanding that they be “forgiven” for firing the women without acknowledging any guilt. “Cheap grace is grace without price; grace without cost!” “Luther said that grace alone can save; but those words were always spoken in correlation with the obligation of discipleship, of obedience to Jesus.” [Cheap grace is] preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance.” “That faith without works is not faith at all, but a simple lack of obedience to God.” It appeared to me that our pastors and church leadership were preaching love and forgiveness without acknowledging their wrong, and while their actual works were quite contrary to the Gospel message of compassion.

I had liked de Chardin, so I downloaded several of his books to revisit him. I saw that Henri Bergson was a great inspiration to him. When I was writing on notions of justice, I read both Whitehead and Bergson. I downloaded some of Bergson’s writings, and I will begin with that.

In his book, Creative Evolution, Bergson notes two remarkable characteristics of an organ of the animal or human body: the complexity of its structure and the simplicity of its function. “It must not be forgotten that all the parts of an organism are necessarily coordinated.” Some have taken this fact to conclude that the complexity with function demands a maker: God. Bergson writes, “If the variations are accidental, how can they ever agree to arise in every part of the organ at the same time, in such a way that the organ will continue to perform its function? Darwin quite understood this.” . . . “The already old experiments of Dorfmeister had shown that the same chrysalis, as it was submitted to cold or heat, gave rise to very different butterflies, which had long been regarded as independent species.”. . . “The more we reflect upon it, the more we shall see that this production of the same effect by two different accumulations of an enormous number of small causes is contrary to the principles of mechanistic philosophy. . . . “If the crystalline lens of a Triton be removed, it is regenerated by the iris. Now, the original lens was built out of the ectoderm, while the iris is of mesodermic origin. What is more, in the Salamander maculata, if the lens be removed and the iris left, the regeneration of the lens takes place at the upper part of the iris; but if this upper part of the iris itself be taken away, the regeneration takes place in the inner or retinal layer of the remaining region. Thus, parts differently situated, differently constituted, mentioned normally for different functions, are capable of performing the same duties and even of manufacturing, when necessary, the same pieces of the machine. Here we have, indeed, the same effect obtained by different combinations of clauses.”

Bergsen proposed that this coordinating principle be called the vital élan or “vital principle” from within rather than directed from without – no God intervening to direct evolution. “Whether we will or no, we must appeal to some inner directing principle in order to account for this convergence of the facts.” My layman’s understanding of that is that the process of evolution is analogous to genetic structures that influence an off-spring’s development.

As indicated above, Teilhard de Chardin was greatly influenced by Bergson. Teilhard takes the view of creation that, rather than individual creations of plant and animal life, all life on earth derives from a single appearance of life.

[T]he most convincing proof to me that life was produced once and once only on earth is furnished by the profound structural unity of the tree of life.. . . “Survival of the fittest by natural selection” is not a meaningless expression, provided it is not taken to imply either a final ideal or a final explanation.. . . This dramatic and perpetual opposition between the one born of the many and the many constantly being born of the one runs right through evolution.. . . All scientists are today in agreement for the very good reason that they couldn’t practice science if they thought otherwise.. . . To jolt the individual out of his natural laziness and the rut of habit, and also from time to time to break up the collective frameworks in which he is imprisoned, it is indispensable that he should be shaken and prodded from outside. What would we do without our enemies?

Admittedly the animal knows. But it cannot know that it knows: that is quite certain. If it could it would long ago have . . . developed a system of internal constructions that could not have escaped our observation.. . . Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow, in which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts.

Teilhard rejects the notion of a life hereafter “in heaven” as egotistical, false, and against nature:

No element could move and grow except with and by all the others with itself. . . . The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the superhuman – these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open only to an advance of all together, in a direction which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual renovation of the earth.

Teilhard sees all of life as sacred. Indeed, he sees full immersion in the physical world as a Eucharistic celebration and holy, as a mass on matter.

Considered in its full biological reality, love – that is to say, the affinity of being with being – is not peculiar to man.. . . A universal love is not only psychologically possible; it is the only complete and final way in which we are able to love.. . . In the course of the coming centuries it is indispensable that a nobly human form of eugenics, on a standard worthy of our personalities, should be discovered and developed.

De Chardin uses the phrases, “religion of the earth” and “the God of the ahead.” Of his faith, there was no threat of dualism:

If, as the result of some interior revolution, I were to lose by succession my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, and my faith in spirit, I feel that I should continue to believe in the world. The world, (its value, yes its value and its goodness) – that, when all is said and done, is the first, the last, and the only thing in which I believe. It is by this faith that I live.

In early 1991 I read a biography of Gandhi. In the past year I downloaded onto my Kindle Gandhi an Autobiography: the Story of My Experiments with Truth. It was even more interesting to hear what Gandhi had to say about himself and his “experiments with truth.” I could particularly relate to a statement he makes early in his autobiography:

My own recollection is that I had not any high regard for my ability. I used to be astonished whenever I won prizes and scholarships. But I very jealously guarded my character.

He describes fundamentalist Christian claims that their religion had the exclusive hold on “being saved.”

In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this.

Elsewhere, he wrote that if the gospel consisted only of the Sermon on the Mount, he would have no trouble with Christianity.

He also had no difficulty in recognizing the limitations of his own Hindu faith. Inspired by Tolstoy, he envisioned a much more universal God.

And he who would be friends with God must remain alone, or make the whole world his friend. . . . [T]ruth is the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective. . . . When helpers fail and comforts flee, I find that help arrives somehow from I know not where. . . . [T]he argument [for] proof of Jesus being the only incarnation of God and the mediator between God and man left me unmoved.

Gandhi speaks of a Christian’s attempt to convince him that salvation was impossible except through Christianity and that eternal life is only possible through the sinless son of God,

If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin.
It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. . . . If God could have sons, all of us were his sons. If Jesus was like God, or God himself, then all men were like God and could be God himself. . . . The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. . . .Thus, if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion, neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me.. . Though I took a path my Christian friends had not intended for me, I have remained indebted to them for the religious quest that they awakened in me.

Truth is like a vast tree, which yields more and more fruit the more you nurture it. The deeper the search in the mine of truth, the richer the discovery of the gems buried there. . . It is my firm conviction that all good action is bound to bear fruit in the end. . . .Service without humility is selfishness and egotism. . . .Soul-force . . . is but another name for love-force. . . . My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than truth. . . . I do not know how far this movement is going to succeed; at present it is only in the incipient stage. But I have full faith in it. At any rate it can do no harm.

I then turned to Tolstoy, to whom Gandhi acknowledged great debt. A Letter to a Hindu summarizes the principle that became Gandhi’s method of civil disobedience: “The punishment of evildoers consists in making them feel ashamed of themselves by doing them a great kindness.”

In The Kingdom of God is within you: Christianity Not As a Mystic Religion but As a New Theory of Life, Tolstoy states his thesis simply:

… The Christian doctrine, in its direct and simple sense, was understood, and had always been understood, in a minority of men, while the critics, ecclesiastical and free thinking alike, denied the possibility of taking Christ’s teaching in its direct sense.

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed an idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him. . . . Christianity is understood now by all who profess the doctrines of the church as a supernatural, miraculous revelation of everything which is repeated in the Creed. . . . But Christ could not have founded the church, that is, what we now understand by that word. For nothing like the idea of the church as we know it now, with its sacraments, miracles, and above all, its claim to infallibility, is to be found either in Christ’s words or in the ideas of the men of that time.

Every branch in a tree comes from the root in unbroken connection; but the fact that each branch comes from the one root does not prove at all that each branch was the only one. . . . . Strange as it may seem, the churches as churches have always been, and cannot but be, institutions not only alien in spirit to Christ’s teaching, even directly antagonistic with it.

In about 1991, I was in a Sunday school class and I suggested that Jesus’ admonition in that particular case was very clear, for example, keep nothing for tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself . . . turn the other cheek . . . forgive seventy times seven. The leader of that class responding by stating that Jesus was the son of God, he could do that, but we are but human and cannot. That is precisely what I understand Tolstoy to be saying in My Religion – What I Believe, when he says,

 My spiritual instructors taught me that the law of Jesus was divine, but, because of human weakness, impossible of practice, and that the grace of Jesus Christ, alone, could aid us to follow its precepts. . . . It was only another way of saying that the presence in the Christian doctrine of the commandment which no one observed, and which Christians themselves regarded as impracticable, is simply an avowal of the foolishness and technicality of that law. . . . The church says that the doctrine of Jesus cannot be literally practiced here on earth, because this earthly life is naturally evil, since it is only a shadow of the true life.” “Reason does not proscribe; it enlightens. . . . [The doctrine of original sin] seems to be innocent. But deviations from truth are never inoffensive. . . . Of the struggle between animal instincts and reason, which is the essence of human life, this doctrine takes no account. . . . [According to the doctrine], Adam, once for all, sinned for me, and Jesus, once for all, has atoned for the wrong committed by Adam. . . . . The effects of the knowledge of good and evil, which man so unhappily acquired in paradise, do not seem to have been very lasting.

In all the different ages of humanity we find the same thought, that man is the receptacle of the divine light descended from heaven, and this light is reason, which alone should be the object of our worship, since it alone can show the way to true well-being. This has been said by the Brahmins, by the Hebrew prophets, by Confucius, by Socrates, by Marcus Aurelius and by all the true sages.… And yet we declare, in accordance with dogma of the redemption that it is entirely superfluous to think of the light that is in us, and that we ought not to speak of it at all!

The true life is the life which adds something to the store of happiness accumulated by past generations.. . . Jesus’ meaning was that the dead are living in God.… Jesus affirmed only this that, whoever lives in God, will be united to God; and he admitted no other idea of the resurrection. As to personal resurrection, strange as it may appear to those who have never carefully studied the Gospels for themselves, Jesus said nothing about it whatever.
The idea of a future eternal life comes neither from Jewish doctrine nor from the doctrine of Jesus, but from an entirely different source.… We are so convinced of the elevated character of this superstition, that we use it as a proof of the superiority of our doctrine to that of the Chinese or the Hindus. . . . According to the Jewish doctrine, man as man, is mortal. He has life only as it passes from one generation to another, and is so perpetuated in a race. According to the Jewish doctrine, the faculty of life exists in the people. . . . The difference is that while the religion given by Moses was that of the people for a national God, the religion of Jesus is the expression of the aspirations of all humanity. . . .. . . The entire doctrine of Jesus inculcates renunciation of the personal, imaginary life, and a merging of this personal life and the universal life of humanity, in the life of the Son of Man.

A drowning man calls for aid. A rope is thrown to him, and he says: ‘Strengthen my belief that this rope will save me. I believe that the rope pulls me; but help my unbelief.’ What is the meaning of this?… They refused to believe, not in the rope, but that they are in danger of drowning.” “[P]ersuaded that they will not perish, so men who believe in the resurrection, convinced that there is no danger, do not practice the commandments of Jesus. . . . I saw that what these men call faith is the faith denounced by the apostle James: ‘What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man believe he hath faith, but hath not works? Can that faith save him? . . . The doctrine of life is the foundation of faith. . . … The other doctrine, taught by Jesus and by all the prophets, affirms that our personal life has no meaning save through fulfillment of the will of God. . . . So those who believe that true happiness is to be found in the personal life can never have faith in the doctrine of Jesus.

Jesus never asked men to have faith in his person; he called upon them to have faith in truth. To the Jews he said: “Ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth which I have heard of God.” . . . One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be severed.

The doctrine of Jesus is to bring the Kingdom of God upon the earth. The practice of this doctrine is not difficult; and not only so, its practice is a natural expression of the belief of all who recognize its truth. The doctrine of Jesus offers the only possible chance of salvation for those who would escape the perdition that threatens the personal life.

How forthright! How courageous! Tolstoy speaks boldly of matters that I only suspected but dared not address directly. I returned to the priest and scientist, Teilhard de Chardin’s Christianity and Evolution:

Considered objectively, material facts have in them something of the divine. In relation, however, to our knowledge, this divine element of them is no more than a potency. . . . And it is almost impossible to conceive that, among the millions of galaxies which whirl in space, there is not one which is known, or is going to know, conscious life – and that evil, the same evil is that which is such a blemish on earth, is not contaminating all of them, like some insidious ether. [As to the traditional concept of original sin] he is caught in a dilemma: either he must completely redraw the historical representation of original sin (= a “first man’s” disobedience); or he must restrict the theological Fall and Redemption to a small portion of the universe that has reached such boundless dimensions, the Bible, St. Paul, Christ and virgin and so on, but hold good only for earth.

Let me say frankly what I think: it is impossible to universalize the first Adam without destroying his individuality. . . . [The doctrine of original sin] simply symbolizes the inevitable chance of evil… which accompanies the existence of all participated being. . . . Strictly speaking, there is no first Adam. . . “Adam” represents the price that has to be paid for progress. . . . A mankind which proclaims that it is alone, or in a special position, in the universe reminds us of the philosopher who claims to reduce the whole of the real to his own consciousness, so exclusively as to deny true existence to other men.
The idea of an earth chosen arbitrarily from countless others as the focus of redemption is one that I cannot accept; and on the other hand the hypothesis of a special revelation, in some millions of centuries to come, teach the inhabitants of the system of Andromeda that the Word was incarnate on earth, is just ridiculous.

Instead, Teilhard offers another meaning of “original sin:” “This is that original sin expresses, translates, personifies, in an instantaneous and localized act, the perennial and universal law of imperfection.

Nobody, I think, can fail to see that the vital question for Christianity today is to decide what attitude believers will adopt towards this recognition of the value of the whole, this ‘preoccupation with the whole.’ Will they open their hearts to it, or will they reject it as an evil spirit? . . . Science and philosophy’s revelation of the whole is an undeniable fact.

[L]et us, then, see whether, in examining the features of this new Earth, we may not find a way of arriving at a new interpretation that will fit in with both the expectations of the pantheist and the hopes of the Christian. . . . However individual our salvation may be from many points of view, it is in consequence accomplished only by collective fulfillment.

There can be no hiding the fact: in the present teaching of theology and ascetics, the most prominent tendency is to give the word ‘mystical’ (as in mystical body, mystical union) a minimum of organic or physical meaning. . . . Without realizing it, they make the very common mistake of regarding the spiritual as an attenuation of the material, whereas it is in fact the material carried beyond itself: it is super material. . . . What form must our Christology take if it is to remain itself in the New World?

From the point of view of the Christian scientist, acceptance of Adam and Eve necessarily means that history is cut off short in a completely unreal way at the level of the appearance of man; what is more, when we reached the more immediately living domain of belief, original sin, in its present representation, is a constant bar to the natural development of our religion.. . . . [I]t drags us back inexorably into the overpowering darkness of reparation and expiation. . . . Original sin, conceived in the form still attributed to it today, is an intellectual and emotional straight jacket. Fundamentally, in fact, the idea of Fall was no more than an attempt to explain evil in a fixed universe. As such, it is completely out of keeping with the rest of our representations of the world; and that is why we find it oppressive. . . . We must remember, the world was only a week old when Adam sinned. Nothing in Paradise, accordingly, had yet had time to perish. . . . I say this with all sincerity: I have always found it impossible to be sincerely moved to pity by a crucifix so long as this suffering was presented to me as the expiation of a transgression which God could have averted – either because he had no need of man, or because he could’ve made him in some other way.

The complete and definitive meaning of redemption is no longer only to expiate: it is to surmount and conquer. . . . The truth about today’s gospel is that it has ceased, or practically ceased, to have any attraction because it has become unintelligible. . . . Here again, if we are to remain faithful to the gospel, we have to adjust its spiritual code to the new shape of the universe. Henceforth the universe assumes an additional dimension for our experience . . .
For my own part, the thing is clear: in the case of a true act (by which I mean one to which one gives something of one’s own life), I cannot undertake it unless I have the underlying intention (as Thucydides noted many centuries ago) of constructing a ‘work of abiding value,’… not that I am so vain, but some sort of essential instinct makes me guess at the joy, as the only worthwhile joy, of cooperating as one individual atom in the final establishment of a world: and ultimately nothing else can mean anything to me.

This reminds me of something Dad wrote to me some seven or eight years ago. He said that many Christians think that the point of Christianity is dying and going to heaven. He says, “No, it is living a life of eternal significance.” At their 40th wedding anniversary, I asked him about that statement. In response, he said that he didn’t think we were made to be throwaways, and he referred to Matthew where Jesus said, in effect,”In as much as you have done unto the least of these, you did it to me – enter into your reward – but, inasmuch as you did it not to the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

George Sartain notes in his book, Leonardo and the Birth of Modern Science, that from Leonardo’s apprenticeship in Verrocchio’s studio he learned the theory of perspective, art of light and shade, and the physiology of vision. His training in colors and varnishes was an opportunity to learn some principles of chemistry. He made a thorough analysis of the “human machine,” how it was structured, how it functioned and how that structure affects the exterior appearance of the human body. His anatomical drawings provided a great tool for the anatomical study of the body. He had the opportunity and the inclination to study the pathology relating to hardening of the arteries, tuberculosis lesions, and the causes of senility. He also was a practical engineer, including a military engineer. As he engineered canals he noted various layers of sand and clay, prompting his inquiry into their formations. The field of botany was natural to his interests in drawing plant life. His employment as a military engineer led him to a notion of a submergent device by which ships could be sunk, and he also explored concepts which were later realized in the design of 20th-century helicopters.

Without the development of mathematics, the 17th century would not have been able to achieve its scientific feats. Galileo’s conflict with the church was that of observed fact with the inflexible rationality extending from the Middle Ages.

The message is clear to me: Science and faith, when properly understood are not in conflict but are compatible. Faith may declare what our eyes do not see, but they do not declare contrary to what the eyes see.

Next Chapter:  https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/chapter-10-time-for-reflection/

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Chapter 8: Finding Meaning and New Abilities in a Life With Disability

In about 2003, especially in the summers, I was able to return to some of my reading. My brother Richard had recommended to me a book on philosophy that I bought and read: Philosophy in the Flesh by George Lakoff. I also purchased and read two other books: The Evolution of God by Robert Wright and The Case for God by Karen Armstrong.

Wright opens his book discussing some primitive rituals filled with superstition, much of which would be quite contrary to today’s civilized politeness. In fact, he notes that the Bible even documents such primitive rituals. For example, he cites 1 Samuel 28:15. The context of that is provided in 1 Samue28: 3-19: Samuel has died and the Philistines set up military camp against Israel. In fear, Saul asks the Lord what he should do, “God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.” So he locates a woman who can contacts spirits. She who brings up the spirit of Samuel. She describes to Saul what she is able to see: “an old man wrapped in a robe.” Saul recognizes the description as fitting Samuel. Presumably through the medium, Samuel demands of Saul, “why have you disturbed me to bring me up?” Saul tells the spirit that the Lord will not hear him or respond to him, and Samuel responds, “Why consult me when the Lord has departed from you and is become your adversary?” He then tells Saul that the Lord has taken the kingship from him and given it to David.

Wright next cites Genesis 6:1 – 4, in which the “sons of God” take notice of and admire the “daughters of men.”… “The sons of God used to cohabitate with the daughters of men, who bore them children, those mighty manifold who made a name.”

Many of the Bible stories bear remarkable similarity to stories of certain pagan religions and cultures of that region. For example, Wright tells of another story of the great flood: “The great god Enlil (himself a sometimes sex addict) once ordered up an epic flood, like the biblical flood that Noah would later survive; but, whereas Noah’s God uses the flood to punish people for wickedness, Enlil’s motive was less exalted: humanity had been noisy while he was trying to sleep, so he decided to extinguish it.”

Nor is monotheism exclusive to the early record of Jewish society. The Egyptian god,”…Aten, at the height of his power, stood alone in the divine firmament, a clear foreshadowing of the Hebrew God, Yahweh.” Wright, notes that Akhenaten extended the notion of that divine power to all humankind.

In his fifth chapter of The Evolution of God, entitled “Polytheism, the Religion of Ancient Israel,” Wright explores the origins of Abrahamic monotheism. He begins his discussion, “If you’ve read the Hebrew Bible carefully, it tells the story of a god in evolution, a god whose character changes radically from beginning to end.” In the creation story of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, Wright makes reference to allusions to several gods: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ (Genesis 1:26 –7). And, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:22). And, feeling threatened by the construction of the Tower of Babel which is intended to reach to heaven, God says, “Come let us go down, and confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7).

Although some Jewish and Christian scholars assert that references in the Old Testament to heavenly hosts or other supernatural beings do not refer to gods, Wright counters that Psalms 82 clearly shows that they were gods and not angels: The revered King James Version, unapologetically provides, “God standeth within the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” Other major versions are as clear.
As to the early history of the Jews and of their history, Wright notes that excavations of areas that the Bible reports were conquered by Israelites show no evidence to confirm those claims. “In fact, it looks more and more as if the Israelites were Canaanites.”

One scholar, Finkelstein, goes so far as to state that there is no evidence of a mass exodus of Jews from Egypt. Wright says of the stories, that they were written several centuries after the events described, and were even later being edited. This past year, I happen to be at a memorial service for a brother-in-law’s mother, where I happen to meet the husband of one of her grandchildren who is a scholar. He said he was intending to go to Egypt to do archaeological studies, concerning Jewish history there. I remarked to him that I understood there was no archaeological evidence to substantiate that the Jews were ever in bondage in Egypt. He acknowledged that was true. I did not pursue the matter further, so I do not know what he hoped to find there in his archaeological quest. However, I took his acknowledgment as some evidence of the reliability of the above statements.
Further, Wright says, “If you read the Hebrew Bible carefully, it tells the story of a God in evolution, a God whose character changes radically from beginning to end.”

Wright also acknowledges the Greek influence upon the gospel of John by its use of “logos,” or in English, “the Word:” “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” In Greek thought, the logos had a specific reference: relating to its own notion of the ideal in the world above this physical one, of which its reference on earth are mere reflections. Implicit in both concepts of the “ideal” and “Logos” was the notion of corruption on earth in the reflection. That idea, was itself a bifurcation of the experience of “this world” and a separate world of the “spiritual and the ideal:” the “plan of God” imposed upon this corrupt world. Wright describes the practical meaning of “Logos:” “all the logos does is create situations in which ever larger circles of moral inclusion make rational sense;…”

As to the reliable biblical claims of Jesus, Wright notes the ironic rule for evaluating those Bible’s claims as historical: “The less sense a claim makes, the more likely it is to be true.” That rings similar to Schillebeeckx’s principal of critically examining the biblical story of Jesus: the likelihood that a fact which was included in the story of Jesus that would have been an embarrassment to the early Christians is one indication that it is likely true. In fact, Wright adopts that critical tool. He notes that in the Hebrew the word “Messiah” meant “to apply oil” to or to anoint. The Greek word for the concept of Messiah is “Christos.” In either language, it is evident that both words, Messiah and Christos are faith statements, i.e., statements of the meaning of the life of the historical Jesus. When the above concepts are applied to the texts of the Gospels that are available to us, the reasonable conclusion should be, Wright argues, that the death of Jesus should have been a devastating blow for any disciple who had been claiming that he was the Messiah. Indeed, the gospel of Mark does not conclude with any notion of Christ’s victory over death, but with his final words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Many commentators have shown that Psalm 22:18 begins with the same words and suggest that Jesus was merely citing that Psalm in an excruciating circumstance. Nonetheless, as presented in Mark, it is a very dark conclusion for a gospel, meaning “good news.” The book of Acts states that 40 days after he appeared to Mary Magdalena, Christ ascended into the heavens, much as the Jewish scriptures, or Christian Old Testament, told of Enoch, Elijah, and Isaiah. While a mighty story, not unique in the Jewish scriptures, as we will later see concerning faith names referring to him and to Caesar.

In his chapter titled “How Jesus Became Savior,” Wright notes:

This Christian notion of salvation was a watershed in the evolution of the Abrahamic god – or, at least, in the non-Jewish lineage of that evolution. In both its Christian and Muslim forms, it would prove influential in ways both fortunate and unfortunate. Believing that heaven awaits you shortly after death makes death a less harrowing prospect. And this, in turn, can make dying in a holy war a more attractive prospect, a fact that has shaped history and even today shapes headlines.

As a precursor to the Jesus of the Nicene Creed, Wright notes that Osiris, a major God in Egypt for thousands of years, bears “a striking resemblance” to that Jesus.

Wright notes that Jesus never directly refers to himself as the “Son of Man,” Nor does he claim, specifically, that he will return. Indeed, at least a couple references to Jesus in the New Testament following the crucifixion show that followers were confounded by events that were reported as witnessed. Luke 24:6 – 9 tells us that several days after Jesus was killed, his mother and Mary Magdalena went to his tomb and found it empty. They were “perplexed.” Two mysterious men appeared to them to ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Remember how we told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

Luke also tells us that after the crucifixion two men were walking to Emmaus when joined by a mysterious man. If these men were familiar with Jesus, they would, you would think, recognize him in the flesh; but they did not recognize this man who joined them. After walking and talking on the road, they sat to eat together. It was not until the man broke bread that they recognized him as Jesus, and then only because of the manner in which he broke the bread and gave it to them.

Wright notes that the first literature in the New Testament to refer to an afterlife as immediate reward for being good on earth appears only after Paul’s ministry, that being in the book of Luke, which was written about 80 or 90 CE. In that account, Jesus tells the “confessing” criminal beside him that because of his faith, that very day he would be with Jesus in “paradise.”

Islam and the Koran are also addressed by Wright in a chapter titled, Well, Aren’t We Special? Judaism, Christianity and Islam share “the God of Abraham.” Wright notes that all three of these religions tend to be exclusivist religions. “The consistent moral of the story of the Abrahamic religions is that any given book of scripture can be put to a wide variety of uses. He concludes that chapter with a section titled The Future of God. In it, he compares Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism to Constantine’s conversion to Christianity.

Unlike Constantine, Ashoka insisted on respecting other religions in the Empire; he never demanded conversion. . . . Whereas Christianity and Islam were both enlisted in Imperial holy war, Ashoka renounced conquest, horrified by the event that had preceded and triggered his conversion to Buddhism – his own bloody conquest of a neighboring region. “The most important conquest . . . is moral conquest.’ . . .”

As I had noted earlier, Alfred North Whitehead tells us that because Christ followers believed that Jesus had promised that while some of those hearing him yet lived, he would return in all his glory; and that for that reason they did not withhold giving lavishly to those in need, since they would have no need of it in the time to come. Wright tells us that “by the time Luke was written, more than a decade after Paul’s death, that expectation was no longer operative.” Luke then asserts that the kingdom “is not coming with things that can be observed… The kingdom of God is within you.”

I next read Karen Armstrong’s book, The Case for God. She has some interesting chapters in the book, including God, Reason, Faith, Silence, Faith and Reason, Science and Religion, Scientific Religion, and Enlightenment. In her chapter on atheism, she describes the progression through organized Christianity to the protest against that by claims of atheism:

The evangelicals brought natural theology, hitherto a minority pursuit, into the mainstream. Even though they continued to insist on the transcendence of God, they believed, paradoxically, that He could be known through science as a matter of common sense. Wary of learned experts, they wanted a plain-speaking religion with no abstruse theological flights of fancy. They read the Scriptures with an unprecedented literalism, because this seems more rational than the older allegorical exegesis. Like scientific discourse, religious language must be unequivocal, clear, and transparent.

This literalism of the Bible conflicted with the scientific knowledge of the time. The fundamentalist Christian who took the Bible literally, therefore separated the spiritual from the “mundane physical.”
. . . They wanted a rationalized God who shared their own moral standards and behaved like a good evangelical. . . . Interestingly, He shared their enthusiasm for the virtues that ensured success in the marketplace: thrift, sobriety, self-discipline, diligence, and temperance. This God was clearly in danger of becoming an idol.
. . . In America, Protestantism empowered the people against the establishment, and this tendency still continues, so that today it is difficult to find a popular movement in the United States that is not associated with religion in some way.…

By contrast, a new type of atheism has emerged in Europe that was different from the scientism of Diderot and d’Holbach.

Armstrong notes that theology advanced in Germany promoted the skills of historical – critical methodology as applied to the Bible. That is not entirely a new treatment of Christian Scriptures. In the first century or two of Christianity, there were those who warned that not all Scripture was to be taken literally because some of it conflicted with the observable world and their own life experiences. Will Durrant noted in his Story of Civilization that before the Council of Nicaea, an Orthodox Christian doctrine became fixed, there were a number of church leaders who counsel that some of the stories in the Bible must be taken metaphorically and not literally. Karen Armstrong writes ithat St. Augustine said as much: if the reader found that a segment of Scripture contradicted that which was clearly observed, the reader must find an allegorical interpretation of that passage. It is literalism, and not metaphorical interpretation, that is the modern construct of Scripture. Over the years I have appreciated John Wesley’s notion that truth can best be accessed not only through Scriptures and Christian tradition, but also through reason and experience. It really isn’t so new when one looks at the larger view of the history of Christianity, after all.

Science had once been a branch of philosophy, but now it rejects any notion that is not quantifiable and observable, objective, and measurable. Applying that same standard to philosophical inquiry, the “positivists” demanded that “truth” conform to their own standards as applied to the physical world. Elsewhere, Armstrong has asserted that modern atheism does not exclude notions of the sacred. Whether through Armstrong, other readings, or examples of those about me or those loved ones in my family, I have come to the conclusion that atheism might be nothing more than a rejection of another’s assertion that God must be such and such. Jesus, in his own teachings, has told us not to worry about others or the manner in which they approach the truth. Rather, “By their fruits you will know them.”

Many Christians claim as authority for Christianity that no other religion claims that humans were raised from the dead, and that Christianity’s claim for Jesus is unique. They make similar unique claims for his sacrificial death for our salvation.

Other Christians, without detracting from their faith, note that these claims were not unique in history. Borg and Crossan, in their book, The First Paul, note that the same claims were earlier made by the Romans for Augustus, as

. . . Divine, Son of God, God, and God from God. He was Lord, Liberator, Redeemer and Savior of the World – not just of Italy or the Mediterranean, mind you, but of the entire inhabited earth. Words like “justice” and “peace,” “epiphany” and “gospel,” “grace” and “salvation” were already associated with him. Even “sin” and “atonement” were connected to him as well.

Borg and Crossan call this “Roman imperial theology,” which Paul turned on its head and then applied to Jesus.

In Greek mythology, Dyonisis was a god and Son of God, was killed, resurrected from the dead and was celebrated by drunken rites in which the people drank his blood and ate his flesh. The early Christian fathers claimed the similarity of these stories to those about Christ was the work of the Devil to mislead people. (See Will Durant, Story of Civilization.)

As many Christians who take the Bible is literally true, if you can’t believe it is true, then you cannot be a good Christian. There is some legitimacy to that question. Pilate asked him, “What is truth? Is truth confined to a literal reading of the narrative of the New Testament stories?

Next Chapter:  https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/chapter-9-home-alone-meaning-from-fragments/

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Chapter 7: The Pain of Resurrection

Besides the public humiliation, I had given up the practice of law and all of its resources to become a judge; now I was thrust back into that environment, without the tools necessary for survival. The adjustment was difficult. To complicate matters, I was mired in the mud of self-pity and financial distress. It was so debilitating that I found myself jealous when I attended the funeral of a fellow law school classmate who was also a County judge that I also helped to orient. From past experience, I recognized that I was depressed, so I sought mental health counseling with a local counselor, Dave Prescot. He happened to be a minister and a classmate of my brother, Leon, at a Kansas City seminary. David introduced me to Reality Therapy and gave me a book to read: Reality Therapy by Dr. William Glasser. Glasser writes that those who need psychiatric treatment have not been satisfying their needs of relatedness and respect. He writes of 3Rs: reality, responsibility, and right and wrong. “People do not act irresponsibly because they are ill; they are ill because they acted irresponsibly.” Wow! David also introduced me to Constructive Therapy: we color our perceptions of the world by our self talk. He helped me to understand that when I told myself that the loss of the judgeship was terrible, I allowed myself to treat it as a road block, preventing me from progressing further. If I changed the self talk to “this is difficult,” then the obstruction would no longer be a road block, but would become an object around which I could navigate.

Once I had gained some skills to move on in life, I tried to understand how I had failed as a judge. I became interested in civil disobedience as I began to interpret my loss of retention to be the result of failing to give the attorneys who practiced before me, or heard about me from others, what they demanded of me. I got several books about the life of Gandhi and of Martin Luther King. That year the movie of Gandhi’s life was released. I am not one to show emotions of grief, but I discovered that watching the movie brought on choking tears. In an attempt to understand how I had arrived at such dire circumstances, I began to write my autobiography. I also began writing on notions of justice, centering on the Supreme Court case concerning the Rulo torture and murders which were committed under a notion that they were commanded to do so by Yahweh.

In preparation for my writings on justice, I read a number of books on philosophy and theology, on the relationship of science and religion and on civil disobedience. At about the same time, a Methodist minister in a nearby town told me that he understood I was interested in process theology. He was pursuing his doctorate of Divinity, he said, and as part of that, he had to study Minjung Theology. As far as he was concerned, it was just a requirement for him to get his doctorate, and he considered it to have no value. A lawyer friend of mine, Bill Erickson, had a phrase for such willful ignorance: “Swimming in the sea of knowledge and not getting wet.” I eagerly accepted the books. I discovered that Minjung Theology had some similarity to Liberation Theology but was developed in Korea as a response to Japanese domination of their country. It was centered on the notion of “han” or the suffering of the people. Whereas Christianity had been established in their country, it was a Western form of Christianity which seemed to subjugate them to alien authority. As with other forms of liberation theology, it incorporated the notion of God grieving with his people, much as the Negro slaves yearned for freedom from their masters and from dominant white society. How they felt comforted by their spirituals which analogized their situation to that of the Jews, “the people of God,” in Egypt in which Pharaoh was brought to his knees and finally let them go.
From 1991, I worked on a draft of Cry, “Justice!” over the next 10 years. My premise was that when we bifurcate human existence into separate spheres of spirit and matter, great injustice is done to both ourselves and to others. It was such a dualism which “justified” the Rulo murderers. I also distinguished notions of righteousness as a state of right relationships from that of state of being, as in the Pauline notion of “counted it as righteousness,” as though it were a thing. When we treat righteousness as something that can be obtained and held as a badge of honor, we divorce it from the relational life which gives it meaning.

In the Omaha World Herald of November 16, 1991 there appeared an article on the religion page entitled When God’s Beard Is Gone: Researchers Probe What Happens As Childish Faith Matures by Julia McCord. She identifies six stages proposed by theologian James W Fowler:

1) God is magical and mythical – an old man who lives in the sky. Stage I is most typical of children ages 3 to 7.
2) God is whoever and whatever the church or synagogue, parent or teacher says. Stage II is most typical of school children.
3) God is a personal friend worthy of commitment, but only in the context of the teachings of church or synagogue, parent or teacher. Stage III most typically begins in adolescence or young adulthood.
4) God is a personal friend but is defined more by a person’s experience and reasoning rather than by the teachings of church, synagogue, parents or teachers. Stage IV can begin in early adulthood. But for many, it is reached in the 30s or 40s.
5) God is complex and mirrored in the beliefs of many traditions. Stage V is unusual before midlife.
6) God is transcendent and life-changing. Stage VI is very rare.

Julia McCord interviewed Gary K Leek, associate professor of psychology at Creighton University, Omaha, who defined these stages. Of the last stage, she quotes Prof. Leek: “[They] actualize love and justice. They consider all people brothers and sisters. They really try to bring the kingdom of God to earth. Stage VI will make people nervous and uncomfortable and guilty.” She writes, Leek said some religious groups and some television evangelists don’t encourage growth past stage III, settling for stage III commitment but not stage IV and V questioning.

As more fully related elsewhere, Connie and I were divorced, and I married Dawn. Those early years following the divorce were years of struggle, trying to maintain a relationship with my children, who Connie took to Papillion, Nebraska. To see them required that I make a round-trip of eight hours of a Friday evening to get them and again at the end of the weekend on Sunday to return them. Reading became a luxury that I could not afford for a number of years. In 2005, I again saw a psychologist who, again, performed a psycho – neuropsychological evaluation of me and determined that I was disabled for purposes of Social Security benefits. I volunteered at the elementary school where Dawn taught, which tended to use any free time that I may have had.

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Chapter 6: Judgeship: Idealistic Misfit In a Pragmatic World

In the late spring of 1986, Gov. Kay Orr appointed me as county judge in central Nebraska. I had enjoyed judicial philosophy in law school and had come to love Jerome Frank’s book, Law and the Modern Mind. I understood that the judicial role was not just pragmatic, but had a high social function, not only of enforcing the law, but of helping to encourage respect of the citizens for the law in the interest of social justice under the law. Throughout law school, I had the highest regard for the professors in that they cared about what the law provided, how it coheres with basic principles, or does not, and how it provides for efficient and reliable planning for the future. In my early practice of law, I received some unexpected results from a number of judges who took a pragmatic view of the law which, to my view, underscored the principle: don’t rock the boat. Sometimes I appealed and obtained a reversal of that “practical”result, and sometimes not. I also often heard a number of attorneys in central Nebraska speak of our district judge, “He may not follow the law, but he does what is fair.” A large part of my practice at that time was representing businesses and banks whose practices were governed by the Uniform Commercial Law, the purpose of which, as the name suggests, was to provide the means for banks and businesses to plan for their futures by applying that law to their transactions. Nothing would be more unfair and detrimental to efficient and reliable commercial practices than to abrogate the very law upon which they had relied for what a judge thought was fair.

Jerome Frank was known as a “legal realist” who inquired into how justice is rendered by the judiciary. He speaks of the fiction of the “unbiased judge.” There is no such thing. As human beings, we cannot help but be biased. It is part of the human condition. The remedy is not to be found in pretending that we have no bias, but rather, in recognizing those biases as such so that we can adjust for them in the interests of justice. He addresses laws that are clear in their language and in their application, and those that fall in the “penumbra,” which hovers between light and dark, clear and unclear. Of course, in criminal law, there cannot be a proscription that lies in the penumbra. In order to convict of a crime, not only must the proscription be clear, but a conviction must be upon evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in the civil law the level of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. When the civil law intimates a result in circumstances similar to the facts of the case to which it is applied, but not clearly so, it is considered to be in the penumbra, as Jerome Frank described it. It is then appropriate that the judge examine the law to determine its “legislative intent” as concerns its application to the particular facts. In other words, the judge considers the process of legislation in passing the law under consideration: what did the legislative discourses show were the purposes of the law, why was it introduced, what was hoped to be accomplished by it, what were concerns discussed concerning its scope, its applications or its possible impact. Even then, the judge is not free to make his own law, but is required to apply the law consistent with that evidence of its intent.

In criminal law, I examined the various purposes of sentencing, including punishment, deterrence, social catharsis and retribution. I also had to articulate the distinction between judging the act and judging the person. It was my intention that, no matter what my sentence, it would help that person to become law-abiding and would promote the general public’s respect for the law. I have written more extensively of my judicial experience elsewhere.
My appointment as county judge required that I have my “home court” in Custer County. I commuted from Ord, a 50 mile trip each way, for a year until we could sell our Ord home and buy one in Broken Bow. We bought a run-down Victorian home there with the idea of “fixing it up.” We moved to its county seat, Broken Bow. In the next block north of our home was the Episcopal Church, and next to that was its priest’s rectory or parsonage. I met him, Tom Hansen, and we had occasion to visit concerning religious matters. He had a number of books concerning theology that embraced the human condition, not as “fallen,” but as holy. He loaned many of them to me.

One of those books was Affirming the Human and the Holy by the Catholic nun, Philomena Agudo. In contrast to the fundamentalist notion that man is fallen and this life corrupted, Agudo finds this life and the body to be holy. She notes that the self innately desires integration and is transcendent in character, seeking to reach out beyond itself. Because of that capacity, we are also able to change and reshape our characters. Mental health requires affirmation of one’s real self. “Emotionally dependent persons tend to have to habitually suppress their feelings. They so hunger for acceptance and love that they dare not express any negative feelings for fear of rejection.” “If the human body, or life itself, is a gift from God, the person has responsibility to take special care of that gift.” Indeed, she notes that a simple definition of sin “is behavior that tends to destroy oneself and others.” Christianity as it has become has placed too much emphasis on the evil of man. “The individual who is able to recognize and appreciate the holy in himself or herself transcends human limitations and comes in contact with God.” “The human needs salvation. Salvation is possible only when the individual accepts his or her need to be liberated from inhibiting idols.” Here, again, I found myself returning to Eric Fromm. And what I found refreshing with Agudo was that she was unapologetic about the physical body, including sexuality: she quotes Washbourne to say, “every human being has a’sacred obligation’to his or her own body.… Sexual structures in the body revealed the human and the holy.” Indeed, she concludes, “Human sexuality has its spiritual and physical dimensions that must never be ignored.”

At about the same time, I read with interest another book, The Ascent of Man by J Branowski, that, far from excoriating humankind as evil, celebrated it. “The human baby, the human being, is a mosaic of animal and angel.” He notes that the history of man is unequally divided. His biological evolution spans millions of years, but his cultural history goes back only about 12,000 years. There are a number of turning points in human history. One of those is, after millions of years of evolution, the decision to leave their nomadic life to become villagers. He cites the Old Testament as a record of that decision. “The Bible has a curious history, part folklore and part record.” The life of the nomad is without features, without memorial. However, when the nomad ceases to follow the natural migration of wild herds and settled down to domesticate sheep and goats, mankind takes on the duty of leading the helpless herd. A turning point in agriculture thereafter was the cultivation of wheat with a large head of seeds. In its turn, “Settled agriculture creates a technology from which all physics, all science, takes off.” From that, one of the most powerful inventions in agriculture is the plow, as a “lever which lifts the soil, and it is among the first applications of the principle of the lever.” The wheel was developed and used before 3000 BC in what is now southern Russia. In Sumer and Assyria, the wheel was used as a mechanical device to draw water for irrigation. The horse was first used to draw wheeled carts, like an ox, and then about 2000 BC men discovered how to ride it. From the use of the horse, warfare developed. But, Bronowski notes, war is not a human instinct. Rather, “it is a highly planned and cooperative form of theft.” Thereafter, the various handicrafts developed: “the hand is the cutting-edge of the mind.” Copper was early discovered and used, but it would not hold a sufficient edge to be an effective weapon in war. Seemingly by accident, when copper was united with an even softer metal, tin, it paradoxically became a stronger metal that would hold the edge of the sword: bronze. Only in the 20th century was the atomic explanation of that result discovered. The making of steel was developed in the process of making the Japanese sword, guided, not by chemical analysis or principles, but by ritual. Just over 2000 years ago the Chinese made the first reference to alchemy. Gold was precious, not because it was scarce, but because it was incorruptible. Alchemy was more than magic: “It was from the outset a theory of how the world is related to human life.” Although these analogies have many times led to remarkable discoveries, often apparently unrelated to the modern scientific explanation, “Every theory is based on some analogy, and sooner or later the theory fails because the analogy turns out to be false.” Jerome Frank called it “as if thinking.” When we failed to recognize the analogy and treated that process as an the equation, we are misled. Similarly, Bronowski notes, modern medicine was stymied until about 1500 because it assumed the principle of “vitalism:” that all cures must be derived from some form of life, plant or animal.

Speaking of medicine, I am reminded of Bill Moyers’ public television series entitled Healing and the Mind, later transcribed to book form. He notes the function of “belief” in the efficacy of many, perhaps most, paradigms of medical health and healing. For example, in the United States, and most industrialized nations, surgery is rendered possible by chemically disabling the conscious, but in China, the same effect is achieved by acupuncture. Each model has its limits and each its special advantages.

Upon our arrival in Broken Bow, we were privileged to have a special minister at the United Methodist Church: Gil Jackson. Gil had a background in the Mennonite church, in which my Grandma Wheeler grew until marriage; he had also been a professor of philosophy prior to his ministry and ordination in the United Methodist Church. He was a special friend. He knew my interest in philosophy and theology, particularly in Process philosophy and theology. One day he told me that Marjorie Suchocki, a process theologian, would be presenting at a continuing education seminar in January, 1989, for United Methodist pastors concerning process and prayer. He referred me to two of her books: Process and Prayer and God, Christ, Church: a Practical Guide to Process Theology. In the first, she introduces the reader to three principles of process theology: 1) all existence is relational, 2) relations are internal to who we are, and therefore have an effect on who we are, and 3) to be is to have an effect on others. “What happens to one happens to all.” “Well-being cannot be limited to a few.” “We are called to forms of redemption in this world, as fragmentary as it may be.” “You are your prayers. This is why we can pray without ceasing. It is a will toward conformity with God.” “Sin is a lie. Confessional prayer clears the path.” “To fail to consciously acknowledge is to endorse the sin by omission.” “Unnamed sin is perpetuated sin.” “Hatred is a fire that consumes. Pray for people that you do not like.” “Pray from where you really are; not from where you ‘ought to be.’” “In this finite life, death is a cheap price for the glory of life.” “Death completes life and brings it to life’s fullness.” “The value of prayer is relational.” In her latter book, she expresses a notion relating to the premise of Jesus Through the Centuries: “implicitly or explicitly, positively or negatively, Christians tend to express faith in ways which are generally compatible with dominant understandings of the world.” At the seminar, the Fellowship of Learning, she made the point that the notion of the Trinity “is not two men and the bird, nor is it tri-theism. It is a metaphor.”

The Spiritual Diseases of Alcoholism and Other Addictions

After I was installed as County judge, but before I took my own courts, I was assigned by the court administrator to observe Judge Finn in an adjoining judicial district. At the end of the first day of observation, I noted to him that it appeared to me that about 90% of all misdemeanor offenses tried by the County Court that day were associated with the abuse of alcohol. He concurred with that observation. I found that to be true throughout my own court experience; but it was even more marked in Broken Bow.

Broken Bow and nearby Ansley had a cluster of many mini-ghettos in which presided a large number of American Indians, primarily from the Lakota tribes in Pine Ridge and Rosebud in southern South Dakota. And indeed, the county and Broken Bow are steeped in US /Indian history and relationships. Of course, the county, itself, was named for the infamous Gen. Custer-turned-hero, which would seem to honor the general who, largely through his own hubris, was “the victim” of the people that he had come to destroy: tribute to a “victim” of Indian resistance. Tradition has it that Broken Bow was named for an incident when the local post master’s son found a broken bow in the area: representation of the early settlers’ fear of the inhabitants whose land they invaded and took as their own under a notion of “manifest destiny,” a notion not dissimilar to the ancient Jewish notion of “the Promised Land.” Upon conquest of the area and its prior inhabitants, the Broken Bow High school elevated their own self-image by “honoring” the conquered as its mascot: the “Broken Bow Indians.” Some years later an Indian reservation jocularly took on a reverse version of the same notion, adopting as its mascot, “the Fighting Whiteys.” An interesting juxtaposition of contradictory values. And so it was with the relationships of our Indian population in the local and national societies of that day.

One of my most intriguing classes in law school was Indian Law. Talk of contradiction and duplicity as the foundation of all that we are today! We invaded the land of the Indian and justify it by notions of manifest destiny; the Indians were decimated by our European diseases and our technologically advanced weapons; they struck a deal to give the Whites what they wanted and to obtain relief and some conditions to protect themselves and their way of life. The Whites broke the deal to get a better deal, the parties struck a new deal to secure peace and security for the Indians. That happened repeatedly across Indian country, from East to West. When the Indian inhabitants were fully conquered, they were relegated to reservations, often in areas entirely foreign to them, considered by the white conquerors at the time to be valueless property, declaring the Indians sovereign within their newly-assigned, diminished territory, but dependent upon the conqueror-now-become- protector and guardian. In the last forty or so years, as American Indians have recovered some of their self respect and have challenged the US government to account according to its fiduciary duties for financial gain that it obtained in its management of Indian resources; the US government now asserts that they cannot accounted for its management – inadequate records, but that there is no remedy. Sound dysfunctional?! It is, and yet we continue to maintain laws that keep the American Indian subject to federal law, subject to federal supervision, yet proclaim their sovereignty.

I came to believe that the only resolution to “Indian welfare” is to offer to all Indian tribes to abrogate all agreements that keep the American Indian subjugated and dependent. Authentic living can never be based upon a lie. If a healthy relationship is ever to be established, the deceit must be acknowledged and accountability had. The argument may be that full accountability is unattainable. That may be true, but at some point the slate must be cleaned. It may be that an interior country is undoable, but Indians must be given that option, in which they will succeed or not, but it will be a choice they make.

Early in my judicial career, County judges were invited to the drug and alcohol treatment center at Valley Hope in O’Neill. I chose to participate in that. We took the same mental health testing administered to patients, and likewise counseling – except that our counseling included an opportunity to discuss with counselors the issues of alcoholism and drug abuse and how it is treated. We were invited to sit in on group sessions and meetings and mingle with the patient’s as we wished. I was impressed with the AA twelve-step program and how patients were benefited by the treatment and the program. We observed as patients worked their way through the steps of the program, beginning with an individual acknowledgment of powerlessness and inability to manage our lives. The second step is to acknowledge that a power greater than we are can restore us to sanity. Eric Fromm, in Psychoanalysis and Religion writes: religion gives us a sense of orientation and an object of devotion. When that “object of devotion” is something other than that which is life-affirming, then our orientation is not toward living but escaping, whether alcohol, drugs, or anything else. The Twelve Steps does not define or limit religious conviction, but helps us to assess how effective we have been in living and how we might reorient and redefine our goals to live more effectively. These are the steps as originally defined in the context of alcoholism, but applicable to any dependency that keeps us from full life:

The Twelve Steps

We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other alchoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

That experience at Valley Hope, together with the sum of my prior experiences, influenced my judicial philosophy and practice. If alcohol is associated with such a large percentage of criminal behavior, and if it is strongly related to ineffective living patterns and stuck behaviors, then sentencing must be directed toward encouraging transformation to better and more effective ways of living that are more consistent with the larger society. Although the criminal law prescribes a particular range of penalties, yet it also permits probation subject to certain remedial remedies.

It appeared to me that many of the American Indian population in our area were disconnected from their roots and had found refuge in alcohol or drugs. The incidence of alcohol abuse and associated petty criminal behavior in our Indian population was much greater than it was in the non-Indian population. In order to better understand how the lives of so many of our local Indian population had become unmanageable and dysfunctional, I asked our probation officer, Jeff Kawada, to go with me to visit the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations to discuss with leadership there the Sioux way of life, issues they confront and effective ways to help our local people to live more effectively.

We went first to the Pine Ridge Reservation at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. We met with tribal leaders there. While there, I visited an art gallery of American Indian art. I was familiar with stylized American Indian art, but here I saw the work of artists who, rather than throwing back to the past, reflected the conditions of their lives, their challenges, and their aspirations through what I would call authentic art reflective of the present times as influenced by the past. We also saw Indian housing which reminded me of the Bronx in the 1960s, a lawless and ravaged ghetto. Dominant white-Anglo-Saxon society complained that we “gave” them houses to live in, but they did not appreciate our generosity and then stripped “the gifts” of wiring and copper pipes to sell for alcohol. It was evident that the houses had been stripped, but the notion of magnanimity unappreciated utterly missed the mark. There was evidence of construction within the city, but the construction equipment was surrounded with tall wire fences, topped with looped razor wire. One might ask why “the Indians” would steal the very tools and materials to improve their lot as a people and as a nation. Interesting to me that a people who bargain, break the bargain, renegotiate more favorable terms, break that bargain and renegotiate the next, ad infinite, call such deplorable behavior “Indian giving.”

Pine Ridge was in reality a ghetto city located in isolation within apparently desolate Plains. There was little naturally “Indian” about it. Isolated, of course, except for the town of White Clay, Nebraska, just a mile south of Pine Ridge, South Dakota. It was located just across the border of the reservation in Nebraska; it was built for the sole purpose of locating sales of alcohol to a defeated-become-dependent population within walking distance of their homes in Pine Ridge. That mile of road connecting the two villages was strewn with empty, discarded beer cans, bottles and other artifacts of alcohol dependency and despair. It appeared to me that white society had not only uprooted the American Indian, but also made them dependent upon federal laws, and then took commercial advantage of their conditions.

The next day we visited a FM radio station near Rosebud which was the cultural, social and political voice of the people of the reservations. We discussed the frustrations of Indians as a “dependant sovereign nation,” their accomplishments and aspirations. Later that day, we stopped at the site of the wounded knee massacre where, a second time, federal agents, enforcing the “law” and responding to fears of dominant American society, shot and killed Indians, this time members of AIM who recalled the prior atrocity and dared resist. We visited the cemetery, and while there, we were approached by some young Indian men. We had been warned that it was dangerous to “tread on sacred Indian ground.” Although intensely uncomfortable, it at least was an honest encounter in an environment where the indigenous people whom we have named for a European miscalculation were not intimidated but felt “at home.”

One of the impressions that I had of that experience was that the political invaders that we call “Americans,” became frightened of the spiritual power of the native peoples, so, upon conquering them, to keep them in submission we outlawed their ritualistic expressions of that spiritual union of humankind and nature. Of course, as in South America, the missionaries followed the conquest seeking to convert the native populations to Christianity, to “save them.” The Indian people became “soul-less,” or lost souls, replacing that void with alcohol, drugs, or other ritualistic behaviors. For an excellent article featuring the Indian viewpoint on these issues and the progress or lack of progress that they are making, see National Geographic, August 2012, “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse: Rebirth of a Sioux Nation.”

I had hopes of being able to adapt my sentencing styles and practices in a way that would affirm the individual as a person of worth and encourage filling the void with something of meaning and value. When the prosecutor in Custer County learned of my intentions, both with Native American criminal violations and alcohol related violations, he regained control and power by not prosecuting such violations in court, but imposing his own programs under the threat that the court would order something much more “onerous.” Before that happened, I had an occasion to take a defendant’s plea of guilty to driving while intoxicated. I heard nothing more of it until 10 years later I received a telephone call from a man who identified himself and had called to thank me for 10 years of sobriety. I recalled his name because he was one person that appeared before me and that I sentenced upon a third or fourth conviction for driving while intoxicated. He said that I talked with him at sentencing, when I told him ,”I think I see something in you that you are not seeing.” He said I then proceeded to give him the maximum penalty, which included 30 days in jail, but that he felt respected nonetheless. He said that when he got out of jail, he went back to undergraduate school, got his bachelor’s degree, then got his master’s degree, as I recall in medieval literature, and was at that time expecting to begin doctoral studies. He said that he was calling to thank me on the 10th anniversary of his sobriety. Ten years later, he again called me to thank me for my part in his 20th anniversary of sobriety. That, for me, even though I played only a small part of his first step toward sobriety and wholeness, made the judgeship worthwhile.

In the last couple of years of my judgeship, I came across a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eberhardt Bethge. He notes that for Bonhoeffer, ethics is helping people “to share in life, it is the Christ-like in the midst of the human.” He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer concerning his sense of being led: “It is strange that I am never quite clear about the motives that underlie my decisions. Is that a sign of vagueness, of intellectual dishonesty, or a sign that we are lead on beyond what we can discern, or is it both?” I could relate to that in what I described once as “happy accidents” where, throughout my life, something good happened that I did not plan for nor did I anticipate, but for which I was grateful. The biography noted that Bonhoeffer supported Bultmann’s theology. That led me to the book, The Promise of Bultmann by Norman Perrin. Bultmann was a New Testament scholar. He was active in the Confessional Church, as was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and, with Bonhoeffer, he refused to modify his lectures to suit Nazi demands. One of his concerns was to accurately interpret the New Testament to discover the writer’s intention and to determine its meaning for the reader in the reader’s world. For him, the task of theology is “to understand what they say in their language in order that we may say it in ours.”

In the spring of 1990, I was subject to evaluation by lawyers of the Nebraska Bar Association-sponsored judicial survey. Although the court administrator and the chief justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court appreciated my diligence and contributions to the orientation of new judges and continuing judicial education, the attorneys who responded to the survey rated me and another County judge as the worst judges in the state. That was painful and I felt abandoned, and desperate. I was given about a month’s advance notice before the survey was made public. At that time, the public was given a preface to the results which claimed that the survey was valid and that it could be relied upon to determine whether they would vote to retain or not to retain that particular judge.
Neither I nor the other judge identified as the worst in the state were retained in the election that November. I undertook to return to the practice of law, and the other judge left the state of Nebraska. I have discussed this further elsewhere. I was distraught.

Next Chapter:  https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/chapter-7-the-pain-of-resurrection/

Return to Table of Contents: https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/my-own-faith-responses-to-my-own-life-experiences/

Chapter 5: Remarriage and Return to the Discipline of Study

Connie and I were married that next summer when I was hired at Lewis and Clark Junior High School in Omaha and we moved near there in the Papillion area. Together, we have four children: Brian, Jesse, Hilah, and Rachel.

In Omaha, we attended for some time the Unitarian church. Although I found that my religious experiences, as verbalized, fit more with Unitarian notions, nonetheless, I found the Sunday services to be lifeless intellectual expositions on various topics. For a while we attended no church, but I continued with my own reading and inquiry. We bought a home in Gretna, a community outlying to Omaha and I commuted from there to Lewis and Clark Junior High School, near Crossroads, Omaha. The demands of that job took some time from my usual study in the morning. But I did find time to read a number of history books on European history from the Middle Ages through the Industrial Revolution, on psychology, and educational philosophy and theory.

My third year of teaching at Lewis and Clark Junior High School was interrupted in about November when I had surgery on my vocal chords to remove nodules. Thereafter, Dr. Duff certified to the school that I was disabled from teaching and would remain so. Three months later, without a job, I received a telephone call from the administrative office of the Omaha public schools advising me that I had disability insurance, which was news to me. I was to contact their office to set up career counseling, which did. The counselor, Pat Mochler, suggested three careers that appeared to be a fit for me, only one of which I could enter immediately with the degree that I had in music education: that was the law, which I selected. Northwestern Mutual, my disability insurance company, paid my tuition in law school and extended benefits an extra three months to see me through to graduation. That left me little time for personal reading.

During law school, I got up at 3:30 AM to study for that day’s classes so that I could be available for family in the evening. Upon graduation from law school, I returned to my former 5 AM to 7 AM schedule of reading and study. I did not, as a rule, work or study in the evening, that being family time. Early morning was when I could study without taking from family time. Mostly, I read books on history, philosophy, theology, science and religion. I often took notes in the margins of the books which I had purchased, and I then typed outlines and summaries from those notes for later review – such as, it turns out, now.

Upon my graduation in December, 1979, and passing the bar examinations, that time was freed up, but it then was focused on finding a position in a law firm. Ultimately, I found a position with Bob Stowell in Ord, Nebraska, just 11 miles northwest of North Loup. I was asked to direct the church choir at the Ord United Methodist Church, which I undertook, maintaining the connection that I cherished with choral music. On Saturdays, the Sabbath, we attended the North Loup Seventh Day Baptist Church. Being then an attorney and not the music teacher they had previously known, that church asked me to become president of the church. I found it interesting that my law degree seemed to make me a different person than they had previously known. I served as president of the church for close to a year. At that time, we had a young pastor who was energetic and loved by the young adults of the church. I was a member of that group, but I was not a fan of his exclusive fundamentalism. I did not feel that my biblical and theological views were accepted by my age group (who were very fundamental and Biblicist in their views) and yet they did accept me socially, and I very much felt a part of their social activities such as their volleyball games of a Sabbath night. However, I enjoyed participating in the older Sabbath School class, which was not intimidated by my less than doctrinaire views. I felt I could be honest with them: they had life experience and did not seem to feel threatened by me.

The following summer the SDB pastor was conducting church camp and it came to my attention that he baptized some children of non-SDB parents living in Colorado, without consulting them and therefore, without their knowledge. I talked with him about the matter, and his reply was that baptism was necessary for them to be “saved” and he could not risk the parents’ intervention in the event that they might disapprove, and, by implication, their souls lost. I found that to be not only fundamentalist narrowness and superiority, but utterly inappropriate and disrespectful of both the children and their parents. I discussed this with other members of the congregation and they were unconcerned with the action of the pastor. I decided that it would be wrong for me to continue as president of a church that had such different values than those that I cherished, thereby becoming a thorn in the side of the pastor that was not only accepted by the congregation but loved by them. Therefore, I withdrew from the SDB church in North Loup, and we went as a family to the Ord United Methodist Church which I had also been attending each Sunday as choir director. I learned to respect the Methodists, particularly their clergy. I was inspired by the Wesleyan Quadrilateral which, at least among the clergy that served us to that time, I felt was not only accepting of me, but were also encouraging and nourishing.

Although I found that United Methodist pastors talked the language of their people, many of whom were white conservative, even fundamentalists, nonetheless, I sensed an openness among the congregation to a wider experience of the divine which included all people. That was encouraging to me and I felt comfortable and accepted by everyone.

Having observed difficulties that my own father had in various congregations that he has served, from persons who had a need for power or control that conflicted with Dad’s understanding of a loving and welcoming message of the gospel, I was determined to show support for each of my United Methodist pastors. I was able to do that and I received as much or more back from each pastor until two years ago. More of that later.

Eric Fromm remained a favorite of mine, and perhaps my primary focus, until the summer when our family visited my sister, Annita, and her family in Detroit. At that time, Hilah was a newborn child and Brian and Jesse were four and two years, respectively. During that visit, Annita took me to a used bookstore that was one of her favorite places. I have purchased many of my favorite books more by good fortune than by intention. This time I found a book by Nicholas Corte entitled Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: His Life and Spirit. This was an introduction to de Chardin and his ideas, containing a number of significant quotes of de Chardin’s works rather than an in-depth study. However, it acquainted me with the man and the broad range of his insights and contributions not only to religion, but also to science and to the relationship of the two, which were then, and yet remain, popularly conceived as irreconcilably conflicting. Perhaps that was one of the features of the book which attracted me to purchasing it: de Chardin, as both a priest and a scientist held that, properly understood, there was no conflict between science and religion. Instead, de Chardin wrote, “(T)he Cosmic Sense and the Christly Sense definitely coexisted in my heart and irresistibly they drew towards each other.

De Chardin served as a priest-chaplain to the French soldiers in World War I. For him, scientific research was “the passion for discovery, for penetrating the mystery of things and thereby also the mystery of God.” In that process of discovery, he first, already a priest, turned to geology and geography, then to paleontology, and then to prehistory. Throughout that time, he taught physics at Cairo. Inspired by his reading of Bergson’s Creative Evolution (1906), he turned to evolution, as the writer of this book described it, “the very law of the Universe created in Space – Time.” He gradually became more conscious of the drift of the universe “as a vital reality, and not mere hypothesis.” Of the union of science and religion, he once remarked, “The faith has need of all truth.” He was baffled by the inability of some Christian believers to see the world as it is and of some nonbelievers who were unable to see validity in the world of faith. Ultimately, he reduced the significance of the conflict to the following question: “Is life absurd or is it divine?” Elsewhere, he speaks of the coherence of spirit with matter, when he acknowledged, “as I pray, I gradually work out a bit better my ‘Mass upon Things.’ . . . The true elements that have to be consecrated every day is the growth of the world that day.” These ideas, as they early developed and as he expressed them, were threatening to the Church and the religious order that he served. The Church forbade him to publish his works and moved him, seemingly out of their way, to China. There, he discovered Peking man. Despite the Church’s prohibition, due to the dedication to him of various of his colleagues, his works were ultimately published by them upon his death.

I had early learned from Eric Fromm the dangers of alienating ideas from the human experience to which they allude, but never to equate them. I found de Chardin quite consonant with Fromm, holding that spirit and matter are inextricably connected: spirit is manifested in matter, not elevated apart and above it. Indeed, as he observed with awe the drift of the universe, and as he constructed and celebrated his “Mass upon Things,” de Chardin committed himself to the growth of the world each day. He did so despite the church’s attempt to isolate him and extinguish his voice. This book captured my interest, and a few years later I read Emily Reideau’s book, The Thought of Teilhard De Chardin. She noted that de Chardin was convinced that Christianity had the structure and ability to lead the world to salvation, provided that, rather than bifurcating spirit and matter and retreating to the first century, (or, I would dare say, to the “old time religion”) it allows itself to evolve to a meaning that is relevant for the 21st century by rediscovering its mystery through full immersion in the “total coherence of the Universe.” For either God or Christ to have any significance in our lives, the concepts of each must evolve within us.

De Chardin saw mankind as the result of the evolutive processes, but not as its culmination. With the appearance of man, he saw thought as “matter aware of itself,” creating a new energy: thought. He was confident that with each succeeding war, human history advanced and humanity has emerged a little more cohesive, a little more united, in closer forms of organic relationships and with a stronger expectation of its common emancipation.… After each crisis we find it more differentiated and yet more one.

It strikes me that, although isolated and gagged by the church to which he had submitted and believed himself voluntarily bound by his oath to respect and to allegiance, he was incredibly positive. He could have achieved that only through his commitment to prayer, and through his forgiveness. It was an effort: Corte noted in his book that de Chardin once confided to a friend that he prayed that he not die bitter. I am much blessed by the fortune of discovering in Detroit in a used bookstore that introduction to de Chardin. I was to return to de Chardin in 2011, which I will address later.

One day, as I was shopping in a bookstore in Omaha, my eyes fell upon a book by Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: an Experiment in Christology. Schillebeeckx was a priest and Catholic scholar whose writings also offended the Church, as so many scholars and intellectuals have offended the leadership of various Christian churches. His book, Jesus, was constructed in three parts: the first dealing with textual analysis and criticism, the second exploring the life of the historical person of Jesus as revealed in the New Testament gospels, and the third concerning Christology, i.e., the religious significance of Jesus as the Christ. He makes an interesting observation of a paradox that, while in the secular world God is disappearing, nonetheless the world is “sold” on Jesus. He notes that, “Jesus is to be found only as the subject of confession on the part of Christians. There is no non-dogmatic representation of Jesus.” Upon what basis is that confession to be made? First, he states unequivocally that “Biblicism is un-biblical.” The New Testament is in no sense “a depository of eternal, literal, unalterable truths.” It addresses a diverse Christological response to Jesus who has a historical and concrete context. He asserts that the historical study of Jesus is vitally important because it gives “a concrete content to faith.” Without that concrete foundation, faith degenerates into mere ideology and risks becoming ephemeral and irrelevant.

In examining the record available for us to discover the historical Jesus, Schillebeeckx notes that “not one of the four Gospels is the work of eyewitnesses. In examining the record that we do have to determine those parts that are authentic, various processes have some contribution: 1) the editing process, 2) form criticism, 3) tradition, 4) consistency of content, and 5) the record of the rejection of Jesus’ message (under the presumption that if an element of the written record of Jesus was or could be embarrassing to the early church, to have included it in the New Testament would suggest that it was and is reliable and true).

Schillebeeckx devotes a large portion of his voluminous book to John the Baptist and the historical figure of Jesus. Of John the Baptist, he notes,

John the Baptist is a non-messianic figure, no zealot, either, and apolitical in his message; nor is he an apocalyptist. God stands in radical judgment over against man, who cannot and will not judge himself.
Schillebeeckx notes that Jesus, despite some similarity between his message and that of John, was strikingly different from him. Whereas John impressed his contemporaries as being a strictly ascetic man, Jesus was considered to be “an eater and drinker,” and associated with sinners. (Mark 2:16).

The focus of Jesus’ message is, in contrast to John, sharing news from God: ‘God’s lordly rule is at hand.

Schillebeeckx describes Jesus’ message: it is God’s nature that God unconditionally wills good for mankind. In this message of God’s universal love, Jesus’ message is to be distinguished from that of John. In it, Jesus connects the future with the present. The Lord’s Prayer addresses this union: “your kingdom come” and “your will be done on earth.”

In discussing Jesus’ message through parables, Schillebeeckx notes that the storytelling culture of Jesus is not easily understood in our time. For example, Jonah and the whale, a story told in many cultures, in the Bible expresses the truth that God will never abandon his own however hopeless their situation may be. Christians have told the story in the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus. So, the storytelling continues.

Likewise, Schillebeeckx suggests that, as Christians, we approach both the gospel stories and the accounts of Jesus’ miracles as we do the parables: with the question: “What are these Gospels really trying to tell us? Only then can are we prepared to legitimately enquire regarding the hard-core of history in the stories.”

Not only must we understand the significance of the parables that Jesus tells as emanating from a story-telling culture, but Schillebeeckx suggests that must be the same approach that we have with regard to Jesus, himself: – his person, his stories and his actions. To illustrate this, he notes that between Mark 2:1 and 3:5, Mark strings together five disconcerting stories: the healing of the paralyzed man (whose sins he forgives) (2:1 through 12) – a meal that Jesus has with tax collectors (2:13 – 17) – Jesus’ defense of his disciples when they do not fast while they are with him (2:18 – 22) – justification of his disciples’ deliberately plucking years of corn on the Sabbath day (2:23 – 28) – and, lastly, by way of climax, how Jesus heals on the Sabbath the withered hand of a man (3:1 – 5).

Within the past year, 2011, I articulated, thinking it was an original thought, that one of the difficulties of fundamentalist Christianity is to mistake “miracle” for magical suspension of the laws of nature for a particular result. As I look through my notes, I see that Schillebeeckx notes the confusion about the miracles of Jesus: “The fundamental issue is (not a magical suspension of the laws of nature, but) what are the evangelists really getting at when reporting the wonders performed by Jesus?” Schillebeeckx then asks, “Even if Jesus had done all this in a historical and literal sense, what would that signify for us here and now?” For example, he asks, if one grants that the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people is a historic fact, what does that mean for the two thirds of mankind today who go hungry?” As an aside, I note how consonant that statement is with Dr. Nida’s definition of miracle: “Where the eye of faith sees the hand of God at work.”

Schillebeeckx addresses the context of the reported miracles of Jesus, or the absence of such reports. First, he notes that Paul, the source of the first written records to be included in the New Testament, or letters attributed to him, make no note of Jesus’ miracles. Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, does make note of them. In that gospel, Jesus’ miracles of curing the afflicted arises out of sheer compassion. Many times in the gospels Jesus attributes the healing to the faith of the person healed, noting, “your faith has saved you” or “your faith is great, may it happen to you as you wish.” Mark 5:34; Luke 8:48; Matthew 9:22; Mark 10:52; Luke 18:42; Matthew 20:31; Matthew 9:29; Luke 7:50; 17:19; acts 3:16; Matthew 8:13; Mark 5:36; Luke 8:50; Mark 9:23; Matthew 9:28; Mark 2:5; Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9; acts 14:9). On the other hand, Jesus was unable to heal in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5 –6).

Schillebeeckx casts light upon much more of Jesus’ teaching and healing and of his execution. In the latter part of his book he addresses Christology: “who do you say that he is?” In answering that question, the Christian has a record available in the New Testament. However, that is the story that circulated in that day. It can have relevance to us today if the Christian understands the contextual differences then and now. Every society views itself and all prior times through the filter of its own experience:

The question is not whether we know better than the faithful of earlier times. The question is what, in view of the new models of thought and experience, we must do, here and now, to preserve a living faith within this age and because of its truth and relevance for man, his community and society.

When among family, I feel comfortable to discuss theological and biblical matters, even among those that I know are fundamental or literal in their beliefs, perhaps especially those. Over the years I have been accused by various persons, usually fundamentalists, of using my logic to build a religious system which is bound for destruction, “as St. Paul tells us:” the Truth confounding the wisdom of man. With time to reflect concerning that repeated charge, I must say that logic has allowed me to see unnecessary stumbling blocks in the “Christianity” that I knew as a child. I have created no system. I start with the assumption that there is no division between spirit and matter, between science and religion, or for that matter, between logic and faith. I am satisfied to live in awe of the world about me. Over time, I have come to believe, as my father wrote to me in 1994: “People think that the purpose of Christianity is to die and go to heaven. I say emphatically, ‘No!’ It is living a life of eternal significance.” I am a follower of Jesus, not for the magic of it or any perceived promise that, upon my death, I will “go to heaven and be with Him forever.” Rather, it is because I believe his message that, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand;” “By their fruits you will know them;” “Inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me” – “enter into your reward” – now! Far from complex, it seems simple – not to be confused with “simplistic.” “ To care” is a verb. The kingdom of God is at hand and can be experienced now, not through idle “right belief,” not solely through unfruitful faith, but in the loving joinder of belief and faith through action, which produces good fruits for the nurture of all life and the world.

While still reading Schillebeeckx’s Jesus, I happened upon another book in a bookstore which caught my eye. It was Does God Exist by Hans Kung, another Catholic scholar and priest who offended the official church leaders and was censured as a result. At the time, I found it interesting that the contemporary Catholic theologians were the ones that appealed to me. I still find that true, adding to that list in the last five years the name of the Catholic priest and scholar, Matthew Fox.

I found the title, Does God Exist, interesting, even disturbingly puzzling, in the light of Eric Fromm’s interpretation of the story of the burning bush: the notion of God, or the divine, is not simply a static power, yesterday, today and tomorrow the same, but a recognition of the power of “becoming” in the world in which we live. The book was fascinating, and, from my point of view, nonetheless easily summarized, despite its abundant volume. It meticulously builds two monumental logical progressions upon two opposing propositions. The first section of the book proceeds through each of the proofs of God’s existence; and when Kung has finished with his analysis, he concludes that it is evident that logic is inadequate to prove that God exists. In the second section of the book he examines the attempted proofs of the atheistic proposition that God does not exist; and he again concludes that logic is inadequate to prove that there is no God. As I interpreted the book, and here I return, again, to Dr. Nida, the answer to this question is a matter of faith. From my point of view, faith is also a matter of choice. That choice can and must be informed: The great Seventeenth Century mathematician, scientist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said, “Faith declares what the senses do not see, but not the contrary of what they see.”

I recognize that there have been many arguments made by fundamentalists that, for example, hold that a fine watch does not just happen as a matter of chance, but, of necessity, assumes a watchmaker. I also have noted that in recent years a number of widely respected scientists, including physicists, have marveled at the “grand design” of the universe – both in macrocosm and the microcosm, neither one of which do we have tools to observe its extent or its finest detail. In Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, written fifteen or twenty years ago, at the point beyond which logic could not take him as he explored the “Big Bang Theory,” he referred to God, as though to say “this is as far as logic can take us and it is now time to attribute this great unknown to an organizing power which is traditionally ascribed to God. In his recent book, The Grand Design, however, Hawking abandons his prior assignment of God to the spaces in our knowledge.

As soon as we ascribe an inexplicable cause to God in order to fill in the gaps of our knowledge, we are left with the logical problem: if all phenomena has a history which necessarily includes a cause, then what is the cause of God? For me, I accept that I have no explanation for the “becoming” of the world. I can identify some influences upon my development as a thinking, feeling and doing human being, but I am also amazed upon observing good come out of life circumstances, over many of which, to my knowledge, I had no influence. That, to me, is awesome and I am grateful. Someone has said that gratitude is one avenue to “God.”

Influenced by the biblical scholarship noted, above, it should come as no surprise to the reader that I could not in good conscience, consistent with reason, accept the entire Bible as literally true. That does not mean that I believe that the Bible does not contain truth; it means that the truth in the Bible, or for that matter, any other recognize Scripture of other traditions, is not dependent upon those stories being an accurate historical or scientific account. Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein understood that. The school of analytic or linguistic philosophy, which they founded, noted that language is inadequate to directly describe the world and our perceptions of it. It can only refer to our experience of the world, but it cannot define its reality. For them, metaphor can do that, and one of Jesus’ major methods of teaching was through metaphor or parables. Parables are recognized as linking to a truth rather than defining that truth. As discussed, above, Schillebeeckx and Joseph Campbell, it seems to me, would agree. Truth is not always what appears on the surface; it cannot be accessed by equation or stringing together any number of biblical passages. Marcus Borg says it well in his own way has he tells of an Indian story-teller who began his stories with, “Now, I don’t know whether it actually happened this way, but I know it’s true.”

When I understand that truth transcends any description of it, I can recognize the truth in other places as well as those familiar to me. I am inspired by the truth that I have discovered in many other religions, indigenous cultures and their stories, myths and the influences of truth in each of these upon individuals who were touched by those truths.

Matthew Fox has said that a Western Christian does not best find truth by “going East,” but by accepting the Western traditions with which he or she is familiar, including religious upbringing, and “transforming them in the light of experience, reason and inspiration.” I have lived in the second half of the 20th century and now in the first part of the 21st. The physical world has not changed so much during that time, but the cultural and technological achievements, the scientific perceptions and practical experience within it, have changed significantly over the last 2000 years. How does one read of Jesus’ life and of his message and apply it, if at all, to the world that we now have? That is the challenge to every age.

Christianity is my heritage, with which I am most familiar both in learning and in practice. Therefore, although I am enriched by other traditions, I do not try to duplicate them but to allow them to inform that with which I am familiar.

On an Easter morning some 25 or 30 years ago, I was visiting in the Nortonville Kansas Seventh Day Baptist Church. My cousin, Carol, is married to Cliff Bond who had served as minister of the Rockville Seventh Day Baptist Church, Rhode Island, not far from Ashaway, as I was growing up there. Since then, they had moved back to Nortonville and he was teaching the Sabbath School lesson that Easter morning, which, of course, was on one of the gospel stories of the resurrection. In my religious discussions, I had learned, or so I thought, to be indirect about my opinions concerning my metaphorical interpretation of many of the Bible stories which would allow me to be true to myself but, hopefully, not to offend literalists. I contributed to the discussion that morning, and Cliff took great offense, observing clearly what I thought I had gently and obliquely expressed during the class discussion. At about that time, he told me of his plans to attend Chandler Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia. I did not see Cliff again until several years later, when he had graduated. I was then shocked that Cliff embraced learning and thinking far beyond his prior fundamentalist and literal inheritance, and yet embracing the gospel with zeal but without rejecting science or learning apart from the church. He said he was influenced by what he called Process Theology. I had never heard of it, but having had my interest piqued, I found some books on Alfred North Whitehead’s Process Philosophy, which was a precursor to Process Theology. I thought it interesting that Whitehead and Bertrand Russell were mathematical and philosophical colleagues and collaborators who wrote together Mathematica Principia. Whitehead was known for his philosophies which were well grounded in notions of God whereas Bertrand Russell was well-known as an atheist. It would seem that they would be the most unlikely collaborators. But, whatever their differences in matters of religion, they clearly respected each other and the other’s work.

One of the first books that I read concerning Whitehead’s ideas was a compilation of his Lowell Institute Lectures in 1925, entitled “Science and the Modern World.” It was a good introduction to his ideas and the principles underlying them. He taught in those lectures, “It is this union of passionate interest in the detailed facts with equal devotion to abstract generalizations which forms the novelty in our present society.” Concerning the conditions necessary for the development of science, he noted, “[T]here can be no living science unless there is a widespread instinctive conviction in the existence of an order of things, and, in particular, of an order of nature.” But, “Familiar things happen, and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.”

As to the rhythm of life, we have become familiar with what appears to be repetitious action in nature, Whitehead says. That is illusory. “Nothing ever really recurs in exact detail.… Accordingly, the practical philosophy of mankind has been to expect the broad recurrences.” Modern ideas, he says, are rooted in Greek philosophy. But the Greeks were not scientists: they lacked the patience of fresh observation, and were often, as was Aristotle, satisfied to rely upon what was considered to be authoritatively established, without further independent observation to confirm it or to contradict it. And yet, they developed a notion of the moral order in the world and of the order of nature. They held a dramatic view of nature with each part having its contribution to the whole.

I found most meaningful Whitehead’s writing of the early Christian church. He notes that early Christians believed that, as Jesus is quoted in the Gospels, he would return for the faithful while some of those hearing him were yet living. (We will return to that early Christian belief later, but in a different context.) Because of that belief, Whitehead says, there was no reason for people to plan for security in their earthly lives. They lived, as Bishop Spong in recent years has described it, loving “wastefully.” When the last of those who knew and heard Jesus had died, it became clear to believers that Jesus could not have been literal in his meaning. So, also, their unselfish giving diminished. Tolstoy, who will be discussed later, noted that in “today’s” organized religious life the prevailing view is that Jesus did not mean literally “to give all that you have to the poor,” nor his other commands; they merely state an ideal that is impossible to meet. It seems to me ironic that in literal, fundamentalist Christianity (I use “fundamentalist” in the sense described by Jimmy Carter, i.e. God is revealed directly and uniquely to us, and exclusive of others), their reading of the Bible can be so literal as separate belief sufficient “to be saved” from “works,” so much so, that works become unimportant. It appears to me that in fundamentalist Christianity biblical passages are too often used as stumbling blocks (which Jesus condemned) to protect their social position from intrusion. I believe this is at the core of the distinction between “right belief” and “right relationships.” People who are literalist in their interpretation of the Bible seem to tend also to be literal in interpretation of their rights under the US Constitution. I suggest that, whether justified by a literal reading or not, ethical living may call for restraint. For example, the notion that we should get what we work for, or that which we have the intelligence and savvy to obtain, must be limited, as Mortimer Adler wrote, to the degree that everyone should have enough, not only to survive, but to thrive. Indeed, all freedoms, to the degree that they limit the rights of others to have enough to thrive, must be balanced with social responsibilities.

As an extension of the Whitehead lectures, I next read in The Referent Skeptic: A Critical Inquiry into the Religion of Secular Humanism by J Wesley Robb of the impact that science has had upon modern life and thought. Robb notes that modern science has impacted all facets of contemporary life. However, people tend to compartmentalize their lives so that in their professional lives, rational and scientific experience dominates their physical world; but their religious world and that guided by faith is buffered against scientific intrusion, without examining the popular presupposition that the two are inextricably locked in conflict. Too often, faith is uncritical and unexamined because “God’s ways are beyond human understanding” – so why bother?

Robb distinguishes six different types of humanism: scientific humanism of Huxley and Otto; philosophical humanism of Kurtz and Lamont; existential humanism of Camus and Sartre; self-realization humanism of Fromm and Maslow; Marxian humanism of Marcuse; and experimentalist feminism of Stace. He notes that these forms of humanistic thought share at least two elements in common: 1) Concern for human good, individually and collectively; and 2) a belief that man, alone, must resolve his problems: man and nature is all there is. Of secularistic humanism, there are four types: 1) materialistic secularism emphasizing achievement of happiness through accumulation of wealth and possessions; 2) hedonistic secularism, emphasizing accrual of pleasure and avoidance of pain; 3) pragmatic secularism holding that what works is good; and 4) spiritual secularism holding that the creative mind and the arts is where wealth lies – a religion of culture. Secularists reject the dualistic view of traditional Christian theism as supernaturalism. They embrace a world that can be understood by observation and science; there is no room in that view for theistic intervention. Its mantra is, “man is the measure of all things.”

Robb cites the Humanist Manifesto of 1933, and Humanist Manifesto II. He assures the reader that he will show that “the alternative to agnosticism is neither uncritical faith nor . . . atheism.” He offers an alternative which can be the religious response to a sense of relationship to a “Source of Reality that is both transcendent to and imminent within the natural order.” He cites with approval E.S. Brighton’s distinction between religion and philosophy: “Philosophy differs from religion in that religion consists of attitudes of concern, devotion or worship, and conduct, whereas philosophy is a rational understanding…” However, he cautions, “reason must be tempered by humility, since no person or group has exclusive claim to knowledge of right or of good. “While the individual is considered to have high priority in his view, “maximum individual autonomy [must be] consistent with social responsibility.” To extend that, he notes that the limits of national sovereignty must be transcended by a sense of world community under international law. In the latter part of his book, he discusses the contributions to modern scientific achievements and humanism by Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, David Hume, John Locke, Auguste Compte, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud.

While I was yet attending the Ord United Methodist Church, I taught an adult Sunday School class . About that time I read another book that had a profound impact upon me: Jesus through the Centuries by Jarislov Pelikan. The book explores the view of Jesus in that first century as rabbi and teacher. In the Jewish community in which Jesus was active, they came to believe that Jesus was the long prophesied Messiah. What fascinated me was that in order for us to relate well to Jesus, we must attempt to understand what it was like then to be a follower of Jesus, not to go back to those ways, but to take seriously his command to follow him today.

The story is found in all three of the synoptic Gospels that Jesus told his followers some form of, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away ‘till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Matthew has Jesus telling his disciples, “You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” In each age, Jesus is seen at the cutting-edge of that culture. For example, in the time of Paul, he was known as the Light to the Gentiles. Harkening back to Jewish “good times,” Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus from Abraham through David and through Joseph, who was, according to his story, the husband of Mary but not the father of Jesus; in Luke’s third chapter, he traces Jesus’ genealogy from Joseph, who, Luke tells us, people thought was his father, through David to Adam, who, he writes, “was the son of God.” The fact that both genealogies trace Jesus through David but otherwise through different lines, was significant to the first Christians, who were Jews, in that he is “demonstrated” to be in the royal line of David, as “foretold” by prophesy. Even in the time of Constantine, some three centuries later, to be a king was a high privilege, and Jesus became the King of Kings. To the gentiles immersed in Greek culture which elevated the power of the word, with the ideal that was in the world above, Jesus was the Logos. To a world discovering the marvels of astronomy, Jesus became the Cosmic Christ. In a monastic world, Jesus became the Monk Who Rules the World. During the Reformation, the mirror was a key metaphor for Jesus, who was then seen as “The Mirror of the Eternal.” To 20th Century peoples who were struggling for freedom, Jesus was the Liberator. We would do well to ask, “Who do I say that he is?”

Next Chapter:  https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/chapter-6-judgeship-idealistic-misfit-in-a-pragmatic-world/

Return to Table of Contents: https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/my-own-faith-responses-to-my-own-life-experiences/

Chapter 4: Marriage, Mental Illness and the “Will of God”

Ultimately, she and I were married and lived in an apartment in Clarksburg. I commuted back and forth between Salem and Clarksburg. The circumstances of that marriage are more fully described by me in Getting over Childhood, and is not particularly germane to this writing except to note that my experiences described therein presented challenges to my religious inheritance and assumptions. The Art of Loving led me to other books of Eric Fromm, including You Shall Be As Gods, The Sane Society, and The Dogma of Christ. I learned that Eric Fromm was a Jew, he was a psychiatrist, he was well trained in Jewish scripture, its interpretation and history, and he was considered to be an atheist. However, his books presented unfamiliar insights into the Jewish contribution to the Christian Bible known as the Old Testament. He presented the stories, not as historical fact, but, consistent with his training in psychology, as representative of a much deeper meaning behind the bare facts of the story, much as the the biblical Joseph interpreted dreams, and as did Freud, the father of modern psychology. What fascinated me, in part, was Fromm’s ability not only to present the story in a respectful way but to see behind it what the story was saying about human beings, and the conditions and challenges of living in a physical world in a society in which each person has personal integrity and worth. Eric Fromm was also associated with humanism, a great taboo among fundamentalist Christians then and now.

Perhaps most surprising to me was his book, Psychoanalysis and Religion, in which he states that a healthy religion is essential to an individual’s mental health. Some Christians see religion as a system of rules necessary to be saved from the “fallen” state of human nature, the great Chilton’s manual of the sky. Eric Fromm defined religion as that which gives us a sense of orientation and an object of devotion. The wisdom of Judaism, he says, is to recognize that if one becomes oriented to an object, such as an idol, money or achievements, we become devoted to achieving that and it defines for us the orientation necessary to that purpose. The alternative for the Jew was to recognize, through the story of Moses and the burning bush, not that a specific God by the name, “I am,” was in charge but rather, the answer from the bush was in the imperfect form of the Hebrew verb “to be” which did not define that being but pointed to its activity of “becoming.” Hence, in the Jewish tradition, their God was “the living God,” “Nameless,” the divine breath in “God’s chosen people.”

During the time that we lived in the apartment, an encyclopedia salesman visited and was successful in convincing me that I could not do without encyclopedias or the “free” books that came with them. The set included some wonderful books of “treasuries” of American literature, of famous speeches, of favorite poems, a collection of all of Shakespeare’s writing, and a couple volumes of Treasury of Philosophy. Dennis Cox had piqued my interest in philosophy and so those were among the first of the set that I read.

As I got into the treasuries of philosophy, I became acquainted with philosophies that were quite strange to my upbringing. Some Christians are critical of philosophy for various reasons, among them that they contain “the wisdom of man” rather than “the revealed Truth of the Bible which confounds that wisdom.” I had always been a person of ideas rather than a repository of facts, largely, as I was to discover much later in life, because of the impact of polio and concomitant paralysis and hospitalization upon my infant brain and its development.

I had great admiration for the ideas of a number of my professors at that time as well as some of their favorite authors who had inspired them. Some Christians would say that to allow oneself to explore such ideas apart from the Scriptures is to court danger of falling from the faith. At that time, I was studying with Dennis Cox the aria from Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the lyrics of the biblical text, “If with all your hearts ye truly seek me, ye shall ever surely find me, thus saith our God.” I took that as encouragement to explore new ideas. I knew that in order to adequately explore other ideas, one must be willing to let go of some old ones, perhaps even favorite ones or those providing the greatest comfort at the time. If God wanted me to grow in my faith, then God would expect me to question assumed religious ideas, even to relinquish them for at least a time. If, in seeking God, I should surely find God, I likely would find “Him” where I least expected God. That would require me to feel free to open the field of inquiry. Such an honest search would also mean that God must expect an honest man to make some mistakes. No, I concluded, God isn’t going to punish me if, during that search for “Him,” I were to die a yet inquiring man. I could search, not with trepidation, but with confidence.

In that process of seeking, I discovered some ideas did not, for one reason or another, happen to “pan out” for me at the time given my circumstances and development. For example, I read one passage in Treasury of Philosophy that discussed an Eastern practice which instructed the adherent to become conscious of his or her interior being. At that time, I tried to become dissociated from “all that out there” and to amplify and fix on my inner being. The result for me at that time was that I became extremely frightened of becoming disconnected from the world, and I quickly abandoned that concept and practice. In my later experience with biofeedback I have discovered that recognizing, talking to, and focusing on my body and on my breathing is far from being dissociative, but rather, connecting.

During that time, we continued to attend the Seventh Day Baptist Church in Salem, where I sang in the choir and even took my turn directing it. Sabbath School followed church. A youth group of college students and of young adults was dwindling, and, from all appearances, disbanded. About that time, Dr. Nida’s older daughter, Sylvia, had seemed to have abandoned her home for another life. At that time the hippies were in vogue and the guitar was vital to their music. Sylvia had a guitar and some skills to equip her as a hippie, at least as observed from a distance. While driving in New York State she was killed in an auto accident. This shook Dr. Nida and his wife. One of the ways that he apparently dealt with that grief was to pick up his guitar and sing various religious songs in folk style, which were contemporary at that time. I joined him in singing those songs as he played guitar. We never talked about why he did that, but it was obvious to me that it meant a lot to him.  It may have been his way of coming to terms with the loss of his daughter’s life and companionship. It has been said that the death of one’s child is one of the hardest experiences for a parent to face. It was clear that Dr. Nida was struggling.

I continued to conduct the choir of the Clarksburg Disciples of Christ church until I graduated from Salem College. The choir, while having its own personality as do all choirs, was enjoyable and in fact, very rewarding. The practices of the church were somewhat strange to me. Whereas Seventh Day Baptists had communion only once every quarter, the notion of most Baptist churches being that any more frequent observance of it would risk its meaning for the congregant by reason of habit, the Disciples of Christ observed communion as a weekly part of worship. There, I discovered that the Christian observances that, while growing up, I assumed were “correct” because I knew only that, could be observed in different, but no less meaningful, ways. Later, when I directed a Lutheran choir in Omaha, Nebraska, I discovered that creeds, which Baptists eschewed as a meaningless, rote recitation, had an edifying and unifying effect upon individuals of a Lutheran congregation, whether they were from that same local church or from another Lutheran congregation far or near.

Many of my religious experiences during college opened my eyes to a Protestant world that I had not previously known, and yet we shared some common values despite the superficial differences. Much later, I was to learn that many of my religious experiences were also shared by Catholics. Much later, yet, I could see that not even Christianity has an exclusive hold on “God.” but that the experiences that we often associate with “God” are often names and expressions of gratitude or petition relating to experiences in life shared by many, regardless of their religious or social inheritances or even in the absence of them. As Matthew Fox once wrote,” There are many paths to the River, but there is only one great River.”

Because of my semester off in my sophomore year, it took me five years to graduate from Salem College with a music education degree. At the time of graduation, there was a glut of teachers. I applied in the area of Salem for some high school music jobs, essentially as band director with junior high music education and choir thrown in. I also applied at a junior high school in Cortland, upstate, New York. I had no offers.

One day as if I was visiting with Dennis Cox, he said that he was aware of a high school band opening at his home high school, North Loup-Scotia Schools, Nebraska. He asked if I would like him to call the superintendent, Virgil Ferguson. I agreed and he called Mr. Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson interviewed me over the phone and hired me subject to presenting to him credentials to teach music in Nebraska, which I obtained and if provided. It was certainly fortunate circumstances that Dennis discovered the job and talked with me about it. I looked forward to the job for several reasons: first, I knew of the North Loup Seventh Day Baptist Church, which was the only one in Nebraska; second, my brother, Richard, was rooming at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with some buddies from that church, and he often visited the church with them; last, I knew that my wife had a history of some mental disturbances which I attributed to what appeared to me to be related to her seemingly enmeshed relationship with her mother – I thought if the separation would give her a chance to grow some independence, and flourish.

We arrived at North Loup in August that summer of 1971. We attended the North Loup Seventh Day Baptist Church and received much support from several of its member. My wife did not fare so well. I have more fully described that in my writing, Getting over Childhood. Suffice it to say that two times that semester she demanded that I return her to her parents in West Virginia, with which I complied. And, each time, within a week of arriving there, she called me to ask to come back because her parents were “not being good to her.” Each time she came back. The third disruption in our relationship came just before Christmas when she demanded that I take her to the mental institution at Hastings Regional Center, “where she could be with people like herself.” Each of these instances were very difficult, but especially the last. Mom came out to North Loup by bus with Ernie and Esther, both of whom were preschool age at the time, to help. She and I visited my wife at Hastings Regional Center. At that time, she wanted nothing to do with me or with Mom. Shortly after Mom returned home with the kids, I received a phone call from my wife’s therapist at Hastings Regional Center. She told me that they had diagnosed my wife as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and that her request that I hospitalize her was her attempt to escape marital responsibilities. The therapist asked me to consider divorce.

I felt very much supported by the church community, the superintendent and the principal throughout all of these difficulties. I discussed the issue of divorce with my pastor, Rev. Victor Skaggs. He said that sometimes divorce is the only healthy resolution of what is effectively a failed marriage or relationship. I also had the two older girls of Rev. Minor Soper in school, Ruth and Dawn. I do not recall how Rev. Soper communicated this to me, whether directly or through another, but I understood that he was strongly opposed to divorce as a violation of an oath and against God’s will. I felt very torn about the matter. I then realized the seriousness of my wife’s illness which prevented her from having a healthy marital relationship. I struggled with the notion of God “willing” to impose a continued relationship of marriage between me and her, and yet also “willing” that she have a serious mental condition which made it impossible for her to have a healthy one.

Finally, in February or March I determined that, under the circumstances, divorce was the only healthy thing that was consistent with the circumstances of my wife and me. When I told the therapist that I would file for divorce, the therapist asked me to reconsider because my wife, at that time, was embracing the marital relationship and was entering a program at the Center designed to help her transition to independent living, equipping her with both living and employment skills. It was difficult reaching the decision to divorce. It was not difficult to accept these new circumstances which gave to both of us, individually and together, hope for our marriage.

I had enrolled in summer school at the music department in University of Nebraska at Lincoln. The day that I was to move for the summer to Lincoln was the day that she was released from Hastings Regional Center. The Center had previously arranged for employment for my wife at a Lincoln nursing home. Part of her transition plan was that therapeutic support at the Center be available to her as needed. There was one incident during the summer when I needed to take her to Hastings Regional Center for intervention. The center investigated an instance where she had had difficulty at work, claiming that others were pushing their work duties upon her. With HRC’s assistance, that matter was resolved to some degree.

During that summer, something happened that my wife felt she should excuse her behavior. She explained, “The Devil made me do it.” At that time, Flip Wilson was a popular feature on TV. His character, Geraldine, often excused her behaviors with the same phrase. That was the first time that I recognized that the phrase, which on TV was humorous, was a way in real life to evade responsibility for poor choices. That took me back to the books of Eric Fromm: Escape from Freedom, The Art of Loving, The Sane Society, and others.

Much later, I recognized the dynamic of that phrase as the misuse of an abstraction or metaphor as literal. Traditionally, Christians have described the conflict in each person as a battle of good against evil, or of submitting to Satan’s temptations rather than to the “Truth of the Bible,” revealing God’s commands. The Cherokee Indians had two similar stories of the battle of good and evil within each person, but with a distinction: rather than submitting to the “right” power that is acting upon the individual from without, it put the battle within the individual, within his or her power, and it required the individual to choose which one he or she would nurture. In the latter, there was no escape from responsibility: two forms of the story are told at http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html:

Two Wolves

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued,

“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The Wolves Within

An old grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story.
I, too, at times have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.

But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.

But the other Wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.

Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.

The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, grandfather?”

The grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

The source of the above stories treats them as Cherokee legend. Joseph Campbell, a scholar who collected such stories of indigenous peoples and stories of religions from around the world and interpreted them, called them “myth.” In the PBS television series, The Power of Myth composed of conversations between Joseph Campbell and with Bill Moyers, Campell states that myth, rather than mere heroic legend. If one looks at these stories as myth they are metaphorical statements of what goes on within each of us, and they give instruction in how to live: do you choose to live by feeding the wolf of anger, arrogance, inferiority or its companion, superiority; or will you choose to feed the Wolf of joy, love, humility and compassion? In these myths anger is acknowledged to be part of human nature. That is consistent with modern mental health science. But we have a choice: which wolf do we want to feed?

At the end of summer school, in mid August, 1972, my wife and I returned to North Loup. We had purchased our own home and left the rental. With Richard’s help, we were able to move our belongings. Soon after our arrival in North Loup and the move, perhaps that night, she threw a butcher knife at me, screaming that she wanted to be taken back to Hastings Regional Center. That night, out of fear for my life, I slept in one of the rooms with the door locked. The next day I again took her to Hastings Regional Center. Probably within the next week, her parents came out and met with me and the staff at Hastings Regional Center to discuss my wife’s treatment. Staff requested that her mother support her hospitalization and therapy by refusing phone calls from her which allowed her to escape from those responsibilities. She did not want me to visit her, and under the circumstances, I agreed that I would not. That hospitalization ended when her parents, unbeknownst to me, came to Nebraska and returned to West Virginia with her.

I took that as an indication that the marriage was over.

During that second year at North Loup Scotia Schools, I kept my mind busy with school duties and daily piano practice at school beginning about 5:30 AM. I was not financially able to continue that next summer with my Masters program in music at UN-L. I intended to remain mentally active reading various books that I had on music and philosophy. All of the circumstances of the prior year caused me to question how much of what apparently “faithful Christians,” so firm in their faith, at least as they expressed it, actually knew of the “will of God.” How did paranoid schizophrenia, or failed relationships due to the fault of no one fit in with a notion of “God’s will?” I was motivated to explore that more in my readings and discussions, but, by the second week of summer, with time to reflect on the events of the past year, I was confronted with debilitating depression. Surmounting that, even with assistance of medication, took all of my energies before the resumption of school that fall.

My time with the North Loup – Scotia schools was a time devoted to much reading and thought.  One such book was John Dewey’s Art as Experience. In reviewing my notes, I find it interesting that the various books that I have read over the years have several common themes: 1) that authentic life is not compartmentalized but is cohesively integrated, 2) that religion apart from the life from which it springs, becomes idolatry 3) and that genuine Christianity is not about dying and going to heaven but, as my father later wrote to me, is about “living a life of eternal significance,” i.e. caring about our neighbor, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless – in short, as Jesus described it, “inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me.” Early in his book, John Dewey integrates the totality of life in his conception of art as related to experience:

To my mind, the trouble with existing theories about art is that they start from a ready-made compartmentalization, or from a conception of art that “spiritualizes,” it out of connection with the objects of concrete experience.  In his section entitled The Live Creature and “Imperial Things,” Dewey explores the role of myth and ritual in primitive society which permitted them to participate in defense of their lives and to enhance their experience of living:

Myths were something other than intellectualistic essays of primitive man in science. Desire for control over the future no doubt had a part. But the light in the story, in the growth and rendition of a good yarn, played its dominant part then as it does now in the growth of popular mythologies.

Dewey notes that ultimately, there are two philosophies: One accepts life and experience as it is, with its uncertainty, mystery, doubt and partial knowledge, connected to experience and heightening that sense of experience. This, he says, is the philosophy of Shakespeare and Keats. The other philosophy seeks certainty where certainty does not exist, seeks whole knowledge where only partial knowledge exists, that seeks to control the apparent disorder of life through compartmentalization and separates the material, the spiritual, and the aesthetic by imposing upon it a wishful, dualistic notion of the world. In May, 2012, I made a post to my Facebook page concerning a video clip that I found on Mark Embury’s page concerning two lawyers, one a conservative and one a liberal, arguing for the constitutional right to marry, relating to Pres. Barack Obama’s announcement that he supported gay marriage. I expected no responses on my page, but immediately received posted responses from Willie, Helen, Kenny, and Annita protesting that God’s word clearly condemned it. As I proof this, I see again reason for the conflict: a dualistic view of the world and spirit and a compartmentalization to provide certainty, or at least the appearance of certainty, in a dynamic world.

Dewey cites Keats to make the following point: all reasoning in search of truth must include imagination; otherwise, it becomes sterile. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Life proceeds in an environment with which one interacts. The aesthetic notions of balance, harmony and rhythm arises from the ebb and flow of life, tension and release. Such a world is dynamic; it is in process; it is to be found in the flux of life. Dewey asserts that the aesthetic experience could not occur in a world of mere flux nor in a world that was complete. The world that we live in is a world of transition from friction or conflict to harmony, and from harmony to conflict. He recalls what Santayana called “hushed reverberations,” which impart a richness to life which merges the past with challenges and frictions of the present with the hope of achievement in the future. It is therefore in just such flux of experience that a sense of aesthetics arises.

I have mentioned a number of Eric Fromm’s books, none of which I outlined except for his book, You Shall Be as Gods. I bought that book while yet a college student. I remember at the time that, with my conservative Baptist background, the title seemed heretical to suggest that humans could be as gods. Nonetheless, I came to trust Eric Fromm and eagerly read it, again, perhaps, because of its provocative title. In its Introduction, Fromm asks whether the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament has anything to say more than as a historical relic. He notes that it is both colorful and “contains a remarkable evolution from primitive authoritarianism and clannishness to the idea of the radical freedom of man and the brotherhood of all men.” He did not see the Bible as the “Word of God,” however, not only because it was written by different men of different backgrounds and convictions at different times, but because he acknowledged that he was not a theist. I am not sure what he meant by that statement, but I do know that technically it meant that he was an “a-theist.” Later in life, I came to believe that any claim of atheism might simply mean that that person is saying “it depends upon how you define “God: If you mean ‘the Man upstairs who meddles in human affairs here on Earth, either at his own whim or in answer to the prayerful petition of a ‘true believer,’ then count me out.” Fromm goes on to state affirmatively what it means to him: “It expresses the genius of a people struggling for life and freedom throughout many generations.”

Fromm notes many contradictions in the Bible, which fall into two categories: 1) those representative of the Hebrew people’s passage from a nomadic tribe to those of its best and brightest who were held captive in Babylon, and to those enlightened ones who were later influenced by Hellenistic culture; and 2) those expressing the conflict among themselves between nationalism and universalism, conservatism and radicalism, fanaticism and tolerance. Not so different from Christianity and even other religions today. Fromm acknowledges that his approach to the Bible is that of radical humanism, which is “a global philosophy which emphasizes the oneness of the human race, the capacity of man to develop his own powers and to arrive at inner harmony and at the establishment of a peaceful world.”

Fromm proceeds by discussing the development of the Jewish notion of God. “’God is one of many different poetic expressions of the highest value of humanism, not a reality in itself,” he writes. His own personal orientation, if he must define it, would be that of “nontheistic mysticism.” However, he warns, concepts refer to experiences, but they do not and cannot fully express those experiences in any words. And so, he writes, the experience of God points to experiences of the transcendent but cannot define those experiences with words, as words can contain only a lifeless and unchanging thing, such as an idol. Moreover, the concept of God in the Old Testament, itself, was the first stage of that evolution where God was first an absolute and jealous ruler. His creation, Adam and Eve, were infused with his breath, and could have rivaled God had they not only eaten from the Tree of Knowledge but also from the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve’s disobedience by eating the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge, Fromm wrote, resulted in God’s defensive act of evicting them from the Garden before they had an opportunity to complete their theistic conversion. Later, as absolute ruler, God again feels threatened by man and therefore he intends to destroy all life on earth with a large flood. Then, repenting sufficiently from that decision, He instructs Noah to gather and hold safely on the ark the basic seed of mankind and animals with which to replenish that life after the flood. Moreover, when the ark lands on the top of Mount Ararat, God decides to give up his position as absolute ruler by entering into a covenant with man in which they become partners. With that covenant, God agrees absolutely to respect all life. That “reverence for life” is fundamental to Judaism, Fromm says, and is the basis for its development of, and commitment to, humanism. One the expressions of that humanism and of the right of man to bargain with God is found in Abraham’s argument with God in which he bargains that God will save Sodom and Gomorrah if a certain number of righteous people may be found there, that amount to be negotiated for a lesser number again. Lacking even that reduced number of righteous people, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed. With advance warning, Lot and his family escape, but his wife turns to see that conflagration behind them and “is turned into a pillar of salt.” Fromm discusses this second phase of God’s evolution as, “God is bound by the norms of justice and love; mankind is no longer His slaves.” In the third phase of that evolution, God begins relinquishing some anthropomorphic elements. It begins with the story of Moses and the burning bush. Moses is told that he must go to Egypt to demand that Pharaoh free the Jewish slaves, “God’s people.” Moses asks who it is that he should tell Pharaoh has sent him. The King James version of the Old Testament story tells us that God responded, “’I Am’ has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14. Fromm notes, however, that the response of “Eheyeh,” from which Yahweh is derived, is the imperfect form of the Hebrew verb “to be” rather than the present tense of “’I Am’ has sent me to you;” “His” being was not completed; He is in process, yet becoming. Fromm suggests that a more accurate translation would be: “my name is Nameless; tell them that Nameless has sent you.” Essentially, it became a basic principle of Judaism that the living God cannot be defined by a name. In the terms of 20th century process theology, it might be said, “I am in process, I am not yet complete but am becoming.”

The above story of Moses and the burning bush has, perhaps, had as much significance to my religious development over the years as any other story or concept. It has told me that if anyone proclaims to know what or who God is, they delude themselves and anyone who would take them seriously. Likewise, if anyone claims to know God’s purposes, as is often claimed by fundamentalist Christians, they likewise delude themselves. If God cannot be contained within a word, how can anyone know what “is the will” of that nameless being.

We had an associate pastor at our United Methodist Church in North Platte, Nebraska, Greta Leach, whose final sermon to us before leaving us shortly after her graduation from seminary addressed some “things that I learned in seminary.” One of the things she learned, she said, was that whatever your concept of God, God is much more. Fromm appeals to the medieval Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides (1135 – 1204) and his Doctrine of Negative Attributes to express a similar notion: one cannot name the positive attributes of God because, as Greta said, God is much more than any concept that we can have of God. One can only address the negative attributes, i.e., what God is not. A negative attribute, for Maimonides, was to help point the individual to the positive without limiting the notion of God to any positive attributes. Nonetheless, it was permissible to attribute action to God, so far as it did not limit God’s activity. Therefore, the Talmudic sages emphasized “doing” over “knowing”: and, hence the Jewish tradition that “believing in God” meant “imitating God’s actions, not knowledge about him.” Karen Armstrong later affirmed that common misunderstanding of the word that in English is “belief.” It appears to me that to suggest that one knows God or knows God’s purposes is to idolize God, to create God in human form, writ large, and for human purposes.

For Fromm, one of the chief problems of mankind is that it cannot escape idolatry; rather, it keeps inventing new means of idolatry. Man transfers his own passions and qualities to the idol. The more he impoverishes himself, the greater and stronger becomes the idol. The idol is the alienated form of man’s experience of himself.
It might appear that Christianity had left idolatry at least 2000 years ago, but Fromm suggests that idols of clay and wood have simply been exchanged for “modern idols of the state, the leader, production and consumption – sanctified by the blessing of an idolized God.” As I view life in 2012, I note the Christian right blames today’s problems on our rejection of God and of God’s ways as revealed in the Bible. However, I wonder if the real problem is, as Eric Fromm might suggest today, that we have made God in our own image, to sanctify our political power and our country’s dominance in the world, or that God has sanctified our personal wealth in a world in which so many people are impoverished to the degree that they and their families cannot survive, let alone thrive. Have we not impoverished ourselves making stronger our idol of the state? Are we not alienated from a world that we are using to deplete its resources to the point that it is polluting and destroying the world’s vital balance as a sacrifice to the idol of greed and opportunistic consumption.

As I review my notes, I see ideas that many years later I thought were my original ideas. I have recognized for many years the great debt that I owe to other persons and thinkers, many of which I have forgotten but whose impact on me continues without recognition. In the 90s, when I began to write about notions of justice, I made the distinction between the Christian concept of “righteousness as a state of being” and “righteousness as right relationships.” I find now that Fromm planted that seed in me when he wrote, “right living, and not right belief, are the essence of salvation. . . .” He quotes an Abbe to say something that has become greatly significant to me: “What matters today is not the difference between believers and nonbelievers, but that between those who care and those who do not care.” That concept is very similar to the concept that I have more recently attributed to Jesus: “by their fruits you will know them;” and, ”Come, those of you who cared for those who were in need and receive your just reward.” Fromm, as has other writers, notes parallels between Jesus’ teaching and Buddhism.
Fromm does not believe that theism is necessary to a religious experience. He notes, “The question of a nontheistic religious experience has been widely discussed in recent years by Protestant theologians: Paul Tillich used the concept ‘ground of being,’ or simply ‘depth,’ as a substitute for a word ‘God.’ Professor Altizer has spoken of atheistic Christianity; Dietrich Bonhoeffer of “nonreligious Christianity” and of a ‘holy secularity, or worldliness.”.
As to the concept of “man,” the Bible refers to a number of concepts of man as related to the reflection or imitation of God. In Genesis, we are told that man is created “in the image of God.” Fromm notes that after each day of creation, God declares that his work was ’good,’ implying that it was done. He does not do so upon His creation of man. In Leviticus 19:1–2, God tells Moses, “Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, you shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” And Micah 6:8 states, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Perhaps the core of the book for me was Fromm’s concept of the nameless, living God that is in the process of becoming as distinguished from man’s estrangement and alienation by devotion to lifeless idols.
In the third year of my teaching at North Loup Scotia Schools, Connie Tilford joined the teaching staff. She had some college books on the relationship of the arts through history, or the humanities. She also said she had read Eric Fromm’s, The Art of Loving. I read and outlined her book on the humanities and applied that to my general music class. That was my introduction to the humanities.

Next Chapter:  https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/chapter-5-remarriage-and-return-to-the-discipline-of-study/

Return to Table of Contents: https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/my-own-faith-responses-to-my-own-life-experiences/