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/

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