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?”
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