How I Came To Be a Non-believer: a History of My Philosophical Evolution
This is a compilation in chronological order of my notes written over the years as I struggled to clarify for myself just what I believed with regard to the theology I had been taught all my life. My philosophical evolution is revealed in these notes.
(April 9, 1958)
I do not cease to be amazed and somewhat disturbed by the divergence of ideas and conceptions which men can have concerning the same subject where the same information is available to all. There must be some factor which causes this other than the differences of heredity or environment.
Questions in my mind:
(1) Do all men, when they have found the will of God for their lives, either consciously or unconsciously, also find with it the satisfaction of feeling that their entire life is aimed toward the service of God--the "glorifying" of God? In other words, can a person ever feel fully dedicated to God?
(2) I long to commit myself to some lifetime task in which I can feel that I am serving my God and my fellow men with all my heart, nerve and sinew. Can I commit myself to the service of my fellow men in the business world where my very existence depends on the profit motive, and where any stand which sets me apart from the world imperils my business?
Re: Genesis 3
I. Several ways of interpreting what scripture says here:
(A) 1. Man created without sin (perfect?)
2. Man chose to disobey.
3. Man condemned to life of hardship because of disobedience.
4. Man removed from paradise.
5. To this has been added the concept of sin and the need for salvation.
(B) Literal interpretation: serpent, fruit, fig leaves; heard God walking; God called, "Where are you?"; God made garments of skins.
(C) No matter what your view about interpretation, it is obvious that the author felt that man was not what he ought to be and was trying to answer the question "Why?".
(The problem with a literal interpretation: We say "once saved, always saved". If this is true, how do we explain the fall of Adam who was created without blame? If God is omniscient, why did He have to ask "Where are you?". Who wrote these things? How did the author get his information? How did men decide what went into the canon and what did not?)
II. What does it mean that we are "made in the image of God"?
III. If either of the first two interpretations is true (created perfect--fall--sinners--death), why so long before something was done about it (Christ)?
IV. Perhaps evolution.
-Original state before the fall: animal stage
-Temptation and fall: powers of reason evolve to capacity to understand good and evil and to choose between love and selfishness.
-Salvation: when man chooses love and service instead of selfishness.
The Meaning of Christ (1964)
The Jesus whom I know is the Jesus who points to my selfishness as the thing which keeps me from "inheriting the kingdom of God"; "One thing thou lackest---". Jesus indicates that it will not be possible for me to be like him or to dwell in Love until I renounce the grip upon me which is held by my self-seeking and my craving for personal pleasures as opposed to an all-consuming desire for the welfare of my fellow men.
The Jesus I know does not demand any subservience to a mteaphysical "God" or any obedience to a set of laws handed down from "up there" (or wherever He is). Instead, Jesus, in his complete humanity, has become Love (or God, if you please), which says to me that only by living in this selfless Love can I hope to become completely human, completely "in God".
He is the Jesus who says to me "Love thy neighbor as thyself, and there you will find God". He is the one who says to me, "I, Love, am the way, the truth, and the life". He speaks to me of God, and the kingdom of God, in terms of my relationship to my fellow man; :Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, you have done it unto me." He backs this up by his entire life of healing, serving and loving any and all with whom he came in contact, even at the cost of his life.
He says to me in effect, "If I can do this, so can you". He saves us from ourselves by dispelling the notions that (1) sin is something outside of ourselves from which we need to be shielded; (2) that salvation was found in the observance of a set of rituals; and (3) that salvation was found in the adoption or repetition of creeds or in the subscription to a certain theology.
He saves us from being chained to the rock of preconceived ideas about religion, which is our separation from God (hell), and frees us to be reconciled to God by joining our hearts and minds to Him through our attitudes and our relationship to our fellow men.
I consider myself to be a Christian. I believe that Jesus Christ was God in the form of man. I believe that he lived, died and was resurrected. Where I differ from the orthodox is in my interpretation of what God was doing in Christ. I do not interpret the scriptures literally, though I believe them to be inspired by God.
I have read the Bible completely several times, and most of the New Testament I have read many times. After this and much prayer and study, the message I get from the Bible is that Christ "saves" us by his life , his demonstration that our reconciliation to God is something that comes about when men live in love and service to their fellow men--not by his death, not by any legal process of a payment for a debt. I say this knowing full well that he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, the Life", also, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me", also, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me". However, when I look at all that he did and said, it seems to me that what he may have meant is that no man can be reconciled to God except when he has the spirit of Christ in his heart, when he loves his neighbor as himself, when he is willing to become the servant of all men.
The legal concept of the atonement was perhaps necessary during the centuries when the world was full of ignorance, superstition, prejudice, and when men lived largely by precedent and were creatures of fear and misunderstanding. But, it seems to me that the time has come when there are enough people of enlightenment who no longer need to rely on precedent or prejudice, who are relatively free of superstition, who know a great deal about human nature, who are informed about ideas, cultures and societies different from their own, and who have learned to think for themselves instead of having to be spoon-fed, so that now we can absorb a bit more of God's revelation to us and leave the elementary concept of a blood sacrifice and go on to a more meaningful and challenging concept of what God has done and is doing.
It is more meaningful to me to believe that God wants me to become a little Christ, that is, to "be ye perfect even as also your Father in heaven is perfect". I believe that God's purpose in Christ was to show us that all men are potential Christs. The theory of a sacrifice in order to accomplish an atonement was a carry-over from Judaism. This concept served a definite purpose for the Jews and even for Christians--up to now. It still serves a good purpose for some Christians today. Better this than nothing, but the challenge of today's enlightened and awakening world is going to require something more. I am afraid that most Christians today are using the idea of "salvation through faith in the cross" as something to hide behind in order to not face up to the duties, responsibilities and action which a real belief in the spirit of Love, taught by Christ, demands. I hope that these views are clear enough to indicate how this leaves room for the possibility that God may be working through some of the other religions in the same way that he is through Christianity.
If Christ represents a "spirit" through which men are reconciled to God, then it may be possible that the "spirit of Christ" is also found in Judaism, Mohammedanism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.
I believe that the scriptures were inspired by God in much the same way that God inspires a minister to preach outstanding sermons, or a layman to speak out for an unpopular cause, or the unselfish acts of sacrifice which people sometimes perform. I believe that this is also the same way in which God inspired Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, or Daniel to risk a den of lions rather than deny his faith, or Paul to write his letters to the young churches.
I believe that when the scripture says that God "spoke" to Abraham, David, Isaiah, Paul and others, the writer did not necessarily mean that he spoke in an audible, human voice and dictated his message to each. Rather it appears more likely, in view of God's actions throughout history, that these men lived so close to God and were so aware of his presence that most of their living was a continuous communication with God in the spirit. They felt so completely dedicated to what they believed God wanted of their lives that they could emphatically say, "God said to me-------." Of course, anyone who becomes dogmatic about what God says to them runs the risk of being mistaken.
I believe that God acts through people, God does not, it seems to me, enter into this world at various intervals or on the spur of the moment in order to direct things his way and then withdraw. Nor does he manipulate some people to do his will and "allow" others to do evil. Instead he inspires men, who permit themselves to be inspired, to do and say thngs which tend to move mankind along in the direction of His ultimate goal. These things, which inspired men to do and say, may or may not be 100% perfect or true. God only uses a man in the condition in which he finds him. In short, God uses imperfect men to communicate his truth in an imperfect form to other imperfect men in such a way that it can be grasped, however imperfectly, and used to take a step in the direction of perfection. In other words, God is working his plan of "salvation" at all times, It is not an instantaneous thing. Some are converted (turned about) very suddenly, others very slowly. All are in the process of reconciliation.
In summary, the scriptures were written by imperfect men who were inspired by God, and who wrote in the light of their own conceptions of God, history, science and human nature. Although inspired, and although makng a definite contribution to God's purpose for creation, they wrote as men, imperfectly. In addition, the choice of which writings were to be canonized and which were to be omitted was made by men. These men, too, were no doubt inspired; however, they were men, finite, imperfect.
Even so, the scriptures are the most reliable source of revelation of God and his desires for his creatures. If taken literally, they can cause men to lose their vision of God's revelation as a whole. Literal interpretation leads to distortion of the message as a whole and gives rise to all sorts of divisions, denominations, sects and fanaticism. When taken as a unit with a single theme, the scriptures reveal how God has dealt with men through the ages, how he has revealed more and more as men became more ready to comprehend, and how he expects men to live in recognition of him as creator and sustainer of life and as the devine spirit of which we all are a part. It shows how he expects men to live in a spirit of love for one another and thereby learn how to love him.
A Statement of Faith
What knowledge I have of God, my rearing in the Presbyterian Church, my reading of the Bible, my growing up in a Christian home, my participation in many theological discussions, my prayers for wisdom and light, my everyday contacts with people--- all these plus a feeling of incompleteness,a feeling that something was missing, a feeling that I had received only a part of the whole truth--- these things left me dissatisfied with what I could see of any and all religions. At least I was dissatisfied with the way they were being taught by the orthodox faiths. The following are my conclusions at this time (April, 1964).
A. We Protestants, Catholics, Unitarians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., must first agree that man is not what he ought to be, that human beings seem to be incapable of solving even the one problem of preserving the peace, not to speak of many other problems even more complex. We must admit that we, as individuals, seem to be incapable of constant goodness or unmarred righteousness. We can't seem to muster the will power or the fortitude to do even the things we really want to do. Instead we find ourselves quite often doing the very things we really don't want to do. In short, we all should acknowledge that we do need religion. We need something to trust in which is greater than ourselves, something to see us through sorrow, fear, despair, depression; we need something, in our times of ease and prosperity, to keep us from complacency, self-righteousness, thoughtlessness, ruthlessness, and greed. We need something to make us aware of our kinship to our fellow men and to our creator.
B. I believe that most men, regardless of creed, have enough of God in them, or possess enough unselfishness, that if they could simply press a button or swallow a pill which would, once and for all, make them into persons dedicated to the love of God and the service of their fellow men, they would do so, no matter what it might mean in the way of self-denial or sacrifice of the luxuries of life. Is it not the endless task of making decisions concerning what is the right thing or wrong thing to do that breaks us down and makes us weak, so that we often yield to what we know is wrong?
C. To restate the issue, it appears to me that all religions exist for the same purpose. They result from man's need to enter into a personal relationship with God. No matter how vehemently some may deny any need for God, I believe that history shows that only those creeds which offer men a way to be reconciled to God are the ones which accomplish any lasting satisfction to the individual's desire for inner peace. Therefore, this would indicate that what we are all searching for is reconciliation to God.
D. If this reconciliation is what we all are after, then let us ask ourselves if it is possible that it may be achieved through any or all of the great religions. This is not to say that all Moslems, or all Jews, or all Hindus find it, any more than it is to say that all Christians find it. But if it is possible for an individual in any of these religions to become reconciled to God, then let us recognize the worth of all religions, stop insisting that ours is the only way, and thereby remove one of the greatest obstacles to peace and love for all mankind. If we can believe that all devout, sincere men of good will are actually approaching that same goal, i.e. reconciliation, but from different directions, then we can accept one another without fear, suspicion, distrust, hate, injustice, or prejudice; and we can take vast strides forward on the road to peace, equality, freedom. As a matter of fact, the greatest advance of all will be toward the fulfillment of our highest aim---reconciliation to God, i.e. "salvation".
(May 10, 1964)
:For my children
Re: The Ten Commandments
A leader wrote these words to be used as a plumbline by which his people should test themselves. The writer must have felt that a rigid set of rules was badly needed. Some people need rigid laws or doctrines or creeds to which to commit themselves in order to become what they ought to be. Others are more apt to approach spiritual fulfillment if they understand that ethics and morals are relative, not rigid---that the ten commandments, for instance, are not to be obeyed for odedience sake, but because they point the way to peace and love between people.
If taken literally, the commandments will keep us from direct actions against another person, but we can keep them all and yet not be compelled to any action for another person. The first three commandments are very general and difficult to be translated into any specific action or conduct. These same commandments might have been written about gods of any of the other religions which teach the fear of a terrible, avenging god. The other seven commandments have to do with our conduct affecting one another. In short, I believe that the ten commandments are one more example of the message of God to men that their true human destiny must be reached by the route of brotherly love. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
(1965---more on the meaning of Christ)
I see Jesus in the Jew, the agnostic, the atheist--in all men who demonstrate his way of life. The name "Jesus" may be responded to by anything from indifference to outright antagonism; nevertheless, some of these individuals have experienced and do display something of the way, the truth, and the life which is Jesus. They may be ignorant of, or even deny, Jesus of Nazareth, but they affirm Love, and God is Love, and Jesus is God. They do this the same as the Christian does.
What are the attributes one must have to be like Christ? Love, tenderness, concern, compassion, neighborliness, good will, honesty, unselfishness, generosity, understanding, patience, sympathy, empathy----. Is a person a Christian only if he says he acknowledges Jesus Christ (whatever that means)? There are many who say this and yet have very few of the above attributes. On the other hand, there are some who demonstrate these characteristics yet deny the deity of Christ. Do we need Christ because he is God, or because he is Good? If we were truly good, as Jesus was, would we need any God? The scripture says that God sent Christ only after He saw that man was not going to be good.
As long as I can see Jesus in the "outsider", how can I be loyal to a sect which says this person is any less "chosen" than a Christian? No, rather would I join those who claim no special insight into truth, love, salvation, than to remain one of those who, by their claim to special favor, thereby alienate all my other brothers.
If all men are not brothers, then Christians will have reason not to love Jews, Hindus will have reason not to love Muslims, Buddhists will have reason not to love Confucianists. What basis can there then possibly be for trust, or peace?
If you say that Jesus is the "Son of God", I will go along if you mean that God is Good and that Jesus is the son of Good. But if you mean that God (the creator, a supernatural being) supernaturally inseminated the ovum in Mary's womb and thereby produced another supernatural being, then I am not with you. This does not meet the test of reason; and to compel me to accept anything which is not reasonable is to deny me the very quality which makes me a man, a human being----which makes me God-like. This relegates me to the status of an ordinary animal.
Let us ask ourselves what basis there is in the recorded life of Christ, his words and deeds, for the orthodox concept of sin, salvation and atonement. Let us question whether we might have concocted our ideas of these things out of our own minds in an attempt to satisfy our desire for something to worship, which desire springs from our own spiritual and psychological weakness and from our unwillingness to live like Christ, i.e. in the spirit of Christ, having the same philosophy as Christ.
The traditional concept of the meaning of being a Christian is tied to a professing of the historical person of Christ. It seems as though Christianity is trying to say that only a rose is a flower, that all else are weeds even though some may smell as sweet. Perhaps the concept of the Way, the Truth, the Life, which Christ taught is one which encompasses all of life as long as this concept is motivated by the way of Love and is not limited to only those who are willing to acknowledge the historical Jesus as being God.
Randon thoughts, 1965
The sacraments and other rituals:
Ceremonies such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, marriage, etc. are rituals which were instituted to accomplish in our minds what had already been accomplished in spirit and in fact. Most people seem to desire a mystical element in their lives, a belief in the supranatural on which to lean for some explanations of the unexplainable. This has been one of the chief functions of religion through the ages. Religion provides the supranatural atmosphere in which men can express an idea or a deep experience of the spirit by acting out a ceremony which symbolizes the idea or experience. The trap into which nearly all religious people fall sooner or later is in substituting the ritual for the experience itself and thinking that one has actually had the experience when one has merely gone through the motions.
Perhaps these ceremonies serve a useful purpose for some persons, but,it seems to me, that for a far greater number they become barriers preventing the person from having the actual experience or grasping the idea. The more a person indulges in a ritual, the more difficult it is to distinguish between the symbol and the real thing. For a person who is exposed to the ritual before ever having the experience which the ritual symbolizes, it is practically impossible to have the actual experience itself. This is because the experiences or ideas of which we are speaking are ones of depth, and when a person becomes accustomed to the shallowness of the symbol, he avoids any commitment of himself in depth. An experience in depth requires a risk, a venturesomeness, a trust in someone else and a trust in life itself. Most people seek a security which precludes this.
The ritual of baptism is supposed to be an outward symbol of a deep inner experience which has already taken place, a spiritual regeneration. At one period in its history, the Christian church held that regeneration could not take place unless one was baptized. The church had substituted the symbol for the experience by attributing to the ritual a supranatural content. This was readily acceptable to the masses because it gave them the security they desired. One could obtain the certainity of his salvation by going through the ritual.. It is obvious how this dogma blinded people to the real experience of regeneration. It kept them from having to ask themselves, "What is regeneration? Have I been regenerated?" They did not have to risk such insecurity.
If people would sincerely ask themselves such questions and not resort to the supranatural for a fabricated answer, they would find that there are no dogmatic or certain answers; and, if people would accept this uncertainty and live with an attitude of openness to the truth, to love, to humanity, to life, they would be more easily regenerated. In fact. they would be living the regenerated life already.
Worship is for idols, not for God. Men inevitably make idols out of whatever they select to worship. In fact, a person can not "worship" unless he already has the idol concept in his mind. Men must have idols because they are not yet ready for "spirit and truth", but let us recognize "worship" as a concession because of our inadequacy, our unpreparedness to go beyond primitive concepts of man, spirit, God, science, and human destiny.
--Salvation is no more incorporated in the man Jesus than the spirit of Christmas is incorporated in the man in the red suit.
--If we are not to be absorbed into the masses and disappear as recognizable children of God, then we must learn to voluntarily become involved in the issues of life to the extent that our security and status quo is jeopardized. Then, and only then, will love, faith, truth, grow and expand, much less survive.
--We Christians read in the book of Acts how God showed the Jews in the early church that they were wrong in excluding the gentiles because of uncircumcision. Let us beware lest we make a similar mistake today by insisting that a person must verbally, or mentally, accept the historical Jesus and his death as the only means of reconciliation to God. We Christians have committed some atrocious acts and done things far removed from loving our neighbors all in the name of Christ and because of our rejection of those who refused to recite the same creed as we, e.g. the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the deaths of Jan Hus and Girolamo Savonarola, etc.
--When a person says, "I believe in Jesus Christ", he most likely means, "I have heard of a man named Jesus Christ who lived from approximately 4 BC to 28 AD. I believe that he was the Son of God, that he was God, that he was born of a virgin, that he died to save us from our sins". This sort of confession requires that there be no doubt that "God" came from "up there" and supranaturally entered human life. Remove this idea, and the entire creed disintegrates. To subscribe to a such a creed requires a commitment to a belief in the supranatural, the mystical, the metaphysical. It is no more credible to the doubter than is Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, or any other religion which attributes supernatural powers to its god. Nor does it necessarily cause a person to live in a spirit of love for his fellow men. Rather it can very easily be used as a reason for not loving any of one's fellow men. Suppose that to "believe in Christ" meant to believe in a way-of-life, to believe in an attitude, espirit de corps, or to have a particular view of one's self and one's fellow men. Suppose this attitude was one of all-inclusive love, of complete selflessness such as Christ exemplified. How would this affect our theology and our approach to social, political and religious problems?
--Only in the realm of religion do we accept as fact that which can not be scientifically proven. We are all skeptics when it comes to ESP, mind-over-matter, and gods on Mt. Olympus. In everything but religion we demand scientific proof of the propositions. Is this not inconsistent? What is the justification for this inconsistency?
--Our theology in orthodox circles today is as immature as was the early Biblical concept of the universe. If we do not advance out of the complacent, baby-food stage, our witness will have the effect of driving our young people away from the church because they will not be satisfied with baby food. They will say, "If that is what Christianity is, it is too dead for me. It denies the use of my God-given brain and relegates me to the status of a puppet. It is no more acceptable than Buddhism or Mohammedanism. It does not deal with life."
--Satisfaction with our "faith" (complacency) is the biggest sin of which Christians are guilty today. It walls us off from the stream of life and reality. It enables us to shun our responsibilities to each other. It causes us to do all manner of atrocities against each other in the name of Christ (Crusades, Inquisitions, witch burnings, rotten prisons, slavery, child labor, segregation). It enables us to think that what we have is ours, while our words say that what we have is God's. It causes us to be "practical" about such matters as ministering to the needs of an aged member of our congregation because it might make us "liable" for their entire welfare--"practical" also about whom we invite to our church because some might not fit in or feel at home--"practical" about admitting Negroes to our Sunday School and worship services because some (ourselves?) will be offended and leave.
--If there had been no disagreement, no questioning of the teachings of the church, no re-analysis of the Bible, there would have been no Martin Luther and no protestant reformation.
--John 8:32: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free". I believe this means free from superstition, fear and ignorance; not free from struggle or responsibility. The more freedom we have, the more responsibility we have. We like to be smuggly complacent and blissfully ignorant because we can be free from responsibility. We know that a philosophy which leads us beyond "blind faith" will lead us to greater commitment and more responsibility, and we hypocritically cling to pat phrases and orthodox theology in order to avoid involvement. We content ourselves with perfunctory attendance and even persuade ourselves that we actually "worship" at church services. but this has the effect of making us feel comfortable because "the important thing is to believe in God and in His Son and to serve Him" (whatever that means?). In order to know the truth that makes men free, we must question the irrational, and therefore meaningless, concepts of sin and salvation. We must ask ourselves just what are the deeper meanings of the scriptures and of Christ and attempt to find an answer which is sufficient to challenge us as mature creatures of God. We need to find an answer which will stimulate us to use the one talent each of us has which raises us above the level of the other animals; that is our minds. It is only through the use of this talent that we can "know the truth". To do less than this is to bury our talent in the ground and to have it taken away when the Master comes to call us to account.
We are like Cain, bringing our offering to God alright, but with the kind of self-righteousness in our hearts which prompts us to be angry instead of humble when our offering is rejected and which makes us unsympathetic enough to ask, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
--There are some among us whose theology has been very simple and very naive, yet who have caught the spirit of involvement, of love, of humility, of unselfishness, but without really knowing why. These people are few. Most of us are naturally selfish and proud; and to be humble or unselfish, we must have an intellectual concept, a theology if you please, which compels us to see ourselves as not having all the truth on our side and to realize that Christianity is not our giving assent to a creed but a way of living which leads us to become little Christs. Most of us use the mystical assent aspect of our faith as a cushion to keep us from being jolted by the real issues which arise from our relationships with people.
--The only way the multitudes of this earth can be reconciled to one another is on a premise of mutually acceptable agnosticism or atheism. As long as each sect holds fast to its traditional dogma, they will distrust and despise one another. Even if Christians are correct in their concept of what and who God is, their God would look with favor on an agnosticism which would bring them closer in love and respect for all their felow men, in place of a dogma which asserts that it is the only true doctrine and thereby fosters an exclusiveness which permits no real dialogue or involvement except with fellow fundamentalists.
--Love is not an instrument or tool which one possesses and can use or not use at will. Love is not an action or reaction in a prescribed manner. Love is not even a personal quality which displays itself in one's actions. Love is motivation, a presence, a certain spirit of existence, a being-in-love, a dying and a living, a selflessness and self-fulfillment, an unreserved commitment, a risk. Love enables one to live in greater freedom, in openness to every situation of life, so that one's action or reaction may be guided by this selfless spirit of being-in-love, and not just an automatic obedience to a prescribed rule or law or commandment.
More c. 1965
Long ago man thought of himself as a citizen of the tribe, all alien tribes being enemies. Later man's thinking evolved to seeing himself as a citizen of the larger community, village or town. Still later he began to think of his primary loyalty being to the nation. In this country today we think of ourselves as citizens of the nation, state, city, community--in that order. Is it not time now to expand our horizon to include the world? If brotherly love, in the universal sense, is truly an ideal, it would seem to me to encourage men to arrange their loyalties in this order: world, nation, state, city, community. What I am suggesting is that when there is a conflict of interests, it seems to me that love would compel me to choose on the side of the greatest good for the greatest number of people, e.g. the world. Why must we in the USA feel that other nations, especially the non-english speaking ones, are enemies or potential enemies? Perhaps this is too much to expect since we have not completely overcome this sort of rivalry between states here in our own country. Yet we call ourselves civilized?
What Is Christianity?
Q. What is a Christian?
A. One who believes in Jesus.
Q. Must one say, "I believe in Jesus"? Or can he say, "I don't believe in Jesus" and yet still be one in the spirit of Christ?
A. If he does not believe in Christ, he is not a Christian.
Q. Oh! So Christianity is like a club or fraternity? If you don't take the vows, you can't join?
(Comment: It must be like an alien becoming a citizen. The minute before he takes his vows he is an alien. As soon as he pledges allegiance, he becomes a citizen? Does this make him a different person instantly? If not, at what point did he begin to become a different person? Was it not when he wrestled with the decision in his own mind and decided to commit himself to this particular allegiance? If he simply made the decision without any commitment, and if he did this with no emotion, no involvement in the affairs of his chosen country, no inspiration, no spirit of being a permanent part of the people and the land, then did he ever really become a citizen? And if he did commit himself so completely, was he not a citizen in fact long before the oath made it legal? If so, then can we not say that his true citizenship was an actuality whether or not he ever took the oath? In other words, is it possible that Christianity is an attitude, a spirit, and not a particular doctrine or theological dogma? Could this be what Christ meant by "faith"? "Your faith has made you whole", Mark 5:34. Can faith be a response to love--an attitude?
From Whence Man?
Can you answer with any degree of certainty the question: where did man come from, and where is he going? I maintain that no one knows the answer to these questions and that the word "God" is man's choice to pretend an answer. Therefore I feel that when I encounter someone who insists on using the term "God" as if it meant something conclusive, I am dealing with a person who is not completely honest (perhaps intentionally, perhaps out of ignorance). This is why I am attracted to those who express theological doubts more than I am to those who insist on theological certainties on the one hand or atheism on the other. Both seem to be certain about that concerning which man can not be certain. The doubter seems to me to be more honest.
Since my answer to the eternal questions about man's origin, purpose and destiny is to say "I don't know", then my strategy is to use whatever faculties I possess, whether God-given or not, to continue to ask the questions, trusting that, if there is a God, he will confront me in an unmistakable way as in the story of Saul (Paul). In the meantime, I will continue to act on the intuition which tells me that love, trust, hope and empathy are the things which make me feel more whole, more fulfilled, more healed, more joyful, more optimistic and more "saved". I will try to be real, i.e. open, honest, understanding and loving--to every person or group of persons.
--What I am seeking is to live in love.
Each religion attempts to convert others to its particular theology. This is what alienates us. If intelligent, informed people can disagree on theology, how can we know who is right? It would seem to me better that we learn to live without theology--as if there were no "God".
If by "God is Love" we mean "Love is God", then why do we worship this? Worship requires an object. We could not think of worshippng happiness or salvation. If God (Love) is actually a term to describe that which concerns us ultimately, the ground of being, the unconditional, that which fulfills man, then why do we make an object of worship out of this? As soon as we make an object out of this mysterious force, then we are compelled to concoct a theology to fit the "God" we have created. The urge to do this is strong in man's psychological nature and serves him well in the youth and adolescence of his spirtual growth; however, the need in these times is for something more mature.
--A person's concept of what God is like affects his ideas as to what is sacred and what is secular. For example, a person who thinks of God as an austere being who demands obeisance and self-abnegation will feel that the song "Jesus Christ, Super Star" is not only secular but sacreligious. He will think of obedience almost the same as obeisance. Another person who thinks of God as the indescribable, unspeakable source of all life, the "ground of our being", will be inclined to see no separation between sacred and secular, will most likely see all of life as priceless, and will probably feel that "Jesus Christ, Super Star" is just as legitimate a way of attempting to express the inexpressible as saying the "Hail, Mary" or singing "The Old Rugged Cross".
--One can not fully appreciate the fact, that a man can make an idol of God, unless one has first experienced what it is like to be an agnostic or atheist. (refer to "Ye Shall Be As Gods", chapter 2)
--Belief in God is like the Aztec belief that the sun was God. Both are based on an assumption not founded in scientific fact. As a result of the assumption that the sun is God, the Aztecs offered sacrifices to him by casting their babies over a cliff. As a result of present day assumptions about God, including Christianity, Judaism, Mohammedanism, and all the other forms of theism, what sacrifices do we engage in--distrust, prejudice, accusations?
I am agnostic because I do not wish to run the risk of being guilty of offering my brothers or myself as sacrifices to appease my "God". If there is a deity, I can not conceive of his wishing me to be otherwise.
To speak of God one must have notions as to who and what God is. In short, to think about God is to create an image, an idol. The only way I can avoid this is to cease to speak, or even to think, of God--to become an agnostic.
Man relies on his belief in God to give him strength to meet the challenges of life, not the least of which is his alienation from his fellow men; yet it is this very belief in God which is one of the chief sources of the alienation.
Men of good will universally deplore such things as war, hate, greed, thievery, violence and all other forms of destruction of human life and personhood. Man finds himself unable to cope with these things without turning to a source of strength outside himself even if he has to imagine it. This is why it has been said that, if the world awoke one day to discover that there was no God, man would devise one. Man finds life intolerable without the hope that there is something greater, stronger than himself to take over when he finds himself helpless. He therefore believes in God because he must or else commit suicide as his only other means of escape. So he believes in God and immediately is confronted with the task of defining God and molding his image of God to fit his particular needs. The result is many varying concepts of God which find satisfaction by bonding together into sects and denominations. Now a new threat arises. Man the believer must defend his particular sect by attacking all the dissimilar sects. He strengthens his own convictions by decrying all the others as heretical or pagan. The thing which he sought to comfort him has become a monster which devours him.
What Does It Mean?
--Having faith does not mean believing certain facts..A person can have faith (instinctive love) and not be willing to limit it with concepts. He may even deny certain concepts which are meaningless or distasteful to him (God; Son of God; blood sacrifice, etc.) and still have faith, respond to life with love. What more did Christ ask? Of course, all this is another concept. But it suggests the finiteness and stricture of being hung up on concepts and tends to free us to be in love. Christians, then, are not a group of people who say the same creed; rather they are people who strive to love with an unqualified love--agape. They are people who do not judge others--even those whose concepts of religion are different. So, it matters not what one believes about the historical Jesus or God, except in-so-far-as these beliefs help one to love.
--In order to be "in" (to be a Christian, a son of God, a member of the body of Christ, saved, reborn, etc.) must one give intellectual, verbal assent to a particular theology? Or is the real criterion one of attitude--love, compassion, concern, reconciliation, brotherhood, peace? If the latter is true, cannot one have this attitude while also being a Jew, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic or atheist?
"As we walk together, we come to understand how we are all missionaries in our places of work, the people of God scattered through the world". (Fire In Coventry, pp21).
Does being a missionary mean converting others to our particular theology? For me, to be a missionary means to commit myself to another in a spirit of love, to risk my own security, to be vulnerable, to entrust my feelings, integrity, honor, wealth, and faith to them, to accept them, to see them as God sees them--as persons of worth, priceless human beings no matter how blemished, to understand them, to identify with them. If I can do this even partially, I find that the other person feels loved and feels a sense of wholeness, healing, salvation, God--in his life.
On Faith (1967)
I. A Christian faith which is not just blind faith can only be achieved after having asked and answered (in so far as each is able) the following questions:
1. What do I mean by "I believe in Jesus Christ?"
2. What difference does Christ make?
A. to me, in my life, in my attitudes, in my behavior?
B. to any or all other people, Christian and non-Christian?
3. What is salvation?
A. From what is one saved?
B. How? Why?
4. How can any two men, equal in intelligence, equal in education, equally certain of their faith, hold entirely different views about religion and each feel that he is right? If one feels that he alone is correct, then he must feel that the other is wrong. If the other is wrong, then he must be either misinformed or a fool.
It is a fact that there are such intelligent, educated men to be found in all the great religions. These men can be very dogmatic about their own particular brand of religion as opposed to other religions. This presents what appears to be an insurmountable problem in the realm of human relations. The best solution that I can see is represented by those who have become somewhat universalist in their thinking. By "universal" I mean that they have apparently become aware of the paradox of opposing religions and themselves have become less dogmatic, perhaps even agnostic or atheistic. Perhaps they have done this in reaction to those who resort to mysticism, superstition, magic, or supernaturalism and who rely on meaningless phrases to buttress themselves against ideas which attack their cozy, complacent existence.
II. We say we have faith in God, and yet we acknowledge our uncertainty about the validity of the non-Christian faiths. We have been unwilling to say that we have all the truth and the non-Christians have very little. Being uncertain about the nature of God, how can we say that we must first become reconciled to Him and then we can become reconciled to one another? How can we be certain what is meant by reconciliation to Him if we are not even certain what or who He is? The working philosophy which I attempt to live by is: Be reconciled to my fellow men, to those with whom I live every day, and whatever reconciliation there may be to a God will happen simultaneously. I am unable to fix on a concept of God other than through my relationships to people and to life. The guideline which I attempt to use is: If it makes for love in my personal relationships, it is good (or God); if it detracts from love, it is not good (or is Godless). "God is Love." A part of my philosophy is also the belief that the best way to bring about any desired relationship is to act as if that relationship was already in effect. For example, if I want you to love me, the best inducement is to act as if you already do.
III. When we say that we must "believe in Christ" and that we must "do His will", we are saying the same thing as "believing in the spirit of Christ". This can be done by one who has never even heard the name of Christ. What does it mean to say "Christ is the son of God"? If one can not understand this, then how can one believe it? If God is our creator, then our brains are a part of His creation. If we have been endowed by our creator with intelligence, then would our creator expect us to "believe" that which is unintelligible? How can we subscribe to that which we can not understand? Some say this is where faith enters in; but how can one have faith without some degree of comprehension? Nowhere in the gospels do we have Jesus saying that to be saved "You must believe that I am the son of God". In one place where he was specifically asked what one must do to be saved, he said, "Keep my commandments". Could He have been trying to show this man that he needed to be transformed by the spirit of Christ?--that he needed to be motivated by love? The man replied that he had kept all the commandments, so Christ told him that he lacked the proper spirit. His possessions were a stumbling block to the proper spirit, therefore he must get rid of them. So here he was, believing in the letter of the law, perhaps even having faith that Christ was the son of God, but he had failed to grasp the spirit of love, long-suffering, compassion, unselfishness, and sacrifice which are the powers which reconcile man to God.
IV. It seems to me that Christianity has gone to the extreme in its emphasis on the trinity, or rather, in its over-emphasis upon one particular "person" in the trinity. We Christians have laid hold of the "Son" and neglected the "Father" and the "Holy Spirit". More importantly, we have all but lost sight of the fact that these three persons are also one. We have forgotten the unity of God. Because Christ is easy to visualize, being a man like ourselves and being recorded in history, we have built up a religion of "Jesus worshippers" and have practically ignored the one and only God, of whom Christ represents only one aspect. We have tended to make the man, Christ, a God by himself, the object of our religious thought, the "author and finisher of our faith". We refer to God-the-father in vague terms as though we did not know that this Christ was God himself, revealing himself to men through a physical appearance.
Of course, God was doing much more than simply making a personal appearance. He was furthering the cause of reconciliation by limiting himself to the frame of a man and thereby demonstrating that the things he required of men were not impossible nor impractical. By not using any powers of influence which were not available to all men, he showed the way for men to "be ye perfect even as also my father in heaven is perfect". He demonstrated that each one of us is capable of being little Christs; indeed, this is precisely what he expects us to be. If we insist that Christ used super-human powers, or that the so-called miracles in the Bible can never be explained scientifically, then it seems to me that a person would have every right to ask God to rule the world in such a way as to bless the righteous and punish the wicked. But, as we all know, the righteous are often the ones who suffer most, and the wicked are often healthy and prosperous.
What is God? (July, 1967)
Every attempt to prove that God exists, or to describe what he is, eventually leads to the point where one must make a mental leap from what can be experienced by the five senses to an assumption which is purely speculative and incommunicable. The evidence put forth is not only theoretical, but the theories can not be tested in the same way as can mathematical or psychological theories. One must blindly, desperately jump the gap from communicable experience to the realm of the metaphysical, the hypnotic, and superstitious.
That it is speculation becomes obvious when one considers the various religions of the world and the fact that each comes up with a different guess as to what God is, and this after much deliberation and effort to know the truth. Religions exist because men, in their efforts to know the truth, reached the limits of scientific experience and felt incapable of coping with life without a satisfying explanation for the unhappy experiences of life. Man faced tragedy, suffering, death, without knowing where he was going or from whence he came. This uncertainty was so unbearable that men followed eagerly when a leader appeared with his speculative theories in explanation of the great questions of life and presented them as dogma. Man has always created in his own mind the kind of God which enabled him to muster the courage to face the challenges of life. For example, when confronted with the problem of justifying his own aggressive acts, man has always said, "God is on our side". When confronted with pain and suffering, man has said, "There must be a reason for this. I don't understand it, so it must be God's plan".
That there is such a thing as love,and that wherever and whenever it is present in the variety that Christ exemplifies, it is conducive to peace, harmony and happiness can hardly be denied; but to argue that love exists in the abstract, or even in personified form, apart from human relationships, is superfluous and unfounded. This argument can not be demonstrated or communicated, and thus is mere speculation. When someone speaks of loving God, I would ask: how can you love something you can not see, hear, feel, smell or taste? Of course a kind of infatuation can be felt about an idea or an emotion, but all such infatuation is likely to be false, and worse, conducive to error and misconception. Indeed, such attempts to love the unseen seem always to lead to results which are opposite to peace, harmony and happiness.
New Concepts Replacing Old Concepts
Nov. 6, 1967
Some of the propositions which Christians believe by faith are:
(A) God is creator; (B) God is omnipotent; (C) at death, some men receive "eternal life" and "go to heaven"; (D) Christ was the creator manifest in the flesh; (E) the purpose of Christ's coming was to perform the act which enables men to "receive eternal life" and "go to heaven".
In discussing these propositions, one eventually reaches the point where some will say, "The evidence is enough for me", while others will say, "I can not accept the evidence as proof of the propositions; it is not enough for me". As long as men accept evidence that is not scientific as being enough for them, there will always be conflict between those who take this kind of position but from opposite poles. By the term scientific I mean that which can be demonstrated and communicated. There may very well be evidence which man can not grasp scientifically at this time; however, to act on the basis of suspected evidence or laws is to gamble wrecklessly. As long as men commit themselves, with any degree of dogmatism, to belief in that which can not be demonstrated and communicated, there will be no relief from war, greed, distrust, hate. The only hope lies in the recognition that these beliefs must remain theories only, and that the fact that there are opposing theories indicates the probability of error. We need to reconcile ourselves to living in a fluid state, forever uncertain and open to change while at the same time acting, in the best interests of society, on those theorems which are universal and do not have any opposition.
July 18, 1968
If there is a deity, surely he will not look with disfavor upon one who chooses to live as though there were no deity. Is this not better than risking the error of creating the image of a deity to conform to one's own idea as to what the deity should be? And is it not this very error that is made when one assumes an attitude of dogmatism regarding the existence of a deity? One can not be positive that a deity exists without imagining what he is like; and to imagine what he is like is to create an image. If there is a deity, can he not communicate more effectively with one who refuses to imagine him (to refuse to imagine him is to be agnostic) than he can with one who attempts to imagine the unimaginable and thereby create an erroneus image? It seems to me that the agnostic would be more open to receive an impression from the deity than would be the one who "knows" that the deity exists and therefore has a finite, and probably erroneous, idea about what is "His will" or about how "He" communicates.
The evidence for the existence of God is all circumstantial. Commitment to a belief in God requires a leap of judgment across the gap of doubt or of the unknown. The danger of such a leap may be seen in the record of witch burnings, lynching of innocent men, conviction of innocent people by jury trial. In each case people thought they knew the truth. Some call this leap of judgment, "faith". If by faith they mean belief, then I want no part of it. If they mean hope, then let them make this clear. Let them say that they hope there is a God and that they are going to act as if there were. Then men who are this honest can face each other as equals in their acknowledged doubt, neither claiming that "God" or "truth" is on their side.
God, or rather the notion of God, is a stumbling block to the promulgation of peace and love. Men who have differing ideas of a God misunderstand, distrust, suspect and even hate each other. Christ said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can remove mountains. Paul said, "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love". Were Christ and Paul speaking of the same kind of faith?
In our Sunday Schools and churches theology is taught as if it were fact when actually it is theory. To those who would argue that one must have faith, I would point out that the very term "faith" implies a commitment to something which is not known--not a fact.
Nov. 25, 1968
My Philosophy of Life
Since I feel that it is impossible to answer the question, "Where did man come from?", or the question, "Where is man going?", I am left only with the question, "What shall I do with this life?"
I believe that only in an atmosphere of freedom can I answer this question. I must have the freedom to face the questions of life and to choose my own answers. I must have the freedom to choose wrongly if my right choices are going to mean anything or have any value. The freedom which is necessary for man to choose "the way of salvation" is the same freedom which makes it possible to choose evil and hell. To make it impossible for man to hate and kill would also make it impossible for man to love, to live. A moral choice is one which includes the possibility of choosing evil as well as good.
I believe that we each have inherited a brain which makes us moral beings, different from other animals because we can choose how we will live. Whether we have received this brain as a gift from God or via the process of evolution, I believe that the highest function man can perform is to think, to reason.
I believe that, in order to grow to the limit of one's capability, one must choose to be vulnerable, to live on the edge of insecurity. There is no greater threat to real life than complacency and indifference. This means that one must run the risk of being hurt, of being wrong, of being unaccepted, of being attacked, and even of losing oneself, one's sanity, one's life.
I believe that any exchange between two people must be a two-way transaction if it is to be constructive. Any exchange which is only one way (you give me something and I give you nothing in return) is destructive. The values to be exchanged are not restricted to physical property. They include such values as trust, confidence, good will, opportunity, encouragement, time, attention, recognition, ingenuity, creativity, productivity, labor, and talent.
My faith in life is that Love will triumph. I believe that the only absolute is AGAPE, an all-inclusive love, by which all things are to be measured and judged. AGAPE includes all the various expressions of love: husband and wife, parent and child, brother to brother, friend to friend. It involves emotion, adoration, passion, trust, respect, concern, sympathy, empathy, sharing, touching, holding. It is unselfish, yet includes self love. It is both outgoing and incoming. It means commitment and vulnerability. AGAPE is something you can will to do, as opposed to liking which is something you do instinctively. We like or dislike without control; but we can love only if we choose to do so. We can love people whom we do not like. In fact, in the spirit of AGAPE, we must do so.
I agree with Reuel Howe, "The greatest thing that a human being can be and do is to be a person living in responsible relation with his neighbor."
(1968) On Dogma
It is easy to demonstrate the fact that dogma and doctrine tend to separate and alienate people. The thing which is difficult to deal with is the fact that some men think that this is desirable and necessary. They seem to say that what one "believes" is more important than what one is. To them religion is an exclusive cult which includes anyone who espouses the specific concepts and which excludes all others. Where, then, does love come in? Love does not separate; it unites. Love does not alienate; it reconciles. Love does not tear asunder; it heals.
In any area of a person's life where he is dogmatic, there is an absence, or a dearth, of love. Can it be that the real heresy in the church is one that has been foisted upon it since the first or second centuries, that of propagating a cult of dogmatists instead of a family of lovers?
(1968) What the Christian Development Course Has Meant to Me
Whatever meaning the term "salvation" has for me, I find it through dialogue. This thought expresses the aspirations which were mine as I joined our Creative Christianity class last Fall. I walked into our first session with anticipation, and, before it was over, I knew that I had come to the right place. I found myself in the midst of a group of people who were different from one another in almost every way imaginable, but who had one thing in common. We were each in search of greater meaning for our lives. Some of us knew this consciously; others did not know it, but it was there subconsciously.
For me, it was a particularly satisfying experience because each session presented the opportunity for me to be heard, and I had always taken a great deal of pleasure in putting in my two cents worth. But, also right from the outset, I was having a new kind of experience--one which presented a new challenge and began to create a new awareness. This was the experience of listening. I found myself actually wanting to listen to what others were saying, and this caused me to actually understand them as well, often for the first time.
As I experienced this listening and understanding each week, I began to take a closer look at myself and to ask myself if I really meant it when I said that I loved everybody. I began to become aware that I was not being very loving when I pressed a debate to the point of suffocating the other person. I began to understand that one of the things I had always proclaimed was really true--that real love was something that went out from me to someone else no matter how narrow, or bigoted, or selfish that someone might seem to be; that I could not love them and squelch them, or love them and overpower them. I began to realize that loving them meant letting them be themselves. I also discovered that the more I listened, the easier it became to love, and amazingly, the more I became loved.
As a result of all this, a sort of liberation is taking place in me. I now find it not so imperative that I be heard. As a matter of fact, I have actually enjoyed a few encounters without even voicing one opinion. Oh, I had kept quiet before, but I had never enjoyed it. These occasions have been rare, but a breakthrough has occured. In other words, the domain of the great guru of the Carolina coast has begun to weaken. Hopefully, in its place there is rising the domain of one whom I have seen reflected in each one of my classmates, and in fact, in everyone I meet these days. Some of us call him Love, and he is. Others of us call him God, and he is.
Dec. 17, 1968
Who Is Man?
I am unable to answer this question, and I do not know whether my inability is due to an inquiring mind which is not satisfied with pat answers or to the fact that I really do not want to know the truth. Is there something in the answer to this question which would reveal something about myself which am unwilling to accept? I don't know.
It seems obvious that man is at least partly animal. His body is a combination of chemicals, the proportions of which vary from one individual to another, and the activities of which determine his behavior to a considerable extent. Man has the same appetites and many of the same instincts as other animals. Physical hunger and sexual hunger play significant roles in man's life; however, as man pursues the fulfillment of these appetites, he is also motivated by the powerful desire to be important--to be loved and needed. It is tragic that many people in their old age cease to be needed, and therefore lose their desire to go on living.
Man is not basically either good or bad. He holds within himself the potential for both, and this is what makes him "man in the image of God" and "a little lower than the angels". This is man's challenge--to live so as to facilitate the good and suppress the bad. Man will be able to be good in direct ratio to his ability to understand himself and his fellow man.
I suspect that man has within himself the ability to be and do anything which his mind can conceive. This is not to say that every man has the same capability, but it is to say that the limitations which each man has are determined by his thoughts. Since men's thoughts vary as to imagination, ambition, understanding, discipline, will power, etc., therefore men differ in their degree of fulfillment. The highest calling of a man, his ultimate destiny, or, if you please,what God wants for him, is for him to achieve the highest, broadest, and deepest existence that he can conceive in his mind. This means that he should be the most loving, the most alive, the most sensitive, the most conscious, the most committed, the most eager, the most giving, the most vulnerable, the most universal, the most pioneering, the most positive individual that he is capable of conceiving. As far as I can tell, the greatest example of what man is capable of being is Jesus, whose mother was Mary and whose father is unknown. One of the best known contemporary examples is Albert Schweitzer, and I believe there are numerous others who unassumingly live in AGAPE, confident that they can best serve in a non-spectacular way.
I suspect that Jesus was the first of a species of human beings who realized his full potential and that the destiny of mankind is to move in this direction. When I read the stories of Jesus written in the Gospels, I receive very strongly the message that Jesus is saying, "I am what life is all about, and you too can be as I am". I suspect that within the next 500 years, man will learn to develop what is now called ESP, and that it will be discovered that this is not extra-sensory at all, but simply a latent sense which all men have. As man evolves, this sense will perhaps become stronger and more universal. It is my hope that, when this sense is developed to the point where each person is able to detect another's inmost thoughts, there will be no more conflict and war. I feel that modern methods of communication have helped us to take a step in this direction by allowing us to talk before we act. We have a long way to go, but I believe that opportunity for dialogue is the most effective method available at this time. Dialogue not only helps us to understand each other, but helps us to understand ourselves; and this is the first step toward being able to communicate on the deeper level where we all really exist.
Perhaps the deepest desire which I attempted to portray in my self-portrait was the longing to live in a completely pure communistic society such as the early Christians attempted, if only it would work. But since man has not yet learned to live in AGAPE, he finds himself unable to make pure communism work. And so, as shown in my portrait, I find myself living for the unadulterated moments I can spend with my brothers-in-love, while I am caught up in the struggle for survival in the world of competition, selfishness, and dollars.
Knowledge and God (December, 1968)
Is it not true that to know a person means more than to have knowledge of them? It involves some mysterious communion with the person. On the human level, this communion begins with being able to see, hear, feel and smell the other person--either one or all of these sensations. When it comes to knowing God, I, personally, have never had any communion with a being whom I could neither see, nor hear, nor feel, nor smell. My only experiences with what I would be willing to call God have come from direct contact with individual human beings. Oh, yes, When I was younger I had certain experiences which I attributed to a direct communication with God; but I wonder if this was because I had been conditioned or trained to have such an illusion. I have since come to see that these experiences could very well have been a product of my imagination engendered by my own desire for such an experience.
If there is such a communion with the unseeable, unhearable, unfeelable, unsmellable God, does he instigate this communion with some and not with others? If so, why? If he enters into the affairs of man, why does he not enter mine? Why does he not communicate with me in an unmistakable way? It is no good to reply that he just does not act this way. You would only be saying that since he does not, this is the way it is. You would not be answering the question why.
Knowledge is, in my opinion, something we can communicate to each other. If it can not be communicated, it is not knowledge but merely hypothesis, speculation, or superstition. Those things which we feel that we know but can not pass on to someone else unequivocably are things which we only think we know. How else can we explain the phenomenon when one person thinks he knows the truth and someone else thinks equally strongly that he knows the truth, yet they can not agree on what is true? Even if one can know something without being able to communicate that knowledge to someone else, if one declares that he has such knowledge, the hearer will not believe it because the knowledge has not been demonstrated. Especially will the hearer not believe it if it conflicts with his own "knowledge".
There are two alternatives. In the case of conflicting "knowledge" between two persons, one must take either the position that (a) I am right and you are wrong, or (b) we really don't know the truth. In the first instance, one finds oneself unavoidably alienated from all who differ with him. In the second instance, one finds oneself feeling akin to others who acknowledge their mutual uncertainty. One feels the unity of mutual doubt and finds a sort of peace in the awareness that one is not alone in his searching.
All of the doctrines of the protestant church are based on the concept of a God who enters the affairs of man on occasion either to direct the course of events or to "inspire" a specific man, or group of men, to a certain course of action. It is on this concept that the validity of the scriptures is based. This concept presents several questions:
(1) There have been many people who have claimed to have talked with God. Some of these we have believed, and some we have not. How do we decide whom to believe? (2) If God does deal directly with individuals, is it not a legitimate question to ask why he does not speak to me personally?
Until, and unless, God does contact me in an unmistakable way, I shall be compelled, in all honesty, to continue to act as if he does not exist. And when, and if, God does contact me, I shall ask him why he contacts some and not others.
A great challenge which faces people today is the task of understanding one another. The solution to this problem also contains man's greatest opportunity and his greatest hope. As long as men look at one another and are so overpoweringly conscious of their differences, there can be very little hope for anything like a millenium of love.
Because we see others as different, we often see them as enemies, and we fear or hate them. Yet we profess to believe that we should "love our enemies". Most religions engender self-righteousness in their followers. Religious people, who would never have thought of themselves as self-righteous, have pointed fingers at harlots and stoned them, pointed fingers at heretics and beheaded them, pointed fingers at witches and burned them, pointed fingers at "half-breeds" and run them out of town, pointed fingers at "foreigners" and turned their backs, pointed fingers at "niggers" and made them slaves.
The one thing that all these victims had in common was that they were "different". Today many religious people point their fingers at those who dare to be different and shout "communist" or "atheist" or "liberal" or "queer"; and though they have become too sophisticated for the stake or the hangman's noose, and are too passive to throw stones, yet they resort to more "civilized" forms of destruction such as gossip, name-calling, innuendos, accusations, cheating, hate-peddling, and indifference. Is it impossible for a communist to love? Is it impossible for an atheist or a liberal to love? Suppose that we were to forget Christ's name. Would that change anything? What would we call ourselves? If the predominant characteristic of Jesus was love, why not call ourselves "lovers"? Our confession of faith would then read: I believe in Love and rest upon Love alone for salvation". Would this necessarily mean that we were affirming a person whose name was Love? Would it not be more vital, more useful, more pertinent, more alive, more uplifting, more challenging to mean that we were affirming a state of being, a way of life, a motivation, an all-inclusive power? Would not this be affirmation of life itself?
From this perspective we can look at the record of the life of that man, whose name we have forgotten because it really makes no difference, and see that perhaps he was saying, "I, Love, am the way, the truth, and the life". And, "Love, if Love be lifted up, will draw all men unto itself". "No man cometh unto the Father (salvation) but by me (Love)". Is it possible that we have interpreted him incorrectly, or insufficiently, all these years? What happens if we think of salvation in terms of reconciliation, and the savior in terms of love-as-a-state-of-being? Would this not be re-birth? Would it not be easier to see any man as my brother so long as he was striving to live in Love--no matter what he called himself or how he looked--hippie, teenie-bopper, liberal, Hindu, democrat, negro, agnostic, Lutheran, bigamist, communist, artist, engineer, republican, conservative, Southerner, foreigner, Jew, civil rights worker, alcoholic, politician, Christian?
Dec. 29, 1968
Thoughts following a discussion of the doctrine of the trinity and various so-called heresies which took place in Sunday School.
It is not consistent with the scientific approach for one to reach certain theological impasses and then to say that one accepts the prescribed solution "on faith". Theologians tend to ascribe an aura of final truth to these elements of faith, whereas scientists readily acknowledge that most of what they deal with are hypotheses which are subject to change. Although the terms "orthodox" and "heretic" may be loosely applied in the field of science, they are vehemently used in the field of theology. In modern times theological heretics are no longer burned at the stake, but more subtle forms of persecution are resorted to.
Thoughts in 1969
On Blind Faith
I can accept a paradox and deal with it in faith. In this situation, it would necessarily be blind faith; however, I feel that blind faith has no place in theology as long as reason can prevail. Nothing should be relegated to the realm of mysticism until all possible avenues of reason and logic are exhausted. Therefore, theology can never be dogmatic. Where reason applies, there can always be differences of opinion; and where reason is reduced to a paradox, we must act on faith which is a personal and varied thing.
Some Christians, especially Presbyterians, emphasize the doctrine of salvation to the point that one gets the impression that one can be saved (reconciled) without living a God-directed life. At its mildest, the argument is that salvation must take place first--before life can be God-directed. It seems to me, however, that one can not be reconciled (saved) without living a God-directed life; nor can one live a God-directed life without reconciliation.
Quite often the strongest impression received by a non-believer who is being evangelized is that he is being persuaded to buy a particular theology. If he does not get this impression at first, he surely gets it after he is in the church. He is told that he must "believe in Jesus Christ" in terms that either repulse him or make him a Jesus worshipper.
If a person's membership in the Christian church is going to hinge on his believing in the virgin birth and such theology, we are fighting a losing battle. If belief is going to mean an affirmation of the historical Jesus as the "Son of God", meaning an issue from the great prime mover, and not simply belief in a life of love, then we are clinging to a dying cult.
But, if we can understand that when Jesus said, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me", he may have meant "the answers to your problems are found in a life of love, nowhere else", then we have a message that is meaningful and relevant to the world. To preach this concept, we will have to recognize in practice that to which we have given only lip service--that the church is contained, not within the organization, but exists in all those who love Jesus (who love Love), many of whom are not only outside the Christian church, but who may even call themselves Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics, or Atheists. As one scripture writer quotes Christ, "He who is not against me is for me".
The message that I get from scripture is that Love is Lord. Jesus epitomizes this. If the church could make this its message, if belief in this could be its only requirement, the direction and the effectiveness of evangelism would take care of itself.
Do the things you believe about God or Christ make you a more loving person, or do they make it easy for you to confuse toleration with love? I know that the precepts of Christianity exhort you to "love one another", but it is very easy to talk about love without ever being involved in the struggles and needs of people-- without ever seeing them as brothers. What often happens is a sort of condescension, such as one's concern for a pet animal, rather than the kind of love which demands involvement-- a mental concern but not a concern of the soul. Examples of this kind of fallacy can be seen in the fact that Christians for centuries condoned slavery and witch burning, and in the fact that there still exists a great deal of prejudice with regard to skin color, hair length, modes of dress, social position, and economic status.
The point is that one can slip subtly and unconsciously into pacifying one's conscience by performing all the routine activities of religion including giving money to the poor, yet never recognizing the personhood of the individual in need. One can gloss over the needs of others or get by with a token gesture of concern by telling oneself that this life is not so important anyway because everything will be resolved in heaven. On the other hand, if one is not certain that there is a God or heaven, then one is compelled to face the question of one's responsibility to one's fellow man here and now. An agnostic may, as may a Christian, choose to deny any responsibility for making the world a better place in which to live; however, the agnostic can not excuse his indifference the way a religionist can by falling victim to the illusion that he has done his duty when he abides by the forms of religion with only a token of social concern.
God is real to some. He has "spoken" to them. Whether this is actual or imaginary, I must ask how can there be dialogue with those who do not believe? Anything the unbeliever says about this is perceived as a threat to the believer. The believer becomes defensive and feels he is being attacked. He becomes belligerant and often irrational. How can an encounter between believer and non-believer be kept rational, wholesome, constructive, creative, open, and loving? Can this be done, or should all attempt at dialogue be abandoned and the encounter maintained on a conversational level? Surely there must be some form of dialogue which can take place--listening asking, seeking to understand and love the other.
More thoughts (1970)
--Psychotherapy which attempts to direct the client or give him answers is no more beneficial to the client than is religion which attempts to give categorical and dogmatic answers or perpetuate a particular theology.
--Dogma and doctrine separate. Love heals and reconciles.
--"God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please---you can never have both." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
--True life (Christianity, if you please) is not struggling to find God or searching for God; nor is it God finding man. It is man's accepting himself as he is, with all his limitations, with his finite knowledge and unanswered questions, yet maintaining the vigor and inquisitiveness which prompts the questions and revelling in what little understanding does break through from time to time.
--Surely the essence of what we are pointing to by the term "God" or "Christ" existed before, during and after the life of the historical Jesus. How, then, can we say that the historical Jesus is necessary to a saving theology?
--Instead of studying the Bible or debating theology to the end that we formulate a list of essentials on which we can all agree, we need to experience the reality of unlimited (?) love. We need to feel the healing, reconciling power of a love which holds no reservations, which commits itself completely to others.
--The "one God" concept can easily be distorted to mean "my concept of God is the only right one".
--Everyone wants and needs to feel loved and accepted by his God and by his fellow men. The experience which best allows a person to feel loved by God is when he feels loved by another person or group of persons. By feeling "loved", we do not mean filial, paternal or erotic love, but agape.
--The reason for the spread of Christianity around the world in 1900 years was because it offered people a better way of life, not because of its theology. Any time you offer a man a better way of life, he will be very much inclined to accept your theology for his own. The reverse is not true.
I protest against the dogma and doctrines of my inherited religion (and all other religions) which tend to throw up barriers between men and alienate them. I protest when my religious denomination (or any other) insists on adherence to, or faith in, any creed which would not be acceptable to all men of good will. Yet this is the very thing of which all religions are guilty. The only solution which I can offer is a mutually acceptable agnosticism.
The alternative to agnosticism is a superstitious belief in a creator or some type of deity who is "omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent". This seems to relegate man to the status of the created one, the toy soldier, doll or robot. What, then, is the use of his mind? If he does not doubt the existence of such a deity, then he is not thinking; and if he is not thinking, how is he different from any other animal?
Belief in the Christian sense is not merely intellectual assent to a particular set of ideas. Nor is it merely an emotional response such as compassion, pity, generosity or love. Rather it is an intuition that life has a source, a purpose and a destiny which is transcendant and beyond explanation. It is also an understanding of one's self as involved with, and related to, all other men, and perhaps all other life, as we meet, struggle with, and overcome the challenges of life itself.
--Q. How does one distinguish between a prophet and a heretic?
--It is possible to scorn a person's deeds without rejecting the person, but it is not easy. Too often we reject the person along with his deeds. Witness the poor job which most churches and most Christians do when one of their members becomes entangled in (1) adultery, (2) divorce, (3) homosexuality, (4) misappropriation of money, (5) pregnancy out of wedlock, (6) alcoholism.
--The challenge which the contemporary situation presents to religion, or really to man himself, is how to speak to the problems of life in a way which is meaningful, relevant and acceptable to men's inquiring minds in a day of rapid change and progress in all other areas of society. Christianity, as well as Judaism, Mohammedanism, Hinduism and all the various religions, serves a definite purpose in most men's lives. That purpose is to supply some sort of answer to the deeper yearnings of the human spirit and to offer hope for a future which is better than the predicament of the moment. It is my opinion that if all religions, and their respective deities, were to be wiped out at once, and all memory of such were erased from men's minds, that it would be only a matter of time before leaders would pop up here and there to proclaim new deities, new cults, new creeds. This would happen because men can not bear to face life without some unknown, mysterious, super-natural entity on which to cast their burdens and pin their hopes.
--Most Christian churches very quickly become a haven for the "in" crowd, a club for the self-righteous, a fraternity or sorority for the select, a clique, a mutual admiration society. Perhaps these terms are too severe; nevertheless, they are accurate to a degree in every church with which I have been acquainted. I would suspect that they are also true of all other religious organizations. Organized Christianity is an exclusive society. Christianity is exclusive by definition; it excludes all those who are "not Christian". The fallacy here is that, in defining what it means to be a Christian, one either adopts a rigid set of qualifications--rebirth, profession of faith, vows, creeds-- or one very simply says that a Christian is anyone who professes to be a Christian. To be consistent, then, one must also say that anyone who denies being a "Christian" is therefore not a Christian. In short, the article is not genuine unless it has the label on it. So say the Christians.
What would Jesus say about this? May I suggest that perhaps he would have all men live in a state of mutual respect, concern, and recognition of one another, affirming a concept of love which includes all men of good will, no matter what label they put on themselves. Contemporary Christianity is bogged down in theology and dogma when it should be seeking ways to affirm people. It is cursing those who announce that "God is dead" when it should be showing by example that love is big enough to cover us all.
--Given: that one must have a place before one can move on to another, and that one must have support before one can jump ("A Place For You", Paul Tournier).
Q. Is the ultimate goal to "let go and let God"? Or is the next step to let go of God?
--Does "salvation" depend on whether I can intellectually give assent to a belief in "God", or "the resurection", or the "incarnation"? If not, then on what does it depend? Perhaps the answer to this can draw us closer together. If the "experience" which some people have had is the saving experience, is it something a person can choose for himself and put himself into? If not, if it is something given, then is not the only honest position to take--one of agnosticism, saying I don't know; I haven't experienced it?
(1) The majority of people are suspicious and afraid of those who are different from themselves.
(2) If one is secure in his own ideas (philosophy, politics, religion) and his own social standing, then one is not intimidated by the challenge of different ideas or ideologies. Rather one welcomes such challenges as a means of refining one's own ideas.
(3) One who responds in a reactionary way to the challenge of ideas different from his own merely demonstrates his own insecurity.
(4) Overeating can be a symptom of one's basic insecurity just as can overdrinking, drug abuse, excessive interest in sex, etc.
(5) For those who are open minded there is a unity in a common goal which is expressed more in their actions than in their concepts. The common goal is the "liberation and awakening of man" ("You Shall Be As Gods", pp178). This goal is also expressed as the "development of man's specifically human qualities: love and reason" (pp. 50). For those who are open, "love impels us to understand the other better than he understands himself"--this in spite of differing concepts. In my opinion, this awareness of a common goal is possible only to those who are "open", who are not hung up on their own concepts--political, social, and especially theological.
Q. What can be done to enable one who is "hung up" to become "open"?
A. By allowing him to have the experience of knowing others initmately enough to feel their love and trust and to be aware of their doubts, fears, failures--in other words to become aware of the humanness and the godliness of others which transcends their particular theology.
More Thoughts on Religion
--We have often said that to be a Christian does not mean to be perfect--that a Christian is still a "sinner". Then how is a Christian different? Is he not different because he recognizes his own imperfections and is willing to acknowledge them, both to himself and to others; also because, having accepted his own imperfections as a fact, he still sees himself as a human being of dignity and worth, and therefore he sees all men as human beings of dignity and worth in spite of their imperfections? Is not a Christian one who, imitating Christ, sees all men as brothers, loves them and acknowledges his responsibility to them? (see Howe's "Herein Is Love" pp35). Does not the term "Christian" apply to such a person, not because of any theological dogma as to how this comes about, but because he is free as Christ was free--to love himself and all men, free to give and accept love with all the risk and vulverability which this entails? Such a person is free, as was Christ, from the burden of guilt under which men struggle when they deny their humanity in the attempt to evade their imperfections. Such freedom is expressed as an affirmation of life rather than a denial of life. It is a freedom to love as the spontaneous expression of a sense of unity with mankind rather than out of a sense of duty. There is a feeling of gratitude, yes, but which springs from the joy of freedom, not necessarily because we understand this freedom as a gift from anywhere or anyone specifically.
--What does it mean to "reach another person for Christ"? Does it mean to convince him of your particular set of theological ideas? Or does it mean to love him unreservedly? If one genuinely loves another, the other will sense the reality of this love and thus be "reached". On the other hand, if the love is not genuine and unselfish, this too will be sensed and the other person will be alienated rather than brought closer.
On Love and Emotions
--To like is an emotional response. To love is an act of will, a choice. To love also often contains an emotional response as well as an act of will.
--Q. Are emotions a response to external objects, or are emotions a response to internal needs triggered by the external stimuli? Is response to God an emotion engendered by internal need? Is it superstitution?
--I feel very little emotion for someone I can not see or hear, but I can will to love them. You may tell me about a ghetto kid who is starving and diseased, and I can will to help him, will to love him, but I feel very little emotion. If, however, you take me to see him and I am confronted by his person, then emotion arises within me and even may dominate my will or reason.
--Can we conclude that the presence of emotion in a person, when the object of that emotion has not been seen or heard personally, is not rational but arises from a psychological deficiency?
More on Religion and Philosophy
--Have you ever felt completely loved by a person and felt that you loved them completely--without reservation or distrust? What is the difference between this experience and that of having Jesus Christ "come into your heart"? Notice that whenever Jesus was asked, "What must I do to be saved--or to enter the kingdom of God?", he invariably referred the individual to his relationship with his fellow men. (see the rich young ruler).
--Have you ever felt love toward someone of a different faith or an agnostic or atheist? If you have had this loving experience with another of a different faith, does this not indicate that salvation is an experience not limited to a particular theology?
--If believing in Christ means to accept him as the Son of God who became incarnate and offered himself as propitiation for our sin, and if such belief is necessary for salvation, then consider these questions:
Q. Does this mean that God rejects any person who cannot or will not make the above intellectual affirmations?
Q. If it is not an intellectual assent that is required,is it an emotional one?
Q. If it is not an intellectual or emotional assent to certain creeds or dogma or doctrine, then is it a commitment to something? If so, to what? To a way of life? an ideal? a state of being? What is the connection between this and Christ or God? Does the way or the experience depend on a particular creed or dogma? Or is it possible for people of widely divergent theological views to be "saved". to commit themselves to a certain way of relating to life, to be "one in the spirit"? If so, then are we not doing a great disservice to ourselves, our fellow men, and our God if we keep insisting on subscription to a particular set of doctrines for a person to be "in"? Should we not examine our position with a view to making our "thing" more inclusive instead of exclusive?
Q. If the commitment is to a person (Christ), how can this be? How can one commit oneself to a person who died before one's lifetime? If "coming to know Christ" means to know him as a person, is this something one can cause to happen to oneself? If it is something which has to be initiated by Christ, then is not the honest position, for one to whom he has not made himself known, a position of doubt or agnosticism?
Q. If the encounter with Christ can be initiated or caused by the individual, there are many people who would like to know how. If the encounter can be accomplished only by Christ's action, then in the context of our present system of doctrine, the individual can not be held accountable for his own salvation.
--Do I pray? Yes, I do, but not by attempting to beam a series of thoughts in the direction of some superior being who is capable of receiving millions of such transmissions simultaneously. Nor do I pray by broadcasting my thoughts in the hope that they will be intercepted by God in some mysterious locale. On the contrary, my every thought is a prayer in that it arises from the depth of my being and is effective upon my own being as well as the lives of others. My very existence is prayer in that it is purposeful and affects the lives, not only of those to whom I am in physical proximity, but also those separated by space and time. My life is prayer because I have dedicated it to becoming as fully human as I am able and because I acknowledge myself to be related to, and part of, everything else that exists.
--I am never completely without sadness. This is because I have arrived at the opinion that no man knows the answers to the eternal questions (1) what is man?, (2) from whence did he come?, and (3) whither is he going? Could it also be because I find myself always siding with the minority, the oppressed, the misunderstood, the one who is different? In doing so I am made greatly aware of men's fear of one who is different and of the tendency to defend against this fear by attacking, hating, destroying, and mustering support for his persecution.
7/14/05 Letter to Editor Post and Courier published on 8/29/05
William Murchison (7/13/05) implies that only Christians can have principles and values, and that a "relationship with God" is essential for overcoming "original and enduring" evil. As long as this attitude prevails, that Christians are right and everyone else is wrong, how can there ever be peace and harmony? How is this any different than the Muslim belief of the same ilk? Must we all become either 100% Christian or 100% Muslim in order to get along? What is the likelihood of that ever happening? There have always been, and always will be, non-believers. Does this mean that we will forever be burning heretics at the stake and beheading infidels?
There is another possibility if only we will consider it. It is the one suggested by Sam Harris in his book "The End of Faith". If we Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. can turn loose of our religious dogma, then maybe we will discover that there are more useful and constructive values upon which we can all agree. e.g. respect, goodwill, compassion, liberty, and that these things must be mutual if we are to live in peace. These values derive from common sense. They do not need any supreme authority, whether God or church, to impose them upon us. To claim that they do sets up a mechanism by which we dehumanize those who disagree and allows us to label them as evil itself, thus justifying any means we are capable of inventing to destroy them.
Evil is not some monster which controls us. Evil is when we lose sight of our connectedness with each other. It is when we lose awareness that when one person's freedom is denied, all freedom is in jeopardy. Evil is when one religious group tries to force its ideas on others of a different persuasion, and this usually happens because we have been taught that we have "the word of God" in a book. Here's hoping we learn better before it is too late.
My Development As a Non-believer June, 2011
Polls have shown that approximately 79% of Americans profess a belief in a deity or creator. Most Americans were brought up in homes where such beliefs were held by the parents and taught to the children, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and I was no exception. In my family, my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were churchgoers. I never had the opportunity to hear any of my grandparents or great-grandparents say what they actually believed. My parents did make it clear that they were believers and devoted to the Presbyterian Church. They took me to Sunday School where I was encouraged to learn and recite the catechisms, first the Children's and then the Shorter Catechism: "Who made you?" "God." "What else did God make?" "God made all things." "Why did God make you and all things?" "For His own glory." "What is God?" "God is a spirit and has not a body like men." "What is sin?" "Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God." I still remember that much.
"Having faith" was the ideal. "Doubting" was a sign of weakness, a straying from the fold. I was a good boy. I trusted my parents' judgment and I wanted to be what they thought I should be. I "joined the church" at about age 11 by making a "profession of faith" as I had been taught. This meant repeating an oath that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and that I believed in His father, God, and in the Holy Ghost. I learned the Presbyterian explanation of free will and predestination. I was so well-versed and conforming that I was elected as a Deacon at about age 26 and later elected to the office of Ruling Elder at about age 30. These elections were done by the members of the particular church congregation, so I must have impressed them with my knowledge and sincerity to be so honored.
Up to this time, I had never had any occasion to doubt or to think analytically about the precepts of the Presbyterian Church or the Christian faith. I did begin to view some of the dogma a bit differently. I never accepted the idea that the Bible was the "infallible word of God." It never made sense to me that the Bible was to be taken literally. I always saw it as allegory, or myth, even though some of it may have been historically accurate. I think my parents saw it this way, too.
It was not until about age 40 that I had occasion to read a book which, for the first time in my life, raised the thought that maybe there is no such thing as God. This was a new experience for me, and I dealt with it cautiously. Over the next several years, I came to realize how little real evidence there was to substantiate the doctrines and dogma I had been taught. How do we know that (1) Jesus was born of a virgin? (2) that He was the Son of God? (3) that man is a "sinner, in need of salvation"? (4) that Jesus' death provides that salvation? (5) that Jesus rose from the dead? (6) that there is a life after this one? All we have is the speculation of a few men. From whence did Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or Paul get their information? To say that they were "inspired by God" is not a satisfactory answer to the mind which requires reason and evidence; for me to not demand reason and evidence is to feel gullible.
It took all of the above for me to finally free myself from all the heavy religious dogma to which I was exposed (brainwashed) for the first 30 years of my life. Now I see all religion as based on fantasy and irelevant to an objective, scientific way of thinking. It is no longer worth my time unless I am asked my opinion by someone who is searching. I have decided to support atheists, agnostics and secular humanists who demonstrate good will, and I will refrain from upsetting anyone who relies on their religious faith as a source of comfort when their lives are difficult. I will also do what I can to resist our nation becoming a theocracy and to maintain the wall of separation between church and state.