PsychologicalApproach to the Concept of the Deity
Berry Street E
Readbefore the Ministerial Conference, Boston
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When I wasabout nine years of age, I was taken ill with a severe case of measles and withthe measles came an anvil-chorus headache. It was so bad that it seemed that myhead was going to split apart. My parents comforted me with the announcementthat the Best Doctor in the city, famous Dr. Sloan, was on his way to see me. Ihad heard about Dr. Sloan from my playmates and I certainly awaited his arrivalwith almost breathless expectation.
When heappeared by my bedside, he greeted me in a quiet but reassuring voice and thenceremoniously placed a strange looking little glass tube into my mouth. I knownow that it was nothing more than a thermometer for reading temperatures.
But since thatwas my first experience with a thermometer, certainly the first I can remember,I thought it was the magic wand that was to make me well again. And marvelouslyenough, as Dr. Sloan placed it gently into my mouth, my headache magicallydisappeared. My faith was so complete that it must have brought about animmediate relaxing of my nervous and muscular tension, which in turn relievedthe pain in my head.
Last Augustwhen I was rushed to a hospital in this city, because of a heart attack, I hada severe pain in the region of my heart and arms. Even after morphineinjection, it was so severe that when the head-nurse came to take mytemperature the next morning, I suddenly recalled my childhood experience andresolutely decided to recapture the naive faith of my childhood, if possible. Imade a conscious effort to believe that the thermometer would at least makesome difference. But when it was placed in my mouth, did anything happen?Nothing at all! There was no magic release of pain. I really didn't expect thatthere would be.
In the firstinstance, my childhood belief was real. It was not an act of my will. Itamounted to Faith. It was therefore a dynamic factor, which brought about anappropriate reaction.
In the secondinstance, my belief was not real. It was an act of deliberation and it amountedto a passing Fancy, and nothing more -- a dilettante attitude -- and thereforebrought about no change in my physical state.
Just so, Icontend there is a vast difference between a Dynamic Religious Faith on the onehand and a Dilettante Fancy on the other. Whether God be clothed with theattributes of personality, or viewed as a spiritual principle, he must beaccorded objective existence within the human imagination before he can becomea relevant factor in our lives.
This processof objectification necessarily takes place within the human imagination, but itis never a deliberate effort of the imagination. It is something that goesbeyond our conscious knowledge but never against our conscious knowledge. Themoment man becomes aware of the fact that the God he worships has been createdby his own imagination, that moment he ceases to worship. Man must be possessedwith the conviction that the God he worships exists objectively, otherwise hecan not accord him supreme allegiance and devotion. He may let his fancy playwith thoughts of the good, the true and the beautiful. He may conjure up in hismind a wondrous ideal. He may even go through all the forms and ceremonies ofoutward religious worship. He may audibly voice the name of God over and overagain, but unless God or the Good and the True and the Beautiful are viewed ashaving a validity apart from himself, then his belief is not a dynamicexperience, and there is no compelling hand laid upon his will and emotions todo something about it.
Therefore, weare not to judge whether men have a vital religious faith or not by eithertheir professions or their denials. Men are not always aware of what it isthey do or do not believe. The acid test is their conduct. "By their fruits yeshall know them.”
We can notsay, let us go to now -- we are going to believe such-and-such. Try it and youwill see that it doesn't work.
No, whereverFaith is genuine it seems to be a thing apart from ourselves. Its power is feltwithin us. It takes place within us -- it functions within us. We do notpossess it -- we are possessed by it. It is not at our beck and call. Likethe wind, it bloweth where it listeth. We can not consciously bring it intobeing. We can only await its visitation and then obey or refuse to obey itspromptings.
If we obey,life is filled with meaning and purpose, for this is the power that creates allvalues. This is the power that enables men to hold certain ideal ends as moreprecious than their very lives, which arms the crusader for a holy cause withinexhaustible courage, so that one man is able to chase a thousand and thevoice crying in the wilderness is able to defy the might of empires. It is thepower which impelled a Jesus to go to the cross and an Albert Schweitzer to giveup a successful medical practice and proceed to the heart of darkest Africa to serve a benighted people whom he had never seen before.
This isthe reality which sends forth the prophet and the saint to champion well-nighhopeless ventures, which enables some men and women at this very moment tostrive for peace among the nations in spite of the almost insurmountableobstacles that seen to be in the way.
Yes, this isthe power which sustains us every day of our lives, even when we are leastaware of its presence.
Men buyand sell by faith; the forges burn,
The draysare laden, countless mill-wheels turn,
Greatships are chartered, trains run to and fro;
Thoughfaith directs them all, they scarcely know
Thisspirit of the life of every day.
Will shedesert them when they seek to pray?
A day -- asingle day -- if faith were dead,
No fieldwere sown, no oven fired for bread. Faith is the handmaid in a toiler's guise
Of all theworld of workers. To tired eyes
Withsolace she appears at close of day
To lifttheir burdens when they seek to pray.
(Faith –Laura Bell Everett)
If man had notknown directly and intimately the power of Faith in his own life, the conceptof an unseen companion, the idea of a divine guide and counsellor would neverhave entered his mind. Eliminate this one experience from the human race, andthere would have been no such thing as religion. Here is the fact upon whichall religions are founded. Here we have isolated the Reality which has put theword God into the vocabulary of man.
That I am notalone in this interpretation of religion, let me you the opinion of such adistinguished thinker as John Dewey. In his volume entitled "A Common Faith”he declares:
"God is thepower of man's ideals to become real in action. It is that activity in man andin nature which brings ideal ends and actual conditions together. It is thatwhich promotes the growth of the ideal and furthers its realization. This 'God'is not apprehended by the Intellect, but by the Imagination. Man, through hisimagination, obtains a vision of what might be. When this vision takespossession of his total personality, then we have the Reality which men in allages have described as the 'power of God’.”
This is thecreative factor in the universe, and this is what I Identify with the processof Faith. This is the Reality which Mathew Arnold described as "The Power notourselves which makes for Righteousness. This is the Divine Summons which ledAbraham to pull up stakes and go into a far country, not knowing whither hewent. This is the Presence from which the Psalmist could not flee, whichinspired him to sing:
"If Iascend up into heaven, thou art there.
If I makemy bed in the grave, behold thou art there.
If I takethe wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea
Even thereshall thy hand lead me
and thy right hand shall hold me."
This is the powerwhich H. G. Wells describes as the Invisible King. "Until a man has foundGod and been found by God, he begins at no beginning, he works to no end. Hemay have his partial loyalties, his scraps of honor, but all these fall intoplace and life falls into place only with God -----, who stands ready to use usin his immortal adventure against waste, disorder, cruelty and vice, who is theend, who is the meaning, who is the only King."
This God, letme repeat, I identify with the Spiritual Power within ourselves which idealizeslife and then works unceasingly to make real the ideal, which we call Faithwhen it gives to a possibility the value of a certainty; which we call Hopewhen it gives to a possibility the value of a probability; and which we callLove, when it gives to the potentialities of another person's life the value ofpresent achievement.
In this sense,Faith is something which can not be forced, nor can hope be forced, and if youwill let me distinguish between the love which is a matter of good-will anddeliberate affection, on the one hand, and the spontaneous love which puts ahalo around the character of another, which we often describe as blind, butwhich is one of the most glorious and wondrous experiences in all life, then wemay say, neither can love be forced.
These threepowers are essentially one. They constitute the Great Fact which has given riseto all the religions of mankind. To have Faith is to create. To have Hope isto call down blessings. To have Love is to work miracles. To have all these isto experience the full Presence of Deity.
This conceptof Deity is the exact reverse of what we have been accustomed to think. It isas antithetical as the Copernican and Ptolemaic theories of the universe. Oncewe thought that the earth was the center of the universe. It seemed quiteobvious that the sun, the moon and the stars pivoted about this earth. ThePtolemaic theory did explain much of the phenomena connected with the changingheavens above. It accounted for the rising and the setting sun and the nightlyappearance of the stars. But it did not explain the changing phases of themoon nor adequately account for the eclipses of the sun and many other strange occurrencesin the heavens.
The Copernicantheory, however, by postulating the sun as the center of a planetary system ofwhich the earth is only one revolving unit among many others, enables us tosolve problems which were insoluble on the basis of the previous theory.
By the sametoken it seems to me that to hold that Faith, Hope and Love pivot about man asa center is to entertain an explanation of spiritual phenomena comparable tothe Ptolemaic hypothesis. The only thing to commend it is its apparentplausibility. It, however does not solve some of the psychological problemswhich have always perplexed us, such, for example, as man's inability to forcehis beliefs.
But let manhold that the course of his life is an orbit that swings about Faith, Hope andLove as its spiritual center, then many of his philosophical queries find asatisfactory answer. Or, to use another analogy, to realize that God is theFact of Faith itself and not the object of Faith, is comparable to seeing thatfrom a given point in space more than one perpendicular can be drawn to a givenline, provided we postulate the curvature of space. As many problems can besolved by non-Euclidian geometry which can not be solved by Euclid'sprinciples, so I make bold to suggest that many problems in man's spirituallife can find a more satisfactory explanation in giving up the concept that Godis the object of Faith.
I have timetoday merely to list what these problems are, without showing their relation tothe concept which I have presented. I have in mind such problems as theseeming indifference of the physical universe to moral values; the paradox ofdeterminism and man's feeling of freedom; the enigma of good and evil side byside; the problem of the one God and the many gods.
It is nowonder that Job was bewildered and perplexed. He was quite confident of anaugust presence, but when he tried to confront him face to face, he found hecould not do so. "Oh that I knew where I might find him," he cried,"that I might come even to his seat." "Behold I go forward, buthe is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive him." The troublewith Job was that he looked for God in every direction except the one in whichhe could be found, namely, he failed to recognize the Deity within himself.
Now thisdiscovery is open to every one of us. For men and women in all ages haveunwittingly testified to a power within themselves which sometimes lifts themto an exalted plain of living. This power goes with them wherever they go. Itexpands as their knowledge expands. It cannot be overthrown by any blast fromthe scientific world, for the first duty of science is to bow down before afact, and this is a real fact. Though, intangible, it is the most importantfact in the universe, without which there would be no scientific imaginationand therefore no science at all.
This God cannot be charged with being responsible for the evil in the world, or it is notnecessary to attribute either omnipotence or omniscience to him. He is a strugglingDeity -- starting with things as they are and endeavoring to bring orderout of chaos; to change the evil into the good, and the good into the better,and the better into the best. He is an experimenting Deity -- constantlytrying one method and then another to effect ever higher and higher ends,learning from past failures and building on past achievements.
I am talkingnot about an abstraction or a mere concept. I am talking about a real presencein the lives of men and women. I am talking about a genuine thing, a fact ofhuman experience, the mystic Power of Faith, of Hope, of Love, which I identifyas the creative power of this universe.
Both Humanistsand Theists recognize this Creative Power within themselves. The differencebetween them lies largely in the fact that the Theist is able to personify thisPower and say "Thou" whereas the humanist feels more sincere inreferring to the same reality in less personal terms. This it seems to me isthe basic difference between these two points of view -- all others being merecorollaries and commentaries.
As one who wasamong the original signers of the Humanist Manifesto but who can see no basiccontradiction between Humanism and the Theism that postulates an immanent, asover against a supernatural Deity, it has seemed to me that the differencebetween Humanist and Theist is largely a matter of vocabulary and not ofspiritual reality, surely nothing to get unduly excited about.
To say this isnot to overlook the importance of vocabulary as it relates to the religiousvalue of sincerity. To be honest in the use of words is, of course, a commonobligation upon Theist and Humanist alike, and each should respect the effortsof the other to fulfill this obligation, even though the one in expressing hiswonder before the great mystery behind our life can not go so far as to say"Thou" while the other can not stop at merely saying "It." Sometimes I find myself saying the one and sometimes the other.
On theSpiritual importance of sincerity we should all be agreed. However, not allHumanists and perhaps not all Theists will agree with me from this point on.
From the Godwithin man, identified as the Power of Faith, Hope and Love, I am able topostulate the God without, for it seems to me that since man is inside thewhole evolutionary process and not outside, he must be something of a key tothe nature of the universe. Hitherto he has largely sought to understand theuniverse by looking at it from the outside through telescope, microscope, andspectroscope. What be needs is an introscope -- some instrument to achieve aninside view of the universe, for if we could get an inside view of the universeas we have of ourselves, instead of being confined to an external view which isour present lot, it is not unreasonable to believe that we might discover inthe rest of creation the same Power at work as in ourselves, shaping andremolding even the world of stars and atoms to ideal ends.
But is not manhimself that introscope? It seems logical to me. This, however, is somethingwe shall probably never know directly. We can only infer and trust ourinference. But an inference is the only thing that can give meaning to thewhole evolutionary development of the spangled heavens above and thisterrestrial ball we call our home. And so from the God within we postulate theGod without.
If you havefound it difficult to follow my thought today, you must bear in mind that I ammerely in the groping state of exploring what seems to me to be fascinatingclue to the meaning and purpose of existence.
God to me isthe original ventriloquist. Whenever he speaks authoritatively he seems tospeak to us from without, but his is the still small voice that speaks fromwithin.
He is thegreat magician. He distracts our attention by dreams and visions while heperforms his real wonders before our very eyes without our being able to seenot only how they are done but even the one who does them.
He is theindispensable catalyst who brings the real and the ideal together into a workableunity without entering into the combination.
He is themaster hypnotist who whispers specific directions to our subconscious minds,and then we go forth to carry them out, offering inadequate consciousexplanations for the course we feel compelled to pursue.
He is theunderstanding psychiatrist behind all psychiatry, to whom we turn in private orpublic confession to help us search our own hearts and straighten out ourtangled emotions and conflicting desires.
The majesty ofthis God is often suddenly revealed to people and in various ways. Sometimes arevelation comes after quiet meditation upon some great truth or under theinspiration of some stimulating personality. Sometimes it comes in hours ofsolitude, sometimes in the company of a large concourse of people gatheredtogether for an exalted purpose; sometimes in a close call from death or againon the threshold of a challenging opportunity; at other times, when sublimemusic stirs us to the depths of our being, or when the hush of silence fallsupon the house of prayer.
There is notelling when this visitation of Faith and Hope and Love may not come, for itcan not be forced. But when it comes, a tide of spiritual energy sweeps over usand we are able to do things which seemed utterly impossible before. We feellifted up on wings; we are possessed by a sense of wholeness, we are able toface the problems and vicissitudes of life with more courage and confidencethan before.
Whoever hashad such an experience is entitled to say, "I have found God and beenfound by Him."
"Thoulife within my life than self more near
Thouveiled Presence, infinitely clear,
From all illusiveshows of sense I flee,
To find mycenter and my rest in Thee."
Let me employ a homely illustration.
My familyhappens to own a small plot on the shores of Lake Erie at Westfield, New York, where we often spend our summers.
We have alarge patch of wild blackberries on the place. One day in August four or fivesummers ago, I was busily engaged in picking blackberries when I suddenly hearda noise in the thick, tangled underbrush that sounded like rice being shaken ina paper bag. My imagination instantly conjured up the presence of arattlesnake, and faster than I can tell in words, I was fifty yards away --making a wild dash for the wide-open spaces with a speed that you wouldn'tbelieve. It was only afterward that I learned that no rattlesnakes had beenseen in that locality for at least fifty years. I have since been persuadedthat what I heard was not a serpent of any kind, but probably nothing moreominous than a mother bird trying to divert my attention away from her nestingbrood. But for a moment, that rattlesnake had an objective existence in myimagination. My belief, in other words, was real, and therefore dynamic. Itlaid a compelling hand upon my will and drove me to do something about it. Itresulted in appropriate action.
Now a fewsummers later I was again engaged in picking berries in the same generallocality when I happened to fix my gaze on the coiled remnants of a deadwisteria vine, wrapped around the base of a nearby tree. In idle reverie, myfancy played with the scene until that coiled vine took on the semblance of acoiled serpent. But since I was aware that this was wholly the work of my ownimagination, nothing happened as a consequence. I was momentarily entertained,but not otherwise moved. My heart did not beat faster. No adrenalin wasreleased into my blood stream. I felt no impulse to leap to safety, but wentright ahead, picking blackberries as unconcerned as though my fancy had notplayed with the idea of a coiled serpent.
In the first instance,Belief was dynamic and real. It resultedin action. In the second instance, Belief was a dilettante fanciful affair. Itresulted in nothing but amusement.