America’s Fourth Faith

Robert Zoerheide

Berry Street lecture, 1961

 

Delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly

Boston, Massachusetts

May 10, 1961

 

The letter of invitation to do the Berry Street Lecture came last fall and included the suggestion of the Executive Committee that I consider dealing with a redefinition and clarification of the central religious commitments in which we Unitarians and Universalists stand united. By the time I had come up for air, I felt very much as Huxley did when he wrote: "God give me the courage to face a fact, though it slay me.”

 

Intimations of merger have been coming for many years through quiet victories and noisy failures, but the fact of Consolidation has arrived rapidly since the Syracuse Conference, only a year and a half ago. The stormy but overwhelming success of our statement of purpose surprised its proponents as much as anyone else. They are now in a position very much like that of the lady who was asked, "How are you getting along with your driving?” "Wonderful,” she replied, "Yesterday I went 60 miles an hour; tomorrow I am going to try opening my eyes when I pass another car.”

 

The Berry Street Conference of ministers has a distinguished history. Five years before the liberal Congregational Churches made their painful break with the orthodox and conservative churches by organizing The American Unitarian Association, the liberal ministers met, on the evening of May 30, 1820, to hear William Ellery Channing ring the changes needed for mutual aid and support. The historic meeting was held at Berry Street in Boston. A year later, the Berry Street Conference of Ministers was formally organized.

 

Earl Morse Wilbur provides the following summary of the Conference: "This earliest and oldest Unitarian organization has maintained an unbroken existence to this day. It meets but once a year, with meetings for ministers only...its meetings have been given to the discussion of a paper presented by a member. These discussions,” he continues, "have often served as a sort of safety-valve for brethren suffering from high pressure, and as they have been carried on with greatest freedom and marked by broadest tolerance, they have proved a bond holding together in peace and mutual respect men having the widest variety of opinion.”

 

To our Universalist colleagues, meeting with us this year for the first time, we can say, welcome fellow sufferers from high pressure, and in doing so we even fulfill tradition, usually pretty difficult for us.

 

Once again, as in the days of our founding, we face a stern test. CAN WE ORGANIZE OURSELVES IN CONSOLIDATION TO RISE ABOVE THE SURROUNDING RIGIDITIES WHICH SEEM TO BE IMPLICIT IN EVER LARGER INSTITUTIONS OF RELIGION, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME WE AVOID THE TEMPTATIONS OF THAT RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM OFTEN RENDERED INEFFECTIVE BY STALWART ISOLATION?

 

Can Liberal Religion increase its liberalism and deepen its religion as it becomes a more inclusive and effective continental association? Can it serve significantly in the wide areas of community need and of honest confusion in regard to religion? Can it offer challenge and an infusion of new spirit to the many personal, national, and international crises which are bringing unmatched problems and opportunities? Can it provide a highly educated and accomplished generation, appallingly naive and archaic in many of its religious beliefs, with a faith which is intellectually sound, socially significant, and emotionally satisfying? CAN LIBERAL RELIGION PROVE ITSELF READY TO BE AMERICA'S FOURTH FAITH? I believe Unitarians and Universalists are wholeheartedly united in saying, it can.

 

To the wise words of the French philosopher who said, "All the armies in the world cannot stop an idea whose time has come,” we would add, nor can all the commercialism in the world, the over-organization and archaism. The time has come for A REALIZATION OF THE IDEA, WITHIN ORGANIZED RELIGION, OF A FAITH COMMENSURATE WITH GIANT STRIDES BEING MADE IN OUR KNOWLEDGE OF HUMAN NATURE, OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN, AND OF THE MEANING OF FREEDOM FULLY EXERCISED. Let us hope our new association will help to make this idea achieve reality and lead the way to a liberal religious organization recognized as America's Fourth Faith.

 

In this paper, I propose to discuss some of the implications of the principles which have united us. A review of the guiding statement of purpose which was passed by a landslide vote of Unitarian and Universalist delegates in the fall of 1959 reveals a significant grouping of interests. All six items of purpose center upon three traditional religious concerns: the word, the church and the ideal. Leading the list is our promise to search for truth and to spread universal truths. Here the focus is on the new and the true word of religion.

 

"To affirm...the supreme worth of every human personality, the dignity of man, and the use of the democratic method...” as we did, and to do this in the noble framework of organized religion, is to promise a conception of the church quite revolutionary in our time. Furthermore, it means the intention of offering to meet some of the most pressing needs of those who are in fact the displaced persons of American Religion.

 

The third grouping in our statement of purpose is a cluster of concerns truly delicious in their spirit of optimism regarding the ideal community at home and abroad, a community founded on the ideals of brotherhood, justice and peace. Not all visions in religion however have been imbued as is ours with a sense of the necessity of linking the ideal with the real and the practical. To call this third interest the reality ideal is by no means stretching a point.

 

These three areas of agreement – the word, the church, and the ideal – I will discuss under the headings: "New Words for New Times,” "The Displaced Persons of American Religion,” and "Faith as a Live Option.”

 

I. NEW WORDS FOR NEW TIMES

 

If it were true that ever new lessons are learned from egregious errors, organized religion would be a repository of sublime institutional wisdom; but again and again old errors are poured hopefully into newly re-arranged receptacles. One of the oldest errors, for which we have an almost fatal fondness, lies in the affirmation of a Universal Religion. Extravagant claims for an all-embracing world faith make the thoughtful person exceedingly uneasy. There is harmful hyperbole in the sweeping assertion that fifty million unchurched Americans might be Unitarians or Universalists without knowing it. More modest claims will show truer self-confidence and definitely more accuracy.

 

We are doing so well, as a very small group in a very large picture, that there is really no need for us to suffer an obscuring of values through excessiveness. The heart of our liberal faith – its words, its viable ideas and its pulsing human concerns – beats in measure with the noble hopes of democracy and the humanitarian world goals of the United Nations Organization. This should give us the confidence to guard our words and our claims and to resist the extravagance of over-statement.

 

As our new words for new times seek the expressions appropriate to our faith, let us hope they will avoid the temptation of pretending to be a Universal Religion as they seek the statement of universal beliefs. The affirmation of a particular universal religion contains a deadly, built-in, limitation: ONE UNIVERSAL RELIGION FINDS IT IMPOSSIBLE TO ACCEPT ANOTHER. To elicit interest in beliefs which appear to be universal is quite a different matter. Any tendency to confuse the espousal of a Universal Religion with the search for universal beliefs will produce self-deception and encourage authoritarian aspirations which our best intentions cannot shrug.

 

The word of the liberal church then, searching for universal beliefs, is not motivated by the all too prevalent desire to win the world, not even all of America; its only hope is to provide a context of meaningful religious freedom for the open mind and the loving heart as it welcomes friendship with other faiths and honors other beliefs while establishing its own.

 

A look at our history will show that when liberals began to reach out for new words by taking the lead in demanding equality of opportunity in matters scriptural, a publication like Great Companions was inevitable, but it was no gift from the Gods. A cherished letter in my files from Robert French Leavens speaks enthusiastically of the recent UMA cooperative worship project and goes on to describe the twenty years of patient compiling done by Robert Leavens and his wife, Mary, in order to produce cur first major effort in the definitive area of non-biblical scripture. Reading from Great Companions is now a standard pulpit practice in our churches and fellowships. Through the pages of this work, made sacred with use, the varieties and unities of ethical inspiration run like mighty rivers into many lands and times.

 

We are united in our wish to proclaim that the right to formulate continuous scripture belongs to us. Such a right brings a humbling responsibility. Choosing and creating the word to be made flesh for our time cannot be taken lightly; every age has its Buddha or Jesus, its Socrates or Emerson, its Amos or Luther. From the mounting flood of communication on all levels, there is arising a high and holy call to rescue and to elicit the word and the deed, old and new, which give life to the living. To do this we need each other.

 

There are frontiers of faith whose access has been denied to the modern world by the Jewish and the Christian doctrine of the divinely revealed biblical word of God. Many people have forgotten that scriptures are made for man, not man for scriptures. The Bible itself is a people's book, as this conference would hasten to attest; its story is ethical humanity writ large; its pages resound with the varieties of human nature; its scope is the perennial quest from a symbolic Genesis to a frenetic Revelation. Its lessons and achievements, its trials and errors, were recorded in the annals of experience long before they were entered on scrolls.

 

However, as Theodore Parker once said: "This doctrine of the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures has greater power with Christians at this day than in Paul's time. In the first ages of Christianity, each apostle was superior to the Old Testament. Jews and Christians grew up as people in search of a Bible worthy of their experience. There were no Scriptures to rely on until the stories of their experience were in hand and were sifted, revered, fought over, tried, tested, cherished and employed in human relations. Somehow early Christianity withstood the production of the New Testament. Running largely on the inspirations of its time, it went forward with the Old Testament as servant, not master. As we all know, Matthew, Luke, Mark, John and Paul vied for a hearing with new words for new times and with differing points of view. Just as we hear the voices of liberalism, the Jews and the Christians of old heard the many voices which were ultimately fixed in the Bible — first the Jewish Bible, then the Christian.

 

It is for us to ask, "ARE THERE STILL NEW WORDS FOR NEW TIMES”? By bracing ourselves with the hymnal conviction, "revelation is not sealed,” we may be able to move with some of our braver souls into a wider view of scripture. Perhaps the time has come when the liberal church can truly inspire modern man to claim a right neglected for centuries. Like Christianity, liberal religion may even be able to withstand the making of its own scripture; unlike Christianity, it must resist the temptation to make its word closed canon. The Christian Bible in our day has assumed the authority for truth; it was formed with the experiences of truth as the authority.

 

Ever since the Bible was canonized, the new word of religion has been writing itself all over the world. Its clearest, most beautiful and useful expression is still sanctified in the best of men. In many lands and times its sources have formed a stream whose replenishment is daily. For centuries since the Bible was fixed, the scriptures of mankind have fallen to neglect. To us has come the task of recovering the springs of scriptural creativity, and, the Ingathering which for generations issued into the word made flesh and gave to Jewish and Christian religions firsthand experience with truths both evanescent and immutable.

 

In a recent sermon, Rabbi Balfour Brickner stated: "People coming to churches and synagogues today are better educated and more questioning. They are bright and young and unwilling to accept traditional credoisms. They do not see religion as Dogma, but rather as a quest for a meaningful philosophy of living.”

 

If you would like to measure how far behind we are at this moment in leadership of the word, take note that it is an Episcopalian Bishop who is giving America that refreshing religious experience which has been called the vehement application of mind.”

 

The relevance of those universal truths we Unitarians and Universalists have agreed to cherish, in stating our purposes, will not be found unless we create, gather, and employ new words of scripture which speak to our times with distinctive force and meaning. The word integration, for example, does not appear in the Bible! And yet for us, the people and forces bringing the reality of integration and the word itself are bringing scripture! The word integration contains rare and timely prophetic power. Modern beatitudes should be given new forms and new prophets. They should find men in our time who speak with the testament of their lives saying, "Blessed are they who bring integrated schools, and churches and temples, for they shall inherit the earth.”

 

Martin Luther King was writing scripture with his life when he gave to our generation those now familiar words, "We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will match your physical force with our soul force. We will not hate you, and yet we cannot obey your evil laws. Do to us what you will, and we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer; and in earning our freedom we will so appeal to your hearts and conscience that we will win you in the process.” These are more than words for our pulpits; they are more than words for our growing scriptures; they are what we mean in religion by new words for new times, made flesh.

 

The new word will differ from the old! Modern prophets, fired by human causes, will not claim to be speaking the word of God. The merit of the new scriptural word is found in the hard test of what it does. Its authority is seen through the proof of meaningful comparison rather than a claim of divine revelation. Upon the creator and selector of these words, for religious use, rests an almost unbearable responsibility lightened only by his divinely inspired inner command to maintain the deeply inspirational and the timely ethical, side by side.

 

The new word and the deed of the word will usually be inextricable; therefore the poets and prophets and psalmists can be preachers or politicians, teachers or doctors, scientists or housewives. The new word will not claim divinity, will not announce its own miraculous conception, its virgin birth, its star-guided revelation; it may not need to endure crucifixion and bodily resurrection. Perhaps simply staying through the quiet terrors of slow daily attrition and gaining the certain, enduring structures of earthly achievement for the largest good, will become a refreshing kind of promise.

 

The new word of religion may have to be sturdiest when it is the word against religion, against piety covering politics, against theology without the ethical.

 

The demand upon us to compile our own scriptures unites us and is indeed a demanding fact of our times for liberal people; there is no alternative. If we can endure the production and collection and continuous distribution of newly inspired scriptures of humanity, as Christianity endured the violent struggle to select and fix the Bible, we will have taken the first step toward bringing into meaningful relevance the first two injunctions in our statement of purpose: Search for truth! Cherish and spread universal truths!

 

An initial assurance will come to us when we abolish the fear of being able to distinguish the permanent from the transient. These two elements exist in all scripture. Neither should be sacrificed as we seek our compilations. Though that which flashes across our path for but one bright moment of truth has not ravaged the souls of men through the ages, nor withstood the test of time; yet, in an instant of flashing beauty, timeliness, and truth, it bids us, if no one else to look more deeply and engage more meaningfully with the fleeting luminous moment of present truth, thus inspired, to look beyond it. After all, life itself can be precious and transient; why not its word too?

 

The transient moment of truth in that which is timely and perhaps, temporary, gives to life the breath of the real. Jefferson was harshly assailed by Unitarian John Adams after making the original draft of The Declaration of Independence. Adams rebuked him for using ideas long hackneyed in Congress. Following his own good judgment, Jefferson produced a declaration which was both timely and universal in its truth. His response to Adams is a manifesto for makers of modern scripture. From it, echoes the desire to find a basis of belief and authority broader than individual sentiments, more flexible and representative than some of the long unquestioned voices of antiquity. In defense of his original draft Jefferson said:

 

NEITHER AIMING AT ORIGINALITY OF PRINCIPLES OR SENTIMENTS,      NOR YET COPIED FROM ANY PARTICULAR AND PREVIOUS WRITING, IT WAS INTENDED TO BE AN EXPRESSION OF THE AMERICAN       MIND...ALL ITS AUTHORITY RESTS THEN ON THE HARMONIZING             SENTIMENTS OF THE DAY, WHETHER EXPRESSED IN            CONVERSATION, IN LETTERS, PRINTED ESSAYS, OR THE             ELEMENTARY BOOKS OF PUBLIC RIGHT...

 

Jefferson's productive spirit of independence has infected our world and laid a challenge for liberal faith. The insights and achievements of today will modify, combine with, and illuminate wisdom from the past. It should be perfectly clear to us that permanent truths, arising in our time, are being pledged with the transient, as they were of old, as in the Bible. For this reason, Thomas Mann went so far as to assert, "What I believe, what I value most is transitoriness.

 

The very flicker of a significant moment declares to us its thrust and desire to be in a growing, changing world. Not the true, but the false is afraid of change!

 

How do we tell the true from the counterfeit word? Lacking the test of time to identify some of the authentic witnesses to truth, a nearly impossible burden of choice and judgment rests with us; but who could do it better? If the ability to choose and to create a growing scripture is absent from a people, can the ability to use the fixed and supernatural Bible in a rapidly changing and natural, scientific world be present? There is, after all, no real assurance for the exercise of a meaningful faith except among the living. On every hand is authority enough for those who are inspired to high purpose. To cooperate in maintaining a flow of continuous scripture, an open bible of humanity is a challenge of highest faith and commitment. An undeniable authority resides in the words and deeds which bring us closer to truth, to love, and to peace!

 

The world we live in is manifest in new words, words not found in the Bible, words that need to sing in our religion, words such as cooperation, integration, space, psyche, dimension, democracy, pacifism, co-existence, community, education, progress, suburb, recreation, astronaut, galaxy, welfare, symphony, empathy, and United Nations. These belong in a growing Bible of timely and timeless expression.

 

II THE DISPLACED PERSONS OF AMERICAN RELIGION

 

Along with new words of scripture, America's Fourth Faith, affirming the supreme worth of every human personality, the dignity of man, and the use of the democratic method, will provide a church for the displaced persons of American Religion. It will welcome the refugees from orthodoxy, the new D.P.'s, the migrants in faith, the rebellers, the transients, the atheists of good-will, the agnostics, the stay-at-homers who have suffered spiritual cramps in formal churches, the perennial seekers. Probably the severest test of faith comes in the question of its power to create a world of belief which is challenging and uplifting, but also credible to the seeker, a faith in which he can exercise his mind, his emotions, and his being to the full.

 

THE BIG THREE IN AMERICAN RELIGION are failing this test for thousands of our citizens! At the same time, our nation is fast developing a major faith complex formally designated as Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. Majority faith lines are becoming as hard set and dominating as the color line. Stated in a double negative, their commandment is: THOU SHALT NOT HAVE NO ALMIGHTY FATHER GOD ON YOUR LIPS IN PUBLIC! To depart from this faith formality, we are told, is to depart into the Communist camp. Recently, several public school teachers in Syracuse threatened to resign their posts unless the Lord's Prayer or the orthodox Regent's Prayer were used to open student assemblies. Happily, the principal stood by the decision of the Student Council to have silent prayer; no resignations followed. The liberal minded person will not submit to coercion or conformity in regard to his beliefs, especially about God.

 

Some of us might wish otherwise, but the church which is to meet the urgent human needs of our time cannot be one offering simply a reshuffled Protestantism whose official center contains a divinely revealed Bible, a fixed supernatural creed, and a closed dogma. Hearkening to a broader and freer religious calling, the united liberal church will be alive to the inspirations of the present as well as the past; it will be a chosen religious association whose churches, like its scripture remain open — open to new beliefs, and open to all people. Especially sought will be refugees, regardless of their past, regardless of the state of their present religious equipment.

 

Hearkening to an ethical imperative, which is the moral equivalent of orthodoxy, we will need to say to the dispossessed: "If there are atheists of goodwill and responsible intentions, let them be in the church if there are agnostics and skeptics and humanists (fortunately there are), let them come into the church. If there are doubts about man-made creeds, dogmas, and scripture, inherited from the ancient past, let religion raise them. Also, if there are new ideas, new prayers, new beliefs, new ways of worship and of ethical action, as well as new found sources of religious security and trust for the church, let religion find these too.” AMERICA'S GREATEST EXPERIMENT, IN THIS EXPERIMENTAL AND SCIENCE-MINDED AGE, MAY PROVE TO BE THE FREE CHURCH.

 

Those who arrive at our open church in greatest need do not come with a faith which is ready-made; they come from disenchantment with religion, and it should go without saying, but perhaps it cannot, the skeptics and doubters and atheists who feel at home with us are not infantile malcontents whose minds remain closed. Our welcome to the displaced seeker in American religion does not arise from our desire to engage in guerrilla warfare with the trinity, nor is it foremost a denial. At the very outset it is a sharing of the conviction that anyone, liberal or orthodox, has a right to experience religion on his own terms, or for that matter, the rejection of religion on his own terms.

 

Running beneath everything we say and do to make a liberal church is the given spiritual priority of our belief in the supreme worth of every person. Wherever there is even one displaced seeker, refugee, we will say with Martin Buber:  

 

TRUST, TRUST IN THE WORLD BECAUSE THIS HUMAN BEING         EXISTS...

BECAUSE THIS HUMAN BEING EXISTS, MEANINGLESSNESS,          HOWEVER, HARD PRESSED YOU ARE BY IT, CANNOT BE THE REAL             TRUTH.

BECAUSE THIS HUMAN BEING EXISTS,

IN THE DARKNESS THE LIGHT LIES HIDDEN:

IN FEAR, SALVATION: AND IN THE CALLOUSNESS OF ONE'S          FELLOWMEN, THE GREAT LOVE.

 

The ideal of a church where each believer is given the resources and stimulation to work out his own beliefs, beliefs inspiring him to help lift the level of his own life and of life everywhere; that ideal is the source of our courage to state our purpose in lofty terms. To affirm the supreme worth of every human personality, the dignity of man, and the use of the democratic method, at a time when each of these noble sentiments is being stormed by large segments of our world, has called for sturdy Unitarian Universalist optimism.

 

Factors somewhat beyond our control have placed us in the strategic continental position of being able to provide a decent and sensible hospitality for the rising time of religious refugees. In the wake of reason's firmest blandishments, science is probing in all directions; education is being viewed as the fourth necessity, along with food, clothing, and shelter; mobility is a household word, as one in every five families moves at least once in every year; the fluidity of our times is teaching new lessons; strength is found in the viable, the movable and the flexible even more than in the fixed; adventure is a priceless asset in an era which is space-seeking and place-seeking. Society is working adamantly toward freedom and fair-play; the mind is being stretched to new limits; the emotions are being viewed and exposed as an asset or a liability pertinent in every human situation.

 

In such a world, the theological rigidities, fixities and supernatural-isms of Judaism and Christianity have bumped into an era in which the dimensions of the natural have outstripped those of the long-ago and other-worldly. The new dimensions are more religious because in them, mystery is pursued by the believable; wonder is inclusive rather than exclusive; revelation comes in those things creatively reasonable and provable; celebration transports through the free form; dedication hallows the open society and the open belief, rather than the closed; even ultimate meaning, like the universe itself, is seen as a continuous creation.

 

Our opportunity to grow with the displaced seekers and the refugees from orthodoxy is ready-made by our times. The second summons to Unitarian Universalist religion is coming therefore as we see the need to provide a church for those who are displaced. Our answer to this summons must contain more integrity than Hall of Fame promotion.

 

Beyond our own fanfare and the fanfare of bigness among Catholics, Protestants and Jews is the grim specter of an inner failure. Every liberal minister learns about the heartaches which come with proposed inter-faith marriages bringing a clash between any two of the big three. All of you here today know from your counseling experience what I mean. To you have come those who discover from the breadth of their love the narrowness of traditional faith. They have felt the delicate tissue of a natural faith torn and violated by the doctrinnaire and exclusive teachings and rituals of the Church and Temple, rigidities which carry-over into the very heart of the home and family. Two of the most sacred times in life — marriage and childbirth — can become family times to try men's souls, with father disowning daughter, mother rejecting son in interfaith crisis brought about in the name of religion. Love is made an outcast by faith!

 

Little by little, however, the need to exercise freedom in religion becomes a high priority for the outcasts. They are disenchanted with rival creeds, loyalty oaths at the altar, and a submissive conformity before so-called supernatural revelations which cannot be questioned even in the light of man's new knowledge and affections, both available without boundaries. Many of the families filling some of our churches have left the big three of faith by their own decision. They are coming with the most intimate bonds of family affection impaired. Many are finding their natural gift for belief employed for its first real stimulation. It is no time for name calling nor for an arrogance in emancipation. It is simply a time for displaced seekers to join an effective community of religious concern, where tolerance is vitalized by alert convictions, communally sought. It is a time when migrants of openmindedness can be offered steadfast affirmations worthy of the allegiance of free thinking religious people.

 

For the sake of America, our free faith must grow, expand, and serve. To us, to America's Fourth Faith, has come the challenge of offering resources and hospitality to the displaced person in religion and to every free surging spirit, to the liberty loving religious seeker wherever he appears – and he does come, hoping to share with us a new right, a response to the call of America's urgent need for a freedom faith, a beckon, from deep and personal religious needs which will solicit individual expressions.

 

The seeker comes with questions about himself and about the world whose depths and dimensions we cannot plumb. Through the mystic Klieg lights of reason he senses the limitless mysteries of human nature, the complexities of social structure, and the wonders of the vast universe. He must find his own place, not have it assigned. He comes hoping to raise cosmic questions none of us as yet know enough to ask, let alone answer. He comes, let us hope, desiring to address himself humbly, hopefully, and intelligently to the place of unrelenting personal responsibility we occupy on this planet because of the gift of life itself.

 

He comes to begin where we are, expecting in fellowship to move ahead. Above all he hopes to find with us a happy faith festooned with liberty. Together then at the threshold of beginnings, we can join hands to learn by doing, help by helping, and love by loving. For it is true, man must feel before he sees, cry before he talks, be succored before he falls, fall before he walks again, be loved before he loves. For in loving are we loved, and in rising do we walk, to love again.

 

Those of us who have come to liberalism from another household of faith harbor a few special problems. How can we honor the past for what it has done which is good, as we forget and forgive those things which have hampered us and done us harm? "What do you call it,” a psychiatrist was asked, "when you think people are persecuting you – and they really are?” A similar question is on our lips, "What do you call it when you think out-grown religious teachings are persecuting you, and they really are?” Our answer is simple: we call it time to join a liberal church.

 

To be disenthralled from the harmful, to keep the helpful, to discover the useful: this is the challenge of freedom in religion. A fundamental question remains nonetheless. How can we be creatively disengaged from a religion to which we owe many familial affections?

 

Aristotle went so far as to identify the memory as "the scribe of the soul.” Some of our impressions, it seems, have been recorded as with chalk on a blackboard; others have been chiseled as in marble. Freud went even farther. He described the way some twists of memory live in a kind of submerged jungle-world of emotions which are out of touch with conscious thoughts. Memories good and bad, we may deduce, are coped with in religion; some must suffer "open defeat”. The strength to subdue portions of our emotional memory in religion, to forgive and forget, without losing that which seems valid for us, is an exercise of extreme good health for mind and emotions.

 

The church open to displaced seekers can expect to be enriched by the new found beliefs and humilities of newly freed and inspired seekers who have experienced the tragic limitations historic religions have imposed upon themselves through good intentions.

 

Let me add here a quotation from a letter I received last fall from a young (displaced) doctor who had been with us only a short time in Syracuse before he moved down state to practice.

 

His note underscores our need to sharpen our distinctions as we increase our receptivity.

 

"Dear Mr. Zoerheide, (He wrote)

 

It is with great regret that my wife and I must terminate our membership in the May Memorial Unitarian Church...We have enjoyed your stimulating sermons always and found an entirely new type of experience within the atmosphere of this church, – one which we will always appreciate and which we have little hope of duplicating...

 

Yours in Christ,”

 

III THE REALITY IDEAL AS A LIVE OPTION

 

Our third concern in this paper, beyond the new word and the open church, is the reality ideal as a live option. You will remember that the culminating conviction in our statement of purpose calls upon us "to implement our vision of one world by striving for a world community founded on ideals of brotherhood, justice and peace.” The sentiment is lofty, we realize, and widely shared. How can a tiny group like ours hope to implement in religion such a globe-enlightening vision and ideal? Like others have done before us, we will probably endeavor to move toward our vision by laying end to end some fairly modest contributions. I would hope we could implement our progress by offering the ideal of faith as a live option. This would mean going beyond the repudiation of traditions we have outgrown; and it would mean reaching out for choices and resources newly available to us after portions of the memory in religion have met defeat. Also, it would mean releasing some of the forces of faith which may have been entwined and buried with rejected elements of the past.

 

Faith as an ideal of live option may very well bring the first experience of a dramatic release of the self, as the ideal of a one world community is given intimations of reality right where we are. For this to occur among us might mean, at last, a coming to terms with the present concern of reason with non-reason. It might mean an effective confrontation of the thrust into the subconscious, the thrust into amassed social powers, and the thrust into Existentialism. All of these have helped to produce a time of tremendous vitality in art, drama, music, research, business, politics, the various sciences of living, and even in religion; but there is a danger of non-man, or anti-man, or super-man speaking for man, as the more honest images of our times are obscured by wild or random thrusts toward idealism and creativity.

 

The return of mass emotional revival in religion bears watching as it celebrates and enflames partial man, non-cerebral man. The return of bigness and conformity in religion bears watching. The return of primitivism in art and music calls for alertness. The return of the irrational in the off-beat, the beatnik, the rebel, and the savage has prodded us sharply. The spirit of modern man is being stretched to the limit, and that is good, but not if it snaps, or is over-stretched into weirdness and the bizarre so that it returns toward normalcy limp, knotted, and distressed.

 

Into such a picture of our times, faith as an ideal of live option, helping to restore the image of the whole for the dedicated person, can be of enormous service. Many free men are genuinely undernourished in religion as they cling desperately to the fixities and the partialities of our formal pieties or seek satisfaction in the irrational.

 

Each one of us knows he is but a fraction of the total image. Our limitation is male, female, child, youth, adult, teacher, preacher, craftsman, housewife, and product of just one culture in one period of history. How can we see the whole image, identify with it, and move into new being? The ideal of a one world community as a live option of faith would seem to be a hopeful answer.

 

A close look at the Gospels will show the ideal of faith to be of fundamental concern as the authors tried to set forth the story of Jesus. The problem for them as for us came to focus on the reality ideal in religion, the image of the self projected into the place and the vision of life's largest context.

 

When Matthew chose the transcendent phrase, kingdom of heaven, for his reality ideal, exemplified in the life and the teachings of Jesus, he faced the serious problem of needing to make that far away phrase, that concept, meaningful to people in their everyday lives.

 

Our problem is the reverse of this! We speak in an immanent context when we refer to one world community as the culmination of our highest hopes in faith. When we set out to work toward it through such close-at-hand, live option practicalities as the United Nations Organization, we have taken hold of the opposite end of the problem confronted by Matthew. There are cosmic dimensions necessary to our reality ideal of the world and the universe which may be implicit but not explicit in the very best realization of the UNO.

 

Luke and Mark believed they had the solution to this perennial problem by reporting a livelier and more neighborly situation of faith than the one which appears in Matthew. Though there probably could not have been conscious comparison with Matthew on their part; for us there must be.

 

The solution to the problem of the vision made real in Luke and Mark is illustrated in their exclusive use of the phrase, the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of heaven, so generously disseminated by Matthew is never employed. Furthermore Luke describes a "sermon on level ground” instead of a "sermon on the mount” as in Matthew. In chapter six of Luke, we are told how Jesus "came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people...” And he said, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

 

Matthew's attitude, on the other hand, is more indirect, exclusive, and remote. In chapter five, interpreting the familiar Sermon on the Mount, he says, "Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

The difference is more than semantic. In Luke, Jesus and the disciples merge with the crowds made up of the needy, the interested, the inspired, and the curious; but in Matthew, the lines setting off a religious elite of disciples working for a special place and an insight appropriate to a more remote kingdom of heaven, begin to be drawn. A few are selected to know the mysteries. The word arrives in parables made known to the chosen as they become the priest mediators for the people. There will be special keys for the kingdom of heaven.

 

Not so with the kingdom of God! To borrow from a later phrase used by Martin Luther, the kingdom of God will belong to the "priesthood of all believers.” Like the spirit of life itself, it will belong to you; it is at hand; it is of such as children; it is not only in living word, but also in life power. "For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” God is used here to denote the life within us, the gift immeasurable and the incalculable power of ethical living.

 

Seen in these terms, the reality ideal as a live option is not to be sought in a Utopia, a heaven beyond reach, an idea pure, a mystery guarded by disciples or priests, a miracle achieved through the prescribed ritual of church or temple, nor even in the Holy of Holies. It is not of place, but of occasion.

 

The occasion is life! Life as it can be at its best, coming among the living, even at their poorest and their worst. The reality ideal is the live option given daily to life as it comes into being, again and again, through moral, ethical, and spiritual imperatives.

 

As Unitarians and Universalists we are united then on highest terms, but not simply because of sharing a vision of one world founded on ideals of brotherhood, justice, and peace. We are united in the deeper dimension of desiring to implement, to strive for, to bring into being, to labor for, and to live with, the movements and vital commands needed to give life, and that more abundantly, by means of a one world ideal. On such live option terms only do practicalities like the U.N., like the program for integration, and the efforts toward world-wide service and sharing have truly cosmic, God-like, dimensions. To insure life to the living is to move toward our ideal with the limitless forces which have set our lives in motion.

 

Faith as a reality ideal of live option sees life itself as the sacred eminence which bequeaths religion. After all, what else could explain the appearance of a Channing, a Murray, a Parker, and a Ballou? As Emerson once said, "An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,” one man, that is, helping to raise life into the ideal practicalities by means of what Tillich has called the courage to be.

 

IV A PROPOSAL

 

There is a splendid opportunity for us at this historic moment. If the ideals, the new words, and the open churches of our faith are to become live options in our time, the Berry Street Conference of ministers may need to call upon our newly consolidated association to develop a program translating liberal religion more effectively into community. For too long the several separate liberal groups, in hundreds of cities, have been seated in isolation on the side-lines of community. If a liberal minister is on an important civic board, and what minister worth his salt is not, he is there to represent a single congregation, or a lone conscience known to rise above compromise. In a happily decreasing number of instances he is there as a kind of misunderstood foster child of the Protestant Council.

 

The Protestants across the land know we differ from them; they understand us all right. Some even plead with us to come out and identify ourselves as a fourth faith. There was a time when we could find a covert community identification through unofficial, local membership in the Protestant Council. This is no longer a live option. The arrangement was never satisfactory for us, nor for the Council. Running parallel functions of all kinds in order to serve the integrity of our profound differences put otherwise perfectly good neighbors constantly on guard for the ultimate preservation of the Trinity.

 

It would be difficult to exaggerate the significance of the role liberal religion can have in America as the future of freedom is being realized. To provide in our cities throughout the Continent, community serving centers for the representation of religious liberal consensus on such urgent issues as migratory workers, segregation, and the separation of church and state, would mean working hand in hand as equals with religious agencies like the Protestant Council. Evidences on every hand show we are entering an era in American public life wherein the churches and synagogues will be called upon to speak and to act with intelligent concert on the issues considered to be of primary interest to an enlightened citizenry of organized religion.

 

The times are calling for community councils of Religious Liberals. Such an instrument for our new word, open church, and reality ideal in a fourth faith, could begin with a modest national office implemented by a volunteer center in every major city. What church would refuse to make space and volunteer personnel available in order to establish regularized representation of religious liberals in civic affairs, in social agencies, in legislatures, in press, radio, and television? (Who can tell, the next inaugural might even hear the word of liberal prayer. What a refreshing innovation that would be!)

 

With an intelligent, low cost, volunteer implemented, national and local establishment of a Council of Religious Liberals, we could expect local groups of Quakers, Ethical Culture, Humanists, Reformed Jews, and liberal Congregationalists to join with Unitarians and Universalists. Also welcome, would be non-church liberals, and even some individual liberals who belong to orthodox groups which are too timid, or disinclined to oppose such practices as release time religious education.

 

The simple step of formally organizing a Council of Religious Liberals, with civic centers, could lead rather quickly to the right of official representation at public observances. There would be a liberal voice on civic boards, in adoption procedures, referrals, marriage counseling, youth court, penal institutions, hospital chaplaincy, mental health, press columns and collegiate pulpits. We can hardly expect someone else to make this step for us.

 

America is ready for its fourth faith of religious liberals to come forward with local and national means for the representation of a growing and crucial segment of national life. It is ready for do-it-yourself believers in a world of push-button faith. In this time of untold opportunity liberal faith must be ethical by placing human welfare and social right above any doctrine.

 

It will see truth in every responsible religion; it will see that all truth — scientific, historical, and religious — is only sacred if it is willing to submit to the self-correcting revisions of new findings; thus never isolating itself from growth, change, and discovery.

 

America's Fourth Faith will recognize religion to be a universal human experience, limited neither to certain lands and times, nor to certain leaders. For its own purposes of faith and worship, mankind's bible will always be in the making. Its testaments will be composed of some scripture which is timely and transient, and some which is timeless and permanent. Inspiration will be found to well-up in every time and place as the record of a spirit-language of the peoples striving in various ways to meet their needs.

 

America's Fourth Faith will affirm the church as a human institution established to assist us in the search for belief; and to promote as none could do singly the necessities of justice and love precious to faith. Though insisting that we have not gone half far enough with reason and science, inquiry and experiment, the free church will also insist on being a human home helping us to overcome the fear of failure and of death, inspiring us to search with compassion, and, act with an exquisite sense of the just.

 

Our liberal faith will see the need to encourage the continuity of doubt and rebellion as well as faith and belief; thus will each temperament, variety of conviction, and distinctive background bring into common possession the beautiful complexity, comparison, strength, and growth befitting the noble heritage of free religion.

 

Each one of us is seeking something within the range of human experience, whether or not called God, which will bring forth the finest responses of challenge to self and reverence to life. I believe it matters what we do and what we believe as we move into Unitarian Universalism, as America's Fourth Faith.