The Ministry – Experience and Expectation
Berry Street Essay, 1969
Read before the Ministerial Conference
When we come to a discussion of today's topic, "The Ministry—Experience and Expectation," we have to discard any tradition of the ministry in its old sense of acceptance and prostration before authority, as well as the tradition of a monolithic community. We have to remember that religious and ministerial authority has to be dug laboriously out of a whirling, twisting earth these days. It is a hard job.
There are no set principles by which such digging can be done. The methods adopted are suited to the character and disposition of each individual, and the way he uses authority defines his personality as well as his ministry. Studies of the ministry are, then, usually biographical in nature, subjective in tone, centered in personal experience and memory, flushed with the scarcely justified egotism that the ministry has made our world flounder less, has spiritually reinforced persons who hurt less, fear less, and deceive less. The wise ones also remember inadequacies and lack of human virtues and techniques. They mention defeats, some in bitterness and surrender, some motivated to use these defeats as cornerstones for greater victories. So is the ministry described, a series of subjective segments of the human saga. There is no help for this method, even though we have now begun some generalized research into various aspects of the ministry. As yet such research is altogether too meager, and wise insights too few, to allow us to wander far from the old way. So we shall have to rely upon subjectivity, biography, personal experience, and memory.
If such an approach is to have value, it should supply insights into the work of the profession which can be developed into working principles. It should emphasize common experiences, including certain facets of a shared emotional climate, making it possible for us to develop both sympathy and empathy for our colleagues, and enabling us to express our compassion to them in times of anxiety or defeat. It should give some direction and hope to our attempt to become more effective members in the leadership of more dynamic churches.
Insofar as my own ministry is concerned, there are several phases of it which may shed some light upon what ministers are like and how—and maybe why—they give their particular and peculiar slant to a pragmatic expression of liberal religion. If we may take my particular case as indicative, a liberal minister is an avowed cynic in some phase of his life (preferably his youth). He escapes tragedy through the revelation of idealism and its possibilities. He suffers for his choice by disappointment with people, by frustration due to his own weakness and scholastic mal-preparation. He learns the multi-gamuted misery and agony of loneliness imposed by bureaucrats—secular, sacred, craven, and authoritarian—in the causes of common decency. Then he becomes humble, tries to pick up the slivers of a brittle career, to assume a reference point of perspective on life, to study, to learn, to be valid. Luckily, he finally discerns more of what life is, and he begins to feel the drive of a new demand, a fresh commitment, a new approach. He becomes proud at last of his place in life, a place made sacred by experience.
Following this line of thought, let us now ask, "How is the cynic raised?" Well, I am a first-generation American whose Scotch-Irish parents had strong attachments with the old country and who, like most immigrants, believed that the notion of America as a melting pot was ridiculous. The United States was an economic opportunity for men with trades or aspirations, they thought—not a sociological experiment. You stayed with your own kind and you abided with old-country customs, attitudes, and standards as much as the American sanctions would allow.
One of the realities my parents brought from Ireland was God. He was the Grandfather of the Presbyterian God then popular in the United States. Our family had the misfortune to have to go to a Congregational Church because it was a neighborhood institution and because it was where Scotch, Irish, and English workers went. There the minister preached a more modern, gentlemanly God, but in our house Grandfather God walked the floor, whip in hand, his influence everywhere. When one awoke in the morning, embossed cardboard signs flanking the bedroom mirror proclaimed, "The gift of God is eternal life," and "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever." We prayed ardently for a worldwide revival.
By edict, the Sabbath was holy, dedicated to preparation for The Lord's Day and Wednesday night was holy unto the Prayer Meeting thereof. On Sunday no secular activity was allowed. We were housebound, save for the several walks to church. The Boston Post funnies lay on the table awaiting Monday. "The Holy Bible" and "Boy's Life of Jesus" were approved reading for the day. Occasionally the hand-cranked victrola ground out Gospel hymns. Sunday in our house was as black as a Puritan Christmas. Quotations from Scriptures and associated sources were very popular, especially to justify some of the little emergencies which occurred on that day. The basic commandment was, "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy," but should some sewing need to be done to be done, this was justified by a rule which said, "The better the day, the better the deed." My aunt was the chief authority on such usages, and she was fearless in her interpretation of Christian ethics when called upon to do so. These séances with God defined religion crystal clear: It was pessimistic, punitive, and equivocal. It did not always produce God-fearing men, but it made compliant social persons. It transmitted and preserved culture patterns no less than 100 years old.
When I was sixteen I went off to a preparatory school which had been founded by Dwight L. Moody, the American Evangelist. There we were taught a basic curriculum, did an hour and a half's manual labor each day, went to chapel several times a week, and had three classes in Bible each week. Thus was the Protestant soul disciplined and indoctrinated. By this time, my older brother was in college, had dissolved most of his church ties, and had developed a very interesting way of asking questions like "How do you know?" Since I was a ready listener, he impressed me with his skeptical approach to religion before I left for school. This fact soon got me into trouble.
Bible study at school was simplicity itself. It was taught by a fine old Christian gentleman who was originally in the field of physical education and was winding up his years on the faculty teaching Bible. His method of instruction was simple. It consisted of a single mimeographed sheet of paper. This educational tool was divided into two columns. The left-hand column contained a series of questions, such as "Who is God?" The right-hand column contained the Biblical references which answered the question. Simple. Study the Bible, quote the proper references to the question the professor asked, and mind your own business.
But I was beset by skepticism. One day the teacher asked me, "Who is God?" I gave him his answer, "God is Love." Then before he could turn me off, I quickly asked him how he knew his answers were valid. "The Bible says so," he answered. Then, besmitten and afflicted by skepticism, I asked how he knew the Bible was right. He replied, "We don't ask those questions here." It was the end. I went home to stay. If they didn't ask those questions at that school, where did they? Why couldn't the old man add wisdom to his niceness? Religion, I concluded, was inflexible, dogmatic, irrational.
At the very beginning of the 1929 depression, I was employed in training to become what would have been the world's worst wire-spooler in the U.S. Steel Corporation, if not in the world. From seven in the morning until six at night, I stood before a machine and soldered the ends of spools of wire together to form a long, endless piece of wire which was wound on a larger spool for use in a cable-making machine. It was dull, monotonous, noncreative work. The man who broke me in was a fast, expert spooler, but he took several trips per day to the washroom from whence he returned refreshed and smelling of spirits. He taught me the tricks of the trade, but never once encouraged me to follow the trade. It was a cause for wonder. The depression saved me.
The work force was drastically cut, and I was on the bricks. There was no work anywhere, so in due time I was back at school and on to college, but I remembered the men in that vast plant—spooling wire today, on the street tomorrow. I discovered an economic meaning for the word fate. Man was a commodity.
I kept thinking about such things all the way through college, where the social sciences interested me. The depression dragged on. Life was hard, unrelenting. How could the quality of life be changed? What institutions could help? Could the church change society? There were strong doubts.
In the first place, I was fed up on creeds that were pulled down from the ceiling on rollers to be read in unison at church school assembly. I had little interest in God and his functions, save to bow my head in a vestigial gesture of respect. The church itself imposed its authority in the persons of authoritarian clergy in behalf of the privileged. It thought man was a thing, who would endure every humiliation to get to Heaven, his destination. Yet the church had some advantages. It was supposed to be a teaching institution. It was supposed to be concerned with the creation and preservation of sacred things. It was supposed to be a moral community where persons could relate themselves to what they felt to be sacred, something of a special meaning and worth which could be treated with awe and respect. Maybe man the group creature and men the persons could be transformed by attributing new values to them.
If this were to be done, it required the attention of an especially sympathetic institution which had some respect for the powers of man as something greater than that of well-seasoned fagot ready for hell. It had to keep its eye on the real world rather than on a three-storied universe. It required leadership which was courageous and strong and technically skillful in human relations. It required a society of believers in democratic process, which could develop empathy for its fellowmen, and which had the courage to seek and find its proper relationship to the universe. This was a tall order, and required a belief and institution unlike any I had known, but there must be such a church somewhere. Fortunately, by a fluke derived from perusal of catalogs from schools of religion, I enrolled at Crane, impressed by its allegiance to a nondenominational base of its student body and its professed liberal spirit. It seemed like a promising entrance to the ministry.
Crane offered a mixed bag of preparation for the ministry. It had several good men on its faculty, some of whom imparted liberal charisma. Clarence R. Skinner was an outstanding liberal and most concerned for the welfare of his students. Dr. Fagginger-Auer was a fine interpreter of the history of the Christian Church. Dr. MacCollester served as Dean Emeritus and general adviser. Alfred S. Cole taught homiletics and church administration. Social ethics was taught enthusiastically and well by Skinner. Auer persuaded us to the humanistic approach to church history. Alfred Cole imparted his sensitive spirit and writing to us, urging us to go forth and be creative. Education was in depth for each subject. There was little emphasis on the relation between studies or the relation between humanity and each or all of the disciplines involved. Crane sat high on a fence-guarded hill at the lower end of an ascending campus.
I suppose it is disrespectful to talk of an educational institution recently deceased. The fact is, however, that we were not too well prepared at Crane. The study loads were not demanding. Practical experience was not emphasized, save for older students who supplied pulpits or ministered at student parishes, or for a few social-minded students who explored the slum projects of Boston and environs. We learned little about the arts. We learned nothing about church administration and human relations, the nature of groups or counseling with parishioners. These topics formed a darkling pool into which we were thrown bodily and told to swim. Some of us floundered badly. Fortunately, we were always having bull sessions—the result of which was that I became a Unitarian.
When it came, life in a parish proved to be something of a tooth-grinding experience. The small-town congregation which I served displayed generally an intense interest for the housekeeping of a beautiful 17th Century New England meetinghouse. This tended to be almost an exclusive concern. Second in interest, but far back in the field, was a more moderate interest in the parsonage—an edifice of similar antiquity having all the ills of old age including a fireplace with a voracious appetite for coal and wood. To crown the tradition of liberal religion in the town, the church budget was kept low, but the endowment funds, manna from the saints, were amassed to a sizable amount which was saved for the church building. Financial pledges were small and kept mainly for local use.
The congregation was composed of fine and industrious rural people, but the traditional formula and accoutrements for worship forced me far back from my idealistic expectation about what a congregation should be doing. The church featured a high pulpit to place the minister as close to God as possible, and to remove him a decent distance away from the people. From green hymnals we raised our voices in rather orthodox song, or read the ancient psalms responsively. The minister, soon sensitive to congregational attitudes, laced all his sermons tightly with Biblical authority, and only occasionally preached tremulously about saving the world. Abstract ideals, about which nothing need be done anyway, received better response.
The people were religious liberals because, I suppose, the liberal interpretation of scripture and theology was palatable to them. In economics, politics, and sociology they were conservatives. They saved their money, refused WPA funds for tennis courts for the town youth, who found the beer in the adjacent Sodom much more interesting than anything at home. They were Republicans generally, and the Town Meeting saw to it that those who had political power got what they needed. Food for the hungry was given, but not indulgently. It was a not atypical liberal congregation.
I trudged the town streets weekdays and ascended the heavenly steep on Sunday, but I was discontented. The monolithic congregation did not budge, save for some discussion at LRY. World War II came and I went into the chaplaincy.
A chaplain in the armed forces is a showpiece. He proclaims that the Army believes in God and religion, and if he can do so decently, he proclaims that God favors our side because we defend the values he proclaims. The chaplain also exerts great support for troop discipline, by adding supernatural authority to military authority. He is preacher, counselor, the personification of spirituality amongst crusaders of doubtful righteousness. If he can restrict himself to this image and throw in strong intimations that he is a regular guy, he will be considered a good chaplain. If not, there are ways to teach him his duties. These are lessons quickly learned. In society such behavior is called conformity. In military organizations, it is known as good morale. I'm afraid I demonstrated a medium-to-low morale for two years with an infantry regiment. Then in due course of official judgment, I was transferred to a Puerto Rican base to become chaplain at a reception center where the native soldiers tried to learn enough English and arithmetic to understand commands and count cadence. I LIKED these soldiers, preached to them and counseled them in their native tongue. Then I learned something very important. It was this. It is not always ethical to have good morale. The day comes when you have to choose between soldiering and ministering.
Most of the Protestant contingent at the base were Pentecostal in faith. They were fine soldiers, clean, with good personal habits, and a will to serve. All these values went as naught from the Army's point of view when it was discovered that these men were more faithful to the Bible and its word than to the rocket's red glare. The day came when rifles were issued to the troops. The weapons handed the Pentecostals clattered to the captain's desk. The Bible said, "Thou shalt not kill." No amount of persuasion could change their minds. They marched off to the stockade, and we had a sizable conscientious objector movement on our hands.
Now in those days it was possible for a man to be a conscientious objector "if he were sincere by reason of religious persuasion." Once his sincerity was unquestioned, a soldier conscientious objector could be given noncombat work in the army. Most Puerto Rican C.O. soldiers wanted to be in the Army, where pay far exceeded their normal two-hundred-dollars-per-year income.
In a short time the stockade had nearly ninety men who claimed C.O. status. It was the concern of the chaplain to interview these men about their convictions, to visit in the stockade, to help with personal problems, to check out with their ministers. It was hard but personally rewarding work—seeking justice for these men, though to no avail. Then new developments occurred; the Army wanted no conscientious objectors, especially in Puerto Rico, an American dependency. So it developed that the charges against these men were changed to "disobeying the direct command of a superior officer,"—a very serious charge indeed. Court martials were held and the men, usually sentenced to eight years, were marshalled at Port of Embarkation Stockade to await shipment to Atlanta Penitentiary. Word came down from headquarters that sentences should be made stiffer to make examples of these men. The general was "going to show them" what the nation required of its colonials and what would happen to trouble makers. The maw of the military machine opened wider to gobble up the dissenters.
It was an outrageous injustice. Something had to be done about it. I talked to junior officers, a few of whom were sympathetic. My colonel told me to stop talking; the general didn't like it, and disciplinary measures could be taken. There wasn't much hope for help in the army anyway, so, in full fear of consequences, I turned for outside help to my own church headquarters. I waited and waited for the defenders of the free faith to do something to defend freedom. It was a long wait and the jail at Embarkation received more and more men. Then the tragic element hit me. I wasn't going to hear. Nor have I ever. Indirectly and carefully, I contacted the Episcopal Bishop of San Juan. In one day and after a strong personal talk with the general, the whole sordid episode was stopped.
It is useless to explore the reasons for no reply from Boston. It is useful to consider what happens to a minister in his loneliness or when he decides to take on a juggernaut. He lies sleepless or nightmarish at night. He is nervous, filled with anxiety. He cries. He finds out how weak and scared he is. Will he receive support? It is best to assume the tragic negative answer, especially when the struggle is with some overwhelming monoliths of evil. It is better to know that the most you can get in a struggle with evil is a tie. So be happy to earn a tie, strong enough not to shiver at other choices which may lead to catastrophe when you realize for the first time that a part of mankind is in your keeping.
Several decades have passed since I learned these lessons in the ministry, but neither some of our churches nor our ministry have changed much. The elevated pulpit frowns down on the congregation and demands a synthetic authoritarian preacher to occupy it. The preacher is a sham authoritarian because his power is delegated from the congregation and confined to areas of his depth knowledge. These preachers do not restrict their authoritarianism to pulpit activities. Nor are they limited to any given age level. I have heard talk from novices and elders alike in our ministry about "having to tell them" and "getting them to do it." So authoritarianism is still a factor in our ministry, and manipulation of people a respected art. This approach to leadership is often rewarded by having the minister make vicarious atonement for the sins of the congregations who have lost desire to atone for themselves and sit like so many puppets waiting to have their strings pulled. The minister, in a sense, becomes the church, restricted in ability to perform on any wide area of important action because he is the pseudo-dictator of a static, individualistic group, which can soon show where power lies by means of demonstrations of individualistic democracy. We should be grateful for a fellowship movement which has alleviated some of these obstacles to a free church.
Ministers like these have no feel for a sense of community. There may be more of them in our pulpits than we realize, for there is certainly very little community within the ministry. There is little feel for sharing experience, for sharing compassion, for sharing active, live projects which make impact on groups and persons instead of the in-group shop talk which occurs when ministers meet. For this reason, our relationships with various echelons of the Unitarian Universalist Association, with other professional groups and with individuals, are stilted. We need to have creative exchange amongst ourselves and with others, on all levels. We need such creative exchange to infuse the ministry and its members with energy, power, and the will to work with the form and substance of creative ideas. Failure to do something in this area increases the number of lonely ministers who, unnourished by intellectual, emotional, and social stimulation, atrophy into the moribund preacher.
There also has to be a stronger sense of discipline in our ministry. We face many problems. In Mexico recently, a member of one of our churches told my wife that "Unitarian ministers were a bunch of bums." Since I was not there, I was not called upon to affirm, deny, or even to illustrate, but I was angry about it. What caused such a statement? We need not even ask if the allegation is true. It is a symptom—apparently substantial—of acute individualism in both pews and pulpits which leads to separatism and institutional anarchy. We have lots of difficulties—divorce, for example. What do these happenings tell us about the motivation of men coming into our ministry, as distinct from what they say is their motivation? I am in no position to judge our worthiness as bums, but we should take self-imposed steps to honor our profession and learn to love integrity before we strive for charisma. This is a most important and immediate task for us all. Our task is still to help save the world and its people. We must have the leadership qualifications to do so.
Experience has taught us something. It has made us idealists, for historic reasons which were not idealistic at all, but which may have been a hedge for compromising with our fate. We were naive, underestimating our tasks as they appeared in sequence. We were taught various disciplines in depth and given little instruction in the relational nature of the fields of knowledge, a pursuit indispensable to human relations.
We learned slowly too. "Our minds were shaped by a society that adapted to comparatively leisurely changes occurring over a period of approximately one hundred years," says R. W. Hutchins, the Canadian physicist. Well, we are what we are, and we come face to face with a new, novel world structured by the machine, where electronics has made its impact on mental development in a period of ten years, where we loafed along over lesser changes for at least a century. We gave our major task of saving the world over to science. We failed to grasp the facts of new morality and to give priorities to more fundamental goals than we had learned over 100 years' time. So there you are!
I have traversed all these personal illustrations of my professional vicissitudes to drive home a point which should assume importance by emphasis. We are creatures of the 100-year-old mind, inured to the early habits of learning of a past century, now "up tight" with the problems of a new era; outmoded in many ways, but forced to disengage from the old ways to participate in the struggle of creating a future for man.
The second part of this paper is to be devoted to the future expectations of the liberal ministry. The demands upon our men will be very great, demands which will be critical to the life of our galaxy.
The fundamental problem, as I have been persuaded to see it, involves a basic redefinition of the nature of man and a reemphasis of his place of responsibility in the universe. This problem is no longer confined to the dreamy future, the mind of a Schweitzer, or the Continent of Africa. It is immediate. It is pressing. It is fateful. It is a complete reversal, both in concept and in the ways of implementing the methods by which tensile social man will perform his function and achieve his destiny. It is solidly based on scientific necessity.
Before we identify the problem and its nature further, there is one fundamental task that besets us. Many of us ruminate about certain definitions of institutions and functions which enhance our loyalty, our activity, and even our love. Rumination is a mental chewing process which usually gets indefinite, mushy, self-centered, impermanent results. Rumination without examination, analysis, and a constant search for principle is the sign of an undisciplined, perhaps even a lazy man. Our first duty, then, is to stop ruminating and to construct some working, but compelling, definitions of where we stand. We are religionists, but how do you respond to what religion is when some weird character ups and asks you? You can say, "Well, there are thousands of definitions, you know," or "Religion is ultimate commitment," or "Religion is worship of God." "Yes," says the weird one, "but which one are you using?"
So what is religion? Clifford Geertz, in his contribution to "The Religious Situation 1968" (Beacon) , entitled "Religion as a Cultural System," says that "Religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long lasting moods and motivations in men (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence, and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an awe of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."
"The word symbol," says Geertz, "is used for any object, act, event, quality of relation which serves as a vehicle for a conception. The conception is the symbol's meaning."
"The symbolic dimension of social events . . . is theoretically abstractable from these events as empirical totalities."
"So far as culture patterns, i.e., systems or complexes of symbols, are concerned, the generic trait which is of first importance for us here is that there are extrinsic sources of information—the culture patterns lie outside the boundaries of the individual organism as such in the intersubjective world into which all human individuals are born and in which they pursue their careers."
"By sources of information I mean only that—like genes—culture patterns provide a blueprint or template in terms of which processes external to themselves can be given a definite form."
Now, if the function of religion is to create such a system of symbols, somehow we have to get about the business of religion. The major facet of this task is to formulate conceptions of a general order of existence which appear to be factual and make moods and motivations uniquely realistic. We live in a world where this will not be easy, where present-day problems are superficially defined and abstractly described. We have war to save Asia from Communism, we have a population explosion partly because the rights of the family are sacred and that of the church omnipotent. We have college revolutions where the authority of the young challenges vested authority. One of our needs, then, is a real definition of our problems which are ages old and have never been intruded upon by refreshed definition or solution.
The church is that institution which faces the world and its evil in the name of religion. We have already found out the strategic goals of religion, but what are the tactical goals of the church which are to be served by the ministry? Sociologically, the church is concerned that man should relate himself to the sacred or that he should assist in transforming the profane into the sacred or holy, something endowed with special meaning or worth. It is the function of the church to define man in a new way, to give a new symbolic meaning to man which will be basic to a new religious cultural system which is useful in a radically changing world. The question is how this shall be done under a given set of dynamic conditions. It is the task of the minister to devise patterns which give answers to this question. But the church has certain characteristics which make it much less interested in its transforming function than in relating individuals to well-institutionalized, outmoded, sacred objects. The liberal church is institutionally a culture-centered religion—based on the affirmation of citizenship in an existing community. It is a social institution enhancing all who are socially compatible, who accept the centuries-old pattern.
There are other factors also which limit the church in its functions and make it both difficult to create new culture values and easy to preserve old ones. Responsibility is delegated to a small number of members. There is restraint and passive listening. These factors make it all but impossible to form a moral community capable of creating the sacred out of the new information and demands of a changing society today.
It is too bad that the church has such built-in restrictions. These attributes make it easy to support outmoded values. They make it almost impossible to arrive at any depth definition or description of what is really happening in society, an understanding of which is fundamental to the creation of new symbols which are basic to new culture patterns. Consider these examples of this point:
(1) The increased fragmentation in our society. Blacks versus whites. Young versus old, etc. The basic cause of such fragmentation derives from an authoritarian notion of society which is closed, static, and moribund symbol power directed. The answer to the problem is use of force, insistence on predominance of a vested leader group, disregard of the areas of the common good in the name of pleasure or prestige, failure to recognize the value of human relations and to develop even an artisan skill in their use. So fragmentation increases, because our culture pattern is better symbolized by the rifle than any hand clasp.
(2) Consider the case of Pope Paul and population control. There is no need to explain the intensity of this problem. After consideration duly prolonged to imply the agonized heart and mind, the Pope announced the retention of the status quo in church policy in this vital area. It was a criminal declaration, nothing less, for each soul born to the church is gained at the loss of quality of life for every other human being on earth. Yet the supreme symbol of the unchanging church omniscient had to be preserved.
(3) Consider (a) the unwillingness we have to give priority to values. "It's all tied up in one ball," we say; or (b) the false priorities we make of values, e.g., war in Viet Nam and the poverty program at home. Which do you wish to exploit first—an Asian nation by use of a war economy or the poor in our slums? Isn't our philosophy capable of more wisdom than these false priorities indicated? Or, is it that we have no skill to implement our wisdom? No, the lesson is fairly clear. Do not tinker with the superior symbol of the closed society.
(4) Now, consider these human-relations evasion factors so often seen in our society: (a) the yearning to generalize and abstract values—to "talk them away"; (b) the over-evaluation of science and its function, placing our salvation in the hands of science, depending upon it as an ultimate source of wisdom, and abandoning the task of world salvation to it.
Perhaps the words attributed to Abraham Maslow should be taken to heart here. "Science is an occupation of the mediocre." This castigation is hardly totally correct, but there is truth in it for some scientists. The statement may also be a source of relief for other scientists, the expectations from whom are so great. We have recently heard great talk about technological fixes for some problems of society. The technological fix means the development of some scientific discovery which can be used to prevent further deterioration of a social problem for a time—desalinization of water to bring irrigation and food to the desert, for example. This would serve in some cases to deter war, it is argued. It could stave off famine for a few years.
(5) Finally, consider only two of a grab-bag full of strange examples. (a) Over-esteem for the individual as a social entity. What's good for the individual is good for society. This is the rally call of Adam Smith and his numerous cohorts in Unitarian Universalist pews and pulpits. It underlines much of the Unitarian Universalist idea of religious philosophy of freedom and authority. (b) Technical ineptitude in human relations. Why so much effort at consensus? What happens to group process during its achievement? When it becomes politically operational? Are we getting the best creative effort out of each person when the group or the nation demands consensus?
The liberal ministry stands amidst this welter of forces and emerges with as many reactions as it has ministers. This is fine. We believe in pluralism, in variety, in dissent. Yet it would appear that there is a need for group discipline to allow for concerted action, without resort to autocracy, oligarchy, or group authoritarianism. Such discipline can be derived in part by sharing a common definition of the function of our church. We are liberals, but what is a liberal? Is a person who believes what he wants to believe a liberal? If you believe in the goodness of man, are you a liberal? Well, I suppose some sort of case could be made for bringing these people into the fold, but those restricted definitions scarcely fit a well-integrated and motivated movement like the liberal ministry and its church. Some functional description would be better if we believe or aspire to a dynamic social, religious institution geared to present cultural developments.
Max Ascoli, the militant newspaper editor, had a definition of a liberal that was worth its weight in steel. "A liberal," said he, "is one who knows how to use the tools of freedom." This audience need not have such tools enumerated. We need only develop greater skill in their use. But for what shall we use them?
Immanuel Kant once made a definition which will be very helpful in answering this last question. "Freedom," said the philosopher, "is the recognition of necessity." We use the tools of freedom then, to devise those conditions which make man a creative (mature) person who can solve the problems of achieving human potential.
Then the trail brings us back home. Coleridge, the Unitarian poet, has a definition which can serve the words "religion" and "mature" equally well. Robert Shaw pointed out how close these bonds were in an interesting sermon at the First Church in Cleveland, Ohio, several years ago. Coleridge says:
"This, the sublime of man,
His noontide majesty,
To know himself
Parts and proportions
Of one wondrous whole."
The religious liberal has to be a mystic participating in the universe.
Now, if we have fitted these parts of a description of a liberal together, we can approach the guts of this paper. We have still to change the world. This is the belated present and future expectation of the liberal ministry and any other persons who see and hear. It is our special responsibility to restore the future to man, as Dr. George Wald pointed out in his widely publicized, extemporaneous speech at M.I.T. on March 4, 1969. The people doubt that they have a future. Before they become more apathetic or more frenetic in the face of that rapidly developing faith, we must come to their aid at a gallop, ready to work skillfully. We must change the symbol "man."
I have been and I continue to be most impressed with an article by Garrett Hardin, Professor of Biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in SCIENCE, 13, December, 1968. It is entitled: "The Tragedy of the Commons." My enthusiasm for this paper by Professor Hardin is so great because it gives a new proportion to ethics and a new approach to the symbol-making element of liberal religion. We should begin to study the implications of these innovations for the work we will be expected to do now or in an instantaneous future to save the universe by redefining man's nature and by giving the future back to man. I should like to see papers written on Hardin's approach and its implications for the church by individuals more informed on ethics than I. I should like to see papers written by teams of writers which would unfold the specific action demands Hardin's ideas require of us. His ideas kick the imagination into wakefulness. For this lecture, a brief outline of the Hardin thesis will have to do. Here it is.
Contrary to the almost universal assumption found in scientific journals, that the problem under discussion has a technical solution, there are certain problems which have no technical solutions, that is, no solutions which require only a change in scientific techniques, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality. Wiesner and York made this conclusion in an article on the future of nuclear war, in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 211 (No. 4) 27, 1964.
This class of "no technical solution problems" has many members, only one of which is the population problem. Most people who anguish over the population problem are trying to avoid the evils of the problem without giving up any of the privileges they enjoy in contributing to it—an outlook not restricted to the population problem. Hence, they look for technical solutions—a new strain of wheat, or farming the seas. This attitude which is applied to many crisis situations, rests upon certain well-entrenched and hoary dogmas which affect our whole approach to the problems very adversely under present conditions.
The first dogma which needs to be scrutinized because of its effect on our society is the "invisible hand" theory of Adam Smith, which tries to show that an individual who intends only his own gain, is, as it were, "led by an invisible hand . . . to promote the public interest." This idea has been a dominant tendency in our society for countless years. If this assumption is correct, it justifies the continuance of laissez-faire in ethical matters. "If the assumption is not correct," says Hardin, "we need to examine our individual freedoms, to see which ones are defensible."
Hardin proceeds to rebut the argument of the invisible hand by an illustration which he calls "The Tragedy of the Commons," which was written in 1833 by a mathematical amateur, William Foster Lloyd, but with Hardin using the word "tragedy'" as the philosopher Whitehead used it. "The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness," said Whitehead. "It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things. The inevitableness of destiny can only be illustrated in terms of human life by incidents which in fact involve unhappiness," continues Whitehead, "for it is only by them that the futility of escape can be made evident in drama."
So to the illustration. Picture a pasture open to all. It is expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on such a commons. An arrangement like this can work well for centuries because of wars, thefts, and disease which crop the herd. Finally, however, comes a day of reckoning, and the goal of social stability is reached. "At this point the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy."
"Each herdsman seeks to maximize his own gain. He asks what is the utility of my adding one more animal to my herd?" The utility has one positive and one negative component. (1) The positive component is that the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal. The positive utility factor here is +1. (2) The negative component is a function of overgrazing of one or more animals. This function is shared by all the herdsmen, hence the negative utility for any herdsman making a decision is a fraction of 1.
"Adding together the component partial utilities," says Hardin, "the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to the herd. And another, and another. But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination to which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society which believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all."
"Some would say that this is a platitude. Would that it were! In a sense, it was learned thousands of years ago, but natural selection favors the forces of psychological denial. The individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers."
Dr. Hardin suggests several areas in which the logic of the commons has become perishable knowledge. He points out the attitude of cattlemen leasing national land and pressuring for an increase in head count to the point where erosion and weeds dominate the pastures. The oceans of the earth, purported to have inexhaustible resources, are exploited so that species after species of fishes and whales have become extinct.
The problem of pollution is a reverse illustration of the tragedy of the commons. In this instance we do not take something out, we put something in—sewage, waste, fumes, noise. It costs less to release wastes into the commons than it does to purify them. So we become locked into a system of fouling our nest.
Looking back over our national experience with the commons, especially noting the relation of population density to pollution, emphasizes that principle of morality which says that "the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it was performed." Using the rivers and air as cesspools does the public no harm under frontier conditions. The result is quite the reverse in a metropolis.
This principle escaped codifiers in the past. "Thou shalt not" directives allow no room for particular circumstances. Our laws are based on ancient ones and are not suited to our complex world. So we augment statutory law with administrative law, the details of whose enforcement we delegate to bureaus. But when we create bureaus, the question arises, "Who shall watch the watchers themselves?" We need to be reminded constantly of the corruption of administrators. We need to devise corrective feedbacks for keeping custodians honest. At the same time, we need to avoid veneration of institutions which expound freedom of the commons at the expense of ultimate human disaster. The United Nations, sacrosanct in some quarters, saw thirty of its members declare in 1967 that "the Universal Declaration of Human Rights described the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself and cannot be made by anyone else." This is certainly a dictate which needs strongly to be denied in our starving, crowded, undisciplined world.
In view of the situation described, what are our best recourses for change? Not an appeal to conscience. People vary in response. The sensitive consciences will yield to an appeal to limit breeding. The less sensitive will not respond. Those who breed will contribute a larger fraction of the next generation than the conscientious people. This trend will be accented generation after generation until what Charles Galton Darwin stated will come true. "Homo contracipiens would become extinct and would be replaced by homo progenitivis." This is the predictable long-term disadvantage of appeal to conscience.
There are short-term disadvantages as well, when you ask an exploiter of the commons to stop his actions "in the name of conscience." We give him two communications: (1) If you don't do as we ask, we will openly condemn you for not acting like a responsible citizen. (2) If you do behave as we ask, we will secretly condemn you for a simpleton, who can be shamed into standing aside while the rest of us exploit the commons. Between these two communications, the first intentional, the second unintended, the individual is caught in a "double-bind" which can be a cause of mental illness. "A bad conscience," says Nietzsche, "is a kind of mental illness."
The better recourse for a revision of our attitude toward the commons is the assumption of responsibility, but note well, Hardin uses a definition of the word derived from Charles Frankel who said, "Responsibility is the product of definite social arrangements." Note well again, "social arrangements," not propaganda, not conversion, not saving souls, not any of the traditional religious instruments. The social arrangement best suited to our purpose is some sort of mutual coercion mutally agreed upon. The creation of such a social arrangement is the future concern of the liberal ministry. Its greatest expectation for the future is to work on this project to save the world by helping to devise definite social arrangements designed to avoid the tragedy of the commons and a man's urge toward social self-destruction.
There are certain principles which apply to the proposition to create social coercion. It should be accepted that we are not creating prohibitions nor resorting to ancient "shall nots." What should be offered are carefully based options to coerce the individual to the preferred course of action. Such coercion as is espoused need not be arbitrary nor imposed by authorities from far off. Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected, is what we endorse. This alternative—or any other choice—need not be perfect. The alternative to the commons is ruin. In the face of such a choice, some injustice may be preferable.
If the commons is justifiable at all, it is under conditions of low population density. So we have already been in the process of abandoning it as population has increased. Food gathering and waste disposal are examples of areas in which the commons were abandoned. Noise, pollution, population, and war are yet to be acted upon.
Granted that the definition of freedom by Hegel—"Freedom is the recognition of necessity"—is correct, then in the area of those problems which afford no ultimate technological solution—population, war, pollution—we are only free to abandon the commons.
It can be argued, of course, that while no technological solution can be attained for our crucial problems, temporary delays can be made to foist off final calamity by the development of scientific and technological devices. Agro-industrial complexes in desert areas of the world can postpone famine in the near East, in India, and in other areas of the world, if control of population can be managed, but here we are back again to our thesis. Ultimate success must be brought about by the human relations techniques elevated from a practice of hit and miss principles to a coordinated, scientific system of hypothesis, experiment, conclusion, and technological use.
The Hardin thesis outlined at some length above opens up to me a picture of what the expectations of the liberal ministry will be like. We liberals have developed but have yet to emerge, in the U.S. anyway, from a rather tradition-bound past. We have extolled the intellectual nature of our people and our ministry. Rightly so. We have been proud of our individualism in thought and practice. We have worshiped freedom of belief. We have had an unduly enriched vision of individual man. Now, like a late dawn, it comes to us that we are part—indeed representative—of a social lag. The Adam Smith philosophy that what was good for the individual was good enough for society was one aspect of social lag, which was demonstrated in many ways. Misunderstanding of the nature of voluntary organizations was another. Add our failure to develop a mutually agreed-upon group process for avoiding action decisions which led to a polite anarchy or the respectable authoritarianism of consensus. These developments serve to make us aware that we wear minds shaped by a society that adapted to leisurely change over a period of a hundred years and were trained in the use of specialized, impersonal depth disciplines. Now we must deal with an electronics era of communication and learning which has made its major impact on mental development over a period of only ten years.
We face a new day and a time of crisis. The woods and fields of New England are crowded with electronics technicians. The tranquil plantations of the South hide cotton cloth factories, far back from red clay roads traversed by labor organizers. Goldsmith's "Auburn loveliest village of the plain where health and plenty greet the laboring swain" is now in all probability a suburb fighting sanitation problems, encroaching slums, and the various symptoms of poverty.
We live in a crowded world which is getting more crowded because people will not yield the pleasures of sex—the participation in and exploitation of the commons, for the creative survival of humanity. There are not enough work calories to go around for each person, so there is a famine. You can carry this illustration to the other areas of the commons—war, the use of public lands, etc. The cause is the same. There is a basic imbalance on the side of the individual (his refusal to yield personal advantage to the common necessity), in his moral relations with society. Thus the necessary, healthful tension between person and society slackens to create a situation of noncontrol. Obviously, what is good enough for the individual is not good enough for society anymore.
The experience of the ministry has always emphasized the need to change the world. There was no real chance to do so under the conditions imposed on the church. It was part of a culture sanctioned and undergirded by the supernatural, ruled by the few, supported by members who were fit for the respectable society the church represented, and who were willing to support the church with wealth even at the price of exploitation of such commons as rivers and air and land and the poor. These conditions seem to have loosened their hold somewhat. Heaven is no longer a real destination. The admonition to love God and worship him has undergone both word and psychological-motivation changes. Democratic forms of government have badly dented theocratic forms. So far, so good.
But there is still much redirection of religion to do, if the world is to be changed. The idea of change has to be insisted upon. This message is an old one. Prepare now for the world you want. It is probably a fine idea, but there are drawbacks to it. Society is an organism in which persons, groups, and other selected segments have roles to play. Competition, rivalry, conflict occur. Objectives, goals become of lesser consequence, of personal power-gratification quality, rather than group-cohesive quality. Consider the meaning for a pluralistic society of the first commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind." What impact does this now have in a pluralistic religious world? It is given an improper priority. The love of neighbor as of self is a much more feasible demand. It is by allegiance to this commandment that the world will be changed, if not saved.
The role of the ministry is to instill the power of discipline, self-imposed by the people of the world. It is to make new social arrangements to save man from death in all its forms. If this role can be carried out, then the chance for creative human living can be achieved. The expectation of the ministry is that it must secure this self-discipline, self-imposed by all people. This is a reversed field from that in which exploitation of man and nature were not only allowable but laudable. Exploitation must be condemned as the primary vice which imposes on man the tragedy of the commons.
The tools for securing such self-discipline are those of human relations, expertly used. It is in this area that we have known our greatest defeats or partial success. We have spoken about self-autonomy, but we have emerged with a love of license. We have urged cooperation—meaningful relationships. We have achieved some personal relationships, some fit for saints and some for "bunches of bums." We have achieved slight and passing relations with the universe—again for good or evil—to slow it up or to sit and wonder at it.
The future task of the ministry is a hard one. It is to demonstrate to persons that life is a process of dynamic tension of man with his values, his fellows, and his universe. It is to put men and women in their place, to rid individuals of selfishness, to make social arrangements which teach that no man lives for himself alone. Life cannot be lived vicariously by handing it over to some God of our fathers, nor by elevating science to perform tasks which are ultimately out of its field, nor by expecting that we are excused from human-relations treatment of problems because our methods and results are not perfect. The future task of the ministry is to indoctrinate self-discipline, self-imposed, so that man will become sublime because he has come to know himself.