"Liberal Religion’s Unfinished Business”

Edwin H. Wilson

Berry Street Essay, 1972


Delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly

Dallas, Texas

May 29, 1972


            In preparing this essay I tried to shift the emphasis from "Humanism’s Unfinished business” to "Liberal Religion’s Unfinished Business.”  But I had very limited success.  My stance can be no other than that of a Religious Humanist with a naturalistic outlook.  Dr. Haydon used to tell his students that a "bias recognized is a bias sterilized.”  My bias is Naturalistic Humanism.  As did John Dewey, I also like the word naturalism; it is more inclusive than Humanism as it often is presented.  The unfinished business to which I shall point, however, is business that I feel needs to be solved in the Unitarian Universalist context.  Today I shall speak—from the Humanist point of view—of the unfinished intellectual business of a pluralistic denomination that should be resolved in a constructive and amiable dialogue.  What are our problems?  To recognize them may be the hardest task of all.  It is possible that our most important ones have not been recognized as yet by any of us.  I am sure each of us would have his own list of priorities and supplement of supplant the ones to which I shall point.  For instance, I shall not today go into the question of what we severally consider religion itself to be or where we go now on war, civil rights or poverty.  If I do not mention many specific events which call for thought and action it will not necessarily be because I am unaware of them.


            May 5 to 7 I participated with about fifty others in a Humanist/Catholic Dialogue in New York.[1]  The topic was "Individual Conscience and Public Policy” so that we did not go very far in exploration of our theological difference.  But the dialogue did reinforce my feeling that developments and events in the field of religion are challenging our position—whether in thought or action—as pioneers and leaders in religion.  Moreover, when we watch social trends, election returns or current books there are evidences of an approaching anti-intellectualism which call for a revival of serious critical thought in political and social affairs.  Arnold Beichman’s Nine Lies About America adds a tenth lie as the premise of his book—that intellectuals are misrepresenting America to the world.  Some of those to whom he points are erroneously called "the” intellectuals.  Granted that much contemporary writing and present events make it hard to be proud of our country.  But bombers or destroyers of academic freedom can hardly be called "intellectuals.”   Beichman creates an unwarranted stereotype "the intellectuals” which leaves out many of the most intelligent and includes those who seem to desert intelligence.  I would prefer to have a Norman Cousins present the other side, the optimistic side, than one who like Beichman appears to give aid and comfort to the anti-intellectual forces that make it possible for the national administration regularly to ignore its appointed research reports—whether on abortion, drugs or Vietnam—in deciding national policy.  Yet "sanity sweet sanity” has not marked the General Assemblies of the past ten years.  The challenge to think on our unresolved religious and philosophical problems is also before us as well as social and political problems.


            There is the possibility that Professor Auer was right when he ascribed a great deal of the running about and "busyness” of the modern ministers to a fright reaction before the unresolved problems of their own thinking.[2]  He regarded them as running away from the problems of philosophy and theology.  Whether this is true or not, it does seem to me that in liberal religion the problems are always there and are never completely resolved.  They have to be thought through anew in terms of the needs of each decade.


            I shall mention four items of unfinished business.  First:  the determination of our special place as a denomination in relation to the ecumenical movement; to Christian modernism, on the right and Post-Christian secularism on the left.  Second: the development of a method—both within our own religious community and beyond it—for understanding, respect and cooperation in religious dialogue.  Third:  a balancing of our present emphasis on relevance and social action with ethical reflection that will guide our social action most effectively.  Fourth:  a spiritual maturing through personal growth experiences that will make life satisfying and deepen our inner strength for productive living in the human community.  This is a very large order for one address.  We shall try to find specific application from our experience as a denomination in which differing values find embodiment within an accepted diversity.


            First, then as to the special place we have as a denomination in contemporary ecumenism.  Is it to cuddle up to the more liberal wing of other denominations that are specifically Christian or is it to move toward post-Christian secularism or both?  "Secularism,” wrote Horace Kallen, perhaps with his tongue in cheek, "is the will of God.”[3]  As I understand it, secularism really means "not under God,” at least not under the prayer-hearing, personal God of Christendom.  If that definition is valid, we are an increasingly secular church.  Theological symbols will not necessarily offer an escape from secularism.  Even the word "God” sometimes appears to have become secularized as a necessary faith object.  Paul Tillich referred to the necessity of "believing in an Ultimate Ground of Being of which we can know nothing.”[4]  As I understand this, it is admittedly not anthropomorphic; not a God to be addressed as "Father”; not a God who intervenes in the operations of Nature.  However, Dr. Tillich did not, I understand, cease to call himself a Christian.  Nonetheless, this concept of the Ultimate Ground of Being was acceptable to Abraham Maslow, who was Jewish, and who called himself a Humanist.  Maslow spoke of Being—or "B-values.”  There was to him common ground with Tillich’s conception of God, but no necessity for him to use the word "God” for that Ground.  Our Tillich experts can put me right on this if I am wrong.


            Actually, we would appear to have been moving steadily in a secular direction at a time when secularism was being advanced by the orthodox as a bad word and a new devil.


            As it appeared in our own American denomination in the 1920s and 1930s, Religious Humanism was in part the result of the exchange of thought and influence between liberal ministers and scholars in the universities.  Before 1910, Frank Carleton Doan had published a scholarly article on Cosmic Humanism side-by-side with an article by George Santayana in the Harvard-based Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Method.[5]


            Max C. Otto and Roy Wood Sellars[6] were Unitarian Laymen as well as professors of philosophy.  Chicago Professor of History of Religions A. Eustace Haydon was the stated supply in the Unitarian Church at Madison.  Academic men were natural allies of the humanist emphasis in liberal religion and still are.  Religious Humanism developed as the result of the interaction of scholars on the American campus and liberal ministers.  This may be considered the secular thrust in our denomination—the ecumenical outreach on the Post-Christian side.


            In contrast, there are those among us who cherish the values resident in the Christian tradition and in the Bible; those who cling to the person of Jesus as their central and commanding inspiration.  Such Unitarian Universalists seek a place within the Christian fold.  I understand this position because I was christened in the First Parish Unitarian in Concord, Mass., and grew up in it.  We should as a denomination seek cooperation and understanding with those religions in which we have our roots.  How far the ecumenical movement on the Christian side can reach is shown by a statement of Archbishop Helder Pessoa Camara entitled "On Misery and War” which appears in a magazine called Catholic Mind for April, 1972, page 8.[7]


            Let us get together, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish brothers, and let us try to enlist the support of all those who believe in God, and also those atheist humanists (since, to the extent that they love men, perhaps without realizing it, and even unwillingly, they love the Creator and Father, who made men to His own image and likeness); let’s join together in our effort to make everybody see, ponder and feel the insanity of continuing to prepare for wars which are, and always will be even more so, the synonym of collective suicide for all humanity.


            Recently there has been a call made for entire Unitarian Universalist congregations to identify themselves as Christian.  In contrast one group bearing the Humanist label, has been fellowshipped by the UUA.  It appears to me as a renewal of the "power struggle.”  Some years ago Edward Ohrenstein and Alex Winston and I were discussing the humanist-theist controversy and Ohrenstein said, "Ed, you think it is a truth struggle but it is really a power struggle.”  And he added, "You’ll see who gets the big churches.”  It is interesting that both Winston and Ohrenstein have since gone to Congregational pulpits where their Unitarian Christianity feels more at home.  When I called the trend to label some churches specifically humanist or theist to the attention of the F. R. H. Board and asked what its implications were, the prompt answer was that it would polarize the denomination and that it would be far better if all interest groups in our denomination were to furnish study outlines and promote understanding.  It was proposed that we seek to understand one another’s point of view.  If the Humanists can hold dialogues with Roman Catholics and with Marxists, as they have, how much more possible and productive it should be within our UUA family to arrange candid, amiable dialogues between the special interest groups that find organizational embodiment within our diversity.  Behind our many labels, there are no dogmatic positions discernible.  Commitment to the free mind is basic with us.  Humanism, as I know it today is far from monolithic, and it is probably equally true of those calling themselves Unitarian Universalist Christians.  Dogmatism and the free mind are incompatible.


            And this diversity could be made articulate in study programs; in occasions where dialogues are set up between contrasting viewpoints.  Daring to dream a little I could wish for a substantial Journal of Liberal Religion comprehending the talents and viewpoints of our ministers, of our academic allies and utilizing the resources of several journals in one enriched publication—a publication that would reflect truth struggles rather than power struggles within our denomination.  Fortunately we have such diversity that a sharp polarization need not take place.  Unity of the spirit and peace may be possible even in theological discussion.  We should reach out to each other and to those closes to us on the religious left or right without odium theologicum.


            In 1966 when I.A.R.F. met in London, the agenda included a very competent representative of the secular Humanist outlook, a sociologist, John Wren Lewis.[8]  The proposals presented to I.A.R.F. included among other studies, the study of Humanism and its relation to organized liberal religion.  It was my hope that there would be a rapprochement between I.A.R.F. and the various Humanist groups, some thirty of them, related to the International Humanist and Ethical Union.  That effort seems not to have been lost.  Ed Cahill, one of the four ministers now on the UUA Board, says there is someone now heading a committee to work on relations with the secular humanist.  This hopefully part of our ecumenical outreach on the Post-Christian side.


            As my second point I ask what methods for productive dialogue can be developed.  (a). We should judge the positions and value of our participating groups by their best exemplars and spokesmen.  (b). We should try at least to understand each other’s language, clearing away as much of the purely semantic barriers existing between us as possible.  (c).  Recognizing that to be ethical or religious we must go beyond fact to value, beyond reason to faith, we should all endeavor to be as reasonable and informed as possible and let facts speak for themselves before we interpret their significance.


            This list could be extended but I shall devote some time to these three.  (a).  As an example of not judging a position by its best exemplars, I cite the opening words of a study guide for Unitarian Universalists recently published by the North American Committee of I.A.R.F.  The pamphlet is called "Religions: Conflict, Oneness, Now.”[9]  The opening sentence under that heading was "Many Humanists today hold that there is only one viewpoint—the scientific.  They define religion as superstition; science as truth.  Such narrow-minded faith in progress and logic can be just as dogmatic and destructive as the most orthodox creed.  The majority of Unitarian Universalists see religion as the values, supernatural or natural, by which men live.”  With the last sentence Religious Humanists, although themselves accepting the natural and not the supernatural, would agree; they recognize both groups as religious.  To me and other religious humanists, however, the opening sentences of the I.A.R.F. brochure seemed to be an attack—an invitation to conflict.  On the surface the view was less than representative of the Religious Humanists.  It also seemed equivalent to a sign "Humanists not Wanted at I.A.R.F. Meetings!”  If the statement had said "some” Humanists, some of us would have agreed.  Asked to support the opening blast, a spokesman for the North American Committee of the International Association for Religious Freedom referred to one insertion in a series of statements on Humanism being published in successive issues of The Humanist magazine.  The statements to which he referred presented the viewpoint of anti-religious free-thinkers who are akin to old fashioned rationalists.  There are unfortunately those who identify Humanism merely with the negation of the supernatural and do not escape that negative position.  I have struggled with irrational rationalists for 45 years because I felt that the A.H.A.—and later F.R.H.—did not come to minister only unto the reasonable.  But that opening statement is unfair to the Religious Humanists and is generally unrepresentative of the best minds associated with Humanism.  The statement does not represent Dr. Sidney Hook[10] who has said that religion—supernatural or natural—is too great a part of human experience to be of no meaning.  It is not fair to Humanists Horace M. Kallen,[11] Kenneth Patton,[12] or Charles Morris[13] whose naturalistic universalism has pointed to human values that cut across the sectarian boundaries of many faiths and cultures.  Nor is it fair to Henry Nelson Weiman[14] with his emphasis on creativity; or to Herbert W. Schneider, author of Religion in Twentieth Century America, and more recently author of a splendid volume entitled Civilized Religion.[15]  It is not representative of Dr. A. E. Haydon[16] who warned many of us against the use of the word superstition or even of Buckminster Fuller who according to a recent review finds that intuition plays a very large part in the scientific method.  These are among Humanists who should be studied as among our best spokesmen.


            In defense of the author of the I.A.R.F. brochure mentioned above I could cite important Humanists in the past who would have seemed to have justified that position.  Reed Bain, a sociologist at Miami University, used to claim that we had all of the necessary information from the social and physical sciences for living a good life.  IT is of interest, however, that Reed Bain was the poetry editor of The Humanist magazine and poetry hardly is derived from science.  Moreover Reed Bain had quite an unscientific and emotional response to dogs whom he heartily disliked because he was a rose grower.  Curtis Reese correctly looked to science for factual knowledge and dismissed mysticism and intuition—as often understood—as channels for new knowledge.  He spoke of the authority of scientific evidence but he did not find his religion in science.  Science does not produce the commitment to the cause of man that was Dr. Reese’s humanism.  It did not show why "a world community of free persons is the goal.”  These factors came from his intuitive grasp of the relations and implications of the facts science provided him.  That intuition of the wholeness of man’s life in relation to his past and future enlists the emotions, releases the imagination.  So intuition still has its place in humanism.  I have been in this paragraph quoting words from a review ofThe Meaning of Humanism by Dr. Reese that I published, I printed in 1944.  At that time Dr. Roy Wood Sellars would not say "that there is no noetic quality in mysticism.”  And by that he meant knowledge producing quality.  He would not commit himself on it.  And Raymond B. Bragg, one of the principal draftors of the Humanist Manifesto, has defined intuition as "the sudden perception of unforeseen relationships.”


            I have noticed that many persons who come into the Unitarian ranks go through a negative state not unlike that of the Free Thinker but that eventually they mellow and move on to more positive attitudes.  I cite these points to stress the notion that we should seek out its best spokesmen in order to understand any position.


            (b). In seeking intellectual understanding and cooperation in dialogue I believe we should also try to clear away the semantic fogs—the verbal barriers—that occur between thinkers of various schools.  In my ministry at West Lafayette, a group of us tried to write down that upon which we agreed.  One of the professors said, "We have an affinity, but the minute we try to write things down, they begin to divide us.”  The semantic task is indeed difficult.  Religious Humanists in their earlier days pursued a course of ferocious literality.  Max C. Otto admonished us, "Say what you mean!  Some of us have got to get it straight!”


            I think this literal emphasis was part of each thinker’s effort to maintain the integrity of his own mental processes.  At some point, each of us needs to see things as they actually are and not as we may wish to see them.  Commitment to intellectual honesty, verbal candor, however, need not always be manifest in so ferocious a form once we know where we stand.  In an early draft of A Humanist Manifesto,[17] there was a semantic plank which held in effect that one should not use words that have no verifiable referent.  It was a professor of English, Robert Morss Lovett, whose response caused the semantic plank to be dropped out.  He stated, in effect, there are emotional, nonrational words and phrases that he cherished and intended to continue to use, as for example, the expression "God Damn!”


            The gap between the words we use and the world we live in can be bridged in part by the help of Alfred Korzybski and the popularizers of general semantics.  The simple precept that "The word is not the thing” can often bring us up short when we find we have fallen in love with words or symbols for their own sake.[18]  Some symbols serve as passwords to the ranks of the socially respectable and others create ostracism.  Whatever one’s private convictions, it is safer to be a Christian in Florida than an Atheist.  A mother in Fort Walton Beach recently sought out a lawyer and support for her effort to halt prayers and Bible readings in the public schools where her son was put under considerable social pressure.  She reported that the Unitarians, of whom she was one, were timid and reluctant to help, but that she got strong support from the local Rabbi and the Episcopal Priest.  Undoubtedly minority groups have their timid moments but beyond clinging to labels for respectability’s sake, words loaded with emotion are necessary tools of human aspiration and community.  They tie tradition to hope; past to future.  They are instruments of human identity, purpose, and values.  They express what Von Ogden Vogt called "the comprehending experience.”  This experience relates the whole man to all of humanity and nature as well as to his innermost self.[19]


            This problem of religious and ethical language has bothered me since my first year in the ministry—1928.  One of my thoughts then was that if we continued to use the old symbols, putting new wine into old bottles, we might carry over an old dependence that should be outgrown with words that mediated it.


            The risk, however, of being too literal or attempting to remain within the empirical evidences of objective, scientific study of religion, which was advocated thirty to forty years ago, is that we shall overly diminish the poetic, imaginative, and emotional aspects of religious experience.  Words which express relatedness, togetherness, hope, commitment, and faith—are needed.  Perhaps psychology can give us these words as psychology is no small part of most theological problems.  Ed Ericson of the American Ethical Union, writing in Religious Humanism on naturalistic mysticism[20] has gone a long way beyond the "say what you mean” mood of early Religious Humanism.  But the semantic problem will for a long time be challenging us to try to understand one another’s language or invent new language.


            In concluding my discussion of method in dialogue, I wish to stress that it should not be the way of debate.  Twice my colleagues of the Midwest urged me to debate Humanism vs. Theism with Dr. Leslie Pennington and twice I emerged from the encounter feeling that debates are not won, if won they can be, by reasonableness or love.  Debate seeks to put the other one down, not to achieve understanding.


            I turn now to my third item of unfinished business—balancing our present emphasis on relevance and social action with guiding ethical reflection.


            During the many years I lived in Yellow Springs—near Antioch College—and during four years of a retirement ministry at West Lafayette, I watched College students rush off here and there at the mere drop of a hat on some often ill-conceived activist cause.  Sometimes I went with them.  A College newspaperman told me, "Students live day by day.”  There is a need for thought before action, for ethical perspective on a more than day by day basis.  Social action is the pursuit or defense of values.  An examined view of desirable goals is needed.  Also needed is the assurance that the means used will not defeat or alter undesirably the ends sought.


            In our effort for more and better thinking on goals and values, we can both use and transcend the objective literalness of science.  We can start by letting facts speak for themselves but we must ultimately interpret the meaning of the facts.  Minot Savage wrote a sonnet once which started, "Who is the infidel but he who fears to face the utmost truth wherever it leads?”  That commitment to see things as they actually are is why Unitarians accepted evolution very early and why the Unitarian Laymen’s League was prompt to file a brief amicus in the Dayton Tennessee Evolution Trial.  It is why Unitarian Universalists have affirmed their willingness to grow with advancing knowledge.  But very soon, I think, the religious thinker will realize that scientific objectivity alone cannot enable him to experience life in its wholeness. Science is a discipline that keeps imagination and emotion from running wild, but it is not and should not shackle us as creative individuals who can go beyond what is to what should be.  Fact and value meet as we decide to which problem we are to devote ourselves.  Whenever the facts prompt one to serve one cause or resist another, to renounce outmoded ideals or embrace new ones, we have the transition from fact to value, from science to ethics.  Science teaches us intellectual honesty.  It can give us dependable information about human nature and needs; but beyond that it is not a final guide to the values we elect to serve.


            In a new UUA pamphlet, Unitarian Universalist Views of Humanism,[21] Dr. Wallace Robbins states, "When a man is little interested in the supernatural or the abstract and finds the intensity of life in his own humanity, he may properly be said to be a Humanist.”


            Bypassing his intriguing implication that the supernatural and the abstract are identical and coterminous, I shall examine instead Dr. Robbins’ statement that Humanists "find the intensity of life in their own humanity.”


            In this characterization of a Humanist as "one who finds the intensity of his life in his own humanity” Dr. Robbins manifestly misunderstands us.  Actually, it is not "in his humanity” as it now is but "in the latent potentiality of mankind” that the Humanist has faith.  The Humanist is described by Dr. Robbins as one who is "wholly optimistic that mankind would devise a ladder to climb to his own perfection.  That by education and pure strivings of his will he would rise out of his ignorance and suffering into a good state of accomplishment and social well being.”  Perfection is an absolutist term that Humanists avoid.  Improvement, growth and progress are more typical of them.  Moreover Unitarian Universalists, whether Humanist, Theist, or any other variety, long ago graduated from the naïve belief in automatic progress onward and upward forever.  Man may not survive; he may fail.  But most religious liberals are optimistic that mankind can martial the intelligence, the good will, and the cooperative skill to find global answers to the threat of human self-destruction.  In this, all worthy of the name Unitarian or Universalist stand in the tradition of the Theists—Channing and Parker—who chose to believe in human nature and back constructive alternatives to the evils that confronted mankind.  Religious Humanists do not concentrate on the supernatural but on an equally abstract concept, the super-actual comprised of those genuinely latent potentialities which are not yet actual, but which would be better than what now exists.  If enough people have the know-how, concern and vision they can move toward the super-actual.  On this—to use Horace M. Kallen’s phrase—they can bet their lives.


            Dr. Robbins usefully introduces another ethical question when he brings up technology.  Technology is not science and many of the anti-social effects of technology are the result of the use by non-scientists of scientific data.  The military-industrial-political complex which includes the ecological despoilers of our earth is the villains of technological destruction.  But science and the scientific attitude—and technology as well—can be useful tools of progress.  For religious liberals the aim is to eliminate or correct our mistakes and pursue the goal of a shared world at peace.


            Science has been erroneously identified as exclusively concerned with the objective and the material.  Those who accept this sharp division of science from the whole area of human emotions and values play into the hands of revealed religion and its anti-scientific campaigns.  The line between the outer world and inner man is not sharp.  John Dewey brought this out quite clearly in an article published in The Humanist in March, 1944.  Dewey believed that we could apply scientific method to the study of ethical problems.  Such research is the beginning of good judgment on social policy.  Dewey urged Humanists to ally themselves with every effort to combat the notion that the natural and proper concern of science is exclusively with an external and physical world.  This view is itself, he said, an inheritance from a pre-scientific age in which man was placed outside of and above, instead of within, nature.  Man is integral to nature, and the sooner he realizes this, the better for his own survival.  Properly used by moral men, the scientific method is an ally and an instrument for the realization of our liberal goals.


            Ultimately the common ground on which all religious liberals may stand is their primary concern for earthly as opposed to other-worldly salvation.  Not all of us will agree with the conclusion of some Humanists that this life is probably all and enough.  But most, I believe, would accept the premise that we should live one world at a time and be concerned for salvation here and now rather than be exclusively or primarily concerned for the hereafter.  Not all would go along with the slogan that a few of you will remember that "we cannot fathom the infinite; it is enough to love and serve humanity.”  However, I believe most Unitarian Universalists would declare that for survival they must not only love and serve humanity but they must love and save our world—the natural process of which we are an integral part.


            This brings me to the final item on our agenda of unfinished business for religious liberals—the need to relate our love of man and nature to inner private experience in a manner that will contribute to more effective living.  The Fellowship of Religious Humanists is republishing The Meaning of Humanism by Dr. Curtis Reese.[22]  Going back again to my review of that little book when it came out in the early forties, I find that I registered my difference with Curtis at the point of our relation to nature.  Dr. Reese declared that he was not one "who liked to feel cozy with nature.”  In my own case, as one who grew up in Concord under the shadow of the Emerson-Thoreau tradition, I was reared in a climate that virtually made nature and God synonymous.  I reiterate my conclusion in discussing The Meaning of Humanism twenty-five years ago, "As a naturalist I find that recurring, appreciative intervals of awareness of the bond of man with all the living are needed to restore faith and perspective between man’s whole being and the source of his being.  This is a condition of sanity, health and strength for the human enterprise.  The Humanist may dismiss an otherworldly mysticism which claims to find a supernatural object beyond and behind nature, but to his peril he severs himself from a sense of wonder before the fact of life itself.”


            Religious Humanists have found it easy to agree with the viewpoint of A. E. Haydon that in man nature breaks through to conscious awareness of a source to which he belongs.  Or with the view of Julian Huxley that man is "the conscious agent of the evolutionary process.”


            Something new, however, has been added at the human level.  Man, the toolmaker, with words his principal tools, has entered evolution innovatively with conscious and verbalized awareness, with the ability to organize past experience and project plans and visions for the future.  Man can and does use these tools in inventive ways not possible to lower levels of life.  He is, in Korszybskian terms, "the time binder.”  There is an old and pernicious habit of theologians to read back the derived and developed into the source.  I call it "robbing man to pay theology.”  The theologians hold that because the conscious and intelligent is found in the evolutionary stream at the human level, it must have existed back at the beginning of creation.  This seems to me to deny to the creative process that which makes it most wonderful to the Humanist.


            It has been the tradition of the Berry Street Lecture in recent years to introduce some Latin phrases.  Professor H. Van Renssalaer Wilson of our Brooklyn church has given me one:  post hoc, ergo propter hoc—"after this, therefore on account of this.”  The logical fallacy in this reductionism of the theologians is in the false conclusion that because something now exists it must have been back there at the source; but that denies creativity.


            Can we deny to the creative process the power to create in an upward continuity of process that which is new and different?  Can we ignore the reality of levels in the process?  That which requires a Humanist to accept Albert Schweitzer’s teaching of reverence of life does not also require the reduction of the life process to one level.  Levels of significance appear.  At the human level, the process has reached beyond itself as men will again when they move beyond our present nationalisms and create a world order.  We do belong to the creative process and to save ourselves we must save our world.  That is the meaning of the present ecological revolution.  It is an aspect of liberal religion that I think we all need to help develop.


            Long before those pioneer ministers with whom we associate the term "Religious Humanism”—men such as Reese, Dietrich, Potter, and Backus—were at work, another Unitarian minister, Frank Carleton Doan, using the label "Humanist,” but at home with God language, was writing on mystical experience, not as retreat or escape from reality but as a source of strength and inspiration for active work in the world.  In his book, Religion and the Modern Mind,[23] Doan utilized the psychology of his time in exploring inner experience as a source of power for outer service.  It is a shame that he died so soon and that we did not have the benefit of further work in that inspired relating of inner mystical experience to outer social action.  The development is something for us all to further.  To do so Humanists will have to surmount some of their resistance to poetic symbols.


            I recall my perplexity some years ago when I heard John Herman Randall, Jr., a signer of A Humanist Manifesto, use the phrase "naturalistic piety.”  Later I realized that natural piety was also a phrase of Santayana’s who referred to experience that is "without limitation in time or space,” experience "under the aspect of eternity.”  Here is a fuzzy field in which one walks unsurely but which brings us close to that Ultimate Ground of Being of which Paul Tillich wrote.  Doan reached it in the language of his day—largely psychological—but with the word God apparently impersonal and vague as "the eternal spirit.”  He held that what we experience in nature is not substance but function, whatever he meant by that.  As a Humanist I would say, "Why call it God??” whether we refer to Doan’s eternal spirit or to Tillich’s Ultimate Ground of Being.


            Einstein has written that the mysterious is one of the most wonderful things in the world.  We get this feeling in some of the current nature writers such as the poet-essayist Wendell Berry.[24]  The mystic is almost always incoherent.  What is intelligible is in the idiom and imagery of his culture.  At this level of our direct experience of the world around us, it is the poet or the discerning observer of nature who can often help us.  Also, the humanistic psychologists.  For instance, the psychologist William H. Sheldon admonished us in Psychology and the Promethean Will[25]to bring up our children out of the cities, close to the earth.  Sheldon pointed to the outer universe as a source of reassurance.  "It is possible,” he wrote, "to feel the stupendous serenity in the permanence of the stars.”  Then he adds further, "The living earth carries both warmth and the magic quality of permanence.  The living things of the earth, both plant and animal, are psychologically immortal.  They have life and hence feeling and warmth, which constitutes a great advantage over inanimate things from out of the past.  For a person who has his eyes trained to see and ears to listen, there is never a day in the year when the very air does not carry some recurrent, living reassurance.”  One of the maturings of the secular aspect of our liberal religion will take place as we continuingly explore the relation of man to the source of his being in nature.


            These then are some of the issues that I consider important among Liberal Religion’s Unfinished Business.


1)     Discerning our relation to the ecumenical movement on the Christian right and the secular post-Christian theological left.

2)     The development of respect, understanding and skill in religious dialogue.

3)     Balancing and guiding social action with ethical reflection.

4)     Deepening and ordering our experience of man and life, as a motivating, sustaining source.



[1] Held at the Le Farge Center the Humanist/Catholic Dialogue was under the auspices of The International Humanist and Ethical Union (Utrecht) and The Vatican Commission for Unbelievers.  The Humanist, for the American Humanist Association and the American Ethical Union, and America, for the Jesuits Council on Belief and Unbelief, sponsored the Dialogue.  Approximately fifty Roman Catholics and Humanists participated; the proceedings will appear in book form. Humanists included Sidney Hook, Paul and Brand Blanshard, Ernest Nagel, Corliss Lamont, Charles Frankel, Khoren Arisian, Edward Ericson, Lester Kirkendall.

[2] Auer, J.A.C.F., "The Fatigue Phenomenon in Religion,” Religious Humanism, Winter, 1967, Vol. I, No. 1.  An article excerpted from an unpublished manuscript.

[3] Kallen, Horace M., Secularism Is the Will of God (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1954).

[4] We base this statement on the allegation by Dr. Paul Tillich in a panel discussion, in which this lecturer participated, that Scientific Humanists were to be counted with Nazism and Communism—as "one of the daemonic forces of the world.”  In our response we asked first, whether Dr. Tillich because of the concern of the Humanist for the freedom and growth of the individual in contrast with the Totalitarian regimes in which the State is all, the individual nothing, was fair in this assertion.  No answer.  Moreover we asked (and again he did not reply) whether in stating that one must "believe in an Ultimate Ground of Being of which we can know nothing,” he had not shown himself to be either an atheist or an agnostic.  "It is foolish,” we said, "to talk of something of which we can know nothing: forget it!”

[5] "An Outline of Cosmic Humanism,” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. VI, No. 8.  Reprinted in Frank Carleton Doan, Religion and the Modern Mind, pp. 173-186 (Boston: Sherman, French & Co., 1909).

[6] Otto, M.C., Things and Ideals (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1924).  The Human Enterprise (New York: F.S. Crofts & Co., 1930).  Roy Wood Sellars, The Next Step in Religion (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1918).  Religion Coming of Age (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1928).

[7] Camara, Archbishop Helder Pessoa, "On Misery and War,” Catholic Mind, April, 1972, pp. 7-11.  Catholic Book Club, 106 W. 56th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.

[8] Lewis, John Wren, "A Creative Religion in a Secularized Society,” Religious Humanism, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 4.  "The essence of this spiritual gain is that human beings are prepared to take their inner imaginative life seriously as something worthy of attention in its own right, as the source of creative action, instead of feeling that they have to test its validity by seeing it as a reflection of possible ‘other worlds’ behind the scenes of the common or garden world.”  From a summary of his address at the Congress of the International Association for Religious Freedom, London, August 1966.

[9] Published by N.A.C./I.A.R.F., 719 Arlington Ave. N., St. Petersburg, Florida 33701.  A better topic and better approach, it would seem to us, would be "Religions: Dialogue, Understanding, Cooperation.”

[10] Hook, Sidney, The Quest for Being and Other Studies in Naturalistic Humanism (New York: St. Martin’s, 1961).  Religious in a Free Society (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967).

[11] Kallen, Horace M., Op. Cit. Also, Why Religion? (New York: Boni & Liverright, 1927).  What I Believe and Why (New York: Horizon Press, 1971).

[12] Patton, Kenneth, A Religion for One World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964).

[13] Morris, Charles, Paths of Life: Preface to a World Religion (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1942).

[14] Weiman, Henry Nelson, Religious Inquiry (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968).

[15] Schneider, Herbert W., Religion in 20th Century America, revised edition, paper (New York: Atheneum, 1964), Civilized Religion (New York: Exposition Press, 1972).

[16] Haydon, A. Eustace, The Quest of the Ages (New York: Harper’s, 1929).  Modern Trends on World Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939).  Man’s Search for the Good Life, An Inquiry into the Nature of Religions (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937).  Bibliography of the Gods (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.).

[17]The New Humanist, May-June, 1922, Vol. VI, No. 3.  Copies available (10c) from Fellowship of Religious Humanists, Humanist Center, Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387.

[18] For a clear statement of General Semantics see S. I. Hayakawa, Language in Action (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1939).

[19] Vogt, Von Ogden, Cult and Culture (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1951).  See especially chapter on "Religion and the Complete Life,” pp. 213-222.  Also Von Ogden Vogt, The Primacy of Worship (Boston: Starr King Press, 1958).

[20] Ericson, Edward L., "Humanist Mysticism: The Synthesis of Feeling,” Religious Humanism, Autumn 1967, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 104-107.

[21] "Unitarian Universalist Views of Humanism,” U.U.A., 25 Beacon St., Boston, 1972, 10c, 12pp.  Introduction by David L. Miller plus views of Edwin H. Wilson, Robert E. Greene, Elium E. Gault, W. W. Robbins, Charles Wesley Grady.

[22] Reese, Curtis W., The Meaning of Humanism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1945).

[23] Op. Cit. in footnote 6.

[24] Berry, Wendell, The Long Legged House (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968).

[25] Sheldon, William H., Psychology and the Promethean Will (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936).