My sense of the eternal ultimos natural
Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola
Greetings to you all,
I have reflected on Sean Carroll’s words for some years now, and they have stimulated me to offer this talk today, especially about, From eternity to here, and the ultimate theory of time.
And before I get started, what did you all – do with that extra second of time we were gifted with last midnight?
There is a famous phrase from a famous movie that goes like this—”fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.” Well, I don’t know if this will be that bumpy, but it will be a ride, so make sure you are centered on your seats, as I do have my strong opinions and I do imagine.
We are 3 days from the 4th of July, our celebration of independence, and I want to speak this morning on the subject of independent free thought and speech. This past May 3, via Congressional Proclamation, was the very first National Day of Reason, celebrated by nearly 20 some thousand on the National Mall. And, this current weekend, right now going on up in Talledega, AL is the 23rd annual Freethought & Independence Day Gala. Both of these events are about real freedom. Unlike the Fort-nite for Freedom that just concluded by the US Catholic Bishops ask-ing for prayers and fasting to protest our government directing all institutions, regardless of excuses to offer birth control via there insurance plans. And, of course the Catholics are bemoaning that they, the Bishop bosses are not free to dictatorially impose their rules denying women the freedom of choice. Or how about the church sign I saw the other day that said, “one nation under God, with liberty.” Talk about liberty, talk about freedom, in my earlier days I was twice elected to municipal government, but in 6 states I could not be elected to government office, or if I wanted to, I would have to lie about professing and believing in a god. Think about these points regarding freedom and liberty and you decide what is forthright and honest.
Our fore bearers came to this land first and foremost to, in my opinion, to have liberty and freedom. There is no doubt they brought their belief systems with them of course, and most of their religious beliefs at least where Judeo-Christian in structure, and they were not adverse to the new government they were creating to proclaim their religion as foundational. But some new Americans also believed that real freedom could only be attained by a separation of church and state. And so, after the articles of the constitution were formed , they began to make amendments and they worded the very first amendment to state that we were to have the freedom of choice. “The government shall make no law respecting religion, or prohibiting the free exercise there of.” The freedom to not be imposed with relig-ion, or the freedom to choose religion, was the very first amendment to the original articles of our nation.
In many ways nothing has changed to the present day. The debate or battle for a religious or secular government goes on and on. Florida has just chang-ed law so students can give so called “inspirational” speeches, and a column just 2 weeks ago by Gene Policinski of the First Amendment Center tells of how in Tennessee officials would not allow the high school to publish an article by the editor, a senior, on what it is like to be an atheist in a school where most students profess Christianity, and where the school officials were promoting that belief system by their practices. So, today I want to talk about the two mindviews that stir this issue and spur this debate and present my view and offer my way of living as a minority in this cultural and religious mindscape.
Ah, these two mindviews, this world of dualism. Here I wear my yin-yang shirt depicted with the tree of life and the rays of the energy of eternal existence. Yin and Yang, and although they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin , in the white of Yang and vice versa. They do not merely replace each other but actually become each other through the constant flow of the universe. But with the present day debate of the sectarians versus the secular it seems quite difficult to foster a blending of thought. How can the godfree blend with the godful, when we godfree people don’t have “as glorious” a vocabulary? How can we give speeches that are as “inspirational” as the believer? As compared to emotional religionism how do we promote exciting rationalism? The words of science are self explanatory but still leave me wanting. Where are the artistic, the romantic, the wow words to express our amazement and wonderment of life? What words will tell our story?
Well, I want to tell you a story, and you will be the first to hear it, but not the last. And, afterwords anyone who would like to add to this story, great, join me. This my story of actual thought, and also of what I imagine, about eternity and the ultimate.
Because language is more than speech, I will be using some new words today of which a few of you may have heard me use, but most of you have not. I have begun to become what is called a Neologist, a creator of new words. I started on this path of new vocabulary about 15 years ago, when sitting in the kitchen Muffie and I were discussing what all of life was about and what we came to agree upon was,
it really does depend on what the definition of is—is! If you recall, that statement was posed in a famous political scandal, in court.
Back to our kitchen, we began to banter about what we both really thought defined our realities. Miriam Webster says, God equals supreme reality! And we both said to each, really? It wasn’t relative to our realities, and neither of us felt we could relate to the idea of supreme-ness anyway, and if it made itself evident and thus relevant, could we relate to it, making it a relative reality, or not? After some more banter we agreed that each persons reality can be defined differently, and so many do seem to live in different worlds, but we amazingly agreed also that actuality must be only what naturally IS. And so we discussed what, what is it,—this actuality. The talk went around the table for awhile more, and Muffie reminded me that I may still think I am a kid, and that was my reality, but it’s not actuality. And then, voila! Muffie said that she thought the only actual real effect upon all of existence—is energy, which can be neither created, nor destroyed, and is the only actual element that is nature itself. I thought wow, from a supreme reality of a god, to a natural actuality of energy, was a big difference in how the world was trying to explain their views of eternity and one of them for me finally made sense! So from that day on I have been not a believer in the supreme, but an “awarer” of the actual, I had returned to thence, to original birth awareness.
In order to give merit to this simple definition of what the actual IS, of course, I needed to do some reading—and read I did.
Miriam Webster, again says IS, is the third person singular present indicative of BE. There’s a lot to talk about there, but the word BE is the important one for me. That that be, that that is. The definition for be by MW is, after a lot of first and third person clarifications, is to exist in actuality. There it was, actuality is the indicative of be. And, the definition of being is, –active or essential part. I was on my way! I read more and more about what be–eed, —–like, The First 3 Minutes of the Universe, by Steven Wienberg, and the Cosmic Jackpot by Paul Davies, Carroll’s From Eternity to Here, and The History of God by Karen Armstrong, and Occidental Mythologies by Joseph Campbell, and the use of Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. But, then I thought for new words, I will also have to think outside of the books, to explain my view of “from here to eternity”.
Alright, now what do I say? What do I call this actuality? How does just energy get its place in daily vocabulary, when it is used all the time in very common speak? I mean this energy of is—is, —-is of what all of is. I knew I had to define it better, because language is more than speech.
I needed to find words to express myself in honest sincerity, so that I no longer left one questioning what I really profess, and also be able to look myself straight in the mirror. If then, the being of energy, per the laws of actuality, can neither be created nor destroyed, than what we have is an eternal constant. I’m not talking about quantitative or measured energy like BTUs, or therms, etc., I’m talking about the infinite causational energy as the actual thing. Energy that exists, we have discovered, even in a vacuum. Energy that is light, that is bright, and the dark energy we know is there. Also, I am talking about the force that is truly and actually with us, for which I will say——the force is with you always!
For me, this is what song # 187 sings of when it speaks of “the it that sounds along the ages”. The it, that is the sound of the vibrations of energy, the actual music of eternal time. I refer to this energy with a word I’ve coined as energeal(spell), and I used it the chalice lighting. The energy of allness-energeal.
Now having talked about energy for awhile I am saying to you, energy is my mindview of actuality, but what about the other view? The dualistic and separatist views of existence. What about the sectarian view and the great omnipotent deity? The great and powerful Yahweh or Allah?
This view and idea of a creator god was then also discussed at the kitchen table for awhile, around numerous possibilities like Pascals Wager, and using Occam’s Razor, etc, but we both finally agreed we did not have the sense of it and we could not tell it to another. So the question then was what do we tell others? How do we explain, express, and describe life with our ideas about what — is-is?
I decided I needed words that didn’t exist. Why that decision? Because it seemed, tho arguably, to me the vast amount of definitive language about the glory of life was religious, and it was heard and read every day in books and papers, and on television and now the internet. And the religious language is being pushed hard at schools in every state, just like Florida, regarding inspirational speech.
Now, don’t get worried that I am trying to start a new language, just some new words like are constructed every day in the techno world, to help me explain my mindview, my lifeology, my explanation of life.
There’s two of them right there. Mindview versus worldview. The first is personal think, and the second is group think. And, lifeology. We have many -ologies and -osophies. We have philosophy, theosophy, theology, biology and these are called studies of the ways of life, but when used in speach, already they begin to define somewhat where a person is in their point of view. But lifeology—–what a good word to start off asking a new acquaintance when we want to know what they think is—is, what the universe is. “So, what is your lifeology?” Which is less direct than, “How do you define what is—is?” It’s an easy opener, and then one can say, “ I don’t know?” (agnostic), or “God is it!”(theist), or “It just is.”(atheist). These answers are what most of us, eventually, want to know about another. Instead of the question like we got shortly after arriving in Pensacola from a real estate person only minutes after we met, which was, “Where do you go to church?” Wow! What is your lifeology would have been much better, as I wasn’t ready to respond, to such an assumption of his theistic worldview.
So, what would I say if I wanted to express or describe myself more in life than just agnostic, or theist, or atheist? And that brings me to the one word that gives me definition, and defines who I am. In my struggle to find a word, and the realization that I had to make one up, to construct one, how and what was to be my criteria? I decided to work on what I then coined as a word for the combination of rhyme and nym, (from synonym and antonym, and of course acronym), and I made rhymonym. Why did I want rhyming? Because as I tried to explain my feelings of life, I wanted to put it verse, and prose, lyrics, phrases, and mottos, and that meant that I had to find sound and syllable matches to words of similar usage in theistic vocabulary, so that when I felt great joy, or wanted to sing an old hymn, or wanted to make up a new song with new prose, I could do it. As I worked on the one biggest word I was seeking, the one word to define eternal energy to anyone who heard it, I began to see that word as what I labeled, a counter-balance word. So if someone was describing a lifeologic event and they were to use an all inclusive power word, what would it be? That big word of course then had to be a counter-balance word to the sectarians biggest word, the word with the most weight, god. When the word god is used in our world regardless of language, is there anyone who doesn’t know what it stands for? The great omnipotent deity. The great invisible power. Or the very vague enigmatic yet all inclusive god of all, and all of god, and that gets combined with general nature at the same time, so that nature becomes a god. With all of that, — that goes with this last god standing story, it has accumulated, over thousands of years, a lot of baggage.
But wait, even as a Humanist I know I have a great invisible power, and I don’t call it or treat it, or worship it as a god. What can I call it in a rhymonymic form that people will recognize it for what it means? It came to me in the same kitchen some weeks later. I named it acronymically after energy and the universe and nature. It was e,u,n.(sp) And when I looked that up on the Great Internet, I found the spelling only and originally as old Breton-Celtic meaning cardinal number “one”. There’s some old Scottish and Gaelic possibilities too, but not appearing as e-u-n. So there was my word, in old world meaning number one, and I called it eun(yoon) for universe, and eun(yon) for the one infinite yonder. And, I made one very important rule–never, ever capitalize it in a sentence, it did’nt require it.
Now I can speak on this for a long time, but it’s simply, in acronymic form, energeal(energy of all), universal, nature, and eternal, ultimos(ultimate most, natural, or e,u,n,(yon), which is all inclusive inclu-ding e,u,n(yoon) the cosmos. And there was another of my neologic words—ultimos. It means– all of, all encompassing, ulti is the all, and mos meaning the of and the is. I did this because the out there in space, the word space, was just to common and blah. So let’s talk about space for a moment so I can explain fully, the ultimos.
Where can I start? Out of Africa, into Asia, the world was large, but yet so small. It was flat they thought, and what was with the sun and moon and all those billions and billions of stars? Jump forward a few thousand years ago into the era when those with empiricist and religious power made ruling opinions and imposed explanations. But, let me speed up, more please. The world became round, but was fixed, it then rotated, and then it orbited, and then in a solar system, then in a galaxy, and now multiple thousands of galaxies. Wow! What’s next? Anything else?
Now, this is what I imagine—- Multiple universes, and many of them. Not parallel like on TV’s Fringe, where there’s two of me, or stacked like the turtles one on top of another, but an eternity of universes in ultimos. Universes coming and going for the infinite forever. Some will argue about the 2nd Law of Thermo Dynamics about heat loss, and that our universe is a closed system that will shrivel up, but I see it as open and evolving and changing and repeating thru time. How do I imagine this? Take a look at this link that shows scale of size. Have any of you seen this link? I show it to introduce another new word in just a few moments.
Talk about the scales of size, from the quantum on up and out, and back again. And way out there, to infinity and beyond, that out there past the universe, past our cosmos, that’s ultimos. We are speeding out there at the speed of light or faster as a neutrino, so how can there be any boundaries? For me there is no alpha or omega for ultimos, because infinity, the ultimos is immeasurable. It is infinite eternity where all things happen, energies, and matters, by spontaneous energeal causation create expressions of multiple universes forever. These are what I call not just the big bangs, but the great whoomphs of expressive flames created by energy’s yin yang with matter. It requires no creator or controller for eun is eternal. What a wonderment to teach children about eternity, and they should be wowed by the facts and the story.
So, now I will give examples of how I say eun/eun to explain everything, and speaking of everything, in science when we discuss quests and searches for understanding of actuality, we use theories. I call them big and small theories depending on the facts or ideas available. Like the big theory of evolution in all ultimos, things evolving for forever, which is the one thing that never changes besides death. That is a big theory based on facts. How about this theory. TOE, or the theory of everything, which is still in the development stage as an idea theory. TOE is hoped to eventually prove actuality and it’s make up. The TOE would sum up all things of ultimos of which I already call, and this is the next new word, the “thingsum of eun”, TOE. There is a euneun word and counter-balance to the word kingdom. Thingsum(spell), or s.u.m. of all things, the thingsum of eun. And, ideas are things, including ideas of godly enigmas. It’s this thingsum that I call e-prime(spell), and means eternally primordial, making eprime a counter-balance to divine.
Those are a few singular words, but how about some phrases? Another example of counter-balance is to the sectarian motto that was forced on the nation in the 1950s, and is in every courtroom, and on many vehicle license plates. Our original motto, e pluribus unum, out of many-one, and adopted by an act of Congress in 1782, was perfect. My counter-balance motto is “in eun we must!” Think about it as you perhaps will the next times you see the imposed motto that was put upon us.
How about OMG? Which I always want to ask, really? I prefer OTE, oh the eun, because whenever anything happens it’s always the result of energy and mass expressing somehow, some way. How about, “here in this place of eun go I/we?” Or, eun speed, which is really fast, or oh, the eun of it, or, yeah eun, and then (yoon)eun parents and eun parents, you know which is which now, right? Oh yes, one more; eun caress our planet earth! Now there’s a bumper sticker for you, and especially placed on a solar panel of the ISS. What I wouldn’t say is, eun damn it, for though eun is the infinite eternity of all things, including ideas of supreme beings and giant space aliens, eun does not take action per our requests, it will not act on our behalf, yet everything is an act of eun. So I don’t ask eun to bless something, nor damn something. It’s just not sensical, not a natural sense.
Speaking of sense, the phrase, “common sense” is used all the time. Have you ever thought about what is commonly said by people who use numerous rote deitist phrases in daily speak? I think it is time we move forward in speak with a natural sense. Not from an habitual common sense, but natural sense, for many things that are said and done commonly make no sense, because they’re not natural. A couple of examples are sports players and their pointing to the sky. If it were me I would want to grab some more energy for the next time I need to excel. How about ideas being especially blessedly gifted? A gift from the great being. Consider Bell Labs and their discovery of the CMB in the 60’s. That was some discovery. Today Alcatel-Lucent(Bell Labs) files 7 patents a day! Gifts of a god? Transcendent reception, or human cognition? These ideas are from long, long studying and super hard work, and they’ve got to be of a natural sense, and these people deserve the only credit. These theistic ways of non-human thankfulness make no sense to me.
For me the sense of eun is a fully natural, actual, factual, linguistic expression of life. It’s down to earth and infinite in ultimos, it’s all one and all at the same time—e unum pluribus, out of one are all things, the thingsum of eun.
Theses are some of the examples of a word, eun, that describes the allness, the oneness and wonderment of infinity of which we are all a part. But what about the dimensions I haven’t yet mentioned? There’s 1-4, and the 5th, and the 6th, and then the greatly imagined, dimension of soul, and of course its salvation and the great escape. Ah, the soul! Isn’t soul, —the soul, isn’t this word the reason for all the fuss? Like what is it really? I have heard many definitions, from the actual Greek to breathe, all the way to the the idea of eternal consciousness. Really? After 60 some years I get tired some days of my own consciousness, do I really have to be conscious for forever? I have an acronym word for this too! S.O.U.L. Spirit Of Universal-Ultimosal Life, and energy is the spirit of all life. Spirit, defined for me, is the principle of consciousness, and to be in –thus state, requires energy to be synapsing all the time, or I cease to be conscious. My soul is this eternal energy which without, nothing happens, no energy, no expression, no consciousness. The actual power in our lives is e. It is the whole-e. Don’t glorify it, don’t worship it, don’t capitalize it, just respect it, for it is we. It is energy, that is my spirit, and it is eternal, and thus my spirit that is my soul goes on for ever and becomes many different things. This segment is a whole n’other day for talking about the persona of people, and of other worlds, and the differences of spirit, and spirited, and spiritual, and they are different, so I will move on, but I will say, that I am spirited, and my spirit is me, being in e, free to be, to seek and to see, and then——–I end, and pass on in cosmic redeux.
And yes, the end of this talk is nigh. There is no way to really close this subject, for eun is never ending but I will try and wrap this up. And there’s another acronym, the word W. R. A. P., for worlds religions and philosophies, but that’s for another days talk. This talk, of my sense of eternal ultimos, is natural to me. Who am I to try and nick name eternity? It just kept streaming in my mind, and for me, is nothing egotistical about it, for it is about complete oneness and all, including any proposed kingdoms. It is my story. It’s how I feel and think that this life of mine, an energeal gift of my parents, that arrived at birth and leaves me at death, that this life is amazing and awesome and filled with wonderment, and is, oh- so short compared to the immeasurable eternal time. This eternal source of life is something I am not agnostic about, nor apologetic, and I sincerely want it to be conspicuous actuallity, offering what Sean Carroll calls for as a complete and coherent and simple understanding of reality. The energeal ultimos, the thingsum of eun is my eternal truth.
In 3 days it is Independence Day, think about it. Secular people, non theistic people, good and moral natural free thinking people want the liberty to live life without the force of an others belief, put upon them. I am not saying at all that religions cannot exist. I do not mean to ridicule religions, as they have their merits of goodness, and offer many, many helpful ways to assist people, but I do want respect and freedom from religion in a free country. Keep in mind there are many, many religions and thousands of sects, not just the dominant ones, and I will defend the right of any person to concoct and create any idea, and if they want to believe something in small theory without fact it is there choice. But I will stand up against them when they force belief systems that use mystical stories of afterlife upon a free people. When they manipulate a nations law system to promote and imply, when they attempt to force make believe in science class, when they use the law to benefit themselves to be tax exempted or special privileged over others. Religions for thousands of years have been ideas of explaining life, and are realities to many still, but to me they are not actuality, and not what I imagine.
May the children of the future be free to learn and understand this difference between believing mystically in a kingdom, and living actually in the thingsum. So teach, your children well! What makes this place special is that with your religious education classes you give your children the freedom to believe or not,— to think what one wants, — to make there own choices—to pursue one’s happiness. That makes this place a congregation, where free thinking people, can find natural people, and can make it a home.
And so, I proclaim this coming 4th of July, as always, that I want to be free to express my lifeology and help the millions and millions of others who with free minds and thinking with there eyes wide open want to go, just like Buzz Lightyear, across the eun—iverse, and into infinity that be eun, the eternal ultimos natural.
Thank you, the force is with you, as so it always is.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola
Full disclosure: I am not a theologian nor a historian nor a philosopher nor a scholar of religious belief systems. I know that we have some very accomplished and knowledgeable individuals among us, and I admire them that. I just got here because I ask a lot of questions, more often to myself than out loud. And I came to be giving this talk entitled, “What is our Eternal Truth?” – see, a question – because I got to thinking about a few lines that I heard right here at church. Those services provided me with what any good UU service should offer: They spurred me to thoughtful consideration, research and reflection. My talk this morning will cover some of what I learned and am learning.
First of all, each week, we recite together our church covenant. As you all likely know, Unitarian Universalism is not a creedal organization but a covenantal organization. This means that instead of espousing a creed or set of beliefs, we affirm a covenant or promise. One of the things that we promise to one another in this congregation is to “seek the truth in love.” This line of our covenant, of course, mirrors the statement in our 7 Principles asserting that we promote “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” I noticed in our congregation’s covenant, though, that we’re talking not just about some imprecise concept of truth but the truth. The addition of the article “the” changes the meaning and implies a singular truth. So here I go thinking: What is this truth? We believe in the pursuit of truth, but how do we know if we’ve obtained this truth? And how do we discriminate one person’s or group’s truth from another?
Some of these questions were already floating around in the back of mind when I heard something else about truth here one morning. On Easter Sunday, Rev. Julie spoke about the work and teachings of Jesus, whose radical acts of love and hospitality inspire us today. Rev. Julie observed that Christians view Jesus as a savior who died to bring eternal life to all who believe in him and accept him as their Messiah. Unitarian Universalists, meanwhile, regard Jesus as a great inspiration and model for an authentic life. Rev. Julie closed her Easter talk with meditation words from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nat Hanh reminding us that we are a part of a larger cycle of birth, life and death and of the world around us. This life cycle was called an “everlasting truth.” This phrase – everlasting truth – influenced the title of my talk this morning.
Further piquing my interest in the truth about … the truth was a talk given by Rev. Julie one Sunday in which she told a story about The Mystery. She related that, about the great questions of life, “The Mystery was silent about these things.” Instead of speaking to these age-old questions, “The Mystery kept quiet, hoping they would figure it out themselves.” The Mystery advised, “Don’t’ listen with your ears; listen with your heart.” She concluded, “When we act on our feelings of thankfulness and joy, The Mystery will play with us and through us.”
Remember, we have a promise to one another in this church that we will “seek the truth in love.” Then we hear about one “everlasting truth,” which is that we humans are a part of an ongoing and interdependent cycle of life. This cycle can be summed up with the old joke: There are only two things you can be sure of in life: Death and taxes.
But then, on the other hand, we are told that there is a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty and doubt that we have to work our way through in our lives without much guidance. As they say, kids don’t come with insruction manuals. Well, there aren’t instruction manuals for heartbreaks or frustrations or overwhelming joys either. It would seem that there are some Knowns or commonly accepted realities and a lot of Unknowns that we might be making up as we go along.
There are a series of conferences called TED conferences featuring world-renowned speakers and thinkers in the sciences, technology, art and humanities. Talks from these conferences are called TED Talks and can be found online at ted.com. As an aside, I highly recommend TED talks as enthralling resources in your own pursuit of knowledge. Brene Brown – a doctor of clinical social work who studies shame, vulnerability and resiliency – remarked in her TED talk that “religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. ‘I’m right; you’re wrong. Shut up.’” We UUs can relate to what Brene Brown means by that; many of us are probably here because we have rejected the certainty and stepped out into the uncertain. We are seeking truth, but we still recognize that not all things can be proven. We value scientific knowledge, but we retain some of the mystery and wonder that makes life exciting.
Brene Brown’s remark is a humorous reminder that the pendulum has been swinging from absolute faith in religious doctrine to rejection of all things supernatural for a long time.
Michael Werner recounts in “Humanism and Beyond the Truth” how humanism emerged in the 19th Century in response to both the Enlightenment and the Romantic Movement. Werner writes: “A basic tension arose when the Enlightenment replaced religion with critical reason and science as the bridge to a better life. The Romantic Movement countered with the view that our emotional, intuitional, prescientific awareness was more important. These dialectical polar views seemed to be synthesizing at the beginning of this century when many humanists seemed to integrate heart and mind, reason and compassion.”
Werner argues that humanism today places too great an emphasis on truth reached through the use of science and reason. Werner writes, “There are limits to reason and science in all areas, but much more so in the area that talks about how to live our lives.” Werner observes that “much of the universe is chaotic, unexplainable, or without clear-cut choice.” He advocates a pluralistic approach to avoiding deep and hurtful conflicts when faced with these complex situations. He offers a successful marriage or long-term relationship as an example of how, as people, we learn to allow some overlap or blurring of the lines of truth in order to get along, live with and enjoy the company of others. As an alternative to rigid adherence to science and reason, Werner proposes a mix of those methods coupled with environmental and biological considerations and our own intrinsic motivation and inspiration that spurs us to decision making.
Werner cites research such as that published in the books Descartes’ Error and Emotional Intelligence to support his argument that it is our emotionality more than our rationality that govern many of our choices and actions. This is especially true of ethical choices. There may be a very strong rational argument for why something is the right thing to do, but we won’t act unless something about the situation moves us. The driving emotional forces of fear, love, hate, envy, grief, empathy, and happiness are very powerful.
This I know to be true, both empirically and intuitively. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Addictions Professional, I help people who are incarcerated or who have been involved in the criminal justice system overcome a pervasive pattern of drug and alcohol use, criminal activity and self-destructive behavior that threatens to destroy their lives and the lives of those close to them. I am talking about people who have stolen from their own parents or grandparents to get money for drugs; people who have plowed their vehicles into guardrails or telephone poles while driving drunk not just once or twice but three, four, or five times, incurring extensive injuries and expense to themselves and others; people who detest where their lives are going but who continue to do the same things again and again that keep them in a bad place.
I assure you that reasoning with someone in this sort of state is virtually useless. There is an idea that criminals or addicts or alcoholics make rational choices and weigh out their options before acting: “But if I get caught carrying these drugs or selling this stolen property, I’ll get a five-year prison term.” That idea has been disproven. Instead, research shows that people with these sorts of behaviors tend to discount the negative consequences that might happen to them and overvalue the payoffs they get from their behavior.
Change begins with the establishment of a relationship, a feeling of trust and acceptance. It’s the idea of “You’ve done some bad things, but you’re not a bad person.” There has to be hope that things can get better. Sometimes this hope or inspiration comes in the form of religious faith. At times, religion provides an inroad or a starting point. There is a sense of community right off the bat and a network of supportive people to lean on. We have seen this in our prisons and jails, where faith- and character-based rehab programs are very popular with inmates and show promising results for future success. The way I look at it, religion provides a foundational set of moral or ethical standards to anchor people and provide structure in our society.
I was not raised in a church. My family by history is Catholic, but my dad was agnostic, and we didn’t practice or attend Mass when I was growing up. As a teenager, I started attending a Lutheran church with a friend and became something of a zealot. I really admired Martin Luther and appreciated that he opposed the Catholic hierarchy and worked to bring the scriptures to the common people. I was, by choice, baptized and confirmed at the age of 15. Then I entered a four-year relationship with a Jehovah’s Witness and studied that religion for a while.
Trying to figure out my own belief system, I used to think that religion would be so much simpler if each person just read the Bible and came to their own understanding of what God wanted them to know. I used to say that there should be a rule that no one could talk about or debate religion or try to convert or proselytize to others. Doing so, I saw, only led to arguments and wars, splintering and the creation of so many separate religions and denominations that it makes your head spin.
I must have been a budding UU even then because, as it turns out, the UU Rev. John Brigham, whose Closing Words we’ll hear in a bit, espoused roughly the same philosophy. Brigham reported that UUs don’t talk much about God because our knowledge of God and the universe is limited. As a result, we don’t want to make any claims that are untrue. “It’s fine to make guesses and spin metaphors about God,” Brigham said, “but we certainly shouldn’t make claims that these are infallible truths! It’s wise just to speculate tentatively or stay thoughtfully silent.”
The flaw in this line of reasoning, however, is in the fact that many people are like me. Our minds get going, and, as we ponder God and faith and eternity and tragedy and on and on and on and – All of that uncertainty starts to get a little uncomfortable. We have to check our ideas against the ideas of others and get some reassurance about what we fear. As the Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran wrote, “You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.” When we are not at peace, we may look for resolution of our inner turmoil with a faith community.
Gibran was born into a Maronite Catholic family but evolved into a mystic Christian influenced by Christianity, Islam, Sufism, Hinduism and theosophy. Theosophy, which literally means “divine wisdom,” is a philosophy concerned with direct knowledge of the divine, mysteries of humanity and nature. These influences are reflected in Gibran’s writings, notably his famous book The Prophet. In that book, Gibran writes about how the wisest teachers allow their students to come into their own knowledge rather than force feeding them facts. “If [a teacher] is indeed wise, he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of you own mind.”
The concept of a teacher leading a student “to the threshold of [her] own mind” brings us back to what Rev. Julie told us about The Mystery. The Mystery encourages us to figure things out ourselves and “listen with our hearts.” We listen with our hearts when we put our faith into action, when we demonstrate our compassion and our reverence for the divine within us all.
In the liberal Christian magazine Sojourners, a review of a new book caught my eye. The book, Faitheism by atheist and humanist Chris Stedman, illustrates the sort of faith in action I’m talking about. Stedman writes about the growing chasm and animosity between believers and non-believers. Stedman’s tagline seems to be, “I don’t hate God. I love people.” He argues that hate is not just wasteful, it’s toxic. Stedman promotes a vision of a world where all people can be proud of who they are and work together to promote the common good.
The common good was a cause also championed by the well-known black sociologist and scholar W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois was raised as a Congregationalist but disavowed organized religion as an adult. However, he recognized the important role of the church, especially in African-American social and moral life, and some of his writings reflected a spirituality that he didn’t express publicly. In his 1904 poem Credo, DuBois wrote: “I believe in the training of children, black even as white; they leading out of little souls into the green pastures and beside the still waters, not for self, or peace, but for Life lit by some large vision of beauty and goodness and truth.”
DuBois alludes to “some large vision of … truth.” There is no article “the” like in our covenant and no “a” either. Recall that DuBois was an early civil rights activist at a time when many whites used threats and terrorism to maintain their version of truth in the form of white supremacy. Surely, DuBois would have been skeptical of the assertion that there could be a singular truth. As Rev. Brigham said, we must remain cautious of advocating infallible truths. Truth is an ever-unfolding ideal, and the process of discovery is as important, if not more important, than what we ultimately discover.
So what is our Eternal Truth? You really want to know? Well, based on what I have learned so far … it’s still an enigma. Life is a journey, not a destination. But while you’re out there looking for that truth, remain open to the world and the beauty it offers, and don’t forget to love each other.
Our Closing Words today come from the UU minister John Brigham:
“Go your ways
Knowing not the answers to all things
Yet seeking always the answer
To one more thing than you know.”