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The Philosopher's Stone
Newsletter - 2015

January 6, 2015

Epiphany

Today is the traditional Feast of the Epiphany, the day when the wise men finally made it all the way to Bethlehem. The word epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning to manifest, and here it means the manifestation to the Gentiles, since the Magi-wise men-were not Jewish. Outside of the Christmas story, epiphany can still mean a sudden manifestation, an aha! One of the supposedly Christmas stamps from the U. S. Postal Service this year is really an Epiphany stamp, picturing the three kings on their camels being guided by the star, which was apparently the conjunction of a couple of stars or planets or something that the Magi as astrologers would have been aware of. The stamp’s colors are quite beautiful and unusual: gentle peach and purple, with the gold star and black silhouettes of the Magi. It has been well said: "Wise men still seek him."

The wise men took quite a while to get to Bethlehem, arriving maybe a year later, and being guided by the star not to a stable with a manger, but to a house (Matt. 2:11), after a brief detour past Herod’s palace, where they promised to come back and let Herod know where the promised Christ child was. Herod, of course, was "troubled" by what he thought was a potential threat to his power. Happily, the wise men didn’t keep their promise, being warned in a dream to go home by a different route. At about the same time, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was also warned in a dream that Herod was out to kill the baby, so he and his little family should skedaddle into Egypt, which they did. Herod proceeded to kill all the babies two years old and under in the Bethlehem area, and their martyrdom is celebrated on December 28 as Holy Innocents Day. But by then the wise men had given the baby Jesus their fabulous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh: "Gold in honor of the king/ Incense to the priest we bring/ Myrrh for time of burying". Once Herod was dead, Joseph had another dream telling him that it was safe to return again to Israel, but Archelaus, the son of Herod, was now ruling Judea, so a third dream warned him to go into Galilee, where he settled in Nazareth. Here Jesus apparently had a happy and uneventful childhood, of which we have no record until he turned twelve years old. The moral of all that is that staying alert for messages from God in dreams or whatever, can keep you out of trouble.

The church season of Epiphany traditionally continues up until Lent, which floats around, depending on when Easter is going to fall. Its color is green for growth. We are still basking in the glow of Christmas, and it’s nice to have a period of less excitement than all the preparations for Christmas. There are times to just float for a while and assimilate our spiritual lessons, to establish a bit more order in our lives, to gradually come to a decision to shift gears or to begin something altogether new, as we are led.

Epiphany’s traditional music is delightful, some of it even popping up during Christmas. Everyone knows "We three kings of Orient are". There’s a wonderful French noël that I learned in French and whose English words begin, "Three great kings I met at early morn". The same noël figures in Bizet’s Suite L’Arlesienne. Then there are some lovely compositions that you might never have encountered, such as a 15th century French melody, Chartres, with nineteenth-century words by Cecil Frances Alexander. It begins:

Saw you never, in the twilight,

When the sun had left the skies,

Up in heaven the clear stars shining

Through the gloom, like silver eyes?

So of old the wise men, watching,

Saw a little stranger star,

And they knew the King was given,

And they followed it from far.

Heard you never of the story

How they crossed the desert wild,

Journey’d on by plain and mountain,

Till they found the holy Child?

How they open’d all their treasure,

Kneeling to that infant King;

Gave the gold and fragrant incense,

Gave the myrrh in offering?

Know ye not that lowly baby

Was the bright and morning Star?

He who came to light the Gentiles,

And the darken’d isles afar?

And we, too, may seek his cradle;

There our hearts’ best treasures bring;

Love, and faith, and true devotion

For our Saviour, God, and King.

There are many other lovely old Epiphany hymns of great musical value and ability to help put us in a state of peace. I am happy that the secular world pretty much ignores Epiphany. Something to be thankful for is that so far, at least, we don’t have to put up with any sort of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Camel"!

Then there’s a wonderful work of fiction by Henry Van Dyke, The Story of the Other Wise Man. This would-be fourth Magi got off to a late start, missed his rendezvous with the other three, and had to fumble his way alone. He keeps stopping to help people in great need and uses up all the treasures he has brought for the Christ Child. He reaches Jerusalem just in time for the Crucifixion, at which point he finally understands that he has been giving gifts to the Christ all along, even though it wasn’t as he had originally pictured.

So, happy Epiphany! As you take down the Christmas lights and untrim the tree, you can be thinking lovely New Thought thoughts of a good God and an abundant universe, both of which the Christmas and Epiphany stories illustrate.

 

January 13, 2015

The Doldrums

Seeking a word to describe the state of mind prevalent at this time of year, I looked up doldrums. It has three definitions, two of which are similar, but the third appears to be diametrically opposed. Doldrums can mean "a spell of listlessness or despondency" or "a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or slump", but the third definition is "a part of the ocean near the equator abounding in calms, squalls, and light shifting winds". This area is known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone, and because of its hot, dry climate and uncertain winds, it can delay a voyage. But in a sailing vessel, you’d better pay attention, or you may be hit by a sudden squall or wind shift and find yourself capsized! That definitely cures listlessness or despondency, but at quite a price. You may not see much activity or improvement from day to day, but you still have to stay alert.

The holidays from Thanksgiving through Epiphany are a busy, sparkling time of great activity for most of us. Whatever we feel, it isn’t listless, despondent, inactive, stagnant, or slumping! If things were not as we wished, we might have experienced depression, but that is usually darker than mere listlessness or despondency. Most of us manage to experience at least some change of pace, some break from our usual routines to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or just to see the last of a difficult old year. Still, all things come to an end, and the day arrives for packing away the tinsels and trappings of the holidays, cleaning and organizing a bit, and getting back into gear in our usual routines. We have been enjoying the other-than-usual, and now it’s back to normality. The house looks bare in the places where we had our bright decorations, and our food probably needs to get back to something more wholesome than what we have been eating as part of our celebrations. The contrast between the heightened enjoyment just past and the workaday humdrum ahead is what we find challenging. If we are retired or convalescent from a health challenge or unemployed or otherwise out of a workaday routine, that can be especially deadening emotionally, as the days stretch colorlessly ahead.

So here we are in January. We have resumed our routines, but in this hemisphere, the weather for most people is not all the heart could desire. The days have not gotten enough longer to be noticeable, and the lack of sunlight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder for many people. The economy and the political climate could be worse, but they could stand to be a lot better, too. All in all, it isn’t a time to make one want to jump out of bed shouting, "Good morning, God!" We may feel grateful, but it’s a sort of grumbly gratitude.

What has happened is that we have lost our sense of objective. Before, we had the holiday celebrations to look forward to, to work and plan for. Now, we are in a sort of stuck state. To get unstuck, we need to have a new objective, something we can vividly picture as having been achieved, imagining how it will feel. Any New Year’s resolutions we may have made are probably already forgotten or broken, so that isn’t the right approach. What we need is a combination of "passion and gradualness", passion to light our fire, and gradualness as a modest but steady plan for making progress. We don’t start out with some grandiose plan for changing everything in our life; that’s another prescription for failure that will leave us feeling worse than ever. We need patience and a plan, so repeated here are the guidelines for a good plan, courtesy of Reality Therapy instructor Gary Applegate:

A good plan is

Independent (involves only you, not a change in someone else’s behavior)

Immediate (something you can begin right away or very soon)

Repetitive (something you can do over and over until it becomes a good new habit)

Simple (not complicated, which is another setup for failure)

Specific (your goal should be precise, not vague; something you can measure)

Start not stop (you don’t make a plan to stop doing something; you plan to start doing something else, to replace a bad habit with a good one, with attention on the new habit, not the old)

What you are aiming to do is to create small successes and gradually build on them until you are able to plan bigger ones. What works best is the small, pitiful-sounding when you describe them, steps you can take. If your plan really needs to have changes in four or five elements, put the changes into place one at a time, a week or so apart. Whether it’s dietary habits, an exercise program or learning new vocabulary words, the approach is the same.

As you "keep on keeping on", the weather patterns shift, the wind changes direction, the thoughts of reaching your new goal brighten your outlook, and the days get longer. And always, God is the wind beneath your wings, and he’s not "in the doldrums"! In process terms, each occasion of completing the steps of your new small plan builds up the pattern of the past until—seemingly instantly—the shift comes.

 

January 20, 2015

Psychology, Philosophy, and Religion

One of the beautiful things about the professional relationship between Alan Anderson (my late husband, if you just got here) and me was how rarely we disagreed, even in the groves of academe in which people customarily disagree, and not always agreeably. It wasn’t that we saw things the same way: as Stephen Covey once wrote, "If two people see things exactly the same way, one of them is unnecessary."

By the time I met Alan, organized religion had long since kicked me out, and I had decided that I liked it there. I had discovered New Thought (which is anything but organized!) on the great day when I came across Emmet Fox and Catherine Ponder sitting on the same shelf in the public library, had continued to read its literature, and had even met and hung out with a few New Thoughters. Actually, that’s how I met the Philosopher: I was involved with a couple of groups outside of regular New Thought church services. A friend from one such group gave me a copy of Alan’s book, The Problem Is God, and another friend included me in a master mind group, which in New Thought means a group that gets together to affirm support and add visualization to each other’s heart’s desires. I had affirmed that the perfect mate sought me as I sought him and proceeded to come up with what proved to be an amazingly accurate description of Alan. The icing on the cake would be if he had some sympathy with New Thought ideas! Nine months later, I met him at a Christmas open house at the home of that same friend: Unity minister Johanna Mak.

Before meeting Alan, I had had very little direct exposure to philosophy except as glimpsed through the writings of psychologists as I worked on my doctorate. At the open house, we spent the next five hours discussing process philosophy and were the last to leave. By then, Alan was an internationally recognized expert on the philosophy of New Thought and had been Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Curry College for many years.

Philosophy underlies all the other academic disciplines, which is why the first section of the Dewey decimal system is always "Philosophy of" whatever it is: the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of science, etc. This is because the first scientists were philosophers, the folks who looked up at the sky and wondered why it was blue, who then attempted to reason it out, and when that didn’t work well, developed other methods that split the various scientific disciplines off from philosophy. At first, they didn’t get far because of the heavy hand of the church, but in any religion, after you decide what your beliefs about God (a.k.a. Ultimate Reality) are, you philosophize about that God and those beliefs, which discipline is known as theology, the study of any one particular set of beliefs about God. So we went from religion and philosophy, with philosophy considered the handmaid of religion, until philosophy (and with it, science) managed to break free at the time of the Reformation. And there was Alan, squarely in the philosopher’s armchair. He loved to say that philosophy was an armchair occupation; a dirty job, but somebody had to do it, and it required no heavy lifting. And here was I, a social scientist, in a discipline that the "hard" scientists didn’t consider a real science. Much of psychology has long been said to suffer from physics envy! A few of us, mainly by staying in close touch with the best of constructive postmodern philosophy and religion, see no need to envy anything else.

New Thought is known as a philosophico-religious movement. We wrote, in the preface to our first jointly-authored book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality:

New Thought has at least three aspects, and it can be entered through any of them. Like the blind men describing the elephant, some may think that it is one to the exclusion of the others. They are:
* Psychological: You get what you expect; your share of reality is what you believe it to be. New Thought is the reeducation of your expectation, not only intellectually, but at the heart of yourself. Unshakable certainty is the key to transformation. You are what you believe you are; you can change your beliefs and thereby change your world.
* Metaphysical: The basic nature of reality, of what God and you are and how the world works at bottom, especially in the healing of all sorts of situations.
* Mystical: The experience of unity with God, both for its own sake and for its usefulness as the foundation for one’s practical transformation of living. (Page xiii)

These aspects are doors through which one can approach New Thought. Mine is psychological; Alan’s is the branch of philosophy that looks at how things have to be in order to be at all (metaphysics). Neither of us is much of a mystic, but we respect those who are. And this is how we were able to see things from very different perspectives and still remain in harmony.

 

January 27, 2015

The Building Blocks of the Universe

New Thought is an interesting blend of philosophy and religion. Sooner or later, any discussion of human thought and activity is going to have to get into the science of mind, which is the dictionary definition of psychology. So we have the three approaches to the subject that I mentioned last week.

Our study of just about anything ought to start with philosophy, more specifically with the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics. This is the study of how things have to be in order to be at all, of "first things", as Aristotle called it. Another way of going at it is to ask, "What are the building blocks of the universe?" What is the universe made of? Mind? Matter? Green cheese? Today’s choices fall into three basic categories, with shadings of each, and is the perfect thing to ponder if you find yourself trapped indoors by a blizzard, particularly if the power goes off. Many people think that the universe consists of nothing but some form of material stuff, so we call them materialists. Mind or ideas to them are just some sort of squeaks in the machinery, and they dismiss free will as an illusion. This view is very popular among scientists, but the irony is that the hardest of the hard sciences is physics, which is where the most recent breakthroughs have knocked this notion into a cocked hat. When you look through a powerful enough microscope into the center of the atom, you find smaller subatomic particles, and when you split those, "there’s no there there". Seemingly solid matter is not solid at all, and what’s really crazy is that these particles sometimes look like particles and sometimes look like waves, depending on the observer!

Then there are the folks who believe that the building blocks of the universe are thoughts or ideas, so we call them idealists. Materialists snort with derision at them, but we are now talking about mind. Everything begins as an idea in someone’s mind, which gradually turns into a blueprint and hence into something material. As process philosopher Charles Hartshorne put it, "Materialism is the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking...." (Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, page 17). These are among the things that we humans hold most dear, but idealism present its own philosophical difficulties, such as the question of what sound a tree falling in the forest makes when there is no one around to hear. Ronald Knox came up with a bit of doggerel of which I used to recite the first verse and the Philosopher would answer with the second:

There was a young man who said, "God/ Must think it exceedingly odd/ To find that this tree/ Continues to be/ When there’s no one about in the quad."

"Dear sir: Your astonishment’s odd/ I am always about in the quad/ And that’s why this tree/ Continues to be/ Since observed by yours faithfully, God!"

This is a reference to Bishop Berkeley’s attempt to solve the philosophical problem of idealism by saying that God is watching the tree fall even if no one else is around.

So both materialism and idealism present philosophical difficulties. Some sweet souls try to please everyone by stating that mind and matter are equally real. Unfortunately, that’s worse still, because nobody has ever been able to come up with an explanation of how matter, which is extended in space, can ever interact with mind, which is not extended in space. People who hold this belief in both mind and matter being equally real are known as dualists, fencesitters. They are also sometimes known as mugwumps, because they have their mug on one side of the fence and their wump on the other.

The most satisfactory solution to date comes from the only constructive postmodern philosophy: process thought. All the rest of the postmodern philosophies are destructive: despite golden promises, all they do is reduce everything to rubble, a process sometimes called deconstruction. Trouble is, they never get around to constructing anything! Process philosophy takes idealism, which is also sometimes called psychicalism and at other times called panexperientialism, and cleans it up just a bit. Its basic architect was the Philosopher’s patron saint: Alfred North Whitehead, with whom Hartshorne collaborated. Ideas were redrawn just a bit to become experiences, so that the building blocks of the universe are experiences, which are mental/psychical in nature. In harmony with the findings of quantum physics, these experiences come in bursts, or quanta, lasting maybe a tenth of a second. If you pile up enough of these, the next one, rather like a positive version of the straw that breaks the camel’s back, changes things enough so that the next occasion of experience gets you to where you intended to be, one thought/experience at a time. On this basis, the Philosopher was willing to tolerate my referring to matter as congealed thought. It is "vibrating" (a term which stinks on ice because it requires something material in order to "vibrate" but will have to do until a better word comes along) much more slowly than thought.

I will look at the implications of all this a bit more next week. Meanwhile, just sit and ponder all this in your philosopher’s armchair while wearing your philosopher’s hat. It beats shoveling snow, which is one of the many reasons that the Philosopher and his Stone rolled to Florida a dozen years or so ago.

 

February 3, 2015

The Ground Rules for Philosophy

What is philosophy anyway? The word comes from two Greek roots that mean love and wisdom (philo and sophia), so a philosopher is someone who loves wisdom, but that’s not altogether helpful. I used to do a slide show presentation, "Evolving New Thought Worldviews", in which I accompanied beautiful color-coded slides with a running commentary, undoubtedly with a few of the Philosopher’s fingerprints on it. Early in the process of creating it, I came across the following definition of philosophy: "Philosophy is very careful, precise thinking about big questions and very careful choice of words." I then went on to quote Mark Twain as saying that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. I continued:

There are two divisions of logic: formal and informal. Formal logic is the stuff with all the funny symbols. Informal logic is sometimes called critical thinking. In the careful, logical, critical thinking that is the hallmark of philosophy, there are three ground rules. The first is "Thou shalt be true to thyself lest thou shootest thyself in the foot." This is known as internal consistency. You can’t say one thing in the first half of a sentence or paragraph and contradict yourself in the second half. Jesus—and later Abraham Lincoln—reminded us of what happens when a house is divided against itself (Mark 3:25).
The second ground rule has to do with truth. Truth is the property of a proposition, which is the meaning of a statement. A statement is true if it corresponds to what really is. We seek ever-closer approximations of truth. Process philosopher Charles Hartshorne said, "Truth is what God knows".
The third ground rule is that what we hold to be true must stick together. Our ideas must fit with each other to produce a meaningful whole. This is known as coherence, for our ideas must cohere.
These rules mean that we can’t just stick any old group of ideas together and call them our worldview. Our ideas must fit with each other consistently and coherently, and they must correspond to the true state of affairs.

The name Brightman pencilled in the margin here tells me that Alan probably got these distinctions from Edgar Sheffield Brightman, one of the Boston University personalist philosophers.

These notions are not just pulled out of the air. A world that did not operate according to such principles would not be worth inhabiting. Without logic, without common sense, without consistency, you might be holding a glass of water and have it suddenly fly apart into a million bits. The God of Judeo-Christianity is said to be dependable and consistent. As our view of God evolved through the millennia, he stopped visiting the sins of the fathers on the children and sending punishments whenever he got steamed at us. After the Flood, he hung his rainbow in the sky as a symbol that he wasn’t going to do that again.

The best picture that comes to my mind of a world gone topsy-turvy is a wonderful scene from The House at Pooh Corner, and if you don’t have the set of Pooh books, drop everything and immediately run out to the library or book store. I’ll still be waiting when you get back.

Pooh and Piglet have gone out to wish Owl a Happy Thursday on what proved to be a very Blusterous day, and Piglet’s ears were streaming out behind him like banners. They reached Owl’s tree and were hearing Owl speak about the portrait of his Uncle Robert when

There was a loud cracking noise.
"Look out!" cried Pooh. "Mind the clock! Out of the way, Piglet! Piglet, I’m falling on you!"
"Help!" cried Piglet.
Pooh’s side of the room was slowly tilting upwards and his chair began sliding down on Piglet’s. The clock slithered gently along the mantelpiece, collecting vases on the way, until they all crashed together on to what had once been the floor, but was now trying to see what it looked like as a wall. Uncle Robert, who was going to be the new hearthrug, and was bringing the rest of his wall with him as carpet, met Piglet’s chair just as Piglet was expecting to leave it, and for a little while it became very difficult to remember which was really the north. Then there was another loud crack . . . Owl’s room collected itself feverishly . . . and there was silence.
In a corner of the room, the table-cloth began to wriggle. Then it wrapped itself into a ball and rolled across the room. Then it jumped up and down once or twice, and put out two ears. It rolled across the room again, and unwound itself.
"Pooh," said Piglet nervously.
"Yes?" said one of the chairs.
"Where are we?"
"I’m not quite sure," said the chair.
"Are we—are we in Owl’s House?"
"I think so, because we were just going to have tea, and we hadn’t had it."
"Oh!" said Piglet. "Well, did Owl always have a letter-box in his ceiling?" (The Complete Tales of Pooh, pages 299-301)

If thoughts are indeed things, make sure that your thoughts concerning your worldview are coherent, consistent, and represent greater and greater approximations of truth. And if a black-belt philosopher corrects you for falling away from these standards, thank him or her.

 

February 10, 2015

Evolving New Thought Worldviews: Christology

This is part of a script that I wrote some years ago to accompany a slide show. It is my work but with Alan’s fingerprints all over it. This portion of it was added at the request of Rev. Dr. Mary Tumpkin, who wanted to hear what we had to say about Christology.

One of the most important topics within a Christian worldview is one’s Christology, or views about who Jesus was as distinguished from what he taught. Certainly most of us would agree that he lived his own teachings, but there is much beyond that to discuss. All of the New Thought denominational founders came from Christian backgrounds with the exception of Seicho-No-Ie founder Masaharu Taniguchi, who respected the teachings of Jesus but didn’t really deal with Christology. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, the father of New Thought though he didn’t found an organization, believed he had rediscovered the lost healing methods of Jesus.

New Thought is squarely based on the teachings of Jesus, although we may differ in our teachings ABOUT Jesus. Certainly many before Jesus taught similar principles, but they were never emphasized as strongly as he did. Still, New Thought principles can work for anyone who believes in a good God (whom Jesus regarded as a loving father) and an abundant universe in which for you to win, I do not have to lose. And one does not have to belong to a New Thought denomination in order to be a New Thoughter, although it undoubtedly helps. Jesus was inclusive, and so are we! Growing up in Western culture, we are shortchanging ourselves if we fail to acquaint ourselves with the life and teachings of Jesus.

Some important things to note about Jesus are that he did not ask to be worshipped, he expected us to emulate him and taught us to pray "OUR Father", he centered his teachings on love, and he was prosperous and expected his followers to prosper. These points are frequently overlooked outside of New Thought.

Let’s pursue this a little farther. If Jesus was the second person of the Trinity, God’s ONLY son, unique in both degree and kind, we cannot emulate him. But he said we could emulate him! There are assorted ancient heresies that hold that Jesus was MERELY human or MERELY divine. None of these can stand up to careful scrutiny, and none of them fit with the rest of the known facts about the life and death of Jesus.

Process Christology holds that Jesus was human with the same spark of the divine that we all have, since we are made in the image and likeness of God; but Jesus aligned his mind and will with God’s more perfectly than anyone before or since, making him unique in degree but not in kind. Therefore we can emulate him. Process thought also holds that the Trinity concept is misleading and that the primordial and consequent natures of God, the Alpha and Omega, are more important. New Thought teaches that Jesus was not the first and last member of the Christ family; rather, Christ is a title we all can earn. Both New Thought and process thought teach that the Christ consciousness is God present in each of us.

The apostle Paul stated that we have the mind of Christ, and process thought calls this mind of Christ the initial aims, those perfect possibilities that God presents to every occasion of experience. Clearly this fits with what New Thought is already teaching.

One of the biggest issues in Christology concerns the nature of the historical Jesus. This issue appeared during the Age of Enlightenment and continued to grow in importance in the nineteenth century as part of the reductionism ("nothing but"- ism) that culminated in the "God is dead" movement, which began with the notion that the traditional image of God as the old guy in the sky with a long white beard hurling thunderbolts with his finger on the SMITE button was dead, but then it veered off course. It is important to note that Jesus was a first-century Jew, and as such, would reflect the customs and culture of his time, even if he frequently managed to transcend them, as he did with his loving and inclusive attitude towards everyone.

Although New Thought, emulating Jesus, can be lovingly inclusive of most views about God and Jesus, we need to be very clear that a God worthy of worship and a Way-shower who demonstrably survived death and whose physical body vaporized in a sealed tomb can be included among those views and should perhaps dominate them.

Here are a few suggested further readings about Christology. These books are all available from Amazon online or by ordering through your local bookstore.

Schubert M. Ogden

Christ Without Myth: A creative step toward resolving the major issue in modern Christian thought (Harper & Row 1961)

Charlotte Allen

The Human Christ: The search for the historical Jesus (The Free Press 1998)

Luke Timothy Johnson

The Real Jesus: The misguided quest for the historical Jesus and the truth of the traditional gospels (HarperSanFrancisco 1996)

Gary R. Habermas

The Historical Jesus: Ancient evidence for the life of Christ (College Press 1996)

Carsten Peter Thiede & Matthew D’Ancona

Eyewitness to Jesus: Amazing new manuscript evidence about the origin of the gospels (Doubleday 1996)

Mark Antonacci

The Resurrection of the Shroud: New scientific, medical and archeological evidence.  (M. Evans 2000)

To these, I would add the following:

Rubenstein, Richard E.

When Jesus became God: The struggle to define Christianity during the last days of Rome. (Orlando, FL, Harcourt 1999)

Buzzard, Anthony

Jesus was not a Trinitarian: A call to return to the creed of Jesus. (Morrow, GA: Restoration Fellowship 2007)

 

February 17, 2015

New Thought Movement Home Page: Resurrection

This is a red-letter day for me and for Alan’s life’s work. A few weeks ago, a kind person wrote to me to tell me that one of the websyte.com/alan links was not working. I promised to investigate, and I learned to my horror that not only was Alan’s portion of the site down, but also the entire websyte.com site; and had been down since August. Brad Jensen, proprietor of Elstore, whose site this is/was, had assigned to Alan the /alan portion of the site for housing the New Thought Movement Home Page in 1995; and it has continued there all these years. We have been unable to reach Brad and send him once more our good wishes and our thanks for housing the page all this time.

I sounded the alarm, and Ronald A. Hughes, proprietor of the P. P. Quimby.com home page, came to the rescue. He was able to retrieve the entire page as Alan had left it from the last time the search engines backed it up, last August. He tirelessly cleaned up all the hyperlinks possible to restore them to working condition, and a duplication of the entire New Thought Movement Home Page is now safely housed on http://ppquimby.com/alan. As much as possible, he has preserved a "snapshot" of the way the page looked when Alan was still maintaining it, so there is an historical record. There are, according to Ron, only three external hyperlinks that do not work in the section, WRITINGS BY ALAN ANDERSON (EXCEPT AS INDICATED OTHERWISE) AND DEB WHITEHOUSE. Ron adds:

On the rest of the Home Page, the links to pages created and maintained by Alan are all working—the external links are hit-or-miss, depending on whether the external page is still on the Internet.
At 153 pages [he later found three more pages], the web site is fairly deep and comprehensive. The Home Page (index page) is the top level, and from there, the links take you to deeper levels or tiers.
For example, when you click on the link Philosophical and Other Resources (the first link in the PHILOSOPHY CORNER of the Home Page), you enter into an enormous philosophy section. Near the top of that page, there is a link that says Alan Anderson. When you click on that link, the new page lists some of Alan’s educational and occupational background. Near the bottom of the education /occupation page, is a link to his 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair page. It is only when you get deep into the New York World’s Fair page, do you discover that Alan created another lower level (tier) page called the New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 Annex) . I collected and restored all of these pages plus their supporting image files.
Even the non-working hyperlinks provide the reader with information that can be searched through other means such as search engines.

I should note that more up-to-date biographical information in the form of an obituary that I cobbled together for academic institutions with which Alan was affiliated is now available out on http://www.Amazon.com as his Author Page (C. Alan Anderson).

I encourage you to go explore the Page that represents Alan’s life’s work by clicking on the link http://ppquimby.com/alan . It is an honor and totally appropriate to have Alan’s work on the Quimby site. While you are there, explore Ron’s life’s work on the father of New Thought, P. P. Quimby. Ron is custodian of the P. P. Quimby materials that Alan used in writing his doctoral dissertation, which is also available in its entirety on Ron’s site. It was published by Garland Press under the title Healing Hypotheses. Alan is no doubt rejoicing along with the angels in heaven over this amazing rescue. Ron and his artistic wife, Mary, are good and dear friends of Alan and mine.

 

February 24, 2015

Think Systems

If you have hung in with the Philosopher and me for any length of time, you are probably at least dimly aware that what we are promoting is a philosophy that pretty much began with Alfred North Whitehead and represents a huge scientific revolution. In contrast to the mechanistic worldview of the nineteenth century, this is an ecological one. Whitehead took the world from "nature lifeless" to nature alive" at the underlying level. This really upset the apple cart of the nice, quiet, static view of the world, turning it into something that is interconnected, all about potential, indeterminate, and having no excluded middle (in logic terms). In modern times, there has been an ever-increasing specialization, so that one discipline has great difficulty in communicating with another, and points of agreement or commonality could get overlooked. A call for articles in an editorial column summarizes:

More than 40 years ago a group of prominent scientists (several internationally recognized) began developing a general conceptual framework that could extend scientific advances in the physical sciences to the biological and social behavioral sciences. The group was stimulated to undertake their activities by suggestions from physical scientists . . . who were concerned about the awesome developments in nuclear weapons. Because we know so little about why humans love and hate and kill, they believed the development of the human sciences should be accelerated. Observing that their sciences had advanced rapidly after general theories were proposed, the physical scientists suggested that the group try a similar strategy.
General systems theory, first named by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, was adopted as the springboard for the group’s theoretical approach. He defined a system as a set of interacting elements and asserted that such systems can be specified by families of differential equations (Bertalanffy, 1956). The systems approach provided a basis to refine Alfred North Whitehead’s "philosophy of organism" (Whitehead, 1925). His philosophy viewed life as composed of entities formed of lower-level entities and forming higher-level organisms, all interacting in numerous ways. Over the last 40 years, the development of a general theory of living systems has reached into almost every academic and scientific discipline. The book Living Systems (Miller, 1978) is widely recognized as the primary publication of the conceptual framework now termed living systems theory (LST). (Behavioral Science, Volume 37, No. 2, April 1992)

References here are to Bertalanffy’s General Systems article, 1956, 1, 1-7; Miller’s Living Systems (1978), and Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World (1925).

Work on systems has continued apace for another 23 years. There have been useful breakthroughs in science, but the underlying philosophy is still materialistic, on which the Philosopher and I have frequently waxed eloquent. Until you recognize God at the heart of any system of philosophy, you are missing the point, and your progress will be limited, because we are not contained between our hat and boots, to paraphrase Walt Whitman. One of the big links to this understanding is Whitehead, and I tried to summarize this in Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes (my writing; Alan’s fingerprints):

Process theology is often referred to as process-relational theology, because it shows not only that we are all interconnected (by the inclusion of all past experiences in us, although we are not consciously aware of much of the past), but also shows how we are all intimately bound up with God in a perpetual collaboration between God and us. Science gives us momentary bursts of lifeless energy; Whitehead adds the God who loves us, leads us, lures us toward greater good, orchestrates events to assist us, and mitigates events that don’t turn out well. (Page 67)

Systems theory is right up there with rocket science in that we should leave it to the professionals and not try it at home. But to try to get this down to a sound bite: in the olden days, pictures of businesses frequently showed a sign in the background, courtesy of IBM, that simply read "THINK". We need to update that to "THINK SYSTEMS". To think systems means to remember that we are all interconnected, that what affects one of us affects us all ("Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling of a star"). More prosaically, if we wiggle something over here, something over there says ouch. Problems cannot be solved at the level at which they were created precisely because we are all parts of a system. We may be working at a lug-nuts level ("chunked down"), but the solution to the problem may be to "chunk up" to the perspective of transportation in order to have a wide-enough view of the car or truck or bus. If the sales department has gone crazy writing orders to the extent that operations can’t keep pace, the business isn’t going to have happy customers, and it won’t do any good to just tell operations to work harder. In a city with two breweries and seventeen taverns in which one or two taverns run out of beer, it may not be enough to just order more beer brewed; there may be a distribution problem, and we will end up with too much beer somewhere else. We have to learn to figure out how we are interconnected, what the big picture truly is. Even in a home or church, people can get in each other’s way if they don’t see what is really going on and how one person’s actions affect other people. The one certain part of the situation is that God is everywhere present and supplying perfect possibilities for us to accept or reject, if we will just be still and listen for his guidance.

 

March 3, 2015

Getting Up and Down About Chunking

Many people in New Thought are either ministers or in business, so that they are interested in various aspects of cognitive psychology, especially in connection with personality studies. Even just plain folks are interested in what makes other people tick, because understanding personality makes it possible to communicate better with others and have fewer arguments and misunderstandings.

Although I can’t very well give you a crash course in psychology in a newsletter, I can (and have in the past) give you useful tidbits. Today I am introducing you to chunking, if you have never run into it before. I mentioned it last week and thought you deserved more explanation.

Tad James is a business consultant and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) instructor. People who work in the business world, like him, have taken NLP, dropped off the parts intended for psychotherapy, and packaged the rest in forms that can be useful for business people. Tad is the author of a small paperback that the Philosopher used as a text for some of his introductory courses (guess who put him up to it!). It is titled The Secret of Creating Your Future, and it is a delightful romp through time with a Wizard. A more heavyweight book by Tad and Wyatt Woodsmall is titled Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality. Both books should be available through Amazon, or you can search Tad James, and his web site comes right up.

Tad and Wyatt give a thumbnail sketch of the history of their topic in the Introduction to Time Line:

[I]t became obvious that we had discovered elements that make up a person’s personality. We tested and found that, as we used this model for change, we were able to create seemingly miraculous changes in individuals, and at the deepest level of personality.
Models are interesting devices. They are descriptions or simulations of how something works in a certain area. In essence a model is a blueprint or a map. Like a map, a model is not necessarily "true." It is just a representation of reality. So we are not necessarily looking for truth in making this model; we are only attempting to describe how the human personality works. Like a map, it is only a description; and the value of any map or blueprint is in the result that you can produce by using it.
Our model seems to be a major discovery. This is a discovery for which psychologists from Freud and Jung to Isabel Briggs Myers have been searching. This model has the potential to change human understanding for all time to come, for we now understand and can change the basic elements that make up a person’s personality. We now know the basis of personality and how to change it.
The model that we are calling the Basis of Personality is based on another earlier model, which is one of how we communicate with ourselves and with others. This model, which is essentially a model from Cognitive Psychology, was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. It is called Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), and it explains how we process the information that comes into us from the world around us. (Page 3)

To go back just a bit farther, anthropologist Gregory Bateson put Bandler and Grinder up to it. He wanted them to analyze the work of psychiatrist Milton Erickson, who made hypnosis a respectable scientific discipline and yet got results with his patients that seemed like black magic. Bandler and Grinder analyzed films and transcriptions of Erickson at work, frame by frame and word by word, until they were able to figure out what Erickson was doing and replicate it. It is fascinating stuff, but I don’t think you will find much of it in the schools; you have to pursue it on your own in books and courses. And you might reread my last post!

Anyway, to introduce you to the usefulness of this stuff, here is Tad’s Hierarchy of Ideas, a diagram for which is included in the handouts for his Advanced NLP Training Series. It starts in the middle with a topic; for example, cars. We can chunk sideways and talk about buses, boats, planes, and trains, as well as cars. We can also chunk down into classes and categories and talk about brands, such as BMW or Pontiac, continuing down to Fiero, and get even more specific by talking about a GT. Or, starting in the middle again, we can chunk down into parts, such as wheels and doors, continuing down from wheels to hub caps and lug nuts. Going in the opposite direction, we can chunk up towards the Big Picture and talk about Transportation, then continue to chunk up to Movement, and chunking even higher, to Existence, and boy, are we mellow!

You can see, then, that chunking up is going to lead us to greater agreement, where as chunking down is going to get us into more distinctions. Down leads to specific details, sensory items, and is called the Meta Model. It leads you out of trance, if you were in one. Up leads you to abstractions, intuition, and the Milton Model, in which you are probably in trance, if you keep it up long enough. The power value of chunking up is, "Abstraction controls specificity. Ambiguous includes specific." So if you want to avoid or resolve argument, you chunk up. Tad adds, "The structure of Overwhelm = too big chunks." Chunking down, then, Tad tells us, "The structure of Nit-Picking = chunking down and mismatching." Enjoy your chunking, whether you head for Meta or Milton.

 

March 10, 2015

What We Are Really Talking About

Now that you know all about chunking, I can chunk all the way up to the Milton model and talk about the basic Whiteheadian/systems theory, which holds that we are all interconnected. Notice how nicely that dovetails with Scripture as well as mysticism, and with current science. Remember that quantum physics was already on the scene when Whitehead, after a long career of teaching physics, "retired" to Harvard to teach philosophy. Remember too that Whitehead’s father— and colleague Charles Hartshorne’s father— were both Anglican clergymen, so their sons were well familiar with both theology and philosophy.

New Thought is sort of a religion, sort of a philosophy, and sort of a spiritual movement. You can make a case in any of these ways, not to mention psychology. The important thing is to be able to differentiate it from other religions, philosophies, and spiritual movements, with which there is bound to be some overlap. The overlap helps people to be able to slide from wherever they have been to where we are. Where we are? That’s another whole philosophical can of worms! Why should you get in step with us instead of conservative traditional religions? Well, first of all, we are neither conservative nor traditional, except that we have been around for well over a century, tracing our taproot back to Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866). Quimby was a plank owner of his local Universalist church, which was a blend of some traditional Christianity with a "new" (as new as Church Father Origen!) idea that sooner or later, everyone who wished to be saved could be, and that hell is a state of consciousness. Since there is nothing new under the sun (and that is a Biblical quotation), investigation will show that, still early in Christian history, a British monk named Pelagius had roughly the same idea, and (as Unity minister Thomas Shepherd relates in his good read, Friends in High Places), his position was very popular. Unfortunately, so was the gloomy, total-depravity position of Augustine of Hippo. Shepherd explains: "Augustine represented the darker, pessimistic, predestinarian position. Pelagius represented the sunny optimistic theology of free will and human potential." After some wrangling back and forth, the followers of Augustine bribed the Imperial Guard, the swing vote, with Numidian stallions. Political power won the day, right about the time of the fall of Rome, when all of human civilization seemed dark (that’s why they called it the Dark Ages). So at the time, it looked as if Augustine must have been right, especially when even his followers had behaved so badly.

Anyway, here was this breath of fresh air coming into Christianity, going back to at least the second century after Jesus. Church history can get depressing at times, and not all the stories in the Bible are totally uplifting, either. Quimby saw that their messed-up thinking was what was really ailing his patients, so he reread the Bible on his own to try to discover where they were going wrong. As he said, "My explanation is the cure." Quimby believed what Jesus said, and he accepted the truth of the healings performed by Jesus, but not all that was taught about Jesus. Although New Thought does not require allegiance to any particular creed, its taproot is Judeo-Christian. The entire legal framework for the United States of America, in which Quimby and the New Thought movement came into existence, is also Judeo-Christian, with its citizens required to live in accordance with general, broad Judeo-Christian standards, of which the best example is still the Ten Commandments. In this country, as in New Thought, one is not required to hold any particular set of beliefs or belong to any particular religion, just live pretty much in harmony with the Judeo-Christian code of conduct on which our country was founded.

Our third president and founder, Thomas Jefferson, wrote a famous letter in response to a query from the Danbury Baptists, in which he referred to a wall of separation between church and state. This has been twisted out of context to try to justify freedom from religion, but the opposite is the case: the wall is to keep the government from interfering with people’s right to believe as they wish. Jefferson and others had seen the difficulties caused by an established church, such as the one in England. He was the person who started having worship services on Sundays in the new Capitol building, led by clergy from various denominations. He habitually encouraged church groups to use public buildings for their worship services when they did not have buildings of their own.

Since Quimby was not seeking to found an organization, but merely to keep his discoveries alive, it took New Thought a while to become an institution that could endure. Its early history was convoluted, to say the least. Its major denominations endure, with numerous schisms and other sorts of revision, but scant attention has been paid to its other early pioneers who did not happen to found large churches. Yet without Quimby, there could have been no Mary Baker Eddy, with whom Emma Curtis Hopkins got her start. Hopkins, "the teacher of teachers", led to the other founders of major denominations; and she can be said to be the founder of New Thought as a movement.

Philosopher and psychologist William James was to refer to New Thought as "the religion of healthy-mindedness". We can continue to chunk up next week, then chunk down to occasions of experience. Stay tuned.

 

March 17, 2015

What We Are Really Talking About (2)

We have been chunking up to talk about philosophical principles. I had set out to discuss basic Whiteheadian /systems theory, which is very chunked up, but I got off on an equally chunked-up view of New Thought. Someone was saying on the radio this morning that the big bang theory has pretty well gone bust, which puts us squarely in a Whiteheadian view that the universe has no beginning or end but just always was and is, world without end. So science and religion have taken a step toward each other. Interesting. Remember the Philosopher’s formula : Past + possible + choice = new creation. This puts God squarely in the middle of everything every moment, offering his perfect possibilities tailor-made for that occasion of experience. Systems is all about the interaction between all parts of creation, since we are all interconnected. What we do or don’t do affects everyone/everything else, and we always need to be aware of the effect that whatever we are doing may have. It cuts both ways: we are part of the past from which someone else’s next occasion will arise, and vice versa.

The notion of chunking allows us to go back and forth , rather like a camera’s zooming in and out, to get the big-if-fuzzy picture with the theory, and then to zoom in/chunk down for the details or the practice. Alan wrote, in New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality:

Process philosophy is based on a few obvious facts: (1) the world is changing, developing; (2) everything is related to everything else; (3) we can live only in the moment, and have to deal with everything in little chunks of time and space. If we also believe (4) that there is a divine guiding intelligence that enter into our lives, and that (5) memories and other influences from the past also play important roles in contributing to what we are, we have practically embraced process thought, although we may never have heard of it. (Page 139)

This gives us a bit of a view that is both chunked up and down at the same time. Alan continues:

One important source on which [Whitehead and Hartshorne] drew is twentieth-century science, which had abandoned belief in continuing substance. Whitehead recognized that although physics was correct in explaining the world in terms of bursts of energy, physics was missing an essential ingredient by considering energy to be lifeless. Process philosophy emphasizes that living events, happenings, bursts of energy, experiences are the only realities; these terms are names for the only realities; these terms are names for momentarily-developing minds. (Page 139)

Whitehead emphasizes that not only are occasions of experience living, they are always prepared to enjoy themselves in exercising their tiny bit of freedom during their tenth-of-a-second existence. As a transition from this chapter to the next, I rounded things off by writing:

Recognizing that very few subatomic particles in steel beams will decide to enjoy themselves by reading this book, we shall turn our attention from a discussion of the subatomic structure of everything, including the kitchen table, to the highly complex experiences who are more interested in unpacking the groceries and starting to fix dinner. (Pages 159-60)

In other words, you don’t have to be able to describe the molecular structure of the kitchen table in order to set your groceries on it. There are times to chunk up and times to chunk down. A kitchen table is presumably somewhere in the middle. And in the middle is where most of us will probably stay most of the time, except for such times as we care to ponder philosophical issues, whether they are chunked up or chunked down. The main thing is to remember that the most important thing of all is our relationship with Ultimate Reality, a.k.a. God, who—as the Philosopher said—has a finger in every pie. If everything is related, God is how.

 

March 24, 2015

Human Information Processing

Having rejoiced to see science and religion taking a step toward each other last week, it might be worth taking a step back in history long enough to notice where science came from, then following it forward again. All we have to do is go back in history to last January, when I reminded you that philosophers (literally "lovers of wisdom") were the first scientists, and it wasn’t until the Renaissance and the Reformation that science split off from philosophy and out from under the Church’s heavy thumb.

Going forward again, one of the later sciences to peel off from philosophy was psychology, "the science of mind" since 1653. As late as William James, the illustrious Harvard professor of philosophy, psychology only came into its own when Wundt in Germany and James in America both opened psychology laboratories; James in 1875, so I don’t know why the palm goes to Wundt, whose lab came later. Folks from the "hard" sciences—such as physics and chemistry—didn’t consider psychology a "real" science, so it has always had difficulty getting taken seriously. A lot of that difficulty is its own fault. (Read Lawrence LeShan’s book, The Dilemma of Psychology for better understanding of this; it’s a good read and not terribly long.)

The main difficulty facing the whole world today— and not just psychology or just science—is the rotten metaphysical, which is to say philosophical, foundation on which most of the world rests: materialism. The Philosopher’s life’s work consisted of trying to get at least New Thought — and preferably everybody—onto a sounder philosophical basis, one that dovetailed with the latest scientific thinking. So now we are back up to speed and in place with where we left off. Overhauling metaphysics is a Herculean task, and I am no Mrs. Hercules.

But I am an educational psychologist with the sheepskin to prove it. In general psychology, they torture lab rats. In educational psychology, we torture college sophomores, or we did, until we were told that it was inhumane; so then we began to infiltrate the business world. I hear that general psych has started to use lawyers instead of lab rats, for two reasons: they are more plentiful than lab rats, and you don’t get quite as attached to them. (Just kidding!  ;-)  ) Bumping around in a material world, learning more and more about less and less, psychology eventually fell over computer science and began to view the human brain as a fancy sort of computer. This might have been slightly useful, had they seen the brain as an analog computer rather than a digital one. Still, they continued to plow ahead in materialist mode, which process philosopher Charles Hartshorne defined as "the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking...." (Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, page 17)

If you really want to know how human beings tick, you don’t go to the psychologists; you go to the authors of great literature. At the moment, I am caught up in rehearsals for a wonderful Shakespeare pastiche, consisting of assorted scenes from here and there, presented in wonderfully creative ways. I have just come out of a presentation for children of Snow White, with a cast of adults and children (the kids played the Dwarfs). Small wonder if my brain is addled! Neither Shakespeare nor the Brothers Grimm get off onto the brain as computer (lucky for them; they were too early). Psychology is belatedly beginning to come to the party, inventing creative ways to explore things such as emotions that they couldn’t deal with before. However, psychology still isn’t squarely facing up to the things that separate man from beast, or living creatures from steel beams. Part of materialism consists of dissing religion and kidding oneself that doing so is being "scientific". Ironically, New Thought— despite its heavily mystical inclinations— is the religion best positioned to climb aboard the science train.

Anyway, educational psychology has morphed into the study of how humans process information, because of the comparison of humans to computers. That may not be a very tight approximation of truth, but it does have some useful contributions to make. Then we can cut the inaccurately perceived bonds of man and machine and get back to the kubernetes (steersman) source of the word cybernetics, and see how at its upper end (chunked up), it brings us face-to-face with Ultimate Reality, a.k.a. God. We’ll get there next week, now that I have built the front porch.

 

March 31, 2015

More Human Information Processing

Educational psychology pretty much limits itself to what might be learned in a classroom; it’s not interested in helping you perfect your golf swing. So for quite some time now, the field has been divided into the study of attention, perception, memory, problem solving, and motivation. These are the really fun subjects; I don’t care about your golf swing!

Humans are actually better than even sophisticated machines at such tasks as problem solving and critical thinking, so don’t hold your breath waiting for machines to take over the world. The confusion over kubernetes (steersman) and cybernetics came as a result of an error by the French press, but such errors die hard, especially in a world whose underlying metaphysics, as we have seen, is materialism. Elaborate models of human information processing were developed in the mid-twentieth century, because scientists were comfortable with ones and zeros, ons and offs, digitization. Never mind that this approach obliterated the very things that Hartshorne pointed out (last week) that make us human. One of the ever-present dangers in research is that your design does just this sort of obliteration of things that you would care very much about if only you realized that your design was obliterating them.

Still, on the chunked-down level, human information processing models are helpful if you want more efficient ways to get things into memory, or if you need a tool kit of techniques for problem solving in your field. Memory is kind of in the middle of the whole picture, divided into sensory/working memory and long-term memory. We have buffers (computer term!) that temporarily hold data that we only need for a little while, and then we have to encode things from there into long-term memory. This is rather like the difference between a phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper and the stacks of a great library, carefully sectioned, sorted, and labeled. People worry about what they see as their failing memory, but almost always, their memory is just fine; it’s their retrieval system that needs work. You probably need to clean out the attic and straighten things up a bit.

The general strategy for dealing with memory involves organization, inferences, and elaboration. First, you activate your existing knowledge: read over notes, whatever. You notice how it is sorted and arranged, and you sort and arrange (organize) your new incoming information to dovetail with that. You then make connections (inferences) between separate concepts, and you make them more meaningful to you by connecting the new information to what you already know (elaboration). There are lots of lug-nuts-level ways of doing this, usually by linking what you want to remember to some mnemonic device.

But the whole process begins with attention. Tons of research on attention boils down to a single sound bite: What you give your attention to grows. New Thoughters will instantly recognize the similarity to the Law of Attraction: Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind. Moral: Don’t entertain (allow to linger) thoughts that aren’t about what you want rather than what you don’t want.

Next comes perception. This refers to the use of your 5+ physical senses, or it did until Alfred North Whitehead came along and told us that nonsensory perception, which he dubbed prehension, was far more extensive and important. The research of the Gestalt psychologists at the turn of the twentieth century began to broaden people’s horizons on this subject. This leads to notions such as "The way you perceive the problem is the problem".

Also at the lug-nuts-level are numerous problem-solving techniques. They are a sort of mental toolkit that you can turn to for situations that frequently repeat themselves, but there are times that you have to get creative and come up with something totally new, usually as a result of finding a new way to perceive the problem.

So far, we haven’t even gotten out of the armchair. Notice how much of life requires thinking. That’s why they call psychology the science of mind.

The last item on the list is motivation. What is going to make you get out of the armchair and start engaging with life? Here are a few tried-and-true guidelines:

* Satisfied needs do not motivate. Find a need and fill it. That works for you and for others you might want to interact with.

* Intrinsic (internal) motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic (external) motivation. That is why if you start paying someone for something he previously did for free, because he loved someone or something, surprisingly, his motivation dwindles.

* If a person’s perceived freedom is lost or threatened, the person is motivated to restore that freedom.

* "People experience control as they master their internal (mental) or external environments—as they make the unfamiliar familiar." —Ellen Langer, The psychology of control (1983), page 19.

 

April 7, 2015

Furthermore Information Processing

I now need to zoom in a bit to give you a closeup on an aspect of systems theory that has nothing to do with machines but will give you a far greater understanding of how human beings tick. It ought to have long since displaced psychohydraulics (Freud) and psychotelephonics (the Behaviorists), not to mention a couple of tentative theories that equally don’t hold water: the Third Force (humanism), and something Frank Goble (The Third Force: The Psychology of Abraham Maslow,1970) tossed out there as a possible Fourth Force. Goble’s book is well worth reading, and I am a great admirer of Maslow, who once stated, "Anyone who had a baby couldn’t be a behaviorist". Maslow stood on the shoulders of such giants as the great depth psychologist, Alfred Adler. Humanism ultimately doesn’t cut it because it is not centered on a God-centered (by whatever name) universe. Anyway, we are perhaps up to a Fifth Force: psychocybernetics; and if you just tuned in, you will need to go back a few dozen weeks. Psychocybernetics is ultimately based on the work of Alfred North Whitehead in philosophy and the work of the movers and shakers in quantum physics, who really upset the materialist apple cart.

The psychocybernetic model was put together by psychiatrist William Glasser in consultation with physicist William Powers (whose Behavior: The Control of Perception takes up multitudinous columns in the Social Sciences Citations Index). Glasser had been looking for an underlying theory that might explain his highly successful Reality Therapy. A friend referred him to the Powers book, and he lit up and went tilt. He then wrote Stations of the Mind (1981) in consultation with Powers.

At the heart of control theory (the science of control and communication) is the feedback loop. Control theory is considered synonymous with systems theory because it is a piece of it. I am here giving you the Reader’s Digest version; go read the book. Quantum physics/process thought gives us the notion that everything boils down to incoming information, hence, human information processing. A signal (if you are an engineer)/perception (if you are a psychologist) comes into your head from the outside world (but note: your head is in the outside world). It goes into a virtual comparing station, where it is compared with a reference signal/perception. These references constitute a sort of picture album of the world that you have put together over the years, based on your experiences. Mother is one of those pictures, but if Mother dies or otherwise disappears from your life, you will eventually have to remove her picture from your album. This may be an extended and painful process, but other pictures may change more easily.

Anyhow, at the comparing station, you compare the incoming signal (what you have) with the reference perception (what you want). If they match, hallelujah! You experience a burst of pure pleasure, and move on. If they don’t match, oh, woe! You experience a burst of pure pain, and you begin to behave in ways calculated to reduce the discrepancy between what you have and what you want.

Please note: none of this may match reality. It is all about your perceptions. There is a famous story about a tramp who accidentally shut himself into a railroad refrigerator car. He knew enough to be aware of what he was about to undergo, and kept a little diary of his state until he died of cold. His body was found the next day along with his diary. The real-world fact was that the refrigerator car was not turned on!

The incoming signal/perception is going to go through a hierarchy of orders of perception. This is the brain’s attempt to make sense of them, a "silly millimeter" beyond the physical. At the bottom (incoming) level is intensity (what a tape recorder measures). Then we go through sensation, configuration, control of transitions, and control of sequence. Those are all very physical-world. Then we segue into the sixth order of perception: control of relationships. This sixth order perception applies to both the physical and the psychological arenas.

Thus far, there is a ton of research for support, and nobody would contest any of this very far. At this point, we move into programs, which applies to man and beast alike; and then into a set of extrapolations: values, at which point the animals leave us; systems of values: you can take a baseball team, change its city, its uniforms, and its players, and it’s still "The Dodgers"; and finally, universal oneness (hey, guys, at this point we are chunked all the way up. Glasser didn’t want to go here; I just said— at my defense of my doctoral dissertation— that I wasn’t unwilling to go here but I wasn’t volunteering to act as a tour guide). Remember that the higher up you are chunked, the less disagreement you run into, but things are very broad and fuzzy, so you can’t just live up here. Next week, we will see where I emerge from the fog.

 

April 14, 2015

Son of Information Processing

When last we met, we were chunked all the way up and breathing the rarified air of universal oneness. At this point, materialists will have long since bailed out, but most New Thoughters will be feeling right at home, because at this level, there is very little disagreement. Putting it another way, one which you should recognize if you have been reading along for at least a couple of weeks, there are very few—maybe only one or two—comparing stations open for taking in data from the outside world and comparing it with our reference perceptions. So we aren’t experiencing any perceptual errors (failures of incoming data to match up with the data from our "picture albums" of the way we would like things to be—squawnk!!!). This perceptual-error-free state is one that experienced meditators would recognize, but they would be too blissed out to describe it in such pedestrian terms as Serious Philosophically Alert Scholars require.

If this were an animated cartoon, or even a series of snapshots, it might be easier to take in. Most engineers—whose meat and potatoes a feedback loop and a nested hierarchy of signals are—act like a deer caught in the headlights at this point. They can’t seem to play with the notion: what if people were sort of kind of analogous to this in the way they function in the "real world"? No, we aren’t machines, and AI and its ilk may assist us, but sorry, Charlie! Machines will never be able to replace human beings, even though they can make said humans’ lives much easier by doing the things that humans don’t do very well. Terrific; we can include R2D2 and C3PO on the team, but they won’t be heading it. I freely admit that I wouldn’t function any better in the world of the engineer—or even the world of the "good quantum mechanic"! And if mathematics is the universal language—at least for the scholars—the Philosopher and I would both have been in trouble big-time! However— to our rescue in the nick of time—comes process philosopher Charles Hartshorne with a mathematical proof for the existence of God. (Don’t ask me; I wasn’t there!) My function is like the "faithful Indian scout": "Him say...." I continue to lay logs and kindling for the mother of all bonfires, ready for the person with the match, who has arrived at this point in time with this pattern-of-the-past behind him/her, and in the next moment-of-now is ready to change the future course of all human history. This is the power of the paradigm shift: at some point, the incoming data has swamped the existing hypotheses: the laundry rack is overflowing, and the additional clothes are on the floor or overlapping what is already there. But we have "measured out our lives with coffee spoons."

New Thought keeps popping up in the lives of the process philosophers at the Center For Process Thought: people turn up on their doorstep saying, "Alan sent me". But there doesn’t appear to be much reciprocal influence: New Thought needs to pull up its academic socks, which it has always been reluctant to do, because it is anti-intellectual, and it doesn’t see that the anti-intellectual attitude itself is fundamentally un-New Thoughtish/dualistic. In today’s world, academe has morphed into something that is quite challenging to harmonize with a New Thought perspective, for philosophical and political reasons. But it can be done: "the battle is the Lord’s". We don’t have to fight; we don’t have to get nasty or otherwise violate New Thought principles, which we get from the Bible. We do have to do what is in front of us to do: not fight the entire Korean War army, just "the ones that come over the hill", by "standing firm, and seeing the salvation of the Lord". In this instance, the only thing that will work is the steady, quiet, God-directed influence of New Thoughters, whether they call themselves that or not. It is not yet entirely clear who is going to have to do the heavy lifting, but whoever it is, the job will be made much easier by the New Thought influence at work in the world. It has been wisely said that God can do great things through the person who doesn’t care who gets the credit. If we continue to live by our principles and set the example for those with whom we come in contact, people will notice what we have, and they will see that that is something they would like to possess. Some people will have to have "five smooth stones from the brook" (I Sam 17:40) and be prepared to use them; and they will know who they are. Even Jesus said, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt 26:53). Sometimes "angels" turn out to be human beings. I love the story of the professor who kept daring God to strike him dead for proclaiming not to believe in him. One day when he repeated his taunt, a football player passing down the hall happened to hear him, and proceeded to take him down with a flying tackle, remarking after he did so, "God was busy, so he sent me!"

Whatever our personal role may be, let us be as up-to-date in our philosophical foundation as we can be, so that we are prepared to deal on an equal footing with those still stuck in materialism and unable to see God’s perfect possibilities for us. We can’t do that by going into an equally flawed and obsolete metaphysics! Charles Fillmore reserved the right to change his mind. Ernest Holmes urged us to be open at the top. Let’s get with them!

 

April 21, 2015

Some Book Publishing History

After many years as Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Curry College, the Philosopher succeeded in getting his first book published. He had planned to title it A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God, but his publisher had other ideas. The book first saw the light of day with the title The Problem is God, with God in large, old-fashioned Gothic lettering. Well, nobody wanted to see God as a problem or in any way connected with problems, so it was an artistic success but a financial failure. Had they titled it The Solution is God, it might have been closer to the mark, but even there, potential readers are reminded that they have problems. It is far better to chunk up to a higher level and contemplate— as Emmet Fox suggests in The Golden Key— all that one knows about God:

As for the actual method of working, like all fundamental things, it is simplicity itself. All that you have to do is this: Stop thinking about the difficulty, whatever it is, and think about God instead. This is the complete rule, and if only you will do this, the trouble, whatever it is, will presently disappear. . . . Do not try to form a picture of God, which is, of course, impossible. Work by rehearsing anything or everything that you know about God. God is Wisdom, Truth, inconceivable Love. God is present everywhere; has unlimited power, knows everything; and so on....But you must stop thinking of the trouble, whatever it is. The rule is to think about God, and if you are thinking about your difficulty you are not thinking about God. (Power Through Constructive Thinking, page 138)

The Philosopher might have quibbled a bit with Dr. Fox about some of "all you know about God", but the two authors were in agreement about the method.

Anyway, one of the first services I performed for C. Alan Anderson, Ph.D. was to re-key-in his book, for which he owned the rights but did not have the plates (this was back in the day). We were then able to divide it into three parts: a book about God designed along the lines of a dog book, a book of arguments for and against life after death, and a philosophy textbook. The latter we never got around to, but it would have been titled Through the Hawsehole, a reference to the notion that the ship’s captain generally comes aboard, metaphorically speaking, through the transom and straight into the captain’s cabin. Philosophy, on the other hand, being much grubbier and more down-to-earth in its way, crawls up one of the lines or hawsers (ropes, for all you landlubbers) and enters the ship through the hawsehole, into the below-decks, support areas. I even made a sketch for the cover: a hawsehole with a rat’s tail danging out of it.

But we were more immediately concerned with creating texts for ongoing popular courses that the Philosopher was teaching. The first text was the dog book, which we used in several introductory courses, which needed to be grounded philosophically in religion by illustrating how one approaches the subject of one’s belief in God—or lack thereof. We gave it the title that Alan had originally planned to use: A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God, a sort of dyslexic guide to the deity. Chapters included "Practical Tips on the God Market", "What Breeds are Available", "Our Loving Leader, the Invincible, Vulnerable, Creative, Personal God", "Taking God In", "Naming Your God: A Myth is as Good as a Smile", "The Housebroken God: Should You Use a Godhouse?", "Mystically Exercising and Growing With Your God", "Pet God or Work God?", "God’s Leash Law", "Unleashing God in Your Life", and "When You Regret Not Having Selected Your God Earlier". Alan expanded the text taken from his original book somewhat, and the new book worked well in his classes. We self-published it as a GBC (spiral-bound) book, and I still have a few copies available for $15.00 postpaid (my mailing address is listed on this site under "Contacts"). Don’t pay the outrageous price listed by someone who has one copy available through Amazon. A few years ago, Ron Hughes created a Kindle version of the book with a lovely dog painting by his wife, Mary, on the cover, available from Amazon or from Ron at www.ppquimby.com. The dog is fictional, or course, but since he represents our ongoing effort to understand and relate to Ultimate Reality, I named him Archangel, Archie for short.

The second text, again slightly expanded from the original book, is More Than Mortal? Contrasting Concepts and Enigmatic Evidence About Life After Death. It served as one of the texts for Alan’s ongoingly popular course, Life After Death. (Note: this is not a course about death and dying.) It includes the research (up to 1991) that has exploded since medical advances have led to many more near-death experiences with reports of the world to come. This book is reassuring to those who are grieving a "lost" loved one. We come down strongly on the "for" side of the argument.

Ron also created a Kindle edition of this, available from Amazon or from Ron; and I still have a few spiral-bound softcover copies, again for $15.00 postpaid. Checks of U.S. money on U.S. banks only, please, with books mailed to U.S. addresses.

 

April 28, 2015

New Thought and Feng Shui

Recently I have started working with a home study course in Feng Shui ( pronounced fung shway) from Learning Strategies. In Chinese, feng means wind, and shui means water. They are opposing energies that must be brought into balance in the physical world so your house doesn’t get blown away or swept away in a flood; but they also apply in the nonphysical realms of mind and spirit. Although I have worked quite a bit with Feng Shui in the past, this course caught my attention. It combines techniques from two traditional approaches: Landscape and Compass Schools. Its principal author is a corporate lawyer who has had a serious illness involving a near-death experience and been helped to recover by Feng Shui; and it takes into account the findings of quantum physics and process thought, which puts it squarely in the camp of Process New Thought, a.k.a. Alan and Deb’s Pretty Good Religion.

The course’s principal author, Marie Diamond, was one of the people featured in The Secret. As she explains it:

The Secret means that we are creators of our Universe, and that every wish that we want to create will manifest in our lives. Therefore, our wishes, thoughts, and feelings are very important because they will manifest. (Rhonda Byrne, 2006, The Secret, page 113.)

This book and film were welcomed by New Thoughters as valuable (one New Thoughter referred to it as "a Trojan horse for New Thought), but many of us still had major reservations about it. It oversimplifies what is involved. The Secret is the Law of Attraction (aw, gee; now I’ve spoiled the surprise), one of the major underlying principles of New Thought. The Law of Attraction is commonly stated as "Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind", or "As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7), but there’s a lot more to it: one might begin by rearranging belongings in physical space, but one must also rearrange one’s thinking, balancing body, mind, and spirit, especially one’s relationship with Ultimate Reality, a.k.a. God. Shortcuts don’t work any better than they do in author Stephen Covey’s description of trying to "cram" (as in school preparation for tests) on the farm: if you skip soil preparation, planting at the proper time, weeding and watering, and harvesting when things are mature, you won’t get much of a crop.

Feng Shui revolves around the concept of energy, known as Qi or chi. The Diamond Feng Shui course ties this in to the idea that the basic building blocks of the universe are energetic in nature (shades of Whitehead, Planck, et al.!), bringing it up to date while revealing the timelessness of the concept. Woven throughout the course are references to the need for building your spiritual life as well as developing your physical and mental capacities. Balance among and within all areas is critical. It is taught in terms of yang energy and yin energy. Yang is active, "masculine", bright, and warm; yin is passive, "feminine", dark, and cool. Anyone who has worked with principles of interior design will recognize these concepts. These, along with the five elements: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal, are the ingredients of good, attractive, comfortable design. They can be approached in various ways and with various terms, and there are different strokes for different folks, but they are universal and time-honored.

As in New Thought, Diamond Feng Shui "initiates the law of attraction, capitalizing on your unique life energy for creating tremendous success, an abundance of wealth, better health, richly rewarding relationships, and deep personal growth". The course speaks of good fortune as the sum of three kinds of luck: "heaven luck (the life circumstances you were born into), human luck (your attitudes and behaviors that determine what you do with your life’s circumstances), and earth luck (the positive or negative influence of the environment you live and work in)". Although you have to play the hand you are dealt, there is plenty that you can do to overcome limitations and attract what you truly desire.

Feng shui is not a religion; it is a guide to getting things in balance in your life. It complements most religions nicely. But "thoughts are things", as New Thought author Prentice Mulford famously remarked. No amount of Feng Shui can compensate for negative thinking, and if your religion—or your interpretation of someone else’s religion—teaches you to concentrate on harming others, fear, anger, lack, or limitation; then as Jesus remarked, "They have their reward" (Matt 6:2,5). What it can do is point to places where your energy may be stuck, or too low, or too high. With these corrections, you are free to attract greater success, health, relationships, and growth, with God’s help, in every moment.

 

May 5, 2015

Grace

Nobody doesn’t like grace. "Amazing Grace" is one of nearly everybody’s favorite hymns. "Amazing Grass", a food supplement containing a lot of green stuff, is one of my favorite supplements. The very word grace sounds so—well, graceful, gracious. I remember a long-ago talk by a new curate in which he asked, "What is grace? And don’t tell me it’s a girl’s name!"

So what is grace? Merriam-Webster’s College Tenth indicates that it comes from the Latin gratia, meaning favor, charm, or thanks, coming in turn from gratus, pleasing. Then follows an entire paragraph of definitions. I’ll settle for the first: "unmerited divine assistance given man for his regeneration or sanctification", but I also like the next-to last, from Calvin Trillin: "a sense of propriety or right (had the ~ not to run for elective office)". Theologians may quibble over the "regeneration or sanctification" bit, but just about everybody buys in to "unmerited divine assistance given man". The point is, you don’t have to do anything, be anything, or have anything in order to receive heavenly grace; it just shows up unannounced, often to seemingly very undeserving individuals, frequently when they are in deep doggie doodoo. Understanding that makes you a bit more open to receiving grace when it does turn up. The Philosopher used to say that whatever God can do, God is already doing; however, sometimes you have to open the door to opportunity, or stop (deliberately or accidentally) doing something that is preventing the grace from getting through. Quite often, it suddenly lands on your head out of the blue. Still, watching for it, giving your attention to the idea of grace, helps.

Jesus apparently did not use the term grace; there is only one red-letter reference, and it is perhaps the most powerful expression of all: "My grace is sufficient for you" (2Cor 12:9). This was in response to Paul’s "I besought the Lord", in context of "in Christ" and "the power of Christ" and was part of Paul’s account of a mystical experience. Many people in the Old Testament "found grace". The term appears once in Luke and three times in John, but is not attributed to Jesus. Acts has a fair amount of grace, and Paul uses it numerous times, including Ephesians 1:2, "Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." The same phrase turns up in Revelation 1:4, "Grace be unto you, and peace."

The Hastings Dictionary of the Bible (Revised Edition) produces the notion that the OT passages appears to be "‘finding’ or ‘securing’ the ‘favour’ or ‘good-will’ of God", and this usage is also found in the NT. "The principal meaning of grace in NT, however, has reference to the good-will (the Divine favour) of God to men; associated with this is God’s empowering them, by His favour, to be pleasing to Him. . . . "

It will be seen, then, that grace excludes all thought of ‘merit’ and is entirely in opposition to a legal conception of religion. Deliverance from such a legal or commercial idea was the consequence of Paul’s conversion; therefore he could speak only of the freely given, unmerited, and extra-legal nature of God’s dealing with sinners. (Page 346)

Hastings adds, "Grace appears to be not so much in as towards men." He also mentions "the notion in Ephesians (Eph 4:7) of grace as including ‘gifts’ for ministering—i.e. a charisma; and to the idea in Romans (5:2) pf a continuation ‘in grace,’ by which is meant living with God, through Christ, in a state of constant dependence upon the Divine favour and strengthening".

Right now, I feel the relaxed comfort of the Tin Woodman right after someone gave him a good going over with an oil can. Grace is sort of "the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isa 61:3). If sin is "missing the mark", we are all sinners who can gratefully welcome this unmerited favor.

Over the door of his home in Switzerland, depth psychologist Carl Jung had the quotation "Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit", usually translated "Bidden or unbidden, God is present". It had been attributed to the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, but someone has traced it all the way back to the Greek Oracle of Delphi, who said something about the presence of "the gods", but I think it starts to lose something, so I’ll stay with Erasmus. The presence of God always makes a positive difference. Unity’s Poet Laureate, James Dillet Freeman included in his "Prayer of Protection", "The presence of God watches over us. Wherever we are, God is."

"Without God, man can do nothing. Without man, God will do nothing." (I’m not sure who first said that.) That’s what happens when we are given free will. The nature of grace is such that as long as we are not wilfully opposing God, he can and will act. Given the slightest bit of daylight, his grace will get through.

I will close with Paul Laughlin’s emulation of his eponymous epistler: "Gray sand peas".  If you see Paul, tell him I said hello.

 

May 12, 2015

Time

I haven’t seen much advice about time management lately, probably because most people have figured out one way or another that you can’t manage time. The clock just goes on ticking. Whether you subjectively see it as going fast or going slowly is your perception. But life has its challenges: trying to cram too much into a day, trying to get organized or orderly, figuring out what your priorities are or should be. So what can you manage that will lead to your sense of managing your time well?

That’s easy, at least to define: you manage your mind. I assisted the Philosopher in teaching a course titled "Self Leadership Through Mind Management", and it was very popular. But that’s still not concrete enough for most of us struggling to get through the day while wearing too many hats, so let’s take a look at what time is and how we might go about throwing a saddle on it.

In the olden days, theologians pictured God as outside of time, which kind of rolled by in front of him like a conveyor belt: "Time, like an ever-rolling stream,/Bears all its sons away. They fly, forgotten, as a dream/Dies at the opening day." (Isaac Watts, 1719, based on Psalm 90). This can be a useful metaphor, either left-to-right or front-to-back. But any metaphor has limits to its usefulness; you have to pick the right moment to jump off the train. And our worldview has expanded as our knowledge of hard science has expanded. The joke is that contemporary physics has begun to resemble metaphysics (in the traditional philosophical sense, in which it includes physics).

Time management expert Charles Hobbs, in material I can’t seem to lay my hands on, once defined time (and he may have borrowed this from others) as "the succession of events, one after another". There is your "ever-rolling stream". He therefore defined time management as "controlling events", since management is the act of controlling. Here we are back at Whitehead’s occasions of experience. The previous occasions impinge on the present, but we have the ultimate choice how much of the past to combine with God’s present-moment perfect possibilities for us. The future hasn’t happened yet, and when it gets here, it functions as the present moment, with all of the past impinging on it. Now is the only time in which we can act. So our job is to shape each moment of now at least a little bit more toward whatever our heart’s desire is. Step by step, we get closer to it, until the moment when one more baby step takes us over the line to completion.

C. Robert Mesle, in Process Theology: A Basic Introduction, explains:

In process theology, time is not like the grooves stamped onto a record. Instead, time becomes, like music improvised by a jazz combo. The musicians have some idea where they are going, and the choices they have made so far suggest directions for the future. But the whole point of improvisation is that they are making up the music as they go. They can change keys, change tempo, suddenly shoot off in response to a new idea. After playing seven notes of a scale they may choose not to play that eighth note, but leave a silence and start off in some totally new direction.
Following the image of the world as a jazz combo, we might play with the idea of God as the lead flute player. God has power to shape the music by God’s own choices of what notes to sound. To the extent that the other players are sensitive and choose to follow God’s lead the revelation of God’s musical vision has power to shape the becoming of time. But the insensitivity of the world and the world’s choice to create its own music mean that the music is not always what God would choose. (Pages 37-38)

That’s certainly an understatement! But God sees farther than we do, and God believes in us, even when we don’t quite believe in ourselves. Mesle’s image, while charming, sells God a bit short. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating God’s persuasive power.

Chess master and financial wizard James Altucher, in The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth, describes his daily practice for success, one which includes physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions. He states that in six months, this practice changed his life drastically for the better. "The daily practice is to take care of these four areas of your life every single day without fail. It doesn’t mean you have to go crazy with them, just a tiny bit: aim for a one percent improvement a day." In a book on wealth? "Well, how do you ever expect to get there if you don’t start taking care of your basic needs? The old way is to concern yourself solely with making money. The new way requires that you see how everything in your life is connected, including the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual." You mean your thinking matters? What a concept! If you are steadily improving in those four dimensions every day of your life, what better use of your time could there be?

 

May 19, 2015

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is easily the most misunderstood concept in all of Christianity. New Thought, along with the United States—in case you hadn’t noticed—is squarely founded on Judeo-Christian principles, quite independent of the individual’s beliefs. Beliefs can rapidly turn into food fights, and we don’t need to go there. However, there are definite rules of conduct for our society that trace back to Judeo-Christian roots—typically, the Ten Commandments. They have many layers, like an onion; they grease the wheels of social interaction quite nicely, and have been doing so for thousands of years. Sooner or later, Judeo-Christian societies stop chopping people’s heads off, and— at their best— stop lying, cheating, and stealing. Books can and have been written on the subject, but for now, I want to zero in on forgiveness.

Tons of books have been written on the subject of Christian forgiveness, and most of them have it all wrong, adding to the misery of the people who have been wronged. Most of them fail to tell you that Thing One about forgiveness is that it can only be performed by the person who has been wronged, not his mother or his best friend or his mentor. It has nothing to do with the identified culprit, who quite possibly goes happily off to lunch without ever even knowing that you are seething inside. Your failure to forgive is no skin off his or her nose; it only hurts you. If you don’t understand Christian forgiveness, it seems like the ultimate injustice.

My favorite book on forgiveness, written by a man who had much to forgive and succeeded in doing so, is Lewis B. Smedes, The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How. Among the points that he makes is: If you yourself have not been wronged, there is nothing to forgive. Forgiving does not mean reunion. Forgiving does not mean restoring. Some Christian denominations pressure people to go back into a harmful relationship in the name of forgiveness, and that’s not what forgiveness is about. Forgiveness is for the benefit of the person who has been wronged. We forgive because it suits us and for our own sakes.

We only forgive the people that we blame. Smedes explains, "When I do not blame people, I do not forgive them, either." Yes, we like to be understanding of the shortcomings of others, and we shouldn’t rush to judgement. "But if humility were to keep us from judging evil when we see it, then we leave all judgment to fools." Smedes adds:

We make a big mistake if we disqualify ourselves from [blaming others]. The moment we say, "Who am I to judge?" we resign our membership in the family of rational human beings. And we are reneging on one of the most important tasks assigned to rational human beings: to size up people’s actions the best we can and to assign responsibility for them. Which is to say that imperfect people have not only the right but an obligation to blame people. (Page 79)

Understanding is not equivalent to forgiving:

If we understand why someone did what he did, we do not forgive him. We forgive him only when we cannot understand why he did it. If we really understood why someone had to hurt us, we would know he could not help himself, and we would excuse him instead of blame him. And if we excuse someone, we do not need to forgive him because we only forgive the ones we blame. . . . (Page 80)

When is someone to blame? Smedes suggests three tests: "He did it." "He meant to do it." "He initiated the action." Then, "If what he did wounded and wronged you personally, you blame him." Still, it is possible that you are wrong and he is totally innocent, so we do not rush to blame. "My point is only that forgiveness always comes with blame attached. . . . If we dare not blame, we dare not forgive."

From here, Smedes moves into a discussion of forgiving ourselves:

When a person asks us to forgive him, he is also asking permission to forgive himself. What he wants is more than freedom from our judgment. He wants freedom from his own. . . . We must pay for the license to forgive ourselves. We pay in the currency of remorse. (Page 97)

What we need to understand is: "We forgive ourselves for what we did, not for what we are...for specific things we did...for wrongful things that we deserve blame for doing." We remind ourselves repeatedly that God forgives us and we forgive ourselves. We keep it to ourselves; there is no need to talk to others about it, but we act forgiven. Remember the story about the woman in the New Testament who crashed a party to pour expensive ointment on the feet of Jesus out of gratitude for having been forgiven a great deal; we may do something extravagant to show our gratitude.

The one Person we don’t forgive is God, because God never does anything blameworthy. A. N. Whitehead referred to God as "the Fellow Sufferer who understands". God suffers as we suffer, right along with us.

Smedes concludes with a large section on how to go about forgiving. Some highlights:

What Jesus said about forgiving seventy times seven had nothing to do with putting up with things until the seventy times eighth offense. He was telling us not to make forgiving a matter of numbers. He was talking about healing our memories of a wound that someone’s wrong etched in our cemented past. Once we have stopped the abuse, we can forgive however many times that it may take us to finish our healing. (Page 161)
The enemy of forgiving is hate, not anger. Anger is aimed at what persons do. Hate is aimed at persons. Anger keeps bad things from happening again to you. Hate wants bad things to happen to him. Anger is the positive power that pushes us toward justice. Hate, by that token, is the negative force that pushes us toward vengeance. Anger is one of love’s good servants. Hate serves nobody well. (Page 167)
Forgiving is the only way to heal the wounds of a past we cannot change and cannot forget. Forgiving changes a bitter memory into a grateful memory, a cowardly memory into a courageous memory, an enslaved memory into a free memory. Forgiving restores a self-respect that someone killed. And, more than anything else, forgiving gives birth to hope for the future after our past illusions have been shattered.
When we forgive, we bring in light where there was darkness. We summon positives to replace negatives. We open the door to an unseen future that our painful past had shut. When we forgive, we take God’s hand, walk through the door, and stroll into the possibilities that wait for us to make them real. (Page 176)

 

May 26, 2015

Balance

Balance is a term one probably encounters more in interior design than in spirituality, but balance has a lot to do with one’s degree of satisfaction in life; and when one is pretty much satisfied, one’s pores are increasingly open for God to get through.

Balance probably has to begin with physical posture: your head needs to be squarely balanced on your shoulders so that your skeleton rather than your muscles does the job of holding you up. If you line your body up properly, numerous physical problems mysteriously disappear.

One of the pivotal concepts in New Thought is that God desires our highest good just as much or more than we do. However, God, seeking the best of all possible worlds, gave us free will. Had we stayed in the Garden of Eden (and yes, I am aware that that is a teaching tale, not a piece of recorded history), we would not have continued to grow spiritually and intellectually; we would have remained children. God did not want to be caring for an extremely large group of eternal children, any more than we would.

In order for us to have free will, we have to have a neutral environment. It isn’t neutral if I can make it rain on you but not on me. The rules must apply to all:

"The rain, it raineth on the just,

And also on the unjust fella,

But mostly on the just, because

The unjust steals the just’s umbrella!"

The universe operates lawfully and evenly, so that we are all exposed to a certain amount of difficulty that results from the interaction of these laws. God does not send these difficulties, but rather, mitigates them as much as is possible at that point. Mitigation usually involves restoring balance in some way.

God sees farther than we do, so it is useful to return our attention to God at frequent intervals. Jesus, who was pretty plugged in to God, constantly reminds us of this, saying that it is "the Father within", not he, who "doeth the works". This is a form of balancing God and the world; however, God is always and everywhere present even though we may not be paying attention to him. We are out of balance if we try to struggle with our problems without asking for God’s help. We are also out of balance if we give too much time to prayer and meditation or to the afterlife instead of the life we are presently in.

Whether we turn to the Bible or to other religions, sooner or later, we run into the concept of balance. The notion is ancient and more Eastern than Western. What it boils down to is this: we are free to say no to God if we feel that we are not ready for whatever perfect possibilities that he proposes. If we say yes, quite often we are in for a roller-coaster ride, but saying no keeps us stuck in unwanted circumstances.

Balance ensures that we don’t fall overboard on either side, but keep harmonious levels on both sides. Let’s go way Eastern and look at yang and yin, for example. Light and dark, masculine and feminine, both sides are good—unless we get out of balance and accumulate too much of either one. It is the lack of balance that is the problem. Just as with old-fashioned balance scales, we need to add to whichever one is light or subtract from whichever one is heavy, until they are back in balance. Heat or cold, activity or inactivity, the principle is the same. Not everything is in balance at fifty-fifty; we sometimes have to work out what the proportions need to be for ideal balance.

There are many ways of getting and keeping things in balance. We can divide time into days or weeks, or even years. We can delegate certain tasks to others so that we have time for other activities or for rest, or even for just sitting and meditating or planning. We can clear large chunks of time for a project or just nibble on it a little at a time.

If you have been feeling out of balance, ask yourself what balance would feel like. What would it be like to feel on top of things, to be handling things with appropriate timing, to work hard, play hard, and then rest just as hard? Perfect balance is divine order.

 

June 2, 2015

Faith

Faith, hope, and charity are the three theological virtues, meaning that they pertain to our relationship with God. I used to have a triple bookmark consisting of purple grosgrain ribbon with little charms on the ends: a gold cross, a gold anchor, and a gold heart, as the traditional symbols of those virtues.

Faith is a term that is frequently bandied about. One has faith, lacks faith, loses faith, gains faith. What is faith? How does it differ from belief? How does one acquire it? The word only appears twice in the Old Testament, but it is common in the Gospels and Epistles. The answers to our questions begin with Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." That is really the nub of it: you don’t have faith in what is already there in front of you; you have faith that something that is not yet visible will appear. This can be really tough to do when things don’t seem to be working out. You have to hang in there with your faith in God’s ability to work things out, knowing that God’s delays are not God’s denials.

Jesus berated his disciples: "Oh, ye of little faith!" (Mt 6:30, 8:26) He said to the centurion seeking a cure for his servant and just asking Jesus to help without even coming to his home, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." (Mt 8:10) He healed two blind men, saying, "According to your faith be it unto you." (Mt 9:29) They had chased and called after him, and when he asked them whether they believed that he could do this, they said, "Yea, Lord." To the woman from Canaan who pleaded with him to help her daughter, he said, "It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs." Her reply: "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table." [Wish I were that quick-witted!] His answer: "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt." (Mt 15:26-28) And then there was the woman with the bloody issue who had spent a fortune on doctors who did not help her. She believed that if she could only touch the hem of Jesus’s robe, she would be healed. She pushed through the crowd , touched his clothes, and was instantly healed. Jesus felt the power ("virtue") go out from him, and asked his disciples, "Who touched my clothes?" They were not impressed: you’re in a crowd with hundreds of people jostling you and you want to know who touched you? Get real! But the woman, terrified, came forward and told him what had happened. His reply: "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague." (Mk 6:25-34) And on and on.

By contrast, when he visited his home town of Nazareth, everybody thought they knew all about him from childhood on, and he remarked, "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." "And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief." (Mk 6: 4-6)

"Little faith" is part-time, on-again, off-again faith, like a lamp with a loose wire. Tony Robbins describes a belief as a sort of table top for which one seeks support, like legs. You might find spindly little legs, or you might find a massive center pedestal. If you can’t find legs that work, you may junk that particular table top. That belief doesn’t justify your faith in it.

Hastings Dictionary of the Bible (rev. ed. 1963) has a wonderful long article on faith. I will close by quoting a bit of the beginning:

It is common in modern English usage to take faith in God to mean something more than belief in God, faith meaning a personal trust and commitment, belief only an intellectual or impersonal acceptance or credence, or a traditional dogmatic statement. In older English, however, ‘belief’ was used for trusting or confiding in a person or thing . . . and even in modern usage the verb ‘believe’ corresponds frequently to the noun ‘faith,’ although one may emphasize the personal relation by using ‘trust.’ In any case our task is not to define ‘faith’ abstractly or to demarcate it by definition from other terms such as ‘belief,’ but by investigating Biblical usage to give it its proper content as it stands within its Biblical context. (Page 288)

And I believe that I’ve gotten you off to a good start on that.

 

June 9, 2015

Hope

At first blush, hope, signified by the anchor, would appear to be the strongest of the three theological virtues, but appearances can be deceiving. Since time immemorial, a heavy hunk of hooked (in order to catch on things in the sea bed and stay put) metal has been used to keep vessels of all sizes in place in the harbor. Under regular conditions, the anchor symbolizes strength, stability, and consistency.

Wikipedia tells more than I ever cared to know about anchors through the ages, their various uses, and how the designs have been improved over time. It takes a great deal of seamanship to make proper use of anchors. Permanent anchors use a combination of weight and design to keep a vessel in place, even through a heavy storm. There are clever ways to used more than one anchor at a time to accomplish this, depending on wind and waves. But vessels also carry temporary, lighter anchors (sometimes called sea anchors) that were not intended to keep the ship in place, but rather, to keep it on course by slowing it down a bit. Or, in case the wind died, a sailing vessel could move itself along by throwing out its sea (or kedge, or drogue) anchor) and then making headway by hauling on the line. This took a lot of able-bodied seamen with muscle power to replace the wind power! Sailing warships used the kedge anchor to outmaneuver their opponents when the wind had dropped.

The earliest anchors were rocks, obviously used only for permanent anchorage because they were too heavy to transport. Back in the day, my family used an old car engine half buried in the mud of Peachblossom Creek to moor our ancient Comet, which—trust me—is much too big a boat to teach a petite five-year old girl to sail on! And nobody taught me anything about anchors.

But I digress. How did the anchor come to be a Christian symbol? The cross was at first considered a symbol of shame, like the hangman’s gallows. As professor of English Bergen Evans once put it, nobody would wear a little gold electric chair around her neck! The first Christian symbol was an X, scratched on rocks and cave walls, symbolizing the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Christos (Greek for Christ). Then, as others caught on to that, the early Christians turned to the anchor because of Hebrews 6: 18-19: "We . . . who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast....". We could just stop there, but it goes further. Look at the design of the traditional anchor and you can see that it is a disguised cross. The anchor continued to appear in catacombs and graveyards until the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine, at which point Christianity became the official religion, and Christians stopped being persecuted and needing to hide. In the days of persecution, people clung to their hope of safety not in earthly, but in heavenly things. The anchor keeps the ship from being borne about by wind and tide. It is the seaman’s last resort in stormy weather, firm and solid, representing tranquility and faithfulness for us in the storms of life.

An alternative explanation is that the anchor is a word play on the Greek word ankura with en kuria, "in the Lord". This would disappear as Latin replaced Greek.

In addition to the anchor, I have read of an alternative more contemporary metaphor for hope as a little pilot light. If that feeble little pilot light can remain lit (those on a gas stove can blow out very easily), it can light the big burner, which symbolizes a blazing faith. Or a banked fire can have its glowing embers raked back to life and blaze anew.

Both the pilot light or banked embers and the anchor share the same intention: if hope can be kept somehow alive, it doesn’t take much to get a blaze— or the forward motion of the vessel—going again when conditions are right. So never give up hope. Faith may have the great power to move mountains, but hope is the small percentage that can turn the tide of fortune. Conditions may be too rough—or too calm—to raise sail, but the anchor, or the tiny pilot light of hope, can get you through to fair weather and happier times. Do whatever you can, but if necessary, hunker down and expect the best.

 

June 16, 2015

Charity

It’s kind of weird: English, which became the dominant language of the civilized world because of its enormous size and versatility, has only one word for love.

Everybody is familiar with the famous Chapter 13 of I Corinthians, which begins "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." It goes on to describe charity in terms that make it quite clear that it means love. More recent translations than the King James use love pretty universally. The expression "as cold as charity" captures the spirit of verse 3: "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor . . . and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Charity refers here to "voluntary giving of help to those in need", but it lacks the warmth and sympathy that we would display to family and friends. If we are doing it as a cold duty, it profiteth us very little because our thinking is not where it needs to be. The chapter concludes, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." An adage about happiness could equally well apply to love: "Happiness is like perfume; you can’t sprinkle it on others without getting some of it on yourself." That is only true if you are sprinkling it out of a sense of good will (a synonym for love). Appreciation is another synonym for love: if you appreciate something, in a sense, you love it.

Many people think that the opposite of love is hate, but hate is really misdirected love. The opposite of love is indifference. Hate has energy and can be redirected, but indifference just sits there. If you truly love someone or something, you demonstrate it in various ways. You act on your love, ideally, in ways that are pleasing to your beloved. Tony Robbins has a very funny bit about doing marriage counseling for a couple. A woman whose preferred modality of expression is visual is married to a man whose preferred modality of expression is kinesthetic. For her to feel loved, her husband should take her places and buy her things. For him to feel loved, he needs to be—er—cuddled. The husband is an airplane pilot, and fortunately for the rest of the world, he switches to visual modality when he is flying. His wife had fallen in love with him because of how nice he looked (visual) in his uniform. Tony’s advice to the troubled couple was that they should go home and have the husband put on half of his uniform!

The great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote an outstanding treatment of the subject of love and the language we use to refer to it in his book, The Four Loves. He winds up his introduction:

We must join neither the idolaters nor the "debunkers" of human love. Idolatry both of erotic love and of "the domestic affections" was the great error of nineteenth-century literature. . . . The debunkers stigmatise as slush and sentimentality a very great deal of what their fathers said in praise of love. They are always pulling up and exposing the grubby roots of our natural loves. . . . A plant must have roots below as well as sunlight above and roots must be grubby. Much of the grubbiness is clean dirt if only you will leave it in the garden and not keep on sprinkling it over the library table. The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love. No less than that: but also no more.... (pages 20-21)

Lewis brings in the Greek words storge (affection), philia (brotherly love), and eros (romantic love) to broaden our vocabulary. He also distinguishes what he calls need-love and gift-love. He had begun his book with the idea that God is love and that this would be easy going, but he found that it was not quite that simple. Need-love is still love, he discovers; and we unquestionably need God. God, on the other hand, gives us love as a gift, or we would not have any to give back to him. "Loving him who first loved me", goes the last line of an old children’s hymn. But you can’t just wrap up love in a bundle, tie a bow around it, and call it God.

Faith, hope, and love, the three theological virtues. Not surprisingly, there is God in the midst of them. I will give Lewis the last word:

We are all receiving Charity. There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one’s fault if they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. You might as well ask people to like the taste of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children, may be sure that at some times—and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait or habit—they are receiving charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them. Thus God, admitted to the human heart, transforms not only Gift-love but Need-love; not only our Need-love of Him, but our Need-love of one another. (Pages 182-183)

 

June 23, 2015

Debonair

I’m not going to deal with prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude—at least not yet— but I have just unearthed another beatitude, "Blessed are the debonair". Whaaat??

Prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude are all lovely virtues, but it’s awfully hard to just tell someone to "assume a virtue, if you have it not". Too often, your attention is on whatever supposed defect you have in your behavior instead. I suspect that you are more likely to spot one or another of these virtues in the rear-view mirror as you drive down the highway of life and realize that you have somehow acquired them. Go ahead and try a Benjamin Franklin ledger, if you like, and in a few months send me a double-spaced report in triplicate.

To the outside observer, New Thought is seen to be "the religion of healthy-mindedness", cheery and upbeat. We aren’t meditating on our sins often enough to suit the theological grouches. But I repeat from whoever said it first: New Thought is all about what you say to yourself when things go wrong. Little is required to be a fair-weather sailor; it’s when the waves mount up that your seamanship truly becomes apparent.

Many of us master the gentle art of wearing pleasant expressions and making pleasant social noises when we are around other people. But stop and think: the most important person I need to influence is myself. Refraining from playing Ain’t It Awful when around others, let alone with myself in the bathroom mirror, is a good stop plan, but I need a good start plan, too. In the immortal words of business consultant Jane Elizabeth Allen, "Your brain hears what your mouth says." We are supposed to be watching our thoughts at all times, according to Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore, so it is even more important to watch what eventually proceeds out of our mouths. Mother always told us, "If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all." This means more than ad hominem attacks on each other; it includes comments on world events, weather, and politics.

Long ago, when I was a schoolgirl, the headmistress preached a sermonette on "Blessed are the debonair". I was not savvy enough to pay attention to where she had obtained this bit of wisdom, and it’s definitely not part of the Sermon on the Mount, but somehow the phrase stuck with me. You make it look easy. You never let them see you sweat. It’s a gamesman’s point of view. What is really happening is that you are taking on the rôle you are playing, sort of like the wolf in sheep’s clothing who becomes mild-mannered. The word débonair is originally French, and it took me two tries to find it in an English dictionary. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "Suave, urbane, affable, genial, carefree and gay, jaunty". It comes from Old French, so it’s been around awhile. Its etymological derivation is "de bonne air, of good disposition". The noun is debonairness, which is starting to get ridiculous. The quintessential debonair personality is French actor Maurice Chevalier, especially in the movie Gigi. In today’s jargon, he was cool.

Playing a hunch, I got up and marched across the hall to the Philosopher’s library and consulted his facsimile 1828 first edition of Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language. Sure enough, debonair was there. Noah spelled it with two n’s, identified it as French, defined it as "Civil; wellbred; complaisant; elegant", and attributed its use to Milton.

But the dictionaries are only giving us a description of what appears on the outside. It’s an attitude in the broader sense: not the kind that can get you sent to the principal’s office; rather, a mental attitude that teaches you that things will come out all right in the end because the Father is on the Throne, the Captain is on the Bridge. So you feel free to start looking around and taking inventory of what you "have in the house". It’s an inside job. We’re back to faith: the conviction of things not seen. Your inner demons start to scream at you when you step out on faith, when you believe that things will turn out right even while they’re clearly going to hell in a handbasket. You concentrate on right — with as many details as you can muster— not on hell or the handbasket, even though God’s hand is on the handbasket and ultimately guiding you out of hell, which—remember—is really only a state of consciousness. New Thought minister and author Emmet Fox used to say that the gates of hell are swinging doors: we put ourselves in and we get ourselves out by how open we are to aligning our thoughts with those of God. So get the hell out! Turn your guidance over to God—and be ready to follow hunches, inclinations, and other subtle guidance. If there is anything at all that you can do in your situation, do it as best you can, and you will be given more: guidance, resources, support. And do your level best to make it look easy the entire time: Blessed are the debonair!

Lagniappe: If you are wondering what this has to do with process thought, remember that we are new every moment, and that we are piling up those momentary moments as the pattern of the past. We can decide to change the pattern of the past. Past plus divine offer plus choice equals co-creation. As the Philosopher liked to say, God has a finger in every pie. We are never alone. We always have a choice, and the resulting occasions pile up until the next choice tips the whole pile over, and our heart’s desire bursts into fruition.

 

June 30, 2015

Prudence

I decided that it would not be prudent to skip the subject of prudence as a virtue, so I rummaged around in the Philosopher’s library and came up with a volume of the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which was the basis for creating Wikipedia.

Prudence is also described as "wisdom, the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time". Sounds a whole lot more useful than a little Pilgrim pepper shaker and a whole lot different from a prim and proper prude.

Prudence and the other three cardinal (basic) virtues come to us from Plato after a long trip through Aristotle, Cicero, and a few Church leaders. Some list more virtues; others stick to the basic four. Cicero defines virtue as "a habit of mind in harmony with reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: wisdom (prudentiam) . . . . The virtues are to be found in the Wisdom of Solomon (8:7) and the Apocrypha (4 Maccabees 1: 18-19). Augustine describes prudence as "love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it". Divine Science (New Thought) minister and author Emmet Fox describes wisdom as a blend of love and intelligence, and I wonder whether this might be where he got the idea.

The four cardinal virtues "date back to Greek philosophers and were applicable to all people seeking to live moral lives". The three theological virtues, which we have already looked at recently with a short detour past debonair, "appear to be specific to Christians as written by Paul in the New Testament". So Prudence and her sisters are by no means limited to Christian teachings. Judging "between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time" involves ability to think, to reason, to discern between helpful and harmful, good and bad, or even good and better. Only a person is able to do this, and I am allowing for the possibility that some animals such as dolphins may be persons.

So then I headed for my Merriam-Webster and found, under prudence, that it is an alteration of providentia, providence. It is defined as "1: The ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason 2: sagacity or shrewdness in the management of affairs 3: skill and good judgment in the use of resources 4: caution or circumspection as to danger or risk". That would make it the opposite of going off half-cocked. A virtue whose name is linked to providence would allow one to pause at least for a moment before acting, in order to listen for the voice of God guiding one. No more shoot first and ask questions later. Discipline—training— would enable one to act quickly in case of need, including evaluating quickly what the true state of affairs is, as the police or military must do when they perceive that they are threatened. Self-discipline includes delayed gratification, which has been shown to be associated with personal success in life. In a famous experiment by Walter Mischel, young children were given a marshmallow and told that they could eat it right away or wait until the experimenter returned to the room after a short absence. If they waited, they could have two marshmallows. Children who could resist the temptation for immediate reward— in order to gain a larger or more lasting reward later— proved to be psychologically better adjusted, more dependable, more self-motivated; and they got better grades later on in high school. Followup studies showed that this trait stayed with the subjects for life.

Once again, God is seen to be looking out for the highest good of his children as he sees to it that we are guided to learn this sort of behavior. It’s not just a ploy to spoil our fun. God isn’t punishing the children who couldn’t wait and gobbled down their marshmallow. It’s just that the reward was greater for those who were able to use self-talk and self-discipline to get themselves to wait for their gratification. Reason is involved: suppose one didn’t really want a second marshmallow for some reason.

Even a dog can be trained to wait for permission before he eats his cookie, but this is behavior shaping, not reasoning. It’s the person on the other end of the leash who is doing the thinking. If starting from young childhood, one piles up occasions of experience in which one thinks before one acts, one is building up the pattern of the past in terms of character development. In the next occasion of experience, it is that much easier to do the wise thing. (You knew I was going to get a little process thinking in here somewhere!) And love backed with intelligence is what makes the world go round.

Enjoy the Glorious Fourth, using prudence to determine what and how much to eat of glorious all-American goodies!

 

July 7, 2015

Justice

"Justice", says Plato, "stands outside the class system and divisions of man, and rules the proper relationship among the three of them." In Aristotle’s longer list, justice is first in line. Cicero with a short list still includes justice. As we have already seen, the cardinal virtues are found in the Bible. Augustine says, "Justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly". He sees faith as "among the parts of justice". In symbolic artwork, Justice is depicted as having " sword, balance and scales, and a crown". For some reason, these anthropomorphic figures frequently turn up on tombs.

If you are really turned on by history and symbolism, read Justice Hall, one of a series of brilliantly written mysteries by award-winning author Laurie King. She created a wife for Sherlock Holmes, they were married in the second book of the series, and they have continued solving mysteries all over the world in the early Twenties. Justice Hall is a stately home in England, and its family motto is Justitia fortitudo mea est ("Righteousness is my strength"). The justice sent by Providence onto the villain at the end of the book is satisfying indeed. The house features a fresco on its dome depicting a description of Armageddon (the end of the world) from the book of Amos (5:24) in the Old Testament: "Let justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream". Holmes points all this out to his wife. Bet you didn’t know that Sherlock Holmes was so well-versed in the Bible, or that his godfather was Sabine Baring-Gould, author of "Onward Christian Soldiers"!

So what exactly is justice?

Starting with Webster, we encounter a legal definition and description of a court of law and a judge. Then we move on to something resembling what we would expect for a virtue or a quality associated with good character: "a: the quality of being just, impartial, or fair b (1): the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal". After that comes the synonym that we saw in connection with Justice Hall : RIGHTEOUSNESS, defined as "the quality of conforming to law" Then we get "conformity to truth, fact, or reason: CORRECTNESS". This has begun to morph us in a new direction: Implicit in the definition of justice is the notion of a North Star or Middle C of some sort. With righteousness we begin to turn ourselves into pretzels trying to align with what may or may not be "truth" or "facts" on our way to "correctness". So what is our compass, our North Star, our Middle C? How do we know what is "right" and "just"? Check out the Declaration of Independence, which, along with the Constitution itself, are the two documents on which the United States of America is founded and operates and which make it the most prosperous and successful nation in human history. Remember that the Founders were all well-educated men (and their women backed them to the hilt) who had studied law and philosophy throughout their history, and who were well familiar with what had worked and what had not. In the first paragraph of the Declaration, we find "to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them" (the paragraph is one long sentence).

One of the great injustices done in the last century is the charge that many of our Founders were Deists (people who believe that God, like a watchmaker, created the world and then wandered off, leaving it to slowly run down by itself). The actual words of the Founders belie this. Check out any of the writings of W. Cleon Skousen. Skousen was a lawyer whose background included "16 years with the FBI, 4 years as Chief of Police in Salt Lake City, and 17 years as editorial director of the nation’s leading police magazine, while at the same time he served for 13 years as a university professor". If you are just going to read one book, make it The 5,000-Year Leap, all about the creation of the United States Constitution and what led up to it. All of Skousen’s writings are available from Amazon and include large and well-indexed references to primary sources: the writings of the Founders themselves.

The Constitution leaves us free to believe anything we want to, provided that our public conduct is generally in line with Judeo-Christian values, on which our entire system of government is founded. The government has no right to interfere with anyone’s religious beliefs. Skousen’s other books (with co-authors), The Real George Washington, The Real Thomas Jefferson, and The Real Benjamin Franklin, make it very clear that this was the unanimous opinion of the Founders. In case there is still confusion, three of the Founders collaborated in the writing of The Federalist Papers, in which they explain in great detail just what the Founders meant. Working for what the Philosopher liked to refer to as "ever-closer approximations of truth" includes honoring what those great men actually said and meant rather than distorting history for political gain.

 

July 14, 2015

Temperance

Wikipedia says that temperance is "also known as restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention, and moderation tempering the appetition". It doesn’t say a word about smashing mirrors in bars or other intemperant behavior.

We think of temper as in losing one’s, or we think of the process of tempering steel. Not being a materials science expert, I can’t tell you much about it except that it involves fire and a lot of heating, after which whatever is tempered is much more stable or strong or something. That doesn’t get us any closer to understanding why temperance is a Christian virtue.

Augustine says , "Temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved." Interesting; starts one thinking. Why is that temperate? Maybe it is overboard. What if what is loved shouldn’t be loved all that much? Where is the restraint, self-control, abstention, and moderation?

Webster supplies us with a ton of stuff about temper, verb and noun. What we really want is at the top: "To dilute, qualify, or soften by the addition or influence of something else: MODERATE (temper justice with mercy). This could obviously be anything from the physical to the psychological to the spiritual. Now we start to see how this could be considered a virtue. It means not going off half cocked, being balanced in our approach to things, avoiding extremes. Verb or noun, being moderate in one’s approach or one’s point of view. This dovetails with the concept of maturity as being able to hold two conflicting ideas in mind simultaneously, even if one ultimately decides to come down more on one side than the other.

In music, there is a concept known as tempered tuning with respect to keyboard instruments. We can’t play in the cracks, so we can’t adjust individual notes to blend in with instruments such as strings that can in effect "play in the cracks". So somebody figured out long ago how to carefully split the differences and distribute them evenly to make things harmonious. Today, we can buy electronic devices that show us with great precision when we have the individual notes adjusted correctly so as to blend in as they should. I particularly appreciate this for my harpsichord, which is a modern instrument with the stability supplied by plywood that Bach and his contemporaries lacked. But my instrument still goes out of tune much more easily than a piano, which is why the harpsichord was quickly displaced by the newfangled pianoforte. To me, the nuisance of tuning is worth it because of the sweeter, cleaner tone afforded by leather plectra as compared to fat felt hammers. "Each to his own taste", said the old lady as she kissed the cow.

Temperance is neither lying drunk in the gutter nor being a teetotaller who smashes mirrors in bars. To some people, alcohol is literally poison, and they must abstain completely, but they don’t have to attack those who choose to imbibe. For most people, temperance probably means giving some careful thought to what, when, and how much one chooses to drink, whether it be alcoholic beverages or those laden with high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweetener. Temperance might involve switching from one type of beverage to another. Temperance might also involve the number of nights one stays up watching movies, or reading the latest thriller even though one must be up early the next morning. Sometimes temperance means putting some activity off one’s list totally, and sometimes it means delaying, or pausing to think before one speaks. Maybe we just need to picture the opposite of whatever we are considering and work out a synergy between the extremes. We need to temper justice with mercy, and we also need to make sure that we are not so overly merciful that justice is not done.

I think it is worth pointing out that total, 100-percent-of-the-time moderation is itself an extreme. Once in a while one needs to be extreme about something to which one is passionately drawn, if only to remain human. Nearly everybody has a cause or hobby to go overboard about, or collects old doorknobs, or whatever floats your boat. So be moderate in your moderation!

 

July 21, 2015

Fortitude

We don’t see this word very much these days, even though it is still very useful. Webster defines it as "strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage". People often cut to the chase and just call it courage. But courage (think of the French coeur, heart) adds heart to mind. Wikipedia starts out with courage: "also named fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation". Plato started it, and then the other boys piled on. Plato assigned fortitude to "the warrior class and to the spirited element in man". Obviously it is not limited to those in today’s thinking. Wisdom of Solomon 8:7 lists the cardinal virtues. They are also found in 4 Maccabees 1: 18-19.

St. Augustine states, "Fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object". This is especially interesting when we consider it from our point of view and then consider it from God’s point of view. God models good behavior for us when he patiently endures our foolishness for however many incarnations it takes for us to get our acts together. Yet he somehow manages to keep boundaries on things even while continuing to grant us free will. He continues to pursue us: "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest: I am he whom thou seekest!"

Going back to the Wikipedia definition of courage, we note that it is "the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation". It doesn’t mean that you aren’t afraid or uncertain or timid. Courage is feeling those emotions and going ahead anyway. Augustine is right: sufficient love of someone or something gives us the necessary heart to overcome our emotions. There are stories of people gaining incredible strength in emergency situations, lifting a car off a loved one, for example. Your knees may be knocking together, but you don’t let that stop you. You may have butterflies in your stomach, but you teach them to fly in formation. Actually, inaction makes things worse. As soon as you reach a decision and take action, you are distracted from your fear and intent upon whatever your goal now is, so it’s always better to not "just stand there; do something!"

Starting out on a bad idea is frequently all it takes to supply you with a better idea. Starting out with next to nothing, you find that other resources miraculously materialize. "Be bold, and mighty powers will come to your aid." Remember the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand men (nobody even counted the women and children, who nonetheless had to be fed) with one lad’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fishes (John 6: 1-13, but this story is in all four Gospels). Nothing can come of nothing, but whatever is there, however seemingly limited, can be expanded in seemingly miraculous ways. We define a miracle as the operation of a law that is not as yet understood, and this one surely isn’t, so people invent caravans pulling up at the perfect moment, or everyone sharing whatever food had been brought. The timing of such an unexpected caravan suddenly appearing in a "desert place" is pretty miraculous, but it is highly unlikely that a bunch of people suddenly and spontaneously chasing after the great prophet who healed people would have stopped to pack a lunch.

People are all too quick to dismiss the power of mind because they are so wedded to the ubiquitous metaphysical notion of materialism. If any evidence comes to light that there might legitimately be such a thing as mind power, they do their best to sweep it under the rug and ignore it, because it messes up their precious paradigm. But at a minimum, mind power can enhance whatever you are doing of a material/physical nature. New Thought was originally referred to as mind power, acquiring the name New Thought in 1895. There is a ton of solid scientific research done well after that, illustrating the power of mind to do such things as raise or lower white blood cell count; or relieve a migraine headache by employing visualization to lower the temperature of one’s head through raising the temperature of one’s hand, using a thermometer as a biofeedback device (I didn’t have a migraine headache, but I did raise the temperature of my hand with nothing but visualization and a thermometer in a class).

Fortitude, then, is basically sustained courage. You somehow keep on trying things, keep on keeping on, until the tide turns or the day dawns. And you keep your attention on the power of God.

 

July 28, 2015

Milieu

Too much of what people think of as "religion" consists of sort of real-life bathrobe dramas: people with halos/auras going around in a more-or-less saintly fashion. We tend to overlook the Bible descriptions of people misbehaving accidentally or purposefully, and we beat ourselves up for not living up to some set of standards that isn’t really there.

Judaism centered on the Law: if you kept all the commandments and didn’t step on a crack, you were definitely on God’s good side. But people in the Hebrew Testament did their share of slipping up, even the greatest of them, such as King David. At the same time, people knew that they were collectively messed up, and that a lot of what they were having to endure politically resulted from not following God ‘s guidelines for a happy, successful life. They also had the prophets, including the prophecies about a Messiah, "he who is to come", who would somehow lead them out of their difficulties and get them back on the right path.

To this day, people disagree as to who Jesus was, in theological terms. Much of the stuff that seems to be written in stone was actually made up long after the earthly life of Jesus. Look up the term "son of God" or "sons of God". If you have reason to believe whatever you believe, fine. If you haven’t given it much thought, play with this notion: Jesus was a nice Jewish boy, born in the ordinary way to nice Jewish parents "of the house and lineage of David". He grew up well schooled in Hebrew scripture and tradition, and somewhere along the line, learning all about the prophecies concerning the Messiah, he decided, "I’m it!" From then on, he thought and acted and felt as if that were the truth. Small wonder, then, that when he got separated from his parents on a trip to Jerusalem (Luke 2: 41-50), when they doubled back, they discovered him sitting in the temple in the midst of the scholars, "both hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers." He was mildly puzzled at his mother’s upset: "Son, why has thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing", the ticket for the guilt trip. Even at age 12, he was already imbued with the belief that he was the chosen one.

Then as a young man, the miracles began. He turned water into wine just to keep the party going at a wedding. He began healing people. And he began his teachings. People followed him, partly because they hoped to be healed, but also because his explanations of Scripture( "Ye have heard...but I say unto you") made so much sense to them. He did try to set people straight, but the only people he really teed off on were the Pharisees, who were so hypocritical, tithing little batches of herbs while their major shortcomings continued. His boyhood friend and cousin, John the Baptist, sent messengers to him, asking, "Art thou he who should come, or do we look for another? His reply: "Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." (Matt. 11: 2-6). And not surprisingly, he lived out all the prophecies, including rising from the dead and appearing in some clearly recognizable fashion to as many as 500 people at a time.

The milieu in which all of this took place was people’s daily life. It was not some sort of sacrosanct setting, even though it may have looked quite different from the life we lead, mostly because of all the advancements of science. The only major difference was that back then, people’s lives revolved around their faith, around the Temple, to a greater extent than life does today for many people. We still have access to the written records of what Jesus said and did, and the earthly life of Jesus is better documented than the life of Julius Caesar! Jesus’s main mission was to model for people a life of loving God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself, what he called the two great commandments. New Thought grows out of universalism, the notion that everybody who wants to, will eventually be "saved". Many New Thoughters are also unitarians, who can quite happily skip over the Trinity, which is not a Biblical doctrine. But New Thought does not have a creed that everyone is required to swear to, so there are many perspectives to be found in it. There are boundaries, however, beyond which people put themselves out of New Thought; we do not throw them out, but atheists are not comfortable here, nor are materialists, those who believe that the building blocks of the universe are material stuff rather than ideas/thoughts/experiences.

The easiest place to reconcile traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs with modern-day science is with process thought, which unites religion and science on the lap of the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and his followers. Here is the milieu of everyday life touched by the love and wisdom of a creator who persuades rather than coerces, who orchestrates and mitigates, and who never violates our free will.

Lagniappe:  What just flashed into my mind is the fact that the great paleontologist and Jesuit mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, wrote a book titled The Divine Milieu.  On his nightstand at the time of his death was one of Whitehead's books.  Hmmm....

 

August 4, 2015

Stormy Weather

My part of the world has been experiencing non-stop thunderstorms with power outages and extreme flooding. The cooling system runs almost constantly, until I am shivering; but when it isn’t running, the humidity takes over. I am told that this is an El Niño year, which, I gather, means that everybody everywhere is dissatisfied with the weather in the immediate vicinity. However, it only took a one-hour power outage at twilight to make me once again start counting my blessings when it ended, the lights came back on, and the refrigerator resumed its customary purring.

One of my favorite theatrical productions is Bell, Book, and Candle, which I saw recently as a stage play and of which I have fond memories of the old Jimmy Stewart/ Kim Novak movie version that also starred Hermione Gingold and Elsa Lancaster. Gillian, the witch, has taken an interest in a new tenant upstairs when she learns that her old school nemesis, Merle Kittredge, is his fiancée. She reminds her brother, Nicky the warlock, of how that last summer in college they had been plagued with numerous thunderstorms, and Miss Kittredge was terrified of thunderstorms. "Oh", says Nicky admiringly, "was that you who did that?" They arrange that at an upcoming evening’s entertainment, Nicky, who plays the drums in a nightclub band, would have the band play the song "Stormy Weather" repeatedly. Their ploy works, and Miss Kittredge finds an excuse to flee the scene quickly.

Even without a phobia, thunderstorms are enough to bring anybody down a bit. Positive ions build up in the air, which seems heavy and oppressive. Then when the storm finally breaks, falling water releases negative ions, which make everybody feel better. The Bible has its share of stormy stories, from the Ark to Jesus calming the storm at sea, in response to his disciples’ plea, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" (Mark 4: 36-41) Big brave sailors, who earn their living on the water! We are not told what frame of mind the humans were in, shut up with the animals in the hold of the ark for months on end.

Although many folks in New Thought succumb to what philosopher Tom Morris refers to as "chirpy cheerfulness", I keep emphasizing that New Thought is all about what you say to yourself when things go wrong, and it doesn’t have to be either chirpy or cheerful. If nothing ever went wrong, boredom would quickly set in. Patients who are kept in a stress-free environment tend to die. Seedlings need not only the sun and the gentle rain, but also the strong north wind to toughen them up. You don’t have to pretend things are peachy when they’re putrid, as I observed at least once before. What you do have to do is align your mind with the Mind of God and listen for God’s guidance to lead you out of the predicament. The Bible is full of stories about people in hopeless situations who receive an unexpected touch of God’s favor at the eleventh or even the thirteenth hour, as Emmet Fox once observed. You don’t have to be cheerful, but you do have to be hopeful.

Process Thought teaches that God orchestrates and that God mitigates. The orchestration is the perfect possibilities that God supplies at the formation of each occasion of experience. These possibilities are tailor made for each individual and each experience. The mitigation comes because God never gives up on us. Instead, when we fail to accept God’s perfect possibilities for us, or they have not fully appeared yet, God gets to work and mitigates the resulting damage to whatever extent is possible. Actually, God is constantly operating in this fashion: the Philosopher liked to say, "What God can do, God is already doing". So the rainbow follows the storm, new growth results from the rain and the wind, and surprising people or events change the whole picture for the better. The trick is to learn from our mistakes, and then forget about the pain and misery that accompanied the learning. What do you and God choose for the next moment of now, either to take advantage of the storm, or to look forward to when the skies clear? Moment by moment, we build up the pattern of the past, until with the next momentary choice, we reach our goal, or an even better one.

 

August 11, 2015

One Hundred Years of INTA

The International New Thought Alliance celebrated its hundredth anniversary this year, culminating with its hundredth Congress last month. It is an umbrella organization, providing a gathering place for the exchange of ideas from all parts of the New Thought movement.

New Thought is one of the greatest paradigm shifts in Judeo-Christian history, representing a fresh and expanded look that incorporates the findings of postmodern science. It continues what is most valuable from the past while looking forward to an even more exciting future. I have represented these points of view repeatedly in these columns for quite a few years now. There is a centrist position, that most New Thoughters would agree with most of, and this position is published as the "Declaration of Principles" in each quarterly issue of the house organ, New Thought. My favorite definition of New Thought is the one I cobbled together: habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline. This leaves room for a lot of different principles and practices, but if you don’t believe in the power of mind, or the existence of Ultimate Reality, you are not going to want to hang around for long.

For nearly half of INTA’s history, its CEO/President has been and continues to be Rev. Dr. Blaine C. Mays. Blaine has steered the good ship INTA through "many dangers, toils, and snares", keeping it away from both the rocks and sirens, and from Scylla and Charybdis. Rev. Dr. Catherine Ponder is alive and well, and as its honorary Chairman, sent good wishes to the organization that she has steadfastly supported over the years. Numerous representatives of the three main branches: Divine Science, Unity, and Religious Science— in their current manifestations— as well as large and important organizations flowing from those original branches, were on hand in person or sending good wishes, not to mention the legions who have made their transitions and are now joined in the whole company of heaven, sending their thoughts and prayers in our direction.

One of this latter grouping merits special attention and honor here. Rev. Dr. Betty I. Mays, for some sixty years the wife and partner of Blaine, after years as one of the pillars of INTA, made her transition just a few days before the beginning of the hundredth Congress. Betty (Divine Science), along with Blaine (Unity) and his sister, Rev. Dr. Mimi Ronnie (Religious Science), co-ministered to the Community Church of New Thought and the Lola Pauline Mays School of Ministry. INTA Headquarters and the CCNT are located side by side geographically as well as spiritually. Betty was one of the most visible faces of INTA, likely to be greeting you as you arrived and supporting you in any venture that needed praying for or a hand in. Her delightful sense of humor and ebullient spirit have left an ongoing mark on this organization. She is sorely missed, but at the same time, I believe that everyone is aware of her ongoing presence at work among us, even though she is no longer visible to mortal eyes.

At Betty’s Celebration of Life service, her husband, Blaine, reported:

She passed in her sleep with a slight smile on her face and a position that one would take when entering onto a stage. Her left arm was over her head with open palm and the right arm was stretched out by her right side with open palm. Thus, she gracefully entered the stage of her continuing life.

I was honored to learn that a copy of an interview that I conducted with Betty in 2005 had been passed out at that service. That interview is available on this site. Click on the tab marked "Articles-Deb" and scroll down to "An Interview with Betty I. Mays".

 

August 18, 2015

Aesthetics

It might seem to be a long way from the adjustable chair, where you get your hair styled or your nails groomed, to the philosopher’s armchair. And what does aesthetics have to do with religion? Well, especially if you are a person who leads with feeling rather than thinking (even though we all eventually need both), you may be surprised and delighted to learn that aesthetics has everything to do with religion.

Let’s start with the philosopher’s armchair. Leaving aside the issue of whether the philosopher needs a haircut, remember that religion and science meet on the lap of philosophy. Like Gaul, the philosopher’s lap is divided into three parts: metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics. Logic runs as a sort of ribbon over, around, and through them all. Aesthetics has to do with beauty: with its creation, with tastes, with art, and with reference standards for what is considered beautiful and why. When Caesar wasn’t busy conquering Gaul, he was going around muttering things like "De gustibus non est disputandum" (Concerning tastes, there is no dispute). But any philosopher worth his salt would dispute that statement and does, regularly.

That’s the problem with most philosophy: it isn’t very beautiful. I consulted Alan’s beloved Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which contains a huge section covering more than I ever wanted to know about aesthetics, so I moved along to beauty, where I learned that until the eighteenth century, all anybody worried about was defining it: Plato devoted at least one entire book to the question, "What is beauty?" But from the eighteenth century onward, beauty lost its central position, and things got really messy and unbeautiful. If we are deciding what is beautiful, we quickly spill over into what is good, and we are off into ethics, and how we should then live, which takes us into theology, where most postmodern philosophers don’t want to be. Then on top of that, they decide that they don’t like the word beauty applied to this entire discussion.

To my mind, then, the philosopher who wins the beauty contest is the one who brings beauty back into the center of things: Alfred North Whitehead, Alan’s patron saint. In a delightful Internet article, "Alfred North Whitehead– Philosopher for the Muddleheaded", its author quotes him: "The teleology of the universe is directed to the production of beauty" [exact sources of Whitehead quotes unidentified, as is the author of this article]. The author adds, "Whitehead follows his own advice. He founds his world on aesthetics, and treats physics as superstructure." Of his wife, Whitehead wrote, "Her vivid life has taught me that beauty, moral and aesthetic, is the aim of existence". He also said, "By myself I am only one more professor, but with Evelyn I am first-rate".

The author continues:

In Whitehead's world, God is the agent that separates the single, beauty-seeking process of the world into mind and matter. If the Creativity did not have God to teach it, it could have no power, and so would not exist. But equally God could not exist apart from the process that acts out his suggestions. God and the world enjoy a state of mutual dependence: a bootstrap relationship.

Even if we are not black-belt philosophers, if we would devote a bit more effort to creating beauty in our own lives and the lives of others, by listening for God’s guidance in each occasion of experience and then acting on it as best we can, life would continue to grow more beautiful. There is beauty in the arts as well as in the sciences, and in the everyday lives of the people who wield hammers and screw drivers, or tend the sick. Beauty has divine order and divine love in it.

At the bottom of this article is a link to the Philosopher’s New Thought Movement Home Page, which is available both from Brad Jensen and from Ron Hughes at www.ppquimby.com. Dating back to 1995, it is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, New Thought site on the World Wide Web.

 

August 25, 2015

Prehension

Unlike aesthetics, prehension has no current application or appearance by any definition outside of the world of process thought. It is said that certain newspapers had a kill order for any submission that contained the word prehension. But one of philosophy’s continuing functions is to sharpen definitions, so philosophers tend to be very picky about their use of words to define things. Often such definitions can turn into jargon, and if one does not use a term in a traditional way, other people in the field get all bent out of shape. Still, according to the rules of the scientific game, one has a right to set one’s own definition to a term, just as long as one uses that new definition consistently. If you switch horses (or metaphors) in midstream, you are out of the scientific parade.

Alfred North Whitehead was particularly interested in making sure that people did not assume that they knew what he was talking about just because a term had been around for a while with a particular definition. His approach was to coin a term, or at least to rechristen it, in order to keep everybody on their toes. Prehension is one of the best examples of this. It did not originate with Whitehead; it is a perfectly good dictionary word, dating back to at least 1828 (I looked it up in the Philosopher’s desktop 1828 Noah Webster). There it is, right below prehensile, to which it is related. Its definition is: "A taking hold; a seizing; as with the hand or other limb". It is still present in the Merriam-Webster Tenth Collegiate, defined as "1: the act of taking hold, seizing, or grasping 2 a: mental understanding: COMPREHENSION b: apprehension by the senses".

All right; we recognize prehensile, as in a monkey’s tail; apprehend; comprehend; but what does it mean to just prehend? Is it anything like whelm? Well, it’s a mental taking in, and now the camel’s nose is under the tent! Mental, in a world in which entirely too many scholars regard anything resembling mind as just squeaks in the machinery—oh, yes; that’s right; we’ve gone from physics to quantum physics, so we have to allow for something more than the physical, but let’s sweep it under the rug as quickly as possible and drive on. One of the biggest errors in research is to design your study in such a way that the results obscure something very important that is going on. One of the Philosopher’s favorite quotations from Charles Hartshorne is his definition of philosophical materialism as "the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking. . . . ( Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, page 17)

In Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition, (1976) John Cobb and David Ray Griffin, using Whitehead’s description of life as a series of occasions of experience, state:

To say that the experiences are distinct is not to say that they are independent and separable. On the contrary, a momentary experience is essentially related to previous experiences. In fact, it begins as a multiplicity of relations, and achieves its individuality through its reaction to and unification of these relations. It is not first something in itself, which only secondarily enters into relations with others. The relations are primary. Whitehead’s technical terms for these relations are "prehension" and "feeling". The present occasion "prehends" or "feels" the previous occasions. The present occasion is nothing but its process of unifying the particular prehensions with which it begins. (Pages 19-20)

This is why process philosophy is short for process-relational philosophy. Everyone and everything is related to everyone and everything else. This starts to give us a little inkling of how God operates.

Now we can begin to see why Whitehead uses the unfamiliar term prehend rather than feel. He isn’t talking about touchy-feely, or feelings whoa-oa-oa-feelings, or soft and cuddly. He is talking about something vastly more important than the physical world: the world of ideas, or thought, which only belatedly somehow congeals into what we know as physical. The more we ponder this, the more we look at the evidence that continues to pile up concerning the power of thought, the more we understand how vital it is for physics to segue into metaphysics.

 

September 1, 2015

The Harvard Law

The Harvard Law (don’t get off the track and go to Harvard Law School) states:

"Under the most stringently controlled conditions of temperature, pressure, volume, humidity, and other variables, the experimental organism will do as it damn well pleases." You can find it along with other gems, at the link below:

http://www.health.uottawa.ca/biomech/laws/science.htm

This is one of the basic truths of the universe governing human beings and other living creatures, but you will almost never read or hear about it in psychology. It is most germane, however, because it links process philosophy, psychology, and religion under the heading of—look carefully—science. What it captures is the vital point that we are all free to choose. In process language, the occasions of experience comprising a steel beam each have some tiny bit of freedom to choose to say yes or no to God’s perfect possibilities. The steel beam is as dead as a doornail, but the occasions that make it up are not. I believe that Whitehead referred to such things as rocks and steel beams as aggregates, then referred to a tree as a democracy.

Let us glide softly into a discussion limited to human beings. Psychiatrist William Glasser created Reality Therapy in desperation after failed attempts to help a troubled youth. Asked for the theory behind it, he would simply say, "Try it; it works." He had no explanation. Then a friend gave him a copy of William Powers’ Behavior: The Control of Perception. Glasser read it about four times, then lit up and went tilt. Here was the explanation, the theory underlying the practice that he knew to be effective. This led to a series of Glasser books, the first written in consultation with Powers: Stations of the Mind. One of them had its title changed to Control Theory, which is the essence of it.

The Glasser approach can be summarized thus: Any behavior that we are not born with is learned and can be unlearned if we choose to do the necessary work in consciousness. If you have read any Martin Seligman (discoverer of learned helplessness and learned optimism), this will sound familiar. Glasser stresses that most of these choices are unconscious, so we are unaware of having made them. But, painful as it may be to learn, we have made nearly all of the choices of behaviors that have not turned out well for us. God is not going to punish us for making bad choices, nor is he going to turn off the laws of the universe because we screwed up. "We are punished by our sins, not for them." So what can we do? Make another better choice in our next moment of now, our next occasion of experience. God orchestrates, and God mitigates.

We have recently taken a look at the lousy metaphysical worldview that infects our world today. It is not scientific at all. It has infected science and much of philosophy along with everything else. If you want to stir religion into the mix, scientism is the term used to describe making a religion out of science, out of the laws of the physical universe. Approaches that say our behavior is determined (i.e., we have no choice), or that we are victims (i.e., we have no choice), are carrying us in the wrong direction and not showing us how to take control, how to choose, how to sit up and steer the boat headed for the rapids instead of lying on the bottom and moaning that we are about to crash. New Thought is all about what you say to yourself when things are going wrong!

One of my favorite books is Lawrence LeShan’s The Dilemma of Psychology (1990). It is a good read, not too long or technical, and it sorts out where psychology went off the rails and why. It’s a breath of fresh air, and LeShan is still alive and well and going strong at age 94. He is a research and clinical psychologist and "considered one of the fathers of the modern study of mind-body interaction". In the book, LeShan quotes another psychologist, D. O. Hebb:

It is to the literary world, not to psychological science, that you go to learn how to live with people, how to make love, how not to make enemies; to find out what grief does to people, or the stoicism that is possible in the endurance of pain, or how if you’re lucky you may die with dignity; to see how corrosive the effects of jealousy can be, or how power corrupts or does not corrupt. For such knowledge and such understanding of the human species, don’t look in my Textbook of Psychology . . . try Lear, and Othello, and Hamlet. As a supplement to William James read Henry James, and Jane Austen and Mark Twain. These people are telling us things that are not on science’s program. (Page 12)

Le Shan adds, "How is it that after so much dedicated work, we have produced so little? If the mountain labors for over a hundred years and still brings forth a mouse, the mountain had better start asking itself some questions."

Glasser and LeShan in different ways take us back to the basic differences between living creatures and aggregates: it all boils down to choice, the amount of freedom to choose, and the amount of vision we as humans are able to bring to the choosing, what we are going to "damn well please" to do.

 

September 8, 2015

Labor, Geese, and Golden Eggs

I am writing this column on Labor Day, which somehow seems appropriate, except that at the same time there are a dozen other things that are also nagging me to do them. In the interest of efficiency, in order to get more done on this day of fewer interruptions than usual, I ordered a pizza delivered. Just about the time it was due to arrive, I got a phone call from the delivery man, who had had a tire blow out, and could I please come pick up the pizza myself? So much for efficiency: I lost forty-five minutes retrieving my own pizza! I did enjoy eating it, since I get very tired of my own nutritious cooking.

So what sage advice do I have to offer on the subject of laboring more efficiently and effectively? Time management is a topic that has always fascinated me, and I have even lectured on the subject. I gave that up when I learned that we can’t manage time; we all get the same sixty seconds to a minute. What we can manage is our own mind, so Alan and I started to team-teach a course, "Self Leadership Through Mind Management". It was a great excuse for him to lecture at length on various aspects of philosophy, and I added touches of psychology. Since then, I have added to my knowledge of mind management by continuing to read about approaches that have worked for other people. I have written at length about some of these, especially the work of Englishman Mark Forster, who has written several books on the subject and designed several approaches that he then has members of his forum test and report on. He is now up to his fourth and final version. It is based on two underlying principles: "structured procrastination" and Colley’s rule. He does not discuss either one in his Final Version, but he says that you can google them, and I have. They seem very clever and insightful, but I have never quite gotten the system going.

Another sage to whom I have turned for advice on this subject is Robert Fritz, whose approach basically boils down to becoming focused on an objective, a vision or desire; then comparing what we want with what we presently have. That, of course, is control theory, about which I wrote my doctoral dissertation. It’s a systems approach, and we all definitely need to think systems. But thinking systems doesn’t get anything done until we put theory into practice. We can’t just stay at the broad and fuzzy flyover level; we have to get down and dirty.

One of our texts for our mind management class was Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has deservedly been a best seller for many years. Its subtitle is Restoring the Character Ethic, which is what our society today most urgently needs. Pleasing personality is indeed important, but it must rest on a foundation of good character, which was always postulated until Dale Carnegie, a man of very great character personally, introduced How to Win Friends and Influence People. We began to wander away from the lighthouse-like principles (Covey’s chosen metaphor) on which to center our lives. These principles emanate in some way from Ultimate Reality, a.k.a. God (think Ten Commandments, for example). So here we are right back in the middle of something that dovetails perfectly with New Thought and can also guide us in scheduling our priorities and making sure they get done.

Covey’s overview of the subject includes a discussion of the fable of the goose that laid golden eggs. As you may recall, the couple blessed with such a goose got greedy and killed the goose, reasoning that they could get all the gold at once. Alas! The insides of the goose were like the insides of any other goose. They ended up with a dead goose and no golden eggs. There is an old Wall Street adage: Bulls can win and bears can win, but pigs never ultimately win. (This is rapidly turning into a barnyard yarn!)

Covey refers to the golden eggs as Production and the goose as Production Capability. This starts to get us back into systems thinking. We have to maintain a careful balance between P and PC, or we come a cropper. If Sales goes out and overpromises, without consulting with Operations to make sure that it can keep up with the promises made, the company is likely to end up with shortages of time or materials, not to mention a lot of very unhappy customers. If golden eggs are what we desire, we have to maintain our PC in order to get them. This is as true of our bodies as of our businesses. We are talking about balance. When the body starts to get a little out of balance is the time to bring it back into balance with better nutrition, more rest, or whatever is needed. The technical term for this is homeostasis.

Life is a perpetual balancing act. We just have to remember to consult our heavenly father for guidance, which generally comes in through the other-than-conscious mind. This means that as the resident goose, with or without sage in my dressing, I need to knock off and find something more relaxing to do!

 

September 15, 2015

An Aspirin Level of Consciousness

Some day, some very spiritually advanced soul is going to come up with a concordance to the writings of Emmet Fox. Until that happy day, we have to rely on our flimsy memories. One of Fox’s bits of wisdom for those in pain or similar difficulty: "If you are at an aspirin level of consciousness, take aspirin."

For all but a few enormously disciplined souls, "an aspirin level of consciousness" is something that we all encounter, with widely varying degrees of frequency. Aspirin may symbolize an OTC drug, prescription drug, alcohol, or —if we are enormously blessed — an orthomolecular (natural to the body) substance that mitigates the pain, regardless of whether its genesis was physical, mental, or spiritual. Beyond that, if we are plugged in to God (being led by his will for our highest and best rather than our limited own wills), seemingly miraculous bodily healings can take place, whether or not assisted by our "aspirin".

The point is: the aspirin level of consciousness is not all bad, if one is able to maintain it in controlled boundaries. But there is such a thing as a curve of decreasing gains. This means that we must ration our pleasures, lest they require increasing doses in order to supply the same level of satisfaction. Ancient tribes who used psychedelic substances as part of their religion had this all figured out: you couldn’t just pour on more and more, or the pleasant effect began to subside, impelling you to take in more and more, until the "forbidden" substance became a substitute for living, threatening both quality of life and life itself. God was extremely wise when he created the universe!

Even for those with advanced consciousness, there isn’t always time or conditions for "aspirin". If at this point in time, the best we can do is take a couple of "aspirins", rather than isolate ourselves for consciousness-altering meditation or other form of "treatment", then that’s what we do, toward the happy day when we as the collective human race have passed that threshold and can get on the path to healing strictly by mental/spiritual means.

Creative people, particularly artists and writers, often seem to need alcohol (or worse, alcohol combined with other chemical substances), in order to unleash their creativity. Once again, the rate-limiting step is whether this use is kept in bounds. Alcohol at best depresses the central nervous system. That is good or bad depending on what state you started from. Drugs — particularly mixed with alcohol — can get you all the way from nirvana to coma. Ideally, you wouldn’t need any of it.

We do not suffer from an aspirin deficiency. Drugs at best are only palliative: they only alleviate symptoms.; they cannot heal. And there are some human beings for whom alcohol is downright toxic: they cannot tolerate it even in small quantities. We go guided by that light. One size does not fit all. Psychedelic substances have been described as training wheels for the mind. It is well worth concentrating on the latest findings in nutritional research so as to avoid the need for psychedelic substances, which can have negative side effects. Mind power is the ultimate power when aligned with the Mind of God.

A story (another Emmet Fox offering, I think) comes to mind: William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, became a devout Quaker, and as such sought to be a pacifist. At that time, the dress of a gentleman included a sword, to be used for the protection of damsels in distress or to restrain villains of various sorts. But a sword was not pacifistic, and he struggled with the question of whether or not to carry his sword. Finally he consulted his spiritual mentor, George Fox. Fox’s advice: "Carry thy sword until thou canst carry it no more."

The ties to New Thought, to mind power, are obvious. How do we map across to process thought? We are building up the pattern of the past, moment by moment, until the next moment of now comes, and the healing has taken place, or the foreign substance is no longer needed. God continues to offer us individual perfect possibilities, tailored for this moment of now. As we continue to accept them to the degree that we are able at that moment, the pattern of the past continues to shift slightly. Finally, the last piece of the design is in place, and we are indeed new.

 

September 22, 2015

The Fine Line

One of the trickiest things about New Thought, especially in the beginning, is understanding the fine line between “chirpy cheerfulness” and an upbeat, hope-filled attitude that can carry us through the darkest hours. It is easy to get the impression that New Thought is all about being positive and upbeat, over the top, just ignoring or brushing off whatever difficulty we may be in. That’s not the idea. Yes, we do practice reframing situations into something more positive, and we affirm statements of what our greatest spiritual leaders have taught us, going straight back to the Bible.

The Bible, as New Thought author Catherine Ponder is fond of saying, is a textbook on prosperity. It also contains stories of hard times experienced by individuals and by the Children of Israel. There is plenty of gloom and doom, and people cursing one another and otherwise behaving in nasty ways. Yet it is still our #1 go-to source for guidance on how to lead happy, prosperous, loving, successful lives.

Maybe your only experience with the Bible is through a religion that chooses to emphasize texts that it believes to be literally what is going to happen if people stray from what that religion holds is the path. In the first place, the Bible has been copied and edited so many times that it is difficult to point to just one passage and claim that this is the literal word of God. In the second place, the Bible is, as Catherine Ponder puts it, “written by Oriental minds for Oriental minds”. Her husband taught her— having served in the Far East for many years— that to the Oriental mind, it is considered impolite to flatly state things, so one uses flowery phrases. At least, that was true at the time she wrote, and I don’t know for sure whether that has changed. In either case, it explains part of the language. The rest of the explanation comes from symbolic interpretation of the Bible, an ancient tradition involving translating proper names and place names. Some of these are built right in to the text. They give a totally different interpretation from the literal in many if not most instances. It is the work of many years to really master this, but even a small beginning is very helpful. There is value in the literal, and there are also more layers of meaning. Here are a few examples: man symbolizes the intellect; woman, the emotions. This doesn’t mean that women are not intelligent or that men lack feelings; it just brings additional perspective. At other times, man symbolizes the body; woman the soul or spirit. Obviously, both men and women have both bodies and souls/spirits.

Another example: enemies are always fear thoughts. Sometimes there is something extremely fearful literally at hand, but not necessarily. Our perspective makes a big difference. During the Korean War, a veteran sergeant is said to have told a terrified young soldier, “You don’t have to fight the whole Chinese army, son, just the ones that come over the hill.” In his Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13: 24-30), Jesus tells us that a man’s enemy sneaked into his field and sowed tares among the wheat. When his servants report this, the man instructs them to let the tares grow along with the wheat until the harvest, and then the tares can easily be sorted out and cast into the fire. We may have to work hard to ignore our fear thoughts/enemies, but we can eventually overcome them.

Which gets me closer to what I set out to write about: We aren’t expected to pretend that what is literally happening isn’t really happening, cheerily chirping things we don’t really deep-down believe. The trick is to keep our main attention on what we want, rather than on what we don’t want. We still check back occasionally to see if we are getting what we want yet, and we may make adjustments accordingly. Still, the eye needs to be on the doughnut, not on the hole. The great heroes of the Bible, such as King David, kept on fighting even when things seemed hopeless. Seemingly miraculous things then happened, but it may have taken quite a while, and David didn’t give up.

Emmet Fox’s famous Golden Key is simply to keep our minds on God rather than on the problem. If we do this, we will “Be still” enough to hear the “still, small voice” guiding us toward the solution. Collect data about solutions to the seemingly formidable problem, and prepare to be amazed.

To learn more about symbolic interpretation of the Bible, read Charles Fillmore’s Metaphysical Bible Dictionary (Unity) or one of Catherine Ponder’s many books about the Bible. The Religious Science textbook by Ernest Holmes has much on the Bible as well.

 

September 29, 2015

St. Michael and All Angels

No, you didn’t just stumble into the wrong church. Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels in all branches of the church catholic, which includes—in addition to the Roman Catholics—the Anglo Catholics, the assorted flavors of Eastern Orthodox churches, and certain branches of the Lutherans, who cling to the Apostolic Succession; not to mention our Jewish Brethren. I am probably inadvertently omitting some lovely people from smaller denominations who would happily classify themselves with this bunch.

But all of that is not why we’re here, except sort of indirectly. (If apoplexy extends into the heavenly realms, Alan is undoubtedly experiencing at least the ghost of the memory of it.) At points such as this, Philosophers get rather twitchy. I will do my best to pacify this shade, so I will begin our angelic discussion with Mortimer Adler, a black-belt philosopher (think Encyclopedia Britannica).

Adler (who is presently singing with the rest of the angel choir) was Jewish by nationality and a black-belt philosopher by profession. He wrote an entire book (in addition to his 49 others) titled The Angels and Us, in which he was at great pains to point out the long list of reasons for philosophers to accept the existence of angels, regardless of whether or not they agreed on all of the details. The joke was that he still did not believe in angels himself, for which he should have experienced some sort of angelic dump! But God is so merciful....

Without engaging in philosophical reflection, analysis, and reasoning, the theologian cannot achieve the understanding of religious dogmas or articles of faith that is the goal of his effort. He must, of course, be careful not to try to prove by reason truths that have their sole warrant in revelation. There were, in the Middle Ages, rationalists who tried to do precisely that....There were also fideists who went to the opposite extreme, abandoning the speculative enterprise entirely and foregoing the benefits—the understanding—that can be achieved for faith only through a disciplined use of reason. (Page 24)

Adler indicates that Aquinas in the Summa goes farther than the Church did in its official doctrine. In modern times, Rudolf Bultmann went rather overboard with his “demythologizing” of angels and other ideas, while John Calvin, surprisingly, held that Scripture requires us to “reject the notion that [angels] are merely symbolic”. Yet we can go too far in Calvin’s direction: Karl Barth was driven in the opposite direction by “his rejection of the excessively philosophical approach of Aquinas”. He regards this as uncalled for by the task of dogmatic theology, or what he calls “church dogmatics”. If we try to look at the Bible and other sources of knowledge at one and the same time . . . our philosophy will spoil our theology, and our theology our philosophy”.

Scripture, states Adler, tells us nothing about matters which properly belong to philosophy rather than theology. Barth’s “extreme position” leads us to “unfortunate consequences”, including “a purely literal or fundamentalist reading of the Bible which would lead us to believe that angels have actual bodies with two or more pairs of wings and that they have these bodies both when they dwell in heaven and when they come to earth.” Bottom line: these matters need to be divvied up between philosophy and theology. “What is left over? Any and every question about angels that stems from an initial and purely philosophical hypothesis; namely, that purely spiritual beings—minds without bodies—are a metaphysical possibility.” If you aren’t quite ready to allow angels to fly into your consciousness and do God’s perfect work there, you will probably want to read Adler’s book.

Meanwhile, I have run out of space for another week, and we shall have to pursue the subject of angels and their invaluable services to us on the octave of St. Michael and All Angels. Stay tuned next week for the input of a different scholar who has long since cast aside any doubt about the existence of our phenomenal flying feathered friends, and has abundant advice on how to work with them. It’s all very New Thought!

“Who like the Lord?” thunders Michael the chief;
Raphael, “the cure of God,” comforteth grief;
And, as at Nazareth, prophet of peace,
Gabriel, “the light of God,” bringeth release.
— St. Joseph the Hymnographer, 9th cent.

 

October 6, 2015

The Angels and Us

Having—I hope—presumably pacified the Philosopher, I plan to get back to the angels, who are sometimes described as “beautiful thoughts”, or “God’s messengers”. Last week I turned to philosopher Mortimer Adler as our expert on the subject. He, however, did not believe in angels; he just sought to justify the notion that there perfectly well rationally could be angels (so why wasn’t he perfectly well rational in his beliefs?). This week we will hear from an equally alphabet-souped expert, but one who claims to work with angels on a regular basis in her day-to-day work.

To describe angels as some sort of human beings with wings is to get carried off course. Not that the angels care; they are—unlike human beings—totally dedicated to carrying out God’s will, which always has our best and happiest interests at heart. But a touch of anthropomorphism can be a useful fiction, if we don’t get too carried away. Wings and halos kind of set the mood. Angels turn up in art through the ages (the title of a famous art history book), generally looking very humanoid. More recently, they are depicted as bursts of light or slashes of color; abstract, yet not abstract in terms of abstract vs. concrete. The test of whether something is abstract or concrete is: Can you put it in a wheelbarrow? An angel (or a heavenly host) can fit quite nicely into a wheelbarrow, although you could very properly ask what they were doing there. There would undoubtedly be a good reason. Anyway, although angels can appear as apparently human beings, they never were (with about two exceptions). They get only one chance to say yes or no to God, and from then on, they just carry out God’s will, totally aligned with it. They love human beings dearly (as does God) and seek in any way possible to assist us in our challenges, which they respect us for undertaking.

So let us turn to our second angelic expert. Doreen Virtue, whose Ph.D. is in counseling psychology, is “a lifelong clairvoyant who works with the angelic, elemental, and ascended-master realms”. She has directed inpatient and outpatient psychiatric facilities. One of her numerous books is Angels 101: An Introduction to Connecting, Working, and Healing with the Angels (2006). She claims that the angels gave her the title and told her that she needed to write a primer in addition to her earlier work. The primer covers everyone from individual guardian angels to Michael the Archangel, “the most powerful of all archangels . . . described in the Bible and all other Christian, Jewish, and Islamic texts as performing heroic acts of protection”. Not surprisingly, he is the patron saint of police officers. Michael’s name means “who is like God” (Quis ut Deus?). He is often depicted in armor, with cute, un-warriorlike curly blond hair, pinning down a dark-winged Satan with his spear. But the greatest battles are the ones you don’t have to fight. “He releases us from fear and doubt, protects us, and clears away negativity.” Our enemies, remember, are our fear thoughts.

All this angelology goes straight to the other-than-conscious mind, for a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s a way of picturing how God does what God does. Each occasion of experience enriches the pattern of the past and makes it easier for us to reach our heart’s desire, one moment at a time, until the goal is reached. Michael also does some healing, although Raphael (“he who heals”) is the main healer and guider of healers. Thinking about angelic protection is a whole lot more useful than doing a prolonged meditation concerning various diseases and drugs. Try it; you’ll like it!

Angels are quite capable of assuming any form that is useful in the circumstances, and they frequently appear as some sort of human being who can blend into the current setting. Then, when their mission is completed, they vanish, to the bewilderment of those whom they encountered. Also, human beings can find themselves called upon to function as “angels” to other human beings. The “real” angels are undoubtedly at work backing them up in various ways. So we can all well expect some sort of angelic assistance, especially in seemingly hopeless situations.

Doreen Virtue ends her book thus:

Some people feel that they’re “cheating” by requesting Divine intervention. They believe that we’re supposed to suffer in order to learn and grow, and that we’re responsible for getting ourselves in and out of jams. Yet the angels say that while we can grow through suffering, we can grow even faster through peace. And our peacefulness inspires others in ways that suffering cannot.
The angels won’t do everything for you, though. They’re more like teammates who ask you to pass the ball as you collectively move toward each goal. As you ask them for help, the angels will sometimes create a miraculous intervention. But more often, they’ll help you by delivering divine guidance so that you can help yourself. (Pages 121-122)

 

October 13, 2015

Wisdom From a Great American Philosopher

Sometimes, my columns are easy to write: as the saying goes, I just sit down and open a vein. Other times, I get an idea and need to locate the source, which usually involves a chase through two libraries, both of which have become decimated, not to mention discombobulated, over the decades. This time, I wanted to quote from Robert Ringer, whose three books have certain timeless and wide-ranging applications. He is a very funny writer with wry observations about people, business, and ultimately, a bit of philosophy.

First, I had to locate the quotation. I could only locate two out of the three books of his that I possess, the third having apparently vanished into limbo. The titles are: Winning Through Intimidation, Looking Out for #1, and Restoring the American Dream. The latter is an excellent treatise on libertarianism as a jumping-off point for gaining a perspective on political philosophy, and it may have gotten mixed in with the Philosopher’s American philosophy books, which got lost. A quick check of Amazon revealed that he is still very much in print, and has written numerous additional books. I did locate the quotation I sought in the second book I own, which continues the approach begun in the first book. Ringer begins the first book by commenting:

[T]here are three types of people who will not relate to the contents of Winning Through Intimidation:
1) The “Mister McGoos”, who will blast through each chapter without having a deep thought and, when finished, be firmly convinced that they have just read a book on how to sell real estate. They will have missed the whole point. . . .
They simply will not be able to comprehend that Winning Through Intimidation is a book on the philosophy of reality, that its basic principles apply not only to every other type of business, but to life in general, and that the specific techniques regarding real estate) described in the book serve only as examples of how to apply its truisms to a specific business or specific aspect of life.
2) The “Ostriches,” who as always will hide their heads in the sands of fantasy and chastise The Tortoise [Ringer’s nickname] for concocting such an “ugly” philosophy. As Ostriches, they go through life labeling all that is new, different or enlightening as “evil,” and all that is old, constant or suppressing as “good.” As unrealists, they cannot understand that the truth—no matter how painful—is always, by its very nature, “good,” and that any lie—regardless of how pleasant—is always, by its very nature, “bad.”
3) The “Tell-It-Like-It Is” folks, those honest, straightforward souls who will simply think I’m a lousy writer. God bless the Straightforward; without them I don’t know where we’d all be. (1974, page ix).

Ringer concludes with the hope that we at least fall into that third category: “I don’t wish upon anyone the life of being a Mister McGoo or an Ostrich.”

The quotation that I was really looking for was in Looking Out for #1 (1977). It encompasses his “total-life philosophy”, which he outlines in a series of “Theories” begun in his first book and accompanied with hilarious illustrations by Jack Medoff. I want to use it as an introduction of a discussion of relationships, which always seem to end up right in the middle of one’s religion, not to mention one’s philosophy of life:

[T]here’s one driving force at the root of most of life’s hassles. That force is a living creature. Thousands of years of recorded history have shown that he is directly or indirectly the cause of most of the problems which surround us daily. To make it interesting, let’s see if you can guess the culprit from the multiple choices below:
A) Reindeer
B) Zebra
C) Baboon
D) Caterpillar
E) Man
If you guessed reindeer or zebra, give yourself a GT for Good Try. You get an NC for caterpillar—Not Close. In the event you checked baboon, you were warm; you earn a grade of AR for Almost Right. But if you picked man as your answer, take a bow; you’re very perceptive.
All it took was a little rational analysis. You’ve never seen a reindeer, zebra, caterpillar or baboon try to impose his moral standards on others, have you? There’s no escaping it: what the world has are People Problems. They’re the source of most of life’s frustrations and complications. If you can learn to deal effectively with the neuroses of human beings, you will have cleared a gigantic hurdle in your path. But as with all realities, you have to identify them before they can be properly handled. (page 50)

Embedded in that last paragraph is an explanation of the great difficulty with a very old, very flawed political philosophy that has been proven to fail every time in human history that it has been tried. But that is just a subset of what I was aiming for, and I won’t get there until next week. See you then!

 

October 20, 2015

More Wisdom From a Great American Philosopher

Robert Ringer’s first book, Winning Through Intimidation, does appear at a glance to be all about how to sell commercial real estate. What it really is, however, is a description of Ringer’s own life experiences that taught him how to “win” at whatever he was involved in that also involved other people. He describes these in terms of shattering the myths about what works and replacing them with what does work.

Ringer begins with a series of events at what he describes as his alma mater, Screw U. This was where he learned through experience. Mainly, he found that there are only three types of people in the business world: his three “professors”. Type Three is described first: “I really didn’t mean to cut off your hand at the wrist, but I had no choice when you reached for your chips”. This type “is sincerely sorry, but the result is just the same as if he were glad” that he interfered with your attempt to cash in on your hard-earned winnings at whatever game of life you were playing. He is pictured holding a large lollipop. Type One “really meant to cut off your hand at the wrist, and before you reached for your chips you should have remembered my warning”. Because he warned you, he isn’t sorry for thwarting your win. He is pictured wearing a tall black hat. But Type Two is the most insidious of all: “I really meant to cut off your hand at the wrist when you reached for your chips, even though I had assured you that was never my intention.” He too, is not sorry for thwarting you, “because—in spite of what he may have told you—he never intended for you to get any goodies in the first place”. He is pictured wearing a white hat, which is very deceptive.

The real lesson, and the explanation for the book title, is that what matters is whether you are the intimidator or the intimidatee. “Regardless of what your “game” is, there is one reality you should face up to right now: ‘The results a person obtains are inversely proportionate to the degree to which he is intimidated. It’s not what you say or do that counts, but what your posture is when you say or do it.’” This is as true in love and romance or marriage as it is in business situations. The first of Ringer’s Theories, the one on which the others are built, is the Theory of Sustenance of a Positive Attitude Through the Assumption of a Negative Result. This attitude says that although you possibly could win in any game, you are going to assume that you will not. If the game definitely could not be won, you would not be playing it, but you are going to take the perspective that you are probably not going to win this one, this time. This way, you are not shocked or upset if you do not win it, but are able to continue to look positively ahead to the time when you will win. This is an appropriate posture to take. You continue to learn from your lapses and mishaps, but you don’t let them throw you or make you resentful of any of your “professors”.

Notice how appropriate this attitude is for New Thoughters. New Thought, remember, is all about what you say to yourself when things go wrong. Ringer pursues this in greater detail, but for now, I want to share with you the blurb from the book jacket, an example of this theory in a real-life situation. Consider it a lagniappe.

Lagniappe:

And so it was that in 1832 young Abraham Lincoln lost his job. And the Discouragement Fraternity sneered and said unto him: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you successful?” And Abe, intimidated, hung his head low and crawled back under yon rock from whence he came.
And so it was that later in that same year Abe ran for the Legislature of Illinois and was badly defeated. And the Discouragement Fraternity sneered and said unto him: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you successful?” And Abe, intimidated, hung his head low and crawled back under yon rock from whence he came.
And so it was that this pattern continued—tried his hand at business in 1833 and went broke, ran for Speaker in 1838 and lost, was overwhelmingly defeated in a bid for nomination to Congress in 1843, rejected for appointment to the U. S. Land Office in 1849, soundly beaten for U. S. Senate seat in 1854, defeated for nomination for Vice-President in 1856—and after each failure, the Discouragement Fraternity, always more than happy to be of help, sneered and said unto him: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you successful?” And each time, Abe, intimidated, hung his head low and crawled back under yon rock from whence he came.
Then in 1858, after once again being defeated for U. S. Senate, and after once again enduring the Discouragement Fraternity’s sneering and saying unto him: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you successful?”, a funny thing happened on the way back to yon rock from whence he came:
Abe thought for a moment, scratched his head, then finally came to the conclusion that intimidators must have more fun than intimidatees.
Thus concluding, he looked up at the Discouragement Fraternity and replied: “Stick thy finger up thy nose and go fly thee a kite.”
. . . and lo and behold, Abe, the ex-intimidatee, became President . . . and saved the Union.
And the members of the Discouragement Fraternity—fingers in noses and kites in hands—said unto Abe: “Bravo! We always knew thou would be successful.”
. . . whereupon Abe displayed a gentle smile and walked quietly away.

 

October 27, 2015

Still More Wisdom from a Great American Philosopher

Regular readers of this whatever-this-is will note that I frequently get going on a book I haven’t looked at in quite some time and pursue a train of thought for a while. In this case, I went digging for a particular quotation I wanted to use and ended up delving through two books by The Tortoise, a.k.a. Robert Ringer. He is alive and well and still writing books that you may wish to pursue, but these golden oldies are of great value, too, as I hope you are seeing.

Ringer concludes Winning Through Intimidation with a chapter-long explanation that he translates “What was behind my winning through intimidation?” He has described in detail six real estate deals in which he was successful (but neither win/lose nor lose/win; they were win/win or no deal. Part of not being intimidated is remembering that one can always walk away). However, there were other deals during this same period, and the reason for Ringer’s Theory of Sustenance of a Positive Attitude Through the Assumption of a Negative Result (see last week) is “my understanding of the reality that most deals [negotiations of any sort] simply do not close because of factors beyond the salesman’s control”. All of Ringer’s philosophy and techniques rest on a theory of reality: “In order to take the proper action regarding anything, you first have to be sure of what that “thing” is. Having the greatest cure in the world for the common cold doesn’t help a heck of a lot if the ailment you’re treating is the mumps.” Stephen Covey similarly states that you aren’t going to be very successful at navigating your way around Chicago with a map of Detroit. A positive or “tough-minded optimist” attitude holds that you will eventually figure out what sort of map or other tool you need to get the job done, that you don’t just quit at the first difficulty; you keep an open mind and keep learning from your mistakes. It even says in the Bible that God doesn’t remember our sins but gives us second and third, etc. chances. This is a wee bit anthropomorphic, since God has a perfect memory, but get the point. All creation is co-creation between us and God, and God is constantly offering us perfect possibilities for the state we are in right now, regardless of how much we may have screwed up in the past. So we live and learn, in a succession of efforts until we reach our goal. Gee, that sounds like process thought!

Ringer elaborates:

Regardless of the “product” or “service,” selling is not an end in itself; selling is only a means to an end: receiving “income.” Contrary to the emphasis in many “success” and “how to” books, closing deals is not the name of the game; it is only a means to the end of walking away with chips in your hand. Reality dictates that the mere closing of deals will not pay your grocery bills; only getting paid will do that. In business, love, and life in general, “getting paid” is what it’s all about. (Page 233)

“Getting paid”, then, is receiving your heart’s desire, whether or not it is a material thing. So you have to have gotten very clear on what you really want and are willing to make the necessary effort to get. Ringer adds: “I merely fought fire with fire: the techniques were no more brutal than the realities they were intended to reckon with. And realities are nothing more than ‘things’ — not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, not ‘brutal’ or ‘comforting’ — they just are.”

So Ringer doesn’t dislike his old “professors” from Screw U; he is just glad to have the lessons and move on: “So you get a little banged up now and then . . . so what? I believe in the Ice Ball Theory [eventually the sun will burn out and we will be living on an ice ball]: business is just a game and life is only a bigger game. And when you’re playing a game, it’s amateurish to dislike your opponent just because he wins.” But if you happen to be playing in a jungle, “the rules of the jungle prevail”.

He concludes:

Looking out for your best interest does not conflict with your doing a good job at whatever it is that you’re supposed to get paid for; it simply means that you make sure you do get paid for the good service you render [no matter what sort of “pay” you are seeking]. You have the right to be remunerated for a good performance, and don’t allow anyone to intimidate you into thinking otherwise. (Page 234)

“Nothing you do is going to matter 50 billion years from now, anyway. Relax. Cool it. Don’t take yourself so seriously . . . it’s just a game.” And of course, we can bring all the Judeo-Christian principles that underlie New Thought to the playing of that game. A little debonair nonchalance is always helpful, too.

And next week I really will get to what I started out to get to.

 

November 3, 2015

Furthermore Wisdom from a Great American Philosopher

You diligent and persevering souls have now made it all the way to Robert Ringer’s Looking Out for #1, the book containing the quotation that started me on my latest kick. I wanted to get into a broad discussion of relationships of all sorts, at least those involving other human beings. If you only deal with giraffes and zebras, then this may not interest you.

This sequel to Winning Through Intimidation starts to bring it into better perspective: No matter who you are or what you do or don’t do, you are still going to be involved to some extent with other human beings. From the dust jacket: “This is not only a book written for you, but about you. It concerns itself with one subject only: clearing the hurdles which can deter you from spending your life experiencing primarily happiness and joy.”

One of the big problems with virtually every branch of Christianity is the very harmful notion that we must always put others ahead of ourselves, which means that it may never get to be “our turn”. This is based on some very screwed-up interpretations of the teachings of Jesus and earlier wayshowers. The second Great Commandment, which Jesus says sums up all the others, is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). It doesn’t say “more than thyself” or “ahead of thyself”, nor does it say “less than thyself”. Think of an equilateral triangle with God at the peak and you and your neighbor at the lower two corners. Sometimes you may magnanimously allow your neighbor to take the lead or the advantage; other times, it’s your turn. If it never gets to be your turn, look for a different neighbor. That’s what Covey means by “win/win or no deal”. It may take a bit of compromise (each side loses a little) to get to that state, but it’s worth it, because a win/win generates a synergy in which both parties contribute to and profit from a deal that lets them together be better than either could have been alone.

Both sides must begin by loving God and being at least tolerant of the other person’s view of God. From there you go by the light/wisdom you are given.

What makes man tick? Why is he so troublesome? What, exactly, is he? . . . What man isn’t is what you want him to be. It’s back to “Is’s” versus “Ought To’s”: no individual is what you think he ought to be; he is what he is. . . .
What else do we know about man? That he is automatically selfish and that he plays the Definition Game and Line Drawing Game. We also know that these traits are neither good not bad, that they are just realities and will cause you problems only if you allow them to. . . .
A characteristic we haven’t discussed, but which is extremely important to understand, is that man is imperfect. . . . We want so badly for people to be perfect (if not our enemies, then at least our friends) that we often hurt ourselves by expecting too much of them.
Once you recognize the reality of man’s imperfection, you’ll realize that people don’t hurt you; you allow them to. This hurt often is not only the result of your inability to cope with man’s imperfection, but of your taking it upon yourself to make a person into something he’s not. If you insist upon engaging in this self-appointed duty, you’re guaranteed to experience the inevitable futility of tampering with the impossible. . . .
...I’ll focus my attention only on characteristics which have the potential to block your path to a better life. Eliminating People Problems requires that you face the reality that people possess an unlimited number of potentially harmful traits, that you learn the art of spotting these qualities, and—the supreme test—that you develop the ability and self-discipline either to ignore such actions or, in extreme cases, eliminate from your life those individuals responsible for them. You qualify for your doctorate on the subject when you convert the energy once used for hassling with such characters into attracting individuals who can add happiness to your life. When you’ve reached that point, Number One is well on his way to a better life. (Pages 51-52)

Ringer goes on to discuss Irrationality, Experts (who mostly aren’t), Intimidation (especially through custom and tradition), and other common obstacles to getting to a Win/Win state with another person. No pink paint or chirpy cheerfulness needed, just a classic New Thought approach. It’s new (at least in this moment of now), and it requires thought.

 

November 10, 2015

Hijacked Words: Naturalism

We all know, if we stop and think, that natural is a much-abused word. Merchandisers use it on foods and other goods to associate them with nature, or Mother Nature, or something—well, natural. It sounds so wholesome, so cozy country, so filled with nostalgia for times that we may or may not ever have known. Vested interests in food and drugs hope that we will turn what’s left of our brains off when we go shopping and just let ourselves get swept away with all that nostalgia. It’s so-o-o gingham and brown eggs. We of course want our families to enjoy all that wholesomeness, especially if we don’t have to get our brains all sweaty determining whether the word natural on a package actually means anything at all.

If we want all those wholesome—or holistic—benefits, we would do much better to look for USDA Certified Organic, or Non-GMO labels on fruits and vegetables. Also, animals that have been grass-fed and finished are a much better and more truly natural source of nourishment, being measurably higher in nutrients. The alternative is the sadly prevalent CAFO: animals that are crammed into pens that make them so sickly that they have to be constantly fed antibiotics just to keep them alive. They live on a diet of grains, which are not natural to them and contribute to their ill health. Worse still, some CAFO animals are fed chopped-up parts of other animals, which is the source of some of the horrors such as mad cow disease.

Bad as is all this mis-use of the word natural to cover up sheer greed, its distortion in philosophy is possibly worse, because it can represent a form of materialism that underlies just about everything that is wrong with our society. One of my favorite authors is process philosopher David Ray Griffin, co-founder (with John Cobb) of the Center for Process Studies. Anything he has written in process philosophy is worth reading, and he has written repeatedly on the subject of naturalism from slightly different perspectives, depending on whether he is writing to philosophers or churchmen (well, yes; some people are both). Remember that process thought is most simply defined as constructive postmodernism. It is the only constructive postmodern philosophy; all the rest are destructive.

In order to explain this properly, I will have to go back into a little bit of history, which I will do next week. For now, I will just explain how Griffin covers three meanings of naturalism. To talk about bare-bones naturalism, plain and simple, Griffin uses the word naturalism with the subscript ns, standing for non-supernatural. That’s the part I need to go back in history to explain, and it’s stuff I never learned about in school or anywhere else. Late modernity (before we decided that the term was worn out and that we needed to morph into postmodernism—gee, what an imaginative name!—) has distorted this bare-bones naturalism, in which God is somehow involved in nature, into what Griffin calls naturalism with the subscript sam, standing for sensationist/atheist/materialist (ah, here comes materialism again; explanation to follow next week). I once wrote:

This view holds that physical senses are the only avenue for gaining knowledge (forget about intuition or revelation, for there is no God); and the underlying metaphysical position is materialism, the notion that the basic building blocks of the universe are material stuff. Any ideas or thoughts are merely squeaks in the machinery of the physical brain. (Evolving New Thought Worldviews, a slide show written I forget just when and vetted by the Philosopher himself)

Compare this with one of Alan’s and my favorite quotations from process philosopher and theologian Charles Hartshorne: “Materialism is the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking. . . .” Scholar Charles Tart once came up with “The Western Creed”, which he had students hold their hands over their hearts and recite, not because he believed in it, but because he didn’t! It horrifies most people and makes them feel decidedly strange. This is because of/dovetails with/ Griffin’s hard-core common sense, which I’ll get into next week. Do you really believe that “sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking” are just illusions, like squeaks in a machine? Well, I guess you can believe at least six impossible things before breakfast, as the White Queen remarked in Alice in Wonderland. It’s worth noting that Lewis Carroll was an Anglican clergyman.

So what we will eventually get to is Griffin’s third definition of naturalism with the subscript ppp. This is a constructive, naturalist worldview: ppp stands for prehension, panentheism, and panexperientialism. These neatly knock sam out of the box, and think how much better you will feel with some hard-core common sense. To be continued.

 

November 17, 2015

Hijacked Words: Naturalism (2)

We are presently engaged in developing a better understanding of the term naturalism and what it means in philosophy and theology (just ignore it in the grocery store; it means nothing!).

Process philosopher David Ray Griffin has written at length about naturalism and divided it into three forms, or subscripts: naturalism ns, naturalism sam, and naturalism ppp. You learned last week that ns just means non-supernatural. Here is where we need to take a little trip back in history. (Note: supernatural just means above natural, God looking down on nature as if it were a conveyor belt, and he is outside it.) I wrote:

Traditional theism . . . views God as transcendent, outside the world and intervening in it or not to varying degrees as viewed by various religions. Around the 17th century, threatened by practitioners of magic and by mechanical philosophies, the Christian church kicked God upstairs by declaring that only God could work miracles, which he did by suspending the laws of the universe. This led to deism, the notion that God created the world and then went off and left it to run on its own, with no intervention by God at all; and later, to atheism, because if God wasn’t going to intervene, who needed him? [What a mess from some well-meaning people!] (From the script to my slide show, complete with “You Are Here” maps as we glide through history)

For now, we are winkling out just the parts necessary for understanding Griffin’s naturalism with subscripts. Here is the third subscript: naturalism ppp. This is our constructive naturalist process-thought worldview. The third subscript stands for prehension, panentheism, and panexperientialism. I explain:

Let’s review those jawbreaker terms. Prehension is the term that philosopher Alfred North Whitehead redefined to describe in philosophical terms how we are in God and God is in us. It holds that nonsensory perception is the basic perception, and perception with the five senses is more limited. Panentheism is the synthesis of pantheism with traditional theism, holding that we are in God and God is in us. And panexperientialism is the updated version of idealism that holds that the basic building blocks of the universe are experiences or minds; in other words, nonphysical in nature.

If you had my lovely multi-slide map of philosophy through the ages—at least, some of it— (Alan was such a purist!), you would see “the rise of traditional Christian dualism in medieval times and the appearance of supernaturalism in early modern times. In late modern times, we have telescoped [a few important philosophers and ideas] just for space considerations”. The philosophers [Bergson, Peirce, and James] were all

idealists and aware of our developing or evolving, so they were probably all naturalists rather than supernaturalists. In late modernity . . . we have an increase in atheism and scientism (that means treating science as a religion). Today, in postmodern times, we have scientific naturalism with one of the three subscripts that Griffin has given us: plain non-supernatural, sensationist-atheist-materialist, or embracing prehension, panentheism, and panexperientialism. Why did all this happen?

Here’s the explanation:

What they didn’t teach when I was in school— and maybe not when you were in school, because it wasn’t well known— was that by the late 15th century, in addition to the influence of the Christian church, there was also influence from neoPlatonists, magicians, and spiritualists. By the 17th century, this had turned into a three-way battle between the Aristotelian philosophy underlying Christian teaching from Thomas Aquinas onward; the mechanical philosophies of the Enlightenment that had already broken with Christian teaching; and the magicians and spiritualists, who were at odds with traditional Christian teaching to varying degrees. In an effort to safeguard their beliefs about God and to defend the authority of the church against these perceived attacks, the Christian philosophers kicked God upstairs into the supernatural position that we have seen, in which only God was thought to work miracles, discounting the seemingly miraculous results sometimes obtained from these other sources.

We’ll continue into postmodernism next week.

 

November 24, 2015

Hijacked Words: Naturalism (3)

Last week, we voyaged back into history to trace the way naturalism has gotten so jerked around. We came across a few things that weren’t in the history texts before, because they weren’t at all understood. People are always censoring history for their own reasons. Anyway, it’s time for us to move ahead into postmodernism (translation: the present). We don’t have to like it; we just have to live here. Maybe we can improve things if we can improve our collective consciousness.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that process philosophy is best understood as constructive postmodernism. There may be other constructive approaches that began quite a while ago, but the only relative newcomer is process thought. Destructive and constructive postmodernism are worldviews at opposite poles of a continuum. I have mentioned this before and quoted Hartshorne on the subject. Here is a bit more:

Destructive postmodernism promised to rebuild after first destroying what it considered to be erroneous views, but it never kept its promise. It leaves us sitting in the ashes of a world in which every view is as good as every other (moral relativism), a world in which there is not much left of hope or help. We are told that there are none of the things that most humans hold dear: no self, no purpose or meaning to life, no real world; indeed, no truth as correspondence, for truth is merely what each person says it is; and certainly there is no divinity, no higher power, no ultimate reality.
Constructive postmodernism . . . seeks to revise and restore the things of value that seem to have been lost with the correction of the traditional worldviews. Like New Thought, it is a form of idealism acknowledging mind power. Like New Thought, it is ethically non-dualist (meaning that there is no evil personified as the devil). God is everywhere present and available, and worthy of worship (worth the bother of loving and respecting). With process thought, again we have a self, one who is literally new every moment; we have historical and cosmic meaning, reason instead of absurdity, truth as correspondence, an enchanted nature of mystery without magic (magic is defined as working one’s will on the world without regard to ultimate morality), a synergy in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and nonsensory perception or action at a distance. Only this view . . . can unite religion and science rather than ignoring one or the other.
It’s your choice which of these worldviews you choose to embrace. If you fail to choose, you will be jerked around by the choices of others. (From my slide show)

That middle paragraph in particular has my Philosopher’s fingerprints all over it. It may need some unpacking in the near future.

So this is how we got here, how human thought has evolved over the ages into the present best-of-all-possible worlds. And I don’t think that Voltaire the satirist did any more to help humankind on its pathway than did Leibniz, whom he was satirizing in Candide. (Go google it.) “Tout va pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes.” My spell checker just had a stroke. I guess it doesn’t like French Philosophes who satirize German philosophers. Leibniz actually had a role as an ancestor of process thought, but I am not about to go try to dig it out three days before Thanksgiving. If you are that bored, go search windowless monads, or just be thankful that I am not about to get into it. One more thing to be thankful for! Have a lovely and abundant holiday.

 

December 1, 2015

Constructive Postmodernism

Hi, there! Got all your fake icicles, inflatable snowmen, and twinkling lights in place? Me neither! In the Good Old Days (or Bad Old Days, depending on your perspective), last Sunday was the First Sunday in Advent, part of a season of getting ready for Christmas with all that that implies, theologically and otherwise. The previous Sunday was Stirrup Sunday, from the collect: “Stir up [ho, ho] O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”.

To be honest, social customs have shifted, from having a month-long season of getting ready (in what has been labeled a minor penitential season), to going straight to Christmas, starting no later than December 1st. These are poles of a continuum, with insanity at either end and reason somewhere in the middle. Plan A leaves us mired in the messed-up theology of the past, with mercy, mitigation, and a wee bit of common sense left out. Plan B “gives us all the jitters/ Finding all’s not gold that glitters”. Translation: secular humanism/ conspicuous consumption. Anybody ever hear of synergy/synthesis? Drop out the errors from either end, mix/meld the rest, and voila! Something better than either could have come up with independently. (But please observe: it’s almost never 50-50; it’s likely 98-2 percent.) It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. Kindly note that there are real boundaries here, not “anything goes”. We are punished by our sins, not for them; and if you can’t learn the easy way, you will learn the hard way, jarred by hitting every bump in the road. There is a God, and He/She (but never It, because personhood is the highest thing of which we humans have any concept, so God must be at least that) is somehow the source of our values, the best-known example being the Ten Commandments. Much as I love Mesle, the author of a great process thought primer, God is a lot more than a hot fudge sundae.

It may seem odd at first to be discussing constructive postmodernism (as promised, last week) in the days leading up to Christmas, but Christmas (with all the implications tacked onto the Incarnation (represented here by the Christmas story), is one of the big anchors for the Christian faith. You can pick and choose and clean it up as you will, and I hope you do. Just keep your standards high; your tau, or North Star, present.

One of the great glories of New Thought is that it allows for varying perspectives on religion (we aren’t much into burning people at the stake for heresy, even though at times it may be tempting! ) But that doesn’t mean that New Thoughters are free to think in any old sloppy way they like. We still need our habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline.

So here’s a quick unpacking of constructive postmodernism before you get back to all your phoney tinsel:

If it’s post modern, it just belongs to recent thought, developed by people who were justifiably dissatisfied with modernity. Modernity just got rid of many of the important— if imperfect— anchors of society and religion. Destructive postmodernism promised to replace those smoking ruins with something better, but it never did. Instead, it headed back into the ancient and oft-repeated errors of totalitarianism, which is the ultimate end of socialism, statism, Marxism, and their ilk. Any time you try to ditch God in favor of secularism, you are headed for trouble, no matter whether you do it in the name of science or by pointing to this or that flaw in philosophy of religion of any era (and yes, there are plenty). Reductionism is the reducing to lowest terms that at first glance looks so efficient: the nothing but approach that ultimately leads to someone else’s views crammed down our throats. Views handed down the ages through the Bible and other sacred writings are there because they work. Yes, they need to be adjusted somewhat to remain relevant to today’s world, but the principles behind them are as sound as ever.

Constructive postmodernism replaces the deficient views of the past with views that correct them by use of the findings of postmodern science. The glory of the work of Whitehead, Hartshorne, and others is that we don’t have to junk the core of philosophers and theologians throughout the centuries; we just use common sense to adjust them in the light of what we know today. We have the tools of scholarship and the light of history. Symbolic interpretation of the Bible along with careful reading of the great works of the past give us “a God worthy of worship”, no matter what name we choose to address him by (and God doesn’t care!). Just avoid “strange gods” and listen for the “still, small voice”.

Lagniappe:

Readings on this subject are many and varied. Here are some of the valuable works of David Ray Griffin, to which I would add a bit of the work of our dear friend, Russ Pregeant, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Religion from Curry College, Methodist minister, and Cajun in good standing. He married the Philosopher and me in the middle of Loyola Boulevard in New Orleans:

Pregeant, Russell (1988). Mystery Without Magic. Oak Park, IL: Meyer Stone Books.

Griffin, David Ray (2000). Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts. SUNY.

Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem (1998). University of California Press.

Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (2001). Cornell University Press.

Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith (2004). Westminster John Knox Press.

 

December 8, 2015

The Ghosts of Christmases Past

You may perhaps have noticed that Christmas doesn’t always live up to one’s expectations. There are probably hundreds of reason for this, and it doesn’t matter. It’s just that—especially in an era of runaway advertising magic—we get our hopes up so high. It doesn’t take much for our fabulous dreams of love, joy, peace, and Santa’s overflowing sack to get dashed. It can seem that everyone else is full of Christmas spirit, but here you are, alone and blue, or not alone and bluer at the prospect of sharing the glad tidings with certain relatives whom you wish weren’t! The ghosts of Christmases past may be of joyous occasions when things were better: better relatives or better financial circumstances. Or they may be of past miseries that have somehow not improved. Either way, here you are, miserable in a season when you are supposed to be overjoyed. Welcome to the club; it has lots of members.

One of my favorite authors is Agnes Sanford, the child of Presbyterian missionaries, who grew up in China until she married an Episcopal priest (oh, dear, was he sound?). She and her new husband rather unexpectedly moved back to the States, where she didn’t have all the servants they had had in China, nor were there as many modern conveniences as the heart could desire. This was not at all what she had bargained for, nor did it nurture her considerable talents; and she found herself in what would later have been diagnosed as a state of depression. That is what so many of us may be experiencing during the Christmas holidays. This condition lasted for quite a while, and she has written about it in the first chapter of her book, The Healing Gifts of the Spirit. This was before churches thought to supply psychological support to congregants, and much of the development in this area is due to her and her husband. Twice the “pilot light” that is “the flame of the spirit” nearly went out. Twice “a person powerful in prayer and skilled in the understanding of the mind” came to her rescue, with lasting results. Both happened to be ministers. And you better believe that mind and body are inextricably linked (“parts of the same system, and what affects one affects the other”, as they say in systems). All illness is psychosomatic (having both psyche and soma components, if you are still on this earth’s plane), and more illness than you may be prepared to believe is psychogenic (the precipitating cause is between your ears). It took a while, because she was not ready to act. Both ministers helped her by means of prayer (New Thoughters would call it scientific prayer). Agnes suggests that we “pray for the right person to come into our lives and help us”. Meanwhile, “there are ways, other than churchgoing, by which we may be able to help ourselves”.

“These ways are precisely contrary to the usual suggestions”, such as “snap out of it”. Agnes remarks:

Mental depressives are not necessarily neurotics. The difference between neurotics and psychotics has been thus somewhat humorously defined by a psychiatrist friend of mine: “A psychotic says, ‘Two plus two equals five,’ and a neurotic says, ‘Two plus two equals four, and I just can’t stand it!’ The mental depressive is usually one who has refrained from complaining; who has put himself under such long and rigid control that he is worn out from the effort. To suggest further effort is useless.” (Page 23)

So Agnes does not suggest counting your blessings, stiffening your will, or self-analysis. What does she suggest “to find life and peace”? First, “rest upon the beauty of this world”. She vividly describes scenes in nature when God somehow spoke to her. On one memorable occasion, she discovered that the baptism of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost was still available to us, for she experienced it, and it lasted for fourteen days. She is not saying that anyone can have such an experience, but merely that such a thing is possible “not through the medium of man counseling and praying with me, but through the sun and the waters of the lake and the wind in the pine trees”, and not the very first time that she sought it. She quotes a minister:

A candle gives out two kinds of light. One is the light that you see and another is an infrared glow that you cannot see. Moreover, this second kind of light is given forth not only from the flame but from the candle itself. And not only a candle but every created thing gives forth this light. Even a rock emanates an invisible energy, an infrared light—the light of the Creator shining through His creation. (Page 27)

Other people

prefer to be themselves creators, making living things out of words and paint, out of wires and tubes and metal and wood. These also can draw nearer to God by making Him a partner in their creative enterprise, whatever it may be. . . . God wants man to improve upon His creation. Man’s work upon this earth is merely the continuation of the plan of God, wherein nothing remains unchanged but all grows and develops from one stage to another. . . . It is the very plan and intention of God, then, that man created upon this earth shall continue to create. . . . God therefore can be a partner and helper in any honest work or play. For play is also creative: the evolving of systems of thinking and acting that stimulate thought and life. (Pages 28-29)

This leads to her second suggestion “for drawing near to God that He may heal the soul: make God a partner in some kind of creative activity”. How, when you are so depressed and God seems so far away? “Put yourself in the way of God so that He can find you.” Go outdoors, somehow, somewhere, even in the city. “[God] made everything out of himself and somehow He put a part of Himself into everything.”

Her third suggestion is “that you do whatever you best like to do for at least half an hour a day. What did you like to do before you sank beneath the burden of life? Knit? Make bookshelves and birdhouses and things like that? Take part in plays? Go fishing? Well, do whatever it was.”

Agnes’s hope is that these suggestions will keep you afloat until God can “send you to the right person or send the right person to you at the right time.” Meanwhile, Agnes herself is one of many who are praying for you. I don’t doubt that on the other side of the Great Divide, she is still at it.

 

December 15, 2015

Improving Christmas Present

Let’s see what we can do to apply some of the suggestions made by Agnes Sanford in last week’s column for lifting our Christmas spirits a bit.

First, notice that she is not suggesting that we make some Herculean effort to change our lives. Such efforts are usually futile and just give us more reason than ever for being some sort of miserable. Nor do we sit forlornly waiting for some amazing person to appear and sprinkle us with fairy dust that will make us happy. We make a very small plan to do something that is so simple that we have no excuse for not doing it, something that there is no question about our ability to do. Yes, admittedly it might make us feel just a bit better if we did it. Well, ok, we’ll commit to trying it, but only for a week, just to see if it makes any real difference in how we feel. I remember reading an account of a Reality Therapist working with a depressed teenager. The kid was moping around in his bedroom all day with the shades drawn. The therapist asked him to try just one small thing: put the shades up in the morning and leave them up until dark. That was all he had to do. What difference would that make? Try it and find out. The kid committed to do so. After a week, he reported that having more light in the room actually did make him feel a little less depressed, so they went on from there, taking bigger steps, until a collection of new behaviors had become habits.

Well, that wasn’t Christmas, but it makes the point. We can commit to making some simple, specific, start-not-stop plan that depends on nobody but ourself, beginning right away, not next week or next year or after we feel better. One thing we can stop doing is beating ourselves up for all the things we think we should be doing but aren’t, or can’t this year. Just come up with one little thing that we can do, and do it. There are free or inexpensive Christmas concerts, or we can plan to ask someone to do some simple activity with us. If the person says no, the plan gets revised to asking someone else, or finding a way to do the activity alone. The plan was to ask, and we did it. Agnes mentions that some people feel closer to God and a happier state when they are creating something that they enjoy doing. Getting ready to do something of the sort would be a great plan. Break things down into small steps if necessary. If we have turned ourself into a hermit, a simple plan might be to go to a non-threatening public place, find some glum-looking person, and smile warmly at them. The plan is for us to smile, regardless of whether or not the person smiles back. Ours might be the only smile that person has gotten for a long time. If we are able to be involved with family or friends in a group, hugging someone might be the only contact that person has had in a long time, and we may be giving a great Christmas present right there. There is always someone who is in worse shape than we are!

Another Agnes comment that I liked was “Put yourself in the way of God so that he can find you”. We can ask ourself how we might do that. It could lead to a person’s coming into our life who is specifically able to help us with whatever looks like our biggest challenge. Or maybe we will suddenly become aware that we are that sort of person for someone else. I remember hearing about a lady who didn’t have much joy going on in her life, but did enjoy working with plants. Someone suggested that she root cuttings so that all the shut-ins in her church could have a new, cheerful-looking little plant for Christmas or Easter or some such occasion. She did, and her plants were so happily received that it became a cottage industry for her.

One person decided to create a “merry little Christmas” alone, planning a pleasant meal and buying a couple of things he had been wanting. I don’t know whether he went so far as to gift-wrap them, but they were there on Christmas morning to bring him pleasure. Stringing a few Christmas lights on the shrubbery helps to brighten the neighborhood for everyone.

Given the choice of two thoughts, dwell on the more pleasant of the two. If we can keep that up for even a little while, we will have created a bit more happiness for ourself. God does have a way of coming out to meet us, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Agnes didn’t say, “Expect a miracle”, but it’s not a bad habit to get into. Some surprises are pleasant, and it’s worth trying to keep track of them. Lots of terrible experiences never do happen, after all! There is a certain “magic” at Christmastime, when we celebrate our realization that God is present everywhere in his creation, rejoicing and suffering with us. We can keep watching for the magic. There is a week and a half to go, so get started on your little plans to help the magic happen.

 

December 22, 2015

What About Christmas Yet to Come?

One of my fellow thespians informed me at last night’s Iolanthe rehearsal that he was reading Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—I think, for the first time—to try to determine how much of the original Dickens still remained in recent productions that attributed dark intentions to one or another of the characters. My fellow thespian is a retired criminal lawyer, so his interest is particularly apropos. He and I concluded that some recent productions are reading in far too much in their attempts to understand the characters.

The darkest and most difficult of the ghosts who visited Scrooge in a single night was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He showed Scrooge quite clearly that the path that he had chosen to be on led to a most unpleasant end. The earlier spirits had shown the happier days of the past, and how those days went astray. The ghost of Marley, Scrooge’s deceased partner, had shown Scrooge that a misspent life did not have a happy ending: “I wear the chains I forged in life”. But Scrooge wasn’t born in possession of infinite wisdom, and his former experiences had not yet shown him the way out of or off of his present trajectory. He did become aware of the difference he could make in the lives of others, such as Tiny Tim, whose future without an intervention by Scrooge meant a vacant chair and a tiny tombstone. This night—this Christmas Eve—was Scrooge’s opportunity to turn around his misspent life and create much happier future Christmases for himself and for others, if he gained the necessary understanding, mental maturity, and spiritual growth.

Process theology teaches that God does not micromanage—at least, not in the usual sense of jerking people around, or sitting at his computer with his finger hovering over the SMITE button. God’s micromanagement is updated by quantum physics and related scientific updates.

As my household Philosopher used to say, “God has a finger in every pie”. By this he meant that God is offering perfect possibilities to each developing occasion of experience, possibilities to which we can say yes or no, depending on what we are prepared to accept with our free will. We have by no means finished learning the laws of the universe, which frequently seem miraculous to us with our present understanding.

In reading A Christmas Carol, each of us becomes Scrooge for the moment. It’s not that we are stingy misers; it’s that we are whatever our past life’s experiences have taught us to be, and that is probably not the best we could be. Scrooge has to rethink things quite a bit and wake up on Christmas morning with a fresh viewpoint on life. Whether we are overboard or underactive, our job is to examine our lives in a careful effort to determine what is working and what isn’t. If we decide that something isn’t working, there is usually a bit of down time over the Christmas holidays in which we can work out a plan to do better with respect to that particular thing. Remember that one of the main lessons in Reality Therapy can be summarized as “Baby steps, Bob” . That line comes from a very funny old movie, What About Bob? It does illustrate the proper approach to changing things in our lives. The movie is anything but a how-to; it is a spoof on psychotherapy. Anything that can make us laugh is a good start, and Scrooge on Christmas morning does a great deal of laughing with joy just to find that he is still alive and therefore has an opportunity to try a different approach to life.

Did God send the spirits? Not exactly. God loved Scrooge, just as he loves all his children. God sees the perfect possibilities and therefore isn’t going to give up on Scrooge and write him off. Our God is a God of second and third and 292nd chances. If the clock is still running, we still have a chance to be a game changer. We can start out with small plans to do better, and God’s wind beneath our wings will suddenly lift us and carry us along much faster than we ever could have dreamed. The camel’s nose under the tent may not look like much of a beginning, but watch out! Very often, the brightest future begins by looking like a present mess. Real or made up, the census, the stable, and the delayed journey of the magi go to remind us that Christ—the mind of Christ—is born into seemingly difficult or impossible circumstances. But the Star of Bethlehem continues to shine, wherever our travels take us.

May the God of all grace and mercy give you peace and joy on your journey into amazing prosperity this Christmas season.

 

December 29, 2015

Thresholds

Well, here we are, in that interesting space between Christmas and New Year’s, dealing with it in our usual fashion, be that good, bad, or indifferent. Good and bad, according to control theory, are eighth-order perceptions. Assuming that you have consumed enough eggnog with sufficient nog to dull any pain you might be feeling, I will explain that topic.

A major aspect of systems theory is control theory (the terms are regarded as synonymous). The vast majority of the population does not concern itself with either one, although they would probably be a lot happier if they did. A bit of understanding of systems could end a great deal of pain and misery, not to mention financial difficulties, especially if you are involved in business, raising a family, or charitable work. But gee, you might have to get your brain all sweaty.

Systems theory is not a panacea, but it comes close. The old IBM THINK signs have morphed into THINK SYSTEMS. Systems are by definition complex, not simple. Einstein famously said to make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. He was thinking systems.

Systems involves interactions. It involves going from individual photographs to frames of a movie. No one frame tells the whole story. You are being asked to spread your attention farther, to take in—grasp—prehend—more than ever before, but your reward is that you are taking in more. You understand things that you could never understand before. You disturb something over here, and something over there says ouch. It’s all about relationships. Hmmm....

Control theory is the trim tab for systems. (Wikipedia credits Buckminster Fuller for the metaphor. I am not a geek, but I hang out with them a lot.) Here is where it gets interesting for the rest of us: We are all parts of an input control system. If I get into my car, put my foot on the accelerator, and turn on the engine, I become part of an input control system. If I get out of the car, get behind it, and push, I am part of a power system. Control is how control systems do what they do, and therefore, no control system likes being controlled, as you may perhaps have noticed.

Input control systems operate from a collection of comparing stations, in which we compare what we want (a little mental photo album or collection of reference perceptions) with what we have (the incoming perception from the outside world). In psychiatrist William Glasser’s initial presentation of this information, he included an illustration of this photo album as “the world in our head” vs. the signal from “the outside world” . We are in the world, and the world is in our heads. This is part of how the world of quantum physics messes up the oh-so-neat images from the decaying world imbued with materialism as an underlying metaphysical approach (What is metaphysics, Mommy?)

What a comparing station does (and we usually have a bunch of them open at any one time) is to compare the reference perception/signal with the incoming perception/signal). If they match, oh, joy! We experience a burst of pure pleasure at the comparing station. If they do not match, oh, woe! We experience a burst of pure pain, which kicks on the output system, which generates behaviors calculated to make the signals match.

To make this make better sense, here is an example:

You can’t prove control theory; you can only test it and observe what results (sorry, Peirce; that was your idea: proof = test). One classic example of an input control system is a thermostat hooked up to a furnace, heat pump, etc. In the room with the thermostat is a window, which someone has left open in freezing temperatures. Suppose that the thermostat was set for 70 degrees. If the room is still close to 70 degrees, it is obviously being controlled somehow. With no controls, you would start shivering, and the pipes would be in danger of freezing. Pure pain, so the thermostat turns on the furnace.

To the right people, EUREKA!. To the rest of you, we love you anyway, and we wish you a happy New Year. We are indeed living “in interesting times”, as the ancient Chinese said. Janus, the god of the doorway, looked both to the past for learning, and to the future, for genuine progress. That is why our first month is January, in honor of him (it used to be March, for Mars, the god of war). But I never did fully explain orders of perception, so that can wait until the new year. Meanwhile, have some more eggnog, and celebrate so completely that you are eager to settle down into a newer, better routine after the first of the year.