I Believe

Jeanne Wisner — Come and wander with me on the winding path of my magical garden of beliefs.

September 23, 2007

We are coming to the roses. Bend and enjoy smelling the roses. The delicate roses remind me that love is the most powerful force in the Universe. When I think of love I think of the Universal teaching of “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This thought is a guiding principle for me.

Notice there is a glistening mist surrounding each plant . This mist represents the infinite Energy that surrounds the Earth, each person, animal, and plant. It is always there connecting each of us to the Earth and to each creature and plant. The mist reminds me that we are each a part of the whole and are dependent on the creatures, plants and people for our lives.

Looking ahead we see a rainbow of flowers. Each of these flowers is unique and exquisitely beautiful just as each of us is a unique being. This rainbow of flowers represent the Unitarian Universalist principles that have guided my life for over 30 years. Our principles are the guideposts I use to evaluate how I am doing.

I live in and believe in Energy. We are Energy. We are a part of the infinite Energy that is everywhere. I am grateful that the Energy is present and accept it without understanding it.

Mark Ewald — The idea of exposing the fruits of our Sharing Circle to a broader circle is a little unsettling, particularly when it comes to core beliefs. It seems to lie outside the basic concept that we all signed on to. But then a few weeks ago I received an email from the secretary of our forthcoming 50th high school class reunion asking me to enumerate in 50 words or less what is important to me now after all these years. So it’s hard to get away from this kind of exposure. What struck me about the assignment concerning our 75 member high school class is that there are only 52 of us left. It seemed to focus my task.

Certainly family and friends are at the top of the list.

The list also includes:

  • Good health –mental as well as physical.
  • Compassion – showing kindness whenever I can.
  • Approaching life with a sense of optimism, humor, and good cheer.
  • Being grateful for everything I have and sharing it with others.

Finally, my wife, Jinny, coined a phrase during a similar exercise that I am happy to adopt. She said that she strives to make every day an adventure. It need not be white water rafting in Tibet (although we’ve had some of those days), but also quieter moments that can leave us open to the beauty and wonder of life and make it fuller, more meaningful and more worthwhile.

Helen Fitzgerald — We had a little run-through the other day and I exhausted myself with my long windedness. I guess I miss my bully pulpit when I taught religion in a Catholic High school.  I found that nothing clarified my thinking more than the chance to encourage those kids to ask their own faith questions by examining “the Signs of the Times” – art, film, books, headlines, government. Some of them did not like it because we were asking them to think. They were used to memorizing catechism and being tested for marks.

Had I had a similar education, I would probably not have found myself at the age of 35 with eight children. I was brought up in the black or white era of moral decision-making. However my 20 years as a stay-at-home mom gave me time to reflect, read, and ponder. And the 60’s were a decade that provided plenty of raw material for growth.

I still consider myself a Catholic, I guess. I refuse to leave. But I reject the patriarchy, power and control exerted by the hierarchy. Was there ever a more totally controlling system devised to discourage thinking? Even to question was forbidden and a sin to boot! The question is what do I believe now? I believe in sacrament with a small s and in grace. And in the Gospel recorded as preached by Jesus. His message was unequivocally the Kingdom of God, the New Reign of God. The Greek word Basilea was the heart and core of Jesus’ message. This phrase occurs 140 times in the Four gospels and encapsulates everything He lived for, died for and represented in his very existence. It was never meant to be understood as one church, or any church. That distorted it completely. Nor was it meant to refer to an afterlife. And it included all, at the service of the whole of creation.

In a reaction to the goddess traditions of the pre-patriarchial era, the Church determinedly held to the suppression and invisibility of women, and extended that to the exploitation and control of the planet as well, all part of the patriarchal system.

Some of that is changing, but the problems of sexual abuse and power remain. I was fed up with all that certainty being preached, hewing to right wing values while the world was horrified at their cover-ups and  rigidity. They seem comfortable being “proclaimers of certainties” rather than “seekers after truth.”

I decided I could no longer worship with a community who accepts that carefully crafted medieval relic that belittles half the human race and emulates royal expectations of power and wealth. In its American version I found it rife with racism, homophobia, and imbued with Irish prudishness and respectability. I live alone now, my children all grown, in a different town where I am more accepted now than I ever was when I was, a lifetime ago, the President of the Rosary Society. My God is not a person, a man, a Roman Catholic above all. I do not believe in that God. Now I believe that the world is a living organism and Creation is the primary revelation of the God I find so hard to define. But I do believe that my God believes in me and I am held in the embrace of a loving powerful mystery. I don’t have another lifetime ahead of me so I opted to find some ‘seekers of truth’ to be with. So here I am. And in the time I have left, I strive to develop compassion, to work for justice, to grow in love and to appreciate liberation.

John Andrews — Our culture offers us two competing views of spirituality.   Traditional religion sees human nature as composed of two distinct substances, body and soul. The soul, which is immortal, detaches from the body at death, like a lifeboat escaping from a sinking ship, and sails away.

The other view, which is variously called modernism, materialism, or scientism, dispenses with the soul, claiming that everything is ultimately within the grasp of scientific understanding.

I have spent much of my adolescent and adult life trying to figure out which of these possibilities is correct. I’ve finally realized that in all probability both of them are wrong.

The main reason I don’t believe in the body-soul theory is that we evolved from other animals. Because of our common origins, and because they act as if they have sentient inner lives, it’s reasonable to suppose that they do. After all, I use the same criteria to infer that you are a sentient, willful being.

The differences between us and them — our ability to use language, make logical deductions, and choose courses of action on the basis of rules – are all things that computers can do. Computers may not do these things consciously, but they can do them.

If we put the conscious experience of animal minds together with computers’ ability to manipulate data and make choices, we can account for the capabilities of human minds without having to invoke a “ghost in the machine.”

However, and it’s a big “however,” I believe just as strongly that science is limited. As a philosopher friend of mine once put it, “There’s more to the mind than just the brain.” With what I’ve said so far fresh in your mind, it may surprise you to hear that I’m inclined to agree with her. It’s just that body-soul dualism isn’t the answer to how this could be. Instead, I imagine what the great philosopher Immanuel Kant would probably have replied: “There is more to the brain than just the brain.”

The meaning of this becomes clear when it is recognized that the first use of the word “brain” refers to the brain as it is in reality, while the second refers to the brain as we are able to perceive and understand it. The gap between the two, for which Kant conceived the category “noumena” in contrast to the phenomena that reveal the physical world, provides plenty of room for consciousness without in any way requiring a separate substance for it. It is in this gap that we should look for the spiritual side of things.

I can’t say whether science will approach ever closer to a bright line separating the knowable from the ineffable, or whether reality is like an infinite shaft, science digging ever deeper but never getting to the bottom. Either way, in extending the breadth of our knowledge, science also expands the intersection of knowledge and awe.

As a scientist I rejoice in the thought that there will always be mystery.

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