Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Unitarian Universalism and the Twelve Steps

Unitarian Universalism and the Twelve Steps

O Great Love,
For Defeat,
For being Licked,
For Being Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired,
For Giving Up,
For  Enough Finally Being Enough,
For the Path of Descent That Finally Reaches the Place Known as the Bottom,
I am profoundly grateful. 
(Restored to Sanity, Skinner House Books, 2014, 7)

The admission that one is powerless over alcohol is the first step in the Twelve-Step program. That prayer comes from the book Restored To Sanity, a book of essays compiled by two Unitarian Universalist Ministers. 
For people who struggle with addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous has for many years been a lifeline of hope and recovery. The Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a time-honored practice that has brought thousands of people who struggle with addiction to sobriety and, some would say, to sanity. There are other recovery programs, such as LifeRing and Rational Recovery, but none is as well-known as AA.

Unitarian Universalists are among the people supported by the AA Twelve-Step practices, but there can be a challenge to some who find the language and teachings about a higher power problematic. I would like this morning to look at some of the twelve steps through the eyes of the Restored to Sanity authors, all of whom are UUs. I believe their writings will give us insight into the philosophy and language of Twelve-Step programs, and help us to see that a spiritual, rather than religious perspective, may be helpful for the hard work of recovery. What is more, much of the work of the Twelve Steps can be beneficial for UUs who are not in need of a recovery program.

The Facts
Romantic, tragic figures hopelessly addicted to alcohol or drugs litter western popular culture – from the fictional Nicolas Cage anti-hero determined to drink himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas to real-life people such as John Belushi, Kurt Cobain, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead with a needle still in his arm last year. But these larger-than-life names glamorize and give us a false picture of addiction: people who abuse drugs and alcohol are ordinary people like you and me, who have jobs and children and go to church.
As we learn to employ coping mechanisms to handle the challenges of daily life, so do they – except for them, those mechanisms become another challenge: as Denis Meacham writes in the Addiction Ministry Handbook (Skinner House Books, 2004), “Chemically dependent people are stuck in a coping behavior that probably served them well at one time, briefly, and now they can’t change without help.” (1)

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.:
“One in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.  More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol. (https://ncadd.org/learn-about-alcohol/faqsfactsAnd it is estimated that 20 million Americans aged 12 or older used an illegal drug in the past 30 days.  This estimate represents 8% percent of the population aged 12 years old or older.  Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription drugs used without a prescription. Each year more teens enter addiction treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than all other illegal drugs combined."

"The estimated cost of drug abuse exceeds $190 Billion in lost productivity, in healthcare costs, and in legal costs including efforts to stem the flow of drugs. Beyond the financial cost is the cost to individuals, families and society through the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, either through sharing of drug paraphernalia or unprotected sex; deaths due to overdose or other complications from drug use; effects on unborn children of pregnant drug users; and the impact on the family, crime and homelessness.” (https://ncadd.org/learn-about-drugs/faqsfacts)

So how do people begin to get to grips with recovery, once they hit the bottom? Anne Lamott observes that “Willingness to change comes only from pain.” (Small Victories, 2014, p. 275) The decision to seek help is one thing, but then the resistance to the Christian trappings of AA programs may keep many people from fully committing to a Twelve-step recovery program. Theistic language turns a lot of people off. Two of the Twelve Steps contain the phrase “God as we understand Him”; for people who have had negative or even traumatic experiences with male authority figures can’t find meaning or fulfillment with this kind of description.

The key to the first step for addicts is being able to turn over their fight against drugs or alcohol, and admit that their lives are unmanageable. Reaching out and seeking help outside of oneself is possible only when one knows the limits of exerting control “in the face of uncontrollable external forces” (27); that means being realistic, and a prayer that is often recited at Twelve-step meetings is the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

What are the things we cannot change? According to David Richo’s book The Five Things We Cannot Change, and the Happiness We Find by EmbracingThem, they are: everything changes and ends; things do not always go according to plan; life is not always fair; pain is part of life; people are not loyal and loving all of the time (cited in Restored to Sanity, 41). Aligning ourselves with reality means being open to what life has to offer, and abandoning our denial of those givens.

Affirming the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part, is Our Seventh Principle, and it is a way to understand our place in a world that does not revolve around us. It also allows us to frame our understanding of a higher power in ways that are familiar for UUs: the Restored to Sanity essay by Paul says that “God, for me, is in the process of living and is a verb rather than a noun.” (30)

One well-known AA slogan is “Let go and let God”; Meacham says that “it is not only acceptance of a higher power that is difficult or impossible for some people but also the call to surrender their will to that power.” (26) The Third Step is the decision to turn one’s will and lives over to the care of God. The surrender step means reassessing our sense of self-importance and our inability to beat forces that are more powerful than we are. Meacham says that to surrender in the spiritual sense means not only to change thoughts and attitudes, but also to enlarge one’s existence in a relationship with a higher good that can transform the very foundation of one’s being.” (28) 

Writer Anne Lamott puts it this way: “when we agree to (or get tricked into) being part of something bigger than our own wired, fixated minds, we are saved. When we search for something larger than our own selves to hook into, we can come through whatever life throws at us.” (Stitches, 2013, 91)
It can be tough for a UU to see how it’s possible to turn one’s will and life over to the care of God precisely because of the way we might understand Him. In an essay in Restored to Sanity, Kent writes that he is acutely aware of the unfairness of life; when he surveys the suffering in the world, he rejects theologies that claim that God is in charge of everything and has a larger plan that we should trust: “Many of us have wondered why we should risk “turning ourselves over” to a chaotic, unfair world. I have come to believe there is a gracious goodness in AA groups, the church, the community, and the world. If we open ourselves up…we can benefit greatly.” (34)

A belief in a new, higher good can free us to follow a new direction in life and to reconnect with others; here at this church we call that reconnection the beloved community, a faithful gathering of people whose lives are for service to the greater good. We offer each other companionship along the spiritual path that each has chosen, and those who are in recovery can offer as much to our congregation as their peers do to them.

There is a commonality between AA and UU – in the First Principle UUs affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. In AA those struggling with dependency learn that they have inherent worth and dignity. Julie writes: “In AA we learn, often for the first time, that we alcoholics have inherent worth and dignity. Once we understand this about ourselves at the deepest level, we know the First Principle.” (40)

The 4th and 5th steps are difficult for many people because they ask for inventories, the 4th for a fearless and moral inventory of ourselves.  Step 5 is admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  (61) Chris writes that there is nothing a person can do or not do that can add to or subtract from their worth and dignity: “Whereas the forms of Christianity I experienced taught me that I am a ‘fallen’ human, a sinner, and that only through Jesus Christ can I be redeemed, Unitarian Universalism teaches that I am worthy already.”  (62)

There are other steps that are very challenging - Step 6 asks that a person be ready to have God remove all defects of character, 7 that God remove our shortcomings. “I realized that having character defects simply makes me human – no more, no less…As I engaged with Step Six, I realized that the part that I could do was to get ready – to prepare; the part that God did was to remove my shame about having character defects at all.” (73-74)

But the next two steps are very involved: Step 8 is to make a list of all persons we have harmed and be willing to make amends to them all; the 9th step is to make direct amends to those people whenever possible. (93, 99)
Step 11 is seeking through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for our knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.  Meacham in the Addiction Ministry Handbook suggests that in order to work on this step we need to Cultivate an awareness and receptivity to the transcendent in life: “being open to such experiences as we go about our lives belies the notion that there are specific times or places for the soul to be refreshed or inspired. Recovering people must be in the world with such openness and trust that they can be fully ready for the numinous to break through at any time. Being open to the transcendental in life requires being fully present in the moment – being here now.” (35)

Sarah writes in her essay "Will and Power", “Step 11 brought spirituality out of the musings of my intellect and intot he experience of my heart and soul; it came to life. I am no longer interested in being right ot=r wrong. Rather, I seek to be connected to spirit, to live with peace, serenity, and an overflowing fountain of joy.” (141)

We all can benefit by being mindful of and present to our lives. Anne Lamott says that “Grace meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us.” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/annelamott391308.html) In the hymn Amazing Grace we sang “‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far…” so dare we use the word salvation to describe the ‘spiritual awakening’ that the 12th step mentions? For UUs who can reframe the experience and thus enrich their well-being, that is a question worth asking and answering. 

Lynn Ungar’s poem Salvation asks this:
By what are you saved? And how?
Saved like a bit of string,
tucked away in a drawer?
Saved like a child rushed from
a burning building, already
singed and coughing smoke?
Or are you salvaged
like a car part—the one good door
when the rest is wrecked?
Do you believe me when I say
you are neither salvaged nor saved,
but salved, anointed by gentle hands
where you are most tender?
Haven’t you seen
the way snow curls down
like a fresh sheet, how it
covers everything, makes everything
beautiful, without exception?


What is meant by salvation is in the end not as important a consideration as the inclusive faith of Universalism, as articulated by theologian Forrest Church, that rejects the divisive notion that people fit into two separate categories: sheep and goats; the saved and the damned. As Ziggy Marley wrote, “bring all the lovers to the fold, cause no one is gonna lose their soul” (Love Is My Religion). Even as we are spiritually awakened, we can follow our mission to carry our saving message to others, not from a position of superiority but of solidarity, as fellow human beings, each of us with inherent worth and dignity.

And in the words of Forrest Church:
“The surest way to find the sacred is to decode our own experiences, not only of beauty…but also in sacraments of pain by which we commune with one another… We all suffer. We are broken and in need of healing. We struggle to accept ourselves and forgive others. To adopt the old language, we are all sinners. Aware of our imperfections, we seek more perfect faith, hope, love, and justice. At our best, we empathize with one another's pain and rise together in answer to a higher law.” (http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/2786.shtml)

May we be the ones who make it so.

GWO 2-19-2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects

The first sermon I ever gave  at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta was about the theological and spiritual functions of film. I remember talking about a Catholic understanding of sacrament, that through material objects we can glimpse the sacred. While I taught theology and religious studies in the United Kingdom, my specialism was theology and film, and an American postgrad student at Glasgow University once came to a seminar I was leading on the topic. His name was Brent Plate, and he went on to teach and also write on the topic of film and religion. In fact I wrote a chapter for him in his book on the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ.

I have been fascinated with a book Brent recently published that looks at five types of objects that “humans have engaged and put to use in highly symbolic, sacred ways” (A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects, Beacon Press, 2014); these objects are ordinarily common, basic, profane (profane Latin roots pro and fanus = outside the temple). (Plate, 4) “Such is the paradox of religious experience,” he writes, “that ordinary things can become extraordinary.” (4)

To explain this we need to think about how the primary contact points between the self and the world are the sense organs: mouth, nose, eyes, ears, skin. The Greek philosopher Protagoras said that a human “is nothing but a bundle of sensations”. (5) The poet Dianne Ackerman says that our senses are the primary place of communion with the physical world.

Religion, then, is deeply sensual, and this statement may come as somewhat of a shock!

But Brent Plate says that “too often religion is explained as a set of beliefs, which primarily exist in the thought processes of the brain.” And so we relegate symbols, rituals and even human bodies to be “merely secondary expressions of some primary intellectual order”. But, Plate claims, “there is no thinking without first sensing, no minds without their entanglement in bodies, no intellectual religion without felt religion as it is lived in streets and homes, temples and theaters.” (7)

Religion, being a prime human activity throughout history, is rooted in the body and in its sensual relations in the world; Plate says it has been and always will be. Any religious history is incomplete if it ignores the fact that “religion derives from rudimentary human experiences, from lived, embodied practices.” (14) So “to learn about religion we have to come to our senses”! (8)

We can’t talk about using our senses in abstraction: we know that it’s impossible to smell without an odor, to hear without a sound. The Walt Whitman poem “There Was a Child Went Forth” is about the child who engages with objects and these become a part of him as he grows: the first object he looked upon, that object he became…and the objects we engage in in religion are speaking to us and making meaning for us. (10) Objects have power – MIT professor Sherry Turkle says that objects help complete us. (13)

Nature is all around us – and we have needed to survive in the natural world by using things like shelter, fire, agriculture, the Internet – “our existence depends on our technological taming of nature, and that has led to a loosening of the connection between us and nature.” Religion has always interacted with the world in which we live, but we are creators and creations of culture to the point that we dismiss the role of nature when we proclaim our theology, despite the evidence of our own religious practices. One year in the Progressive Religious Coalition there was a discussion about pagan involvement in the Martin Luther King service; paganism was understood by some people as idolatry because they had problems with the idea of nature worship.

It was an irony lost on them, because when you think of the calculation Muslims make for prayer times, they are based on the time of day: pre-dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, evening. The month of Ramadan is based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon. The Christian festival of Easter is determined - the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox. 

Culture is basically the cultivation of nature, and religion is one of the key ways humans have cultivated it. Each of the objects Plate writes about begin embedded in the natural world but through their interactions with humans and their senses they become part of culture. And this nature-culture nexus is also the birthplace of art. (18) Natural and man-made materials are repurposed for religious uses: rocks into sacred stones, wheat into bread for communion.

People who practice religion don’t necessarily know about the historical elements of that religion, but they know how to do that religion. Plate comments that religious people are not believers so much as ‘technologists’. Religion uses physical objects like stones, incense, drums, bread, and crosses in a technological way, and by using religious language gives them meaning.

So, given the connection between nature, culture and religion, let’s look at the elements we’ve used in this service:

The Cross

Intersection, division, or transformation – which do you think of first when you see 2 crossed lines? For abstract painters like Mondrian and minimalists like Agnes Martin, the grid, a series of intersecting crosses, was the most primal image that shows us the fundamental connection between nature and culture, human and divine. Crossed lines are not just limited to the Christian cross – as you saw at the opening calling of directions, the cross is much more ancient, and broader, in its metaphorical meaning. In it we can see two opposing forces - vertical and horizontal, heaven and hell, feminine and masculine, these are equivalent dichotomies that connect to it.

Brent Plate says that the “cross is a piece of technology that provides a bridge and allows connection. Through that association comes transformation. We cross over, crossbreed, cross-pollinate, cross-dress, crisscross “ (140) – all actions that leave us different than before. But visually, the place where the lines meet, the crux of the meeting spot, is where our eyes are drawn, to the unification of matter. That is the center, the fifth direction – there can in fact “be no directions without a grounding point”(145)

The Christian cross symbolizes transformation; the monstrous nature of crucifixion meant that Christians didn’t begin to use the cross as a symbol until a couple of hundred years after the death of Jesus (153).  There were earlier symbols like the fish or the term ‘the good shepherd’.

When the emperor Constantine saw a vision of Christ it was accompanied by a cross of light. The old Christian hymn “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before” reminds us of the Crusades and other wars where crosses and swords went hand in hand. Of course nowadays the cross is a fashion item, a token of identity, worn around the neck, tattooed on bodies.

We would agree that the most monstrous cross of the modern world is the Nazi swastika, but it is an ancient Sanskrit image signifying happiness, and the term means good luck or good being. But its cooptation by Nazi Germany and today’s anti-Semitic extremists voids for us any redeeming symbolism…Brent Plate reminds us that ‘symbols seldom obey the limits of nations, cultures, religions, or languages’ (157).


The drum has a beat that is more than a metronome; it’s used in various religious traditions to “invoke the gods, protect people, create rain, unite communities, even bring people to the point of ecstasy” (100). From Shiva, the Lord of the dance for Hindus, to Icanchu, a birdlike creature who according to the Mataco people of Argentina, helps to recreate life in a world destroyed in a cosmic fire, the drumbeat is essential to the existence of people and the drum is another technology for living.

Shamans, like the Samis in Lapland, and the Yoruba of west Africa, use drums as the primary means of communication with the divine. Rituals in Japan’s Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples developed the modern kodo style of playing various drums together.

But there is also the therapeutic aspect of drum-playing that brings it into the realm of divine play, in the sense that play is an essential element of animal and human life. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist, says that “We are built to play and built through play. When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality’ (134).


The cross - Visual, the drum - aural, and now the ‘scentual’: the “ancient machinery” that is the olfactory nervous system connects to the amygdala, triggering what some researchers say is the strongest emotional response out of human sense perceptions. Incense is called the food of the gods, and we all know the story of the gifts that the Wise Men brought to the baby Jesus – gold, myrrh and frankincense. If holiness has a scent then it is frankincense, burnt in the ancient Babylonian temple of Baal at the rate of 2 ½ tons every year. It was specified in a recipe God himself gave for incense to be used for the Ark of the Covenant in the book of Exodus (see p. 66).

But the burning of incense, besides the smell, is evocative due to the curling of smoke that is visually pleasing. King David sand about how the smoke rises to the heavens above: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141) Smoke is visible and yet not touchable, Brent observes, so in that sense is mystically seen but not possessed, just like light.

Incense has had a mixed reception in the history of Christianity; Christians moved away from the religion’s pagan and Jewish roots, both traditions that use incense. St John Chrystosom even declared, “God has no nostrils.”  The theologian Origen said in the 3rd century that one easy way to distinguish Christians from pagans was the burning of incense (72). But by the time of the great cathedrals incense was used lavishly, until the reformers got rid of many visual aids to worship, arguing that Christians should cultivate an inner spiritual life instead of using materialistic ritual (71). Incense, Brent Plate suggests, may give us not only pleasure through its fragrance, but a chance to reflect upon the passing nature of our lives and how that might itself be something holy.


When we shared our joys and sorrows this morning, we used stones as ritual objects, to center that particular ritual and to keep it flowing smoothly. Stones have a long history in religion of being symbols of a divine force, having power to heal by their touch, marking special events from the past, and marking boundaries.

Think about the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, remains of the temple built by King Solomon about 3000 years ago, destroyed, rebuilt and then destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Not only Jews but people of all faiths come to the Wailing Wall to take advantage of the tradition of sticking little notes in the cracks between the bricks that hold requests, pleas or petitions to the divine. 

The Dome of the Rock is sacred to Muslims, and early Muslims may have faced toward Jerusalem to pray until the center of Islam shifted to Mecca. The Ka’ba contains within it the Black Stone, perhaps originally a meteorite held as sacred because it came from the heavens. Close by the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to mark the spot where Jesus’ body was anointed to prepare it for burial. Other sacred sites based around stone include Uluru or Ayers Rock in Australia and Stonehenge. People construct cairns as a sort of ritual, often on hilltops or mountain passes. Stones can also be used ritually to take life, and of course we use gravestones to mark where the dead are laid.

The metaphor of a rock that is strong and dependable is kind of an inside joke for the Gospels. You may know that Jesus at one point says to his disciple Simon Peter, “You are a rock, and on that rock I will build my church.” Petros is Greek meaning "stone" and some biblical scholars translate the name Jesus uses as ‘Rocky’.

And Jesus himself is associated with the durability of rock, in the old gospel hymns “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee” and another one I used to sing as a child, “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is shifting sand”.

Stone seems such an unchangeable and permanent material, yet we know that it may take many years but the natural elements to which they are exposed can erode them or smooth them. Brent Plate says, “Religions may tell us to take up stones and throw them at each other, but religious traditions also encourage us to stop, look, and listen, to be aware of the nature of everyday existence, of our physical lives and dependence on earthly matter.” (59)


And I suppose we do know how dependent we are, at least metaphorically, when it comes to bread. We need to eat to live, and bread is symbolic of that basic need; however, when we talk about technology bread is anything but simple (see p.177).

For five thousand years bread has been a staple in the human diet: more than 200 varieties are known to have existed in Mesopotamia. Its significance as the transitional food from hunter-gatherer to agricultural cultures is symbolized in the story of Adam and Eve, who went from garden to field. The word cereal comes from the goddess of agriculture Ceres, and worship of the ancient goddesses involved the offering of breads and cakes.
Plate quotes the author Michael Pollan, who writes that the first time a human saw dough rise must have been ‘miraculous “as if the spark of life had been breathed into it” (189).

For Jews unleavened bread is in the midst of the formative history of the Passover. The reason it is not a yeast bread is not only because the Israelites did not have time to let the dough rise, but also because God commanded, ‘…for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste--so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt’ (Deut 16:3). Eating is not only sustaining the body, it is about remembering: the “past made real through the palate” (191).

Christianity takes the Passover meal as the basis for its most dramatic theology, Jesus as the sacrifice, through bread and wine – memory moves a step beyond our brains and into our gut, it is “Ingested, chewed and swallowed” (196). Furthermore through the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, it is the divine presence of Christ and the bond of community that is in the Eucharist or communion. But the power of the cultivation of wheat can also be a revolutionary image, as in the very words that Oscar Romero said just before he was shot and killed while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in San Salvador in 1980: "He who wants to withdraw from danger will lose his life," said Romero. "But the person who gives himself to the service of others will be like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies — but only apparently dies, for by its death, its wasting away in the ground, a new harvest is made."

Unlike the other objects we’ve experienced today, bread is not as universal or as prominent outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. And Brent Plate concludes his book by saying that religion is like bread; it is an invention, and it changes through time and cultural context. Just as bread has some common elements, but may be made and consumed in many different ways, so too religions are not all the same, are not all constructed in the same way, and do not want the same thing.

And so from the history of the past to religion of the future -
President Obama in speaking at the national Prayer Breakfast Thursday reminded us that the Golden Rule is “one law that we can all be most certain of, that seems to bind people of all faiths and people who are still finding their way towards faith but have a sense of ethics or morality in them” (http://www.christianpost.com/news/obama-at-national-prayer-breakfast-3-principles-to-oppose-those-who-use-religion-for-evil-133633/) . Those of us who live and work in an interfaith context should rejoice in this, but not try to appeal to the lowest common denominator in dealing with each other’s religious traditions. As Alan Jones reminds us, “Working for an inclusive community of love and justice doesn’t mean throwing all of us with our various beliefs into a big blender so that our believing and belonging become homogenized. It means being able to celebrate difference and argue for our point of view without wanting to imprison or kill those who differ from us.” (http://inwardoutward.org/quote-author/alan-jones/)
It’s worth remembering as Unitarian Universalists that we celebrate our sources without trying to meld them all into one unified theology; Laila Ibrahim says that as Unitarian Universalists we believe what each of us knows about God is a piece of the truth. (http://www.frederickuu.org/about/What_is_Unitarian_Universalism.php)
I’ve spoken about 5 objects, but what about the ½? Well for Plate it stands as a symbol of our incomplete natures.  There is a need for a human body to be made whole through relations with something outside itself; and so the human half body connects with some of the objects to help us in our quest for religiously meaningful, fulfilling lives. (P3) It’s an idea for a religion of the future that’s being talked about in some interesting places – this week in the New York Times David Brooks wrote an op-ed piece entitledBuilding Better Secularists” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/opinion/david-brooks-building-better-secularists.html?nlid=58916088&src=recpb&_r=0)
in which he said:

“Past secular creeds were built on the 18th-century enlightenment view of man as an autonomous, rational creature who could reason his way to virtue. The past half-century of cognitive science has shown that that creature doesn’t exist. We are not really rational animals; emotions play a central role in decision-making, the vast majority of thought is unconscious, and our minds are riddled with biases. We are not really autonomous; our actions are powerfully shaped by others in ways we are not even aware of.

It seems to me that if secularism is going to be a positive creed, it can’t just speak to the rational aspects of our nature. Secularism has to do for nonbelievers what religion does for believers — arouse the higher emotions, exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action.

Religions don’t just ask believers to respect others; rather each soul is worthy of the highest dignity because it radiates divine light.

The only secularism that can really arouse moral motivation and impel action is an enchanted secularism, one that puts emotional relations first and autonomy second. I suspect that over the next years secularism will change its face and become…less content with mere benevolence, and more responsive to the spiritual urge in each of us….”

Brent Plate writes that “we stopped believing in our senses and trusted only our intellect. We believed thinking and sensing were separate and separable functions” (224). My challenge to you today is to look again at the basic stuff around you; recall the pleasure you get from favorite smells, the touch of crisp, clean bed linens or an animal’s fur, the feel of cool liquid sliding down your throat on a hot day, the music that brings back happy memories. Look at the objects you keep on top of your dresser, in your pocket, on your desk… and then appreciate “why religions continue to invest in and celebrate the objects of the world” (224). 

GWO 2-6-2015