The Transcendentalists Were Brilliant, But There Are a Couple of Problems…

Read up on the Transcendentalists of the 19thcentury–they were an amazing group.  Many of them started out in the Unitarian Church, a powerful force within the Christian community at the time, but they rejected the churchy-ness of the Unitarians in favor of what Emerson called “self-reliance.”  This did not mean what you might think: self-sufficiency, individualism.   No, what he meant was getting in touch with God by looking into your own heart and trusting your instincts, your daemon as Socrates would have said.  He believed that intuition would teach us the way, that each of us has God within us, and by relying on that God, that Guide, that Moral Compass we will get in touch with the “Oversoul,” the Universal Spirit.  This Spirit is God, and by getting in touch with it, each individual will connect with all other individuals who have gotten in touch with it, and will become part of a new world, a world of peace, a world where we all share in a morality free from the hidebound strictures of organized religion, and instead are part of a brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, devoted to the Spirit.

That is exactly what the Universal Sacraments are about, and Emerson’s impatience with traditional Christianity is mirrored today with the rise of the Nones, those spiritual seekers who can’t seem to find God in a pulpit or pew and are looking elsewhere–or have given up.

Don’t give up! The Transcendentalists have some good suggestions for Seekers, but let’s talk about the hard parts. There are two.  One is to convince people, especially those who have grown up with a faith in their traditional religion that it’s possible to walk away from the customs and rules and– let’s say it–superstitions  they grew up with in favor of Emerson’s self-reliance.   If you’ve been told since birth that God is out there, a father figure with a pat on the back or a good sound whipping at the ready depending on how you’ve marched to his commandments, well, then it may not be so easy to open your mind to another view.

The second thing is even trickier: how do you look within and know that what you’ve found is the real deal, and not some misguided, youthful misreading of the moral compass?  Are you finding true north or are you off the path, the result of some magnetic interference from an attractive slag heap of nonsense?  Sexual intimacy is one such instinctive attraction–but that could lead to promiscuity. Is that OK?  We are instinctively drawn to groups, and that’s a good thing, but are all groups equally good?  A group like the white supremacists would likely say their intuition tells them they are on the right track.  How do we know they’re not right?

The transcendentalists believed that the whole point of using intuition was to “transcend” our animalistic tendencies and find our higher selves. But Nature was one of the transcendentalists’ great teachers and if we look there for guidance, we find the most horrible examples of predators and prey.  Should that be our guide or would it instead be that awful feeling many of us get when we think about slaughtering an animal for meat?  Should we all be vegans?

To take this question to its most extreme, how do you distinguish a good instinct from insanity?   There are men out there who claim that God told them to murder someone.  Members of ISIS committed what most of us would call atrocities, but they could find justification for it. Some Christian in this country believe it is right to kill a doctor performing abortions.  We could go on and on.  The point is, intuitions, which produce beliefs, aren’t all alike.  Is there any way to generalize and find points in common with every human being? This is where the idea of the Seven Universal Sacraments can be helpful.   More on that next time.




The Preacher-Prophets of Ghana

Sad news from Ghana. This week a mob of angry young Muslims wrecked a Christian church.   Why? Because the preacher predicted the death of the country’s chief imam this year.   This was an insult.   The Muslims community asked for an apology. None came.   So armed with machetes, they ransacked the Church of the Glorious Word and Power Ministry.  No one was hurt, but they tore it up pretty good.

If you’re surprised at this incident, you should understand that Ghana is a very Christian country with many, many preachers who have made a name for themselves with predictions of various kinds.  They’re prophets with important things to tell us.  One of the most lucrative sorts of prediction is the doomsday prophecy of death and destruction.  That can really draw a crowd and boosts the pastor’s rankings on social media.  The top-ranked man of God in Ghana has over 2 million followers on facebook and twitter! They also have radio shows with enormous reach.   These men are rock stars.

How do we know it’s true that they are prophets?  We know it’s true because they told us so themselves.  God is telling them things and their followers believe it.   A naïve observer would think that the prediction racket is a dangerous game for a guy to get into.   If you‘ve got God whispering in your ear that someone is about to die and he doesn’t, well, that would seem to bring your career as a soothsayer to a dead-end.  But no, as you might expect, the preacher-man weasels out of it: he says, “Yes, he was going to die, but  our prayers helped save the doomed man’s life.  Put some money in the collection box and we can save some more.”  They’re also good at waiting until someone actually dies and then claiming God told them that was about to happen.  Hey presto! It’s ex post facto prophesying!   Give it a try, it’s easy! Anyone can do it!   But to make a buck off it you’ve got to know your audience, and as in any country, there is no shortage of people who prefer superstition to logic any day of the week, but especially on Sundays.

The popularity of these preachers can also be set down to the personal spiritual protection they offer.   Coming to them for a week-long prayer session can help you increase your financial success in life, or even fend off your own death. Why not give up a week of work and the pay that goes with it to ward off the final curtain?  Who cares if you’re dirt poor, the preacher-man has the secret to success. Slip him your last few coins and he’ll let you in on the mystery of how to make money..

Amidst all this superstition, the shining light in the story comes from the imam himself, the one who was given the bad news of his imminent death.  He advised his hot-headed Muslim followers to calm down and forgive the preacher.  It didn’t work, but at least he said it.

Humanists vs. Christians or What Does the Cross Mean to You?

The American Humanist Association has a case coming up soon before the Supreme Court.   A forty-foot cross in Bladensburg, Maryland sits on state land at a busy intersection as a memorial to 49 local men who died in World War I.   It went up in 1925, and was re-dedicated in 1985 to honor everyone who died in that war. Why is this before the Court? The Humanists say it’s a Christian symbol and can’t honor non-Christians.  It would be like putting up the Star of David to honor those who fell in the war.   Because it’s on state land, they argue, the taxpayers are footing the bill for a religious symbol, violating the establishment clause of the Constitution that keeps church and state separate.

Another group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, raised a similar issue in Knoxville, Iowa in 2015 when residents erected a silhouette war memorial with a prominent cross in a public park.   To avoid an expensive lawsuit, the City Council voted 3-2 to remove the silhouette to some private property nearby. This got the Knoxvillians mad.  A few months later, two of the councilors who voted to remove it were ousted at election time.

What are we to make of this battle over the cross?  The pro-cross people will argue that it has transcended its meaning as a Christian symbol and now is a generic memorial symbol. That’s what Justice Scalia claimed in Salazar v. Buono, a Supreme Court case where a 5-4 ruling said that a California cross memorialized all of the fallen, not just Christians, implying that the cross was the equivalent of “Rest in Peace” on a gravestone.  Most Humanists reject this argument vehemently and so the fight moves on to Bladensburg.

I can’t help feeling that this case is a bad thing for the country. It’s not that I disagree with the logic, it’s that it’s the wrong battle to fight.  The result will not be a better world, it will be an angrier world, and for what?  The damage done if the crosses stay up around the country is not significant.  Will non-Christian vets and their families really be so dishonored if a memorial with a cross goes up?  Maybe they would, and that would be a convincing argument.  The way to answer this question would be to conduct a poll and ask the questions directly: “is the cross to you a generic symbol of death?”   “would a cross on a war memorial offend you?” and come up with some percentages of affronted atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc…  A poll would be a lot cheaper than legal fees in a Supreme Court case.

On the other hand the harm done to the Humanists is very great indeed.  By making a big deal of the cross, staunch Christians, and even tentative Christians are going to direct an enormous amount of anger at them, increasing the Great Divide that exists in our country right now.   Is it worth it?  Many Humanists would argue that it is, that the cross is just one step leading to a Christian theocracy and the next thing you know we’re in the middle of The Handmaid’s Tale. 

I don’t agree.  The Humanists goal should be to increase their profile in a positive way, leading to an increase in their ranks. This is not how they’re going to do it.   What if the Humanist Association dropped the case and instead used its resources to think of ways to find common ground with Christians, showing they are not just ornery litigants, but men and women you could get to know and like.   Perhaps through their good works and a polite exchange of ideas, they could even influence some people to reconsider their beliefs.

The final point to make is this:  meanings do change in any language over time, and symbols are a type of language.   The word “silly” originally meant “blessed” and while “sacred” began as a reference to something devoted to a deity, today it can also be divorced from religion, meaning anything highly valued or of the utmost importance, such as “a sacred duty.”  I got in an argument with some Humanists once about this second meaning of “sacred” : they claimed it was impossible to divorce it from religion.  This brings to mind the Confederate flag controversy where the sons and daughters of the South see it as a symbol of their love for their homeland, plain and simple, but for blacks, it’s the symbol of oppression, racism, slavery, and all that goes with that horribly ugly period.

Maybe for non-Christians the cross is just as volatile a symbol as the Stars and Bars is for blacks.  Or does it just signify “in memory of those who have died.”  Let’s conduct that poll and find out.

What Would Jesus Say to the Man in the White House?

As Jesus reminded us way back when, it’s as difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle as it is for a rich man to get to heaven.  What’s the answer for a rich man who wants to enter those pearly gates? Help the poor.   Jesus taught us that those who are well off should be giving to those who are not.   It’s called charity, alms, or–to give it a nice glossy feel by putting it in French–noblesse oblige: the privileged have a duty to help those below them.  Jesus didn’t speak French ( He could have, of course, even though it wasn’t invented yet), but noblesse oblige is what he meant.  How far this duty goes and how much to give away is up for discussion, but whatever the answer, it’s not just about money.   Noblesse oblige  also contains the idea that the privileged have a moral duty to set an example of good behavior for the rest of us.

Jesus would need a good month, maybe even a year, to educate the guy in the White House.  He’d have to talk about the needs of migrants at the border, how the poor need health care,  about giving away more of his wealth and how to work on keeping his temper…but what would He say about the treatment of women?

Unfortunately, in our blighted century we have an equally ancient trend that has eclipsed noblesse oblige—the droit de seigneur or ius primae noctus– that charming custom of the Middle Ages that allowed the lord of the manor to bed a village maid on her wedding night while her groom paced in agony outside.  Charlton Heston gave a memorable demonstration of this (the bedding, not the pacing) in a film of the 1960s, The Warlord.  He had come a long way from his Moses and Ben-Hur.

These days le droit has morphed into open season on women for the rich and famous.  Our modern lords of the manor are guys like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and of course the current occupant of the Oval Office, men who seem to think that their wealth, celebrity status and the power that goes with that allows them a free hand to  force their attentions and worse on any woman who strikes their fancy.  Far from setting a good example their attacks have set a new low standard, and a certain type of man is, no doubt, acting out his own predatory fantasies about women by saying  to himself, “if the President has done it, why not me?”

Women are fighting back in all kinds of ways, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could get back to a place where men in the news, especially those we elect to high office, treat women well?  Where they approach them with a courtly dignity?   I understand why Melania might still be hanging on–maybe she believes her son’s welfare is on the line. But  I’m completely baffled by the Vice-President, an Evangelical who agreed to serve with someone so obviously reprehensible in this regard.   Why, would you do that, Mike? What are you telling your kids?

Parents, especially Christian parents, get busy and make sure your children know that the man in the White House is an example of what NOT to do.  Then maybe if enough of you go to the polls and make your disgust known, we can live in a country where the news is not dominated by porn stars, adultery, hush money, groping, rape and lies, lies, lies.

Will the Catholic Church Break in Two?

Remember the Great Schism from your world history class?   No?  Well there were actually two Schisms (pronounced /SIZ em/ by the way) that go by this name. The first one was when the Eastern Orthodox Churches split with the Catholics back in the 11thcentury, but the one I mean was in the 14thcentury.  Here’s what happened:

The cardinals elected a new pope in 1378 but they later regretted it—he had a bad temper and was a bit of a crank.   Most of the cardinals snuck off to a neighboring town and elected a new Pope, but–!  the old one wouldn’t go quietly, so there were now two popes.  All the countries of Europe chose sides, there was anger and fighting and a very unhealthy situation for Catholic Europe for 21 years, so finally some of the Church leaders held a council and elected a reconciliation candidate to take over as pontiff.  The church bells were ringing to celebrate, but that quickly changed to wringing of hands when the other two popes refused to recognize the new guy. Now there were 3 popes! –all calling each other “the antipope”.  Fortunately, 5 years later two of the three decided to resign for the good of the Church, and a brand-new pope was elected. The third antipope who would not resign was excommunicated and the Great Schism was over.

Sound familiar?  Today there is a similar rebellion underway. Over in Italy Archbishop Vigano and a faction of prelates who are fed up with Pope Francis have called on him to resign.  Francis says he won’t dignify it with an answer.  The battle lines are being drawn, and the first pot shots are being fired.

And what is the reason they say Francis should resign? It’s all driven by the priest sex scandals that continue to grow faster than you can say mea maxima culpa.  Vigano et al. claim that Francis knew about allegations of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse but despite that made him “his trusted counselor”. Vigano believes that there is a subculture of homosexuality among priests and within the hierarchy of the Church and that Francis is allowing it to flourish.

So there it is. Vigano and the traditionalists see Church teachings as immutable. Homosexuality is evil.  Priests must be celibate.  Why? Because that’s the way it’s been for a long, long time.  The Bible’s words are clear on homosexuality. Not so clear on celibacy, but still it’s canon law.   Others believe it’s time for the Church to change. The Church is hurting. The number of people wanting to become priests is dropping precipitously, churches are losing members and attendance has fallen off in most countries.  Maybe, this group of reformers says, maybe we should let priests marry, or let women become priests.  Celibacy ain’t easy if you’re not St. Paul.

My question is: if you think priests should marry and/or that women should be priests, why not just make it easy on yourself and admit you are on the road to becoming an Episcopalian (Anglican if you’re outside the USA).   They fought that anti-celibacy battle back in the 16thcentury, and women were allowed into the priesthood in the 20th.

Or let’s go even further: If you had to back either Vigano or Francis, who would it be? And why? If you’re on Vigano’s side are you saying that literally every single word of the Bible is God’s word?  Every single decision made by a Pope in the past or by a Church council was correct?  If you’re on Francis’s side and think the Church should lighten up, what’s your authority?  Is it because you trust the Pope because he IS the Pope? or do you sense some feeling in your being that is directing you toward a different understanding of the way the world works than what was handed to you in a catechism in your impressionable years.  If that is the case, you are a humanist, and you are in a position to weigh decisions in an entirely different way than the Catholic Church, or either of the two future Catholic Churches, would dictate.

Priests and Sex or How Do You Solve a Problem Like Religion?

The Pennsylvania Attorney General has put out a video in conjunction with the report on sexual abuse by Catholic priests.  In that video three survivors talk about how the horror of their experience as children has affected their lives.   One man said it left him with no desire to have children, and he never has. Another elderly gentleman says that he was never able to show affection to his wife and kids.

But the most important comment in the video is, “we were taught that the priests and nuns are God.”    A young woman in tears explains that no one would believe her: “it’s your word against God’s.”

This brings us back yet again to Socrates’ question in Euthyphro:  is something right because God says it is, or is it right because it’s right? In other words, could God, through a priest or through scripture, say something is right that we feel deep inside us is wrong?  And if we agree that it is possible for a priest or scripture to be mistaken, can we figure out what’s right without reference to God?

The problem with the Catholic Church or any organized religion should be clear:  men and women are not God.  Nor are they the voice of God, at least not of a God who is all-knowing and the sole authority on right and wrong.  All human beings are capable of wrong-thinking and wrong-doing.  Further, since human beings wrote all of our holy books, there is lots of room for error in scripture as well.

So where does that leave us in our quest for living an ethical life?  It leaves us thinking, not following blindly.   It leaves us first with the admission that what we think we know now might be wrong.  It leaves us prepared to weigh what someone else, even priests, even our parents tell us is the right way to think.

If we are willing to agree about these basic ground rules for moving forward, it leaves us open to answering important questions without referring solely to past traditions and age-old scriptures, questions like:

–Is it healthy for priests and nuns to take a vow of celibacy?

–Is anything wrong with homosexuality between consenting adults?

–Should contraception be outlawed?

–Is abortion wrong?  When does a growing Homo sapiens become a human being with a guarantee to the right to life?

How will we answer these questions without a Pope or Bible?  Through Reason, relying on human experience and by weighing the effects of our actions on other human beings in the age we live in, as opposed to the experiences of tribes of people who lived thousands of years ago.

Mr. Rogers, Christianity, and Jordan Peterson

Let us pause a moment and sing in praise of Fred “Mr.” Rogers.   Having now seen the documentary that just came out on his life and his work, I think there can be no hesitation in conferring upon him the mantle of secular sainthood.

What a guy.

Mr. Rogers was a Christian.  In fact, he was an ordained minister.  But he didn’t talk much about Christianity, or the Bible, or Christ.   His was the kind of Christianity that is so desperately needed today, not the holier-than-thou kind, not the in-your-face kind, or the pound-the-pulpit kind, but the human kind that ministers to humankind.   For him it was about making heartfelt connections with children—part of what I call the Sacrament of Birth.  Child rearing is an extension of  that holiest of moments when a new soul enters our world and Mr. Rogers was a man who instinctively knew how to reach out to children in a  way that drew them to him.  He didn’t need to mention Jesus to get the message across.

Critics, among them Jordan Peterson, have castigated those who promote the “everyone’s special” plan of childrearing, finding in it the root of a slacker culture that doesn’t know how to get off its duff and do some real work to earn a living, dammit!   But as his friends in the documentary explain, for Mr. Rogers  “you’re special” simply meant letting a child know that he or she was loved and accepted.  That acceptance would create a secure foundation in children to help them face the challenges and confusion and anxiety of growing up.  I don’t know if Peterson specifically mentions Mr. Rogers in his many hours of video online, but to my thinking their messages are in synch.   A good dose of Mr. Rogers would help you stand up straight and face the world, which is the first rule of Peterson’s Twelve Rules of Life.

I never saw Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, having grown up in the earlier Captain Kangaroo era, but my father-in-law knew Fred Rogers and told us, he was the real deal, a man whose TV persona was exactly the same as who he was day in, day out, at home, or testifying in front of Congress.  Watch that scene in the film of the congressional hearing where the very existence of Public Television is on the line and a belligerent Senator Pastore is about ready to pull the plug on the funding. When Fred Rogers begins to speak, there is an almost immediate change in the atmosphere.  There is a power in him, a power that fills the chamber. It’s awesome in the original sense of the word.

He was a guy who could look you square in the face and talk sincerely about feelings, and problems, and all kinds of important things, and whether you were a child or a hard-boiled politician, you listened and knew you could believe him and trust him.

He was the kind of guy you’d want to have as your neighbor.

Unbelief on the Move, Thank the Good Lord!

News worth noting: the number of American who claim no religious affiliation (the Nones) has passed the number of white evangelical Christians, according to an ABC/Washington Post Poll.

Year                              2003         2017

White evangelicals     21%         13%

No religion                   12%          21%

This is a trend that’s been building for quite some time and will continue to build because the percentage of under 30s who count themselves among the Nones is 35%.   It’s noteworthy because it begs the question that is the subject of Seven Sacraments for Everyone: if you’ve given up on religion, where does your moral code come from? God or the gods deliver the faithful their marching orders through Holy Writ and its interpreters, those priests, pastors, imams, rabbis, and gurus who instruct the average Joe, Yusuf, or Rajeev on what is right and what is wrong. But if you’ve given up on all that, where do you go for some idea of a moral code? Do you look into your heart? But hearts are different. They’re influenced by culture and temperament. Is it possible that there can be a range of moral codes out there in the world, that what’s wrong for me can be right for you? Some say yes.

But on the big moral questions, the answer must be a resounding “no.” We have to find a universal moral code, applicable to everyone, especially as the world grows smaller through our technological innovations. When people on different continents are connected ever more closely via the media and transportation, we’ve got to make sure we’re tuning into the same moral wavelength or the connections become collisions —fatal collisions.   If we care anything about peace, we have to have some solid common ground to stand on.

Philosophical common ground is what is lacking so much in the Middle East, as the fight over the physical ground continues. Who has the right to own the land where Abraham and Jesus walked? If you look at the Holy Scriptures or listen to the religious leaders, you’ll find support for whichever side you’re on, and this method of determining what’s right will dig us deeper and deeper into the quagmire that is the Middle East.  Netanyahu is getting his support from those Jews who believe that narrative of divine real estate and also from evangelical Christians who point not just to Genesis, but to the book of Revelation as guidance for their stance on things like making Jerusalem the capital of Israel and the Palestinians be damned… literally, they would say.

With the Nones on the move in America and even stronger in much of Europe there is hope that eventually we will be able to synchronize our moral codes, focusing on those joyous experiences that we all share by virtue of our membership in the human race.   Among the most important is belonging to a group, but not just a localized group, a family, a clan, a gang, or Us, the Chosen People, but the entire neighborhood, community, country–the world.  At that point we may be able to override the momentum that has brought the Middle East to the brink of blowing itself up and the whole world with it.

But all this will take time.

The Guru and the Evangelist

If you want to get the wheels of your mind a-whirling, try watching Wild, Wild Country and Come Sunday back-to-back on Netflix.   The first is the story of Osha (Baghwan Sri Rajneesh), the guru who wanted to create a paradise on earth in Oregon in the 1980s and the second the story of Carlton Pearson, the Pentecostal preacher from Tulsa who came to the realization that there was no Hell and was booted out of his church as a result of his revealing that….um… secret.

Both these stories are fascinating, and what ties them together are the images of the congregations gathered around their main men by the thousands, listening raptly as they sermonize, philosophize, theologize, and mesmerize. Each of the two flocks is looking for a leader, someone to trust, to tell them what to do, what to believe, and they are convinced they have found them in the person of this hirsute, sanpaku-eyed oracle, and the urbane, telegenic preacherman.   These well-meaning men and women, these votaries of divine love have unburdened themselves of Reason, and filled that spot in their brains with a blind trust in the Master/Minister.   The images of both groups of disciples rapturously chanting, singing, dancing and carrying on in general around their leaders is enough to make a Humanist shake his head in wonder. They are, as the ancient Greeks used to say, ecstatic- ex statis—out of themselves. They’ve arrived at a different place through the power of the group and of their faith in the Beloved Leader. Those same Greeks called it being en-theos (enthusiastic)—having the god within you, and Dionysus never had it as good in ancient Athens as Osho and Bishop Pearson did at the height of their careers.

What is it in Homo sapiens that craves this super-powered mentor-figure? Is it that our self-awareness has revealed the dark places of the universe so clearly that without some strongman to support us, we would drift into a kind of madness? Over and over again we see it: masses of people seeking the answers and finding it in the latest charismatic man-of-words.

But the story of Carlton Pearson shows how far mentor-worship will go: only as far as it doesn’t butt up against a sacred text or two. So when Pearson concludes that a merciful God would never send the victims of Rwandan genocide to hell simply because they had never been “saved” in the Pentecostal sense of the word, he loses his congregation, or a large part of it. The Bible says “Only through Christ” can you avoid the flames of Hell, and that’s the end of it for many people—no asterisks for genocide victims who never heard of Jesus or for little children who can’t talk yet. They too must burn.

Bishop Pearson has opted out of that group.  He’s now editing the Bible and has come up with something called the Gospel of Inclusion.  I’m not sure what that entails, but it’s perhaps what I would call “universalism”—the idea that there is no single path to the Divine, and that divinity can be approached by paying attention to the seven universal sacraments—the peak experiences that are part of being human–no sacred text needed.

Thomas Carlyle, the Church and the Sacred

An op-ed piece in the New York Times today reminds us of the power of the Church to satisfy the longing to be part of a group–the Sacrament of the Group as I call it in my book.  Writer Margaret Renkl explains that she has periodically given up on the Catholic Church for various reasons I have mentioned in this space in the past, but she is nevertheless still drawn to it.  She misses the congregation, the babies, the prayers for peace, the feeling that you’re on the same track with like-minded people.

She writes:

“I seem to have been born with a constant ache for the sacred, a deep-rooted need to offer thanks, to ask for help, to sing out in fathomless praise to something. In time I found my way back to God, the most familiar and fundamental something I knew, even if by then my conception of the divine had enlarged beyond any church’s ability to define or contain it.”

The sacred can be found all around us, of course.  It doesn’t have to start with the idea of a God, or gods, it’s inevitably part of who we are as human beings.    Divinity is simply in us, in our thoughts and actions and connections to the world.   For example, Renkl notes that she often feels that God is more present when she’s taking a walk in the woods than when she is in the church building itself (the Sacrament of Nature).   She also misses the singing at Sunday mass (the Sacrament of the Arts).  Our connections with nature and with the arts are essential parts of our humanity and bring us closer to a sense of the Divine, as do the other sacramental aspects of our human existence.

Renkl’s observations are an echo of the so-called “Clothes Philosophy” of Thomas Carlyle.  It goes like this: clothes determine the appearance of men and women, yet underneath those clothes is a body–a body much more real than coats and dresses.  In the same way  our institutions like the Church are merely “visible emblems” of the spiritual forces they represent.   Even in his day (early 1800s) Carlyle found the Church was worn out and almost worthless, but the Spirit beneath the Church’s “clothes” was still there and needed to be kept alive at all costs.

Where can we go with these kinds of sacred longings if we’re not happy with the churches we grew up with?  How can we keep the Spirit alive?  There are a few alternatives, and they are growing. Places like the Humanist Hub in Boston offer a regular meeting to the non-theists, the “Nones” out there who want to find like-minded people ready to acknowledge the need for the Sacrament of the Group. To the theists I would say, that a humanist’s conception of the Divine is not far removed from yours–it’s two sides of the same coin, or as  Carlyle put it:  “the name of the Infinite is GOOD, is GOD,” .