THE RELIGION OF EINSTEIN (Con'd)
No Personal God
The use Einstein has made of the term "God", as a figure of speech, has given the impression to some that he holds to some kind of belief in a supernatural being. That is a false conclusion. He has spoken very plainly on this subject. In discussing science and religion he observed that, "the present-day conflict between the spheres of religion and of science lies in the concept of a personal God. He then explains why such a concept of a personal God is impossible for the scientist. He said, "the more a man is imbued by the orderly regularity of all events in nature the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for the causes of a different nature. For the scientist neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exist as an independent cause of natural events".
Einstein admits that the concept of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted by science. "For", he said, "this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot". However, he contends that to stoop to such behavior is unworthy of the representatives of religion and for them to do so would be fatal to the cause of religion and do great harm to human progress. He concludes by saying, "In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is give up the source of fear, which in the past, placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those sources which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True and the Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure, a more difficult but an incomparably more worthy task. After religious teachers accomplish the refining process indicated they will surely recognize with joy that true religion has been ennobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge".
Cosmic Religious Feeling
It is perfectly clear that Einstein's religion is void of any kind of belief in a personal God. That does not mean his religion leaves him without any emotional attachment to the universe. By what he calls "cosmic religious feeling" he maintains a profound reverence for the reality made manifest in existence; keeps aglow an abiding "faith in the possibility that the regulations that are valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason". It is a mystical feeling, a feeling of reverence toward the laws of the universe.
Einstein admits cosmic religious feeling "is a feeling that's difficult to describe to anyone who is entirely without it, because there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it". It is a kind of religious feeling that "knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image". It gives rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology. It is Einstein's contention that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this cosmic religious feeling and to keep it alive in everyone who is capable of it. He believes it is the kind of religious feeling that possessed the great religious personalities of all ages. It seems consistent with Einstein's thinking to say that the quality of the influence of this cosmic religious feeling, in the life of an individual, is determined by the quality of his awareness of the wonder of the universe and his reverence and awe of the incomprehensible reason, beauty and harmony back of the dependable laws of nature.
Spiritualization of Life
In some degree I believe most of us have experienced this profound feeling Einstein calls cosmic religious feeling. It may have been while looking at a beautiful sunset, or while hearing a great piece of music, or while gazing out into the spaces between the stars at night, or when standing alone and still on the shore of the sea.
Ella Brooks Wilson, a cherished friend of the Isoms, describes her feeling in a poem, published in the Sept. 1950 issue of "Women's Home Companion". The title of the poem is ALONE ON A BEACH
On highland I measure
Myself by a tree,
But there's nothing
To measure me here by the sea,
Save width of the water
And height of the sky!
What an awe-filling vastness
To measure me by!
There's practically nothing
To note where I stand.
The I that was me
Is a dot on the sand.
Einstein tries to give us some idea of the influence this cosmic religious feeling has had in his own life by saying, "The individual feels the nothingness of his human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. . . . By way of the understanding (which underpins cosmic religious feeling) he achieves a far-reaching emancipation from the shackles of personal hopes and desires, and thereby attains the humble attitude of mind toward the grandeur of reason incarnate in existence, and which, in its profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man".
Such an attitude appears to Einstein "to be religious in the highest sense of the word". And to the extent that science cultivates such a religious feeling it "not only purifies the religious impulse of its dross of anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understanding of life".
Source of Morality
So much for the nature and appraisal of the comic religious feeling that is the pith of Einstein's religion. From what source does his religion get its ethical motivation? By selecting certain statements and trying to understand them out of context it is possible to conclude that Einstein seeks to disassociate ethics or morality altogether from religion. Take, for example, these statements: "He (who is influenced by cosmic religious feeling) has no use of the religion of fear and equally little for social or moral religion . . .There is nothing divine about morality, it is purely a human affair. . . Man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education and social ties, no religious basis is necessary". His use of the term "religious", in that last clause and by saying he has no use for social and moral religion, seem to say he is not interested in morality and his religion is divorced from ethics. A careful reading of these same remarks in their context will reveal that such is not what he means to say.
What he means by "social and moral religion" is the kind of ethics that are motivated by a "moral conception of God" a belief "in the God of providence who protects, disposes, rewards and punishes, the God who according to the width of the believer's outlook loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or the human race, or even life as such, the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing, who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral concept of God". In saying that no religious basis is necessary for morality he means a belief in such a concept of God is not necessary; that ethics and morality are independent of a belief in any kind of superhuman moral will or force in the universe.
In the light of his great knowledge and understanding of the nature and the laws of the universe, and in loyalty to his deep respect, awe and reverence for the profound reason and intelligence he sees hinted at, in the harmony of natural laws, Einstein is humbly confident that, as far as he can know and understand, there is no thoughtful or willful being or force beyond man that is concerned with or interested in human values, that he has no reason whatsoever to justify a belief that there is any source of morality greater than the feeling of sympathy or reverence for life that is manifested in human beings. Therefore there is no superhuman or divine source of morality. "It is purely a human affair". Thus it is clear that the source of the ethical motivation of Einstein's religion is nowhere else than in the human being's capacity to show sympathy or reverence for life.
A Shock To Some
I can see how Einstein's religion can shock and disturb the mental poise of those who still find moral guidance through belief in some kind of supernatural source of morality. To those I am sure Einstein would say - reflection on the honest opinions and convictions of one mortal being, who, like all men, can only know in part, is forced to give meaning and purpose to his life without the benefit of infallible knowledge.
A Welcome Light To Others
For those whose traditional religious beliefs have lost their meaning and can no longer confront them with that which is profound and sacred in the world, nor provide them with an authoritative source of morality, for those Einstein's religion should be as welcome and as useful as the appearing of a lighted candle in a dark room. To them his religion offers a way of thinking that can provide them with the feeling of being at home in this mysterious and fantastic universe that science has revealed. It can imbue them with a wonder and a thirst for truth, while at the same time free them from all the hangover fears of the unknown which was exploited by so much of the religious thinking of the past. At the same time it humbles them with a greater awareness of the profound mystery behind beauty, truth and love. It can lead them in every direction for more knowledge and understanding of all there is.
The Feeling of Sympathy
In pointing to the feeling of sympathy in our human hearts as the highest source of morality, Einstein's religion places those who can be inspired by it under an inward moral authority that can keep them conscious of the personal and super personal values to which they may devote themselves and so find a sense of moral direction and judgment that gives meaning and purpose to their lives. It can enable them to know without rational proof, without fear of punishment in hell, or without hope of any heavenly rewards, that their lives have meaning and worth, in so far as what they do "makes the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful".
It is a religion that gives one affinity with the totality of things through the sense of harmony made manifest in nature; a religion that enables one to find in humanity itself those forces "which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True and the Beautiful".
"The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life and the fear of death and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge". ……Albert Einstein
All the quotations in this paper, not otherwise identified, were taken from:
Albert Einstein "Out of My Later Years", published by Philosophical Library, New York
Albert Einstein "The World as I See It", published by Philosophical Library, New York
Phillip Frank "Einstein, His Life and Times", published by A.A. Knopf
ANOTHER PART OF MY READING PROGRAM
One summer I bought six paperback books. They were advertised as a history of Western thought for the past fifteen hundred years. This turned out to be a major reading program. The introduction to the first sermon that evolved from this reading program reveals what I originally expected to come from this program. The first sermon is representative of the others that followed. I quote it here with the introduction.
THE AGE OF FAITH, by John B. Isom January 28, 1958
"It is fitting to acknowledge with utmost gratitude those who have contributed even a little to truth, not to speak of those who have contributed much. We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth and to assimilate it from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign places. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself: It never cheapens or abases him who seeks for it, but ennobles and honors him." Al-Kindi, 870 A.D.
Introduction - A Dry Beginning
This is the first of a series of six sermons I plan to give during the next six months, in an effort to refresh our minds of the mental efforts of our forefathers during the last fifteen hundred years. The title of the other five sermons of the series, in the order they will be given, are, "The Age of Adventure", "The Age of Reason", "The Age of Enlightenment", "The Age of Ideology", and "The Age of Analysis". There is a series of paperback books by those titles. It is my intention to use them as the major source of information.
All I can say at present is, if the other books of the series are as dry and difficult to read as this one, "The Age of Faith" , which I have read, I will be spending many hours during the next six months nodding over books. I do not remember ever reading a book that put me to sleep as many times as this one did. If my sermon proves to be equally as effective most of you should be sound asleep when the closing hymn is announced. I wager that not one out of every two thousand who bought this book will read it from cover to cover. Except for those who have a special interest in its contents this book will never be read.
A Great Age of Thought
However, do not misunderstand me. What I have said is not to belittle the efforts and achievements of the great minds of the Middle Ages. No doubt a good argument could be made to prove that no other thousand years of history witnessed more profound and concentrated study and thought than the Middle Ages. The quality of the mental effort exerted during the Middle Ages to understand the how and why of all things is nothing to look down on. Indeed, we would no doubt do better if we had the will to match the mental efforts of the thinkers of the Middle Ages for serious study and thought on basic issues. Example: Avicenna, a Moslem philosopher of the tenth century, made this confession: "I read the metaphysics of Aristotle, but did not understand its content and was baffled by the author's intention. I read it over forty times, until I had the text by heart. Even then I did not understand it, or what the author meant, and I despaired with myself".
Such a will and effort to know and understand the serious works of merit would put most of us to shame. It is the lack of will on my part that accounts, to some degree, for the failure of this book to hold my attention. However, its universal failure to prove interesting to the modern mind is that we do not try to answer the basic questions in the same way as did the medieval mind.
Big Problems of Thought
I confess that I am glad I forced myself to wade through the pages of this book. I do not feel this effort made me an authority on the Middle Ages. It did enable me to get, to some degree, the feeling of a way of thinking which is part of our heritage, yet strange to our modern methods. A great deal more study on my part would be necessary before I could hope to have anything like a clear picture of the importance to us of the thousand years of thought between the fall of Rome to the Barbarians in the fifth century A.D. and the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in the fifteenth century. This thousand year period saw the making of Europe, the birth and rebirth of Western culture; the creation of what is known as Christian Civilization and the development of Mohammedanism. In the words of Will Durant, "They include the final centuries of the classic culture, the ripening of Catholic Christianity into a full and rich civilization in the thirteenth century and the break up of that civilization into the opposing cultures of the Renaissance and the Reformation".
During those thousand years, known as the Middle Ages, the mental energy of the greatest minds was consumed by such problems as the nature of belief, the relationship between essence and existence, the dichotomy of fate and free-will, the nature of ultimate reality and the question of the existence or non-existence of universals, the distinction between matter and form and between knowledge and experience; the relation between mind and its object; thought; and the change from not-being to being. The thousand years of thought on such subjects by the great men who lived during 500 A.D. and 1500 A.D. created and maintained the Age of Belief or Faith. Before we try to answer the question, why this period of history is called the Age of Faith and try to sum up its legacy, let us take a quick look, with H. G. Wells, at the state of affairs in Europe at the beginning of the Age of faith.
At The Beginning
In his "Outline of History", H. G. Wells tells us that by five hundred A.D. Europe had passed into a phase of extreme demoralization. Its social and economic structure was in ruins. Its great civilization of wealth and political power, which had been sustained by the limitation and slavery of the great masses of mankind, had deteriorated not into a kraal, but into an uncivilized slum, wherein the individual neither knows nor acts in relation to any greater being. For three hundred years the Roman Empire had produced neither science nor literature of any importance. "It is not true, perhaps", Wells said, "to say that the world became miserable in these Dark Ages into which we have now come; much nearer the truth it is to say that the violent, vulgar and fraud of Roman imperialism, that world of politicians, adventurers, landowners and financiers collapsed into a sea of misery that was already there . . . To many in those dark days it seemed that all learning and all that made life seemly and desirable were perishing. The Roman Empire was dead and decaying; the Byzantine Empire was far gone in decline; but the education and mentality of Europe had sunken to a level at which new creative political ideas were probably impossible. In all Europe there survived not a tithe of the speculative vigor that we find in the Athenian literature of the fifth century B.C. There was no power to postulate a new occasion or to conceive and organize a novel political method". Such was the state of affairs in Europe at the beginning of the thousand years of faith.
The Failure Of A Splendid Idea
"The history of Europe", Wells observed, "from the fifth to fifteenth century is very largely the history of the failure of the great idea of a divine world government to realize itself in practice. It is the story of the failure to achieve the very noble and splendid idea of a unified and religious world".
Why these thousand years of effort to achieve such a splendid idea was crowned with failure, and why it is called the Age of Faith, may have been explained by Wells when he said: "The inheritance of a complex dogmatic theology greatly encumbered the church in this its ambitious adventure. It had too much theology and not enough religion". No one can read this book, The Age of Belief, without being convinced that there is more truth in Well's observation than fiction.
By five-hundred A.D. the belief in a supernatural God, an all-knowing and all-willing providence, by whom the how and why of all things are determined, was already a fixed and static assumption in the minds of most of the people of the decaying Roman Empire. For nearly a thousand years nothing happened in Europe to decrease the dominating influence of the assumption that such a being was the source of all power, wisdom and goodness. Be they Jews, Christians or Moslems this assumption was the undisturbed foundation of human thought and belief among the people of Europe during the thousand years of the Age of Belief. Not until the end of that age did even the mental giants begin to question the validity of that assumption. During that Age of Faith the great burden of the great minds as well as the small was that of finding rational proof for the existence of such a God and to provide reasons that made everything seem to be the logical results of the existence, power, wisdom and goodness of such a being.
Age Of Doubt
However, as I read the proofs for the existence of such a being, advanced by the great minds of the age, I was made to wonder if it were not the age of doubt for some of the greater thinkers. St.Thomas Aquinas for example. When you consider the quantity and variety of the arguments as such thinkers as Thomas felt compelled to offer as proof of the existence of such a God, one cannot help but wonder if such thinkers found it difficult to believe in the supernatural world and life view which dominated their age.
St. Thomas of the thirteenth century, for example, summed up and gave the prevailing arguments of the philosophy of the Middle Ages. Yet toward the end of his life St. Thomas, we are told, made a confession that makes one wonder if he did not come to doubt the validity of all the masterful arguments he made on behalf of the Christian theology of the Age of Belief and to wonder if the final conclusion of his great mind was that there can be no certain proof of the existence of the Christian God by reason alone. Yet such proof were was the minds of the Middle Ages labored to provide.
In suggesting that St. Thomas made such a confession I had reference to what is reported about him in the book, "The Age of Belie". Some time before he died we are told St. Thomas stopped writing, died leaving unfinished his greatest theological work. When asked why he stopped his writing he is reported to have said, "I have been granted to experience such things that have made all I have ever written seem to me to be of straw". I am just assuming here that what St. Thomas experienced was the illumination that all of his arguments on behalf of the theology of the Middle Ages were without any rational foundation. I say that out of the abundance of my ignorance of the details of that confession, if one is justified in calling it a confession. At any rate when I have tried, from time to time, to read his arguments for the existence of God I felt like I was reading something that the author himself finds hard to believe.
A generation after St. Thomas, William Ockham made it clear that he did not believe God's existence was demonstrable. He argued that "Divine nature is unintelligible to us. Indeed, we cannot know", he declared, "that God is, and all the customary proofs are only arguments as to the probability of His existence and nothing more". That theory, of course, flatly contradicted St. Thomas, who insisted that man can arrive at a certain proof of the existence of God by reason alone, without the help of religion. Rightly, Anne Fremantle, the author of the Age of Belief, said, "If that position of St. Thomas is denied we arrive, as Bertrand Russell has emphasized in all his writings, at agnosticism; we cannot know that God exists. Either we can assume his existence and incline to theism, or we can assume his nonexistence and incline to atheism: but in either case we are agnostics, we cannot know. We can never know".
In spite of all the wishful thinking of Miss Fremantle's church, it was such agnosticism that brought to an end the great age of faith, in which her church played the major role. The agnosticism, to which the Renaissance gave birth, finally split the solid Age of Belief in three ways. Those, who were skeptical of the knowledge of reason spearheaded the reformation, creating Protestantism which fostered another world religion with a hell of fire for the unsaved that made Dante's hell of the Middle Ages seem like a paradise in comparison. Those, who were skeptical of revealed knowledge spearheaded the movement that created the scientific age. However the larger body of the Roman Catholic Church, closing their eyes and ears to doubts and questions, went on trying to believe St. Thomas had given them the final and absolute answers to all the questions that might disturb a good Christian, even though St. Thomas confessed toward the end of his life that all he had written seemed to him to be made of straw.
But let us conclude by reminding ourselves of the legacy of the Age of Faith to us. Will Durant reminds us that the Middle Ages conquered for man the wilderness of Europe, won the great war against forest, jungle, marsh and sea; yoked the soil to do the will of man, and all but ended slavery and serfdom in Western Europe. During that age modern laws of trade and banking had their beginning. Even though the scientific legacy of the Middle Ages is modest Durant reports that such things as Hindu numerals and the decimal system came into use . And not a little progress was made in mathematics, geography and astronomy. During the Age of Faith gunpowder, eyeglasses, the compass and the pendulum clock were invented. However, nearly everybody agrees that the preponderant bequest of the Age of Belief was religion. The creed of the medieval church is today cherished by 350 million Roman and 128 million Orthodox Catholics. And, as Durant said, "The bequest of the Age of Faith included evil as well as good".
"We have not fully recovered", Durant observed, "from the Dark Ages: the insecurity that breeds greed, the fear that fosters cruelty, the poverty that breeds filth and ignorance, the filth that generates disease, the ignorance that begets credulity, superstition, occultism these still survive amongst us; and the dogmatism that festers into intolerance and inquisitions only awaits opportunity or permission to oppress, kill, ravage and destroy".
It is Durant's opinion that in Europe the Age of Faith reached its last full flower in Dante, and even though he says that "The Divine Comedy", by Dante, is one of the great books of all times, he holds that Dante's conception of hell is the crowning indecency of medieval theology. Durant might change his mind about that if he could be persuaded to make a study of Jonathan Edward's conception of hell. Dante's hell is hardly more than a forerunner of Edward's hell.
Certainly there is no end to what a critical and educated mind could find of an unwholesome nature which has been handed down from Dante's Age of Faith. However, there is another side to the legacy of the Age of Belief to us the good side.
As H. G. Wells observed, "We must remember that through all those ages leaving profound consequences for good, but leaving no conspicuous records upon the historian's pages countless men and women were touched by the spirit of Jesus which still lived and lives still at the core of Christianity, that they did unselfish and devoted deeds. Through the ages such lives cleared the air, ad made a better world possible. Just as in the Moslem world the spirit of Islam generation by generation produced its crop of courage, integrity and kindness".
Durant reminds us that even though the papal dream of a united Europe and papacy faded in the strife of empire and papacy, nevertheless every generation since has been stirred and challenged by a kindred vision of an international moral order superior to the jungle ethics of sovereign states. "In passing from the Age of Faith to the Renaissance", Wells said, "We shall be advancing from the uncertain childhood to the exhilarating youth of culture that married classic grace to barbaric strength, and transmitted to us, rejuvenated and enriched, that heritage of civilization to which we must always add, but which we must never let die".
What we must add was suggested by H. G. Wells. He said: "Sooner or later mankind must come to a universal peace, unless our race is to be destroyed by the increasing power of its own destructive inventions, and that universal peace must needs to take the form of a government. That is to say, a law-sustaining organization, in the best sense of the word religious a government ruling men through the education and cooperation of their minds in a common conception of human history and human destiny".
"As we go among men, touching the hands and lives of our fellows we would be friends of all. May we not blight the fresh flower of any heart nor bruise the rightful self respect of any by contempt or malice. We would cheer the suffering by our sympathy, we would revive the disheartened by our helpfulness, and would strengthen in all a wholesome sense of the worth and the joy of life. We would look all men in the face with the eyes of a brother " ... Author unknown. (End of Sermon)
I did read the paperback books., as announced, and I gave the sermons on the six ages of western thought covered by the books, but I did not do so in six months as announced in the introduction. I did them over two church years. As in the first sermon most of the quotations I used in all the sermons were taken from other sources than the paperbacks. The reason for this is the same that explains why I did not do the sermons in six months as announced.
The paperback books were written in an academic style a style as dry and unimaginative as most history text books, or like a doctorate thesis. Each of the books were written to impress academic judges rather than to share with the general public what he had learned from all the information he had collected and recoded in his or her book. Before reading the books I knew nearly as much about the author's appreciation of the material in them as I knew after reading them.
The books are invitations to an intellectual feast, but when you get to the table you find it loaded with all sorts of raw unprepared food. Not one of the authors made any effort to select a menu and prepare each dish in a way to make it tasty and attractive. This kind of slop-bucket style of offering the contents of the books did, however, turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It forced me to read some books by other authors and reread others that covered the same ages of western thought. It took long but enriched this reading adventure to explore the history of western thought.
I was not too active in social action during my years in Wichita. There were no social action groups, unless you count the Urban League and NAACP. Those organizations seemed to need no more than money to do what they were trying to do.
About the time we moved the church northeast the Black community began spreading out in the same direction. Some of us were involved for a time in local community groups of Blacks and Whites, in cooperation with the NAACP, to make truly integrated communities of the communities in which the Blacks were moving. However this effort was in vain. The Whites moved out as fast as a stampeded herd of Buffaloes and the Blacks moved in just as fast. Before we left Wichita a number of the communities west of the University were transformed from nearly all white communities and schools and churches to nearly all Black ones, in spite of the efforts of many people of good will of both races.
THE BIRCH SOCIETY
Earlier in this story I commented on my encounter with the Birch Society in Wichita. It was a very active group during the late 50s. An economics professor at the University made a study of the philosophy, history and methods of the society and gave a lecture at the church on the movement. Through the professor I came by a copy of the "Blue Book", the "Bible of the Birch Society". It reminded me of the Protocols of Zion which I read my first year in college. The Blue Book is less believable than even the Protocols of Zion. The difference is the Protocols were a forgery by the enemies of the Jews. The Blue Book is the actual handbook of the Birch Society.
After reading the Blue Book I decided the most damaging thing I could do to the Birch Society would be to quote the Blue Book in public. That is what I did one Sunday morning in the form of a sermon. I remember saying on that occasion that ninety-nine percent of those who might be tempted to join the Birch Society would not join if they first read the Blue Book. I assume the sermon prompted the Birch Society to make copies and distribute them in the community of what they judged to be the most damaging thing I ever published an article about Russia back in 1946. Their efforts did me no more harm than my sermon did to them.
Some of us were involved in a protest to the city school board for permitting the Birch Society to show some of their propaganda films to school children in some of the city schools. As I remember we were successful in blocking the Birch Society in that adventure.
THE SOCIAL LIFE OF THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH
Most of the members of the Wichita church were between the ages of twenty-five and sixty years old. There were a variety of parties among its members, some large, many small and some middle size. There were seasonal parties, such as New Years Eve parties; occasional parties, such as parties for those moving away there were always too many of this kind; election return parties; pot-luck parties. Any time there was not a ready made occasion for a party it was not difficult for a couple or two to create an occasion for a party. The occasional parties were usually large.
The regular week-end parties that went on and on week after week were usually small, involving ten or less persons. I never knew how many such parties there were on any given week-end. It was an unusual week-end for Elien and I not to be involved in at least one party, at least two more often than not. Most of the small parties were no more than a get together of a few couples in someone's home to visit and spend a relaxed evening, mostly in light conversation. Sometimes there would be some silly parlor games if someone had found a new one. Some of these were good for some hearty laughter. Sometimes charades would be played for a spell. Now and then a small group would gather just to visit while playing some simple card game, no serious bridge stuff, but hearts or something simpler still.
The choir practiced every Friday evening in a home in which there was a piano. The most regular party grew out of the habit of the members of the choir lingering on after practice for a social hour or so. Half of the choir was made up of couples. The spouses of the other choir members had a standing invitation to the choir parties. Elien being a member of the choir I usually showed up for the social hours. There were other couples in the church who felt free to drop in on the choir party if they felt so inclined. It was not unlikely that at least one such couple would show up each week. It was not unusual for some member of the choir to invite a new member or visitor to the party.
Other than the choir party most of the smaller parties were haphazard in the sense that they did not involve the same people week after week. At the party you went to this week there would be some people present who were not at the party where you were the week before or the one you would go to the next. There were a number of variations of people with whom any given couple could enjoy spending an evening.
The small week-end party habit may have grown out of those early get togethers, started by the Vendittis for the purpose of getting acquainted with members of the church and visitors on a personal and religious basis. The small parties still served that purpose indirectly. Such getting acquainted was just a spin-off benefit. The main objective of the parties was no more than to enjoy an evening with friends, sharing their thoughts and feelings as the mood or need dictated. There could be and were serious moments at such parties, but for the most part the mood was light and gay.
VISITING MINISTER TO FELLOWSHIPS
A Unitarian Fellowship is a group of Unitarians that is too small to support a minister. As a general rule twelve persons was the smallest number with which to organize a fellowship. There was a fellowship in Topeka, and Manhattan, Kansas and one in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Those fellowships were near enough to Wichita to visit on Sunday evenings and return after the service to Wichita by bedtime. Over the years I preached for each of them a number of times.
AMARILLO AND LUBBOCK, TEXAS
Most of my fellowship preaching while in Kansas was in Amarillo and Lubbock. Amarillo was about two hundred and fifty miles southwest of Wichita and Lubbock was a hundred miles south of Amarillo. During the last three years in Wichita I preached once a month for those fellowships, preaching at one in the morning and the other in the evening alternating the time each month. By plane I could leave late Saturday afternoon and return to Wichita after the evening service, arriving home by bedtime. These fellowships were larger than the average fellowship. Both were still meeting in rented quarters. It was my policy to encourage fellowships o buy or build their own meetinghouse, before they called a minister. Lubbock bought a small church from the Latter Day Saints. Amarillo continued meeting in a rented building. When I began to visit those fellowships the one at Amarillo was the larger. Today Lubbock has a church building and a minister and is more than twice the size of the one in Amarillo. The fellowship in Amarillo still meets in rented quarters and is no larger today than it was thirty years ago .
I have many happy and interesting memories from my visits with the lovely people of those two fellowships. I will relate just one. The treasurer of the Amarillo Fellowship was a Spiritualist. Mrs. Chandler was her name, I think. She was one of the faithful members of the fellowship and held the respect of the other members. She did not make herself obnoxious by preaching her spiritualism from the housetops. At the same time she did not hide her beliefs. If asked, like a self-respecting Baptist or Methodist, she would say I am a Spiritualist but I belong to the Unitarian Fellowship. When asked why she belonged to the fellowship she is reported to have said, "It is the only religious group that will tolerate me".
As far as I could tell she felt that she was as much a part of the fellowship as any other member. One Sunday after the sermon and discussion, there was always a discussion after the sermon, she came up and grabbed me by both shoulders. After giving me a shaking she said, "If you will give me time I can prove to you how wrong you were about some things this morning. Will you accept my invitation to spend the night in my home the next time you come"? I gladly accepted her invitation.
Dr. and Mrs. Chandler were in their sixties, she in the lower and he in the higher sixties I would guess. It appeared the doctor showed the same silent respect for his wife's religion as he did for the religion of anyone else. On the subject of religion I never heard him express an opinion. They lived in a middle class home modestly furnished. Judging from the magazines, paintings and books they were people of culture.
After dinner, the time I was a guest in her home, Mrs. Chandler cleared the dining room table and asked me to sit across the table from her. She said, "I know you will not believe this but I am going to show it to you anyway. I have other evidence which I believe but this is all the personal evidence I have". She then put two small slates on the table, about 12x7 inches. The slates had inch wooden frames. Two holes had been made on one side of each frame and wired together so the slates could be opened like a book. On the other side of the frames there was an eye screwed in one frame and a hook in the other so the slates could be fastened together.
She continued explaining, "I went to town and bought these two slates, washed them and fastened them together as you see. I took them to a séance. I requested that my dead father and aunt be asked to write me a message on the slates. The medium placed the slates under a simple dark cloth and went into a trance. When the trance was over she took them from under the cloth and handed them to me still fastened together as you see".
She then opened them and requested that I read what was on the slates. On one slate there was a short note, written in longhand and signed, the signature being that of her father. On the other slate was a short note, signed by her aunt. Mrs. Chandler produced letters from her father and her aunt that were written before they died. She asked me to compare the signatures and the writings of the letters to those on the slate. They looked to me to be identical.
I don't remember the details of the letters written on the slates. I didn't think to ask her for copies of them. There were no surprises in them for a spiritualist. The notes indicated they found life in the spirit world to be about as they expected it to be. The tone of the letters were neither hot nor cold elated or depressed. The letters indicated that they knew what was going on in the world but they did not seem too concerned about earthly affairs.
I cannot recall the details of the discussion after I read the letters. I must say that I had no reason for not believing that Mrs. Chandler believed those letters were written by her father and aunt. I also know that Mrs. Chandler's reputation for honesty and sincerity was beyond question in the community. At the same time I confess I was not persuaded to believe. Since then I have read a few books that reported the experiences of some highly intelligent people with the spirits of their dead. In that huge dream world of my imagination I have had a few vivid experiences with dead loved ones. However, I have no evidence that they were anything more than visits of my imagination in the chambers of my memory. In all such matters I remain a doubting Thomas.
THE DECISION TO MOVE TO DES MOINES
The invitation to become the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, Iowa, was extended to me by the pulpit committee as its last effort to find a minister before throwing in the towel. That is what the chairman of that committee told me later. As he tells the story the committee had exhausted the list of ministers Boston had recommended as being suitable candidates without finding one they could recommend. Those the committee liked did not like what the church had to offer. Those wiling to accept what the church had to offer the committee did not like what they had to offer.
The committee was ready to resign and ask the church to appoint another committee. At the suggestion of the director of The Western Unitarian Conference the committee agreed to contact me to see if I was interested in the job. The committee sent me some information about the De Moines church and community, with a note inviting me to meet with the committee over a week-end if I were interested in the job. In reading the material Elien and I made note of the fact that the Des Moines church reported more than twice as many members as the Wichita church and that my salary in Des Moines would be two thousand dollars more than it was in Wichita. I accepted the committee's invitation to meet with them. The results of which being that we moved to Des Moines in August of 1961.
I did not leave Wichita because I believed they should have paid me more for my service, but because I felt they were already paying me more than they could afford. I did not initiate any effort to get myself considered by another church while in Wichita. The two or three such invitations I did receive came unsought. The invitation from the Des Moines church came at a time when I needed to increase the family income, if I was to be able to help my daughters get through college. At the same time, due to the situation in Wichita, I realized the church was not going to grow fast enough to be able to raise my salary as much as I needed to help Rose and Mary Beth. Economic need was the primary reason for accepting the invitation to move to Des Moines.
Here is as good a place as any to speak of a policy about salary that I have followed. It is nothing to boast about. Under different circumstances I might have done otherwise. The fact is I never felt justified in asking any church I served to raise my salary. I confess I did not refuse to accept the raises the churches gave me from time to time. There are three reasons why I followed such a policy. One was the simple fact that I never served a church that I did not think my salary was already consuming too much of the church budget.
The second reason I never asked for a raise was that I was never sure I could confute the reason one person gave for not raising my salary. She was a member of one of the churches in Virginia I served for three years immediately after leaving the seminary. I only preached twice a month at each of those churches. One of the churches always conducted their business meetings just after Sunday school on Sundays. I was preaching at one of the other churches. At one of the annual business meetings the subject of raising the minister's salary was being discussed. One of the four people who opposed raising my salary was reported to have said, "I think we are already paying more for what we are getting than it's worth". Of course I could not agree with her. Nevertheless, deep inside I was never so God-Almighty sure that she was wrong.
The third reason I never asked for a raise: I could never forget that there were those helping to pay my salary who were getting less for their work than I was getting for mine. My salary was paid in part, I knew, by the mites of widows. A little more money was not the only thing that made the invitation of the Des Moines church attractive to me. I knew the church had a rich humanist tradition. Curtis Reese, one of the charter members of the American Humanist Association, was minister of the church during World War I. Dr. Backus, a gentle and intelligent humanist, was minister of the church during the middle of the nineteen-thirties.
Reese was a Southern Baptist product. He was, as I, a graduate of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. When Reese was there the Seminary was located in down town Louisville, just three blocks from the First Unitarian Church. As I heard the story, being of an evangelistic nature one Sunday morning Reese stuck some Baptist pamphlets on how to be saved in his pocket and went to the Unitarian Church to pass them out among its unbelieving members, hoping to save some. In return some one at the Unitarian Church gave Reese some Unitarian pamphlets. Instead of saving the Unitarians the Unitarians saved Reese. He went on to become one of the major Unitarian leaders during the first half of the twentieth century.
Dr. Backus was a quiet, soft speaking man. For many years he was the minister of the large Unitarian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was minister of that church while I was associated with the Louisville church. He was one of the ministers who recommended that I be recognized by the American Unitarian Association as a Unitarian minister. I was impressed by the quality of the questions he asked, the wisdom of his comments, his sincerity and sensitivity.
After spending a weekend with the pulpit committee and later a week in the church community I knew that the shadows of Reese and Backus were still reflected in the prevailing philosophical atmosphere of the church community. I could accept the invitation of the church to become its minister with the confidence I would be working, theologically speaking, with kindred souls.
THE BIRTH OF A UNITARIAN FELLOWSHIP
Before taking off for Des Moines, Iowa, I shall relate one other Wichita experience. In the summer of 1957 or 58 I had a visitor from Springfield, Missouri, some two hundred miles east of Wichita. She was a tall shy woman of middle age. She introduced herself and said, "I made this trip from Springfield just to meet and talk to a Unitarian, an experience I have never had. I am a Unitarian and belong to the Church of the Larger Fellowship". (The Church of the Larger Fellowship is made up of Unitarians living where there is no organized Unitarian group near them. It is our largest church, having active members all over the world. Its minister or leader's headquarters is in Boston. Each member receives two mailings each month, each mailing contains a sermon and other things of interest). My visitor continued, "I don't dare tell anyone in Springfield I am a Unitarian for fear of losing my job. I have no one with whom to share religious ideas".
She was a schoolteacher. I made an attempt to suggest that it was not, perhaps, as dangerous to be known as a Unitarian in Springfield as she thought. Knowing I was totally ignorant of the religious atmosphere in Springfield I don't think my assuring words were of much comfort to her. I ventured to guess there were a few other lone Unitarians in the larger Springfield community who belonged to The Church of the Larger Fellowship, or would if they knew about it. I offered to write to the headquarters of the Larger Fellowship and request that a list of known Unitarians in the Springfield community be sent to her. She thought that would be a good idea. When she left we promised to keep in touch.
I wrote to the Church of the Larger Fellowship and reported the woman's visit and her request. A few months later I received an invitation to be the guest speaker at a meeting of a group of Unitarians in Springfield. Due to a commitment I could not go. With the consent of the group I sent the Treasurer of our church, Ed Rosenberg. During the next two or three years Ed made a number of trips to Springfield to meet with the group. I was never in a position to accept an invitation to visit the group. According to the 1984-85 yearbook of the American Unitarian Association there is a church in Springfield today, boasting a membership of 150 and a full time minister.
THE TRIP TO DES MOINES
Mary Beth still had one more year in high school. She moved to Des Moines with us and finished her high school work at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. She then returned to Wichita to do her college work at the University of that city. Rose had finished one year of her college work and was staying on in Wichita to continue her education. However, being nosy about the new city where we would be living she wanted to come along to get an eye view of the layout. In addition to the four of us there were two dogs and a cat, all packed into a Ford Falcon. The cat and dogs were given tranquilizers before we left. We had no trouble until we stopped about sundown to eat at the edge of a small town. When we came back to the car it was more dark than light. It was decided to let the animals out to stretch. All three female voices advised putting Princess, the cat, on a leash. I, Mr. know-it-all, ignoring the advice, letting the cat out with the dogs, thinking she would be the first one back.
There was a vacant lot adjacent to the eating-place. It had a healthy crop of weeds waist high or more. At the other side of the lot there was a ditch, becoming four or more feet deep by the time it got to the back end of the lot. Trash and cut bushes had been thrown in the ditch. You guessed it. The cat got in the ditch beneath the brush and refused to come out. Mary Beth went to the lower end of the ditch. Rose stationed herself by it about half way. I was going to try to make the cat move toward them, hoping one of them could persuade her to come out. Before we could start Rose called to report one of her contact lenses had fallen in the ditch. "Freeze! Don't' move! I'll see if I can find a flashlight", I said.
No, the eating joint didn't have one. Two or more blocks away I found one. While I was out buying a light Elien advised Rose and Mary Beth that I would be mad and for them not to say a word, and above all not to laugh. In time I got back to Rose. By now it was real dark. I focused the light in the ditch. About an arm's length down there was a spider web stretched across the ditch. There, cradled in the web, was the lens, reflecting the light like a pearl. Rose reached down and carefully retrieved the lens. I sent her to the car and asked her to stay there. Elien, Mary Beth and I finally caught the cat.
We had traveled a few miles in silence when Elien exploded with uncontrollable laughter. Rose and Mary Beth immediately did likewise. The car rocked with almost hysterical laughter. I began to fear, before it subsided, Elien was going to kill herself laughing. I guess the seeing and hearing such laughter was atonement enough for the trouble my trust in the cat had caused me.
Take it from one who learned from experience, as fools sometimes do. Never, never, when traveling with a cat, let him or her out of the car without a leash around its neck and a firm grip on the other end. However nice your cat may be, it has absolutely no sense of responsibility. You can say kitty, kitty until your tongue wears out without the cat responding until it suits its own convenience. Cats are dumber than an ox. You can threaten and beg, promise them fish on a golden platter, and they will not understand a word you say. If they do, their understanding is totally hidden by their looks and actions.