This article presents the theological foundations for my book, "Roadmap to An American Renaissance." I am led to write this article by the commandment that we must "let our light shine" and I am humbled by the realization that we only "see through a glass dimly". Although our perceptions are incomplete, we must still make our individual best efforts and then improve our understanding through mutual reflection.
The opening chapter of Roadmap presents the fundamental thesis that life's search for prosperity is one of the primary motivators of existence. Unfortunately I only devoted two pages to presenting this fundamental principle. Several of my readers took issue with the thesis of prosperity both because I did not adequately defend it and because they misinterpreted prosperity as a narrow focus on material wealth. Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly ." From my perspective, of all the text in the Bible, this phrase most succinctly presents God's purpose in our world. An abundance of life includes spiritual, intellectual, emotional and yes physical fulfillment including health, and creature comforts for both the necessities of life and some of the pleasures as well. The Vulcan farewell of "live long and prosper" is simply our contemporary way of expressing these same profound sentiments. God's purpose is to lead humanity toward a righteous, abundant and prosperous life. This broad and noble definition of prosperity is the true heart of human motivation.
I was profoundly moved by the following words on a recent church program on the inseparability of righteousness (spiritual prosperity) and worldly success in human society.
"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
-Alexis de Tocqueville
French Historian, 1835
Although Roadmap has an obvious theological foundation, I wrote the book intentionally as a secular document. This approach reflects my perception of the essential role of religion in human society. Religion forms the moral and ethical foundation for human society. The parable of the house built on rock is a totally accurate statement of this truth. The ethical principles from our diverse religious foundations must then interact to create a unified superstructure which defines our social order. Our Declaration of Independence is a beautiful example of this approach and a model for all successful efforts to organize human society.
The central theme of this article is the role of religion and in particular the role of the church in promoting the righteousness and prosperity of human society which I perceive to be God's intention for humanity. God's goal of an abundant life for humanity is only the first half of the divine equation. The fundamental principles of human liberty require that human beings must achieve an abundant life by choosing to lead a righteous life. Therefore the role of the church is to "lead us on paths of righteousness". The fine line between leadership and direction is the fundamental principle of individual free will. The narrow path that leads to righteousness requires us first as individuals and then as a society to both understand what is right and then to choose that course of our own free will.
I perceive that the churches of America are failing to adequately fulfill the responsibilities of Christian social leadership. That failure has (in Tocqueville's words) resulted in a significant loss of American goodness which is leading to the decline and potential disintegration of American society. As an active member of the Presbyterian church and a former member of the Methodist church I am proud of the diligent efforts we make to create a caring, loving and Christlike fellowship both within the church and in the larger national and international community. While these efforts fall short of our desires, they are a vital effort that helps maintain our sense of community as members of the family of God. However the mainstream Christian churches in America have largely withdrawn from providing spiritual leadership on the contemporary moral and ethical issues that tear at the fabric of American society. While these issues are debated in the secular arena, the lack of a moral foundation to these discussions has led to political gridlock. America's pulpits are no longer aflame with righteous indignation at the moral failings of contemporary society. This situation is caused I believe more by our unwillingness as Christians to face these difficult issues than by the unwillingness of our pastors to discuss them. Before proceeding with this theme I would like to digress to present a perception of the evolution of intellectual awareness. This discussion parallels and completes the discussion of physical evolution presented in Roadmap and provides a better perspective for evaluating the role of religion in human society.
Humanity together with many other species represent different levels of emerging intelligence on the planet Earth. I perceive that there are several levels of intellectual awareness with life gradually transitioning from one level to another. Our own individual human development starts at the first level and then throughout our lives climbs to the level that our intellect and search for enlightenment carries us. The first level of awareness to which most of life belongs is instinctual awareness. With instinctual awareness life responds in a preprogrammed manner to external stimuli. As infants we observe our hands and learn to maneuver them to reach our mouths just as we will later learn to use a spoon. However there is at that point no awareness that the hand, but not a spoon are part of one's self.
The second level of awareness involves the concept of self. The concept of self which is also "the body concept" allows life to see itself as a separate entity. The "terrible twos" with their intense possessive preoccupation (" mine, mine, mine . . ") announces our arrival at the intellectual awareness of self. We now know that other primates are well along the path of self-awareness and that other life is on the verge of this awareness. However when the family dog chases his tail and bites it, we can see that the concept of self awareness is still incomplete.
The third and all higher levels of intellectual awareness involve the concept of "the greater self" which begins with the concept of the family. In human development the transition out of the "terrible twos" into the relative tranquility of childhood announces the first beginnings of the concept of the greater self. In infancy the child responds to parents as external stimuli. In the terrible twos the child becomes self aware but still treats the world as an external stimulus. In later childhood the child begins to recognize his parents as individual beings with greater physical and intellectual capabilities that require if not his obedience at least his attention. Throughout childhood our biology keeps children physically small and therefore submissive to their parents while the experiences of life slowly develop their intellectual capabilities. Once the child's brain has become sufficiently mature, the child enters puberty and metamorphosizes into physical adulthood. The achievement of adult physical capabilities removes the constraints that have kept the selfish motivations of the "terrible twos" bottled up for a decade. Fortunately by this point the child has achieved an increased intellectual awareness of the "the greater self" that includes the immediate family and has begun to include the larger human community. This increased intellectual awareness mitigates the rebellion of adolescence and allows the child to become an adult within the framework of human society.
The concept of the greater self is both the foundation for all moral principles and also I perceive the basis for the soul. Like the other levels of awareness, the attainment of the greater self concept is a process not an event. Therefore the question we should ask ourselves is not does humanity have a soul, but is humanity acquiring a soul. The answer to that question appears to be yes, but the process is painfully slow. Ideally each generation would achieve a fuller "greater self" awareness than their parents. However the record of history including current history shows that this development of the human soul continues to be full of setbacks.
Of all the species on Earth, humanity has made the most significant progress in achieving "greater than self" levels of intellectual awareness. The Bible begins the story of humanity a few thousand years ago. We know from fossil records that our physical development began over 500 million years ago as multi-celled organisms and that humanity had evolved to our present level over 20,000 years ago. However in a very real sense the warm fertile river valleys of the near East that developed at the end of the last ice age were both a "Garden of Eden" and the birth place of the human soul. The successful development of human civilization required an increase in cooperation and altruism within the human family. The "fertile crescent" was appropriately named since most of the world's great religions were born in this area within a period of a few thousand years. These religions provided humanity with the moral and spiritual teachings needed to form a mutually beneficial and more prosperous society out of thousands of selfish human individuals. Whether the profound teachings of the world's great religions were inspired by God as I perceive or totally the products of human discovery, they represent a priceless intellectual treasure that forms the foundation of human civilization.
Humanity's struggle to achieve the higher levels of intellectual awareness represented by the "concept of the greater self" and thereby acquire a soul is the central theme of human civilization. In Roadmap I categorized the physical arrangement of cells in terms of biological power structures, social power structures and political power structures. Intellectual awareness provides another dimension to this categorization. For example while social insects are clearly a social power structure (i.e. a collection of distinct biological organisms that cooperate for their mutual benefit), they interact together on an instinctual basis. Therefore social insects have achieved an advanced physical structure while still operating at a primitive level of intellectual awareness.
Socialization provides both distinct physical advantages and clear intellectual challenges to living power structures. Socialization allows living power structures (whether they be ants or human beings) to accomplish more collectively than they could as individuals. The primary advantages of socialization are specialization and group activity. Group activities (e.g. from pyramid building to barn raising) allow the group to accomplish tasks that would be impossible for a single individual through collective physical power. Individual specialization also allows the group to achieve a much broader base of capabilities and knowledge through collective brain power.
The intellectual challenge of socialization is to establish and maintain the motivation for cooperative group activity. This motivation requires a feeling of altruism among the members of the social group. Social insects achieve social cooperation totally through instinctual behaviors without the concept of self. These behaviors are simply extensions of the instinctual cooperative behaviors of the individual cells in each insect.
The intellectual emergence of the concept of self creates a conflict in the social structures of all higher animals. The concept of self leads individuals to pursue actions that maximize their own short term interest at the expense of the interests of the group. The inability to fully achieve the concept of the greater self limits the social development of all higher animals including our species. Many of our fellow mammals form social groups. Most of these social groups are controlled primarily by instinctual behaviors just like social insects; however the social groupings of other primates, whales and several other species show activities that indicate the beginnings of "greater than self" awareness.
Mankind's social development has been paced by both the level of our technology which makes greater socialization desirable and by our growth in "greater than self" awareness which makes social development possible. The first stage in this intellectual journey in "greater than self" awareness is the concept of family which provides the generic label for the journey. Families are composed of bodies with close blood relations. The next stage in "greater than self awareness" is tribal affiliation. Tribes are composed of more distant blood relations. The journey continues through the stages of community, regional and national affiliation based on cultural, social, linguistic, religious and economic relationships. The next stage is humanism, characterized by a feeling of family for all members of our species. The journey continues with family feelings toward other species starting with those with which we have the closest biological or social ties and continuing to encompass all life on Earth. This journey in "greater than self " awareness is cumulative. For example our feelings of concern for the preservation of wildlife do not mean a lessening of the feelings of concern for our family. Humanity has made tremendous strides in "greater than self" awareness over the last few hundred years. Thankfully, the once popular saying, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" now seems appalling to most of us. Similarly the efforts we are now expending to protect and preserve other species on our planet would be incomprehensible to most people of even our great grandparent's generation.
Attempts to promote social unity without first achieving the appropriate level of "greater than self" awareness are socially dangerous. The terrible bloodshed in Rawanda occurred because the Hutu's and the Tutsi's have only achieved a tribal level of "greater than self" awareness. At this level of intellectual awareness there is a one body feeling within each tribe but insufficient feelings of family between tribes. Just like placing two ant colonies together, the predictable result of such a forced national union is a bloodbath. While we were all appalled by the injustice of Apartheid and are delighted by its demise, our elation should be tempered by serious concern for the social stability of South Africa. Similarly the political reunification of Europe will require a much greater feeling of family between Europeans than presently exists.
The best approach to human socialization is, I perceive, to maintain the greatest possible amount of individual liberty and only relinquish to higher levels of social authority those minimum controls that are needed to provide the benefits of the larger social unit. Prior to the birth of America, most human social systems were inverted power pyramids with most of the control at the top. This situation thwarted increased socialization on a national level because the feudal lords knew that while national unity would increase overall prosperity, they might in fact loose wealth as power shifted to the king. The American revolution inverted the power pyramid by placing primary emphasis on the rights of the individual. In such a social union, participation is voluntary based on mutual self interest. More importantly, the diversity of many independent individuals provides fertile ground for social and technical innovations that provide an engine for the prosperity of the entire society. This prosperity favors increased cooperation among the members of the society. The central role of religion in human society has been and must continue to be to nurture the growth of the human soul to promote the prosperous interaction of humanity and our interaction with the other species and the natural environment. Here again prosperous means righteous, moral and intelligent actions that promote long term well being.
Throughout human history our social development has been a series of intellectual advances in "greater than self" awareness followed by regressions that sometimes totally reverse the gains. Let me characterize the intellectual advances as improvements toward the family perception of humanity and characterize the retreats as regressions toward the body perception of humanity.
In the most limited sense a body is a collection of cells bound together by a complete sense of altruism to each other and in competition with all other bodies. However in a broader sense a body is any living power structure (including social groups) with a very strong concept of self and a very limited concept of the greater self. For example, a gang is a body. Each individual adheres to a consistent pattern of dress and action that identifies that individual as a member of the gang. The gang has no concept of the "greater self" and all non-gang members are treated with suspicion if not hostility. Conformity and an inability to tolerate diversity are key characteristics of the body mentality.
A family is a collection of living power structures who share a strong sense of altruism toward each other and more importantly who also accept, respect and even cherish each others' uniqueness and individuality. God chose the role of "father" to promote the brotherhood of humanity and thereby encourage the feelings of family within our human community. As members of the family of God we respect each other's rights as distinct and unique individuals. Humanity is not one body, and we must never become one body, because individual human diversity is required to foster the process of innovation which is essential to the progress of human civilization. However an increasingly greater sense of family and respect for our human diversity will be needed for us to achieve higher levels of social cooperation and thereby attain the more prosperous life that these higher levels of social cooperation permit.
The dual role of the church as both the foundation for the family of God and also the keeper of religious teachings as the body of Christ ranks along side the Trinity as one of the inscrutable mysteries of existence. Just like Moses led the people out of bondage in Egypt, but could not follow into the promised land, so our Christian religion must continually lead us toward a righteous and prosperous life, but then leave us to interact within the human family to build a prosperous society. Finding this river Jordan ( the dividing line between the religious foundation of our society and the secular superstructure, in this imperfect analogy) is one of the most challenging tasks we face as Christians.
A theocracy is not the best way to govern human society, because by definition a theocracy no matter how noble its principles is still a body which can never have a complete sense of the greater self. Every year our church participates with other church's in an ecumenical thanksgiving service. Last year we were pleased that a local synagogue joined us in the service. I find these services inspiring because they enable us both to celebrate the consistent moral and ethical foundations of our religions and to jointly demonstrate our gratitude for the many benefits of human civilization made possible by those foundations. While these ecumenical thanksgiving services are spiritually inspiring, their extremely limited nature produces a profound sense of appreciation and gratitude for the secular superstructure that unifies American society. The separation of church and state which is an essential principle of our social structure allows us to socially interact while drawing strength and guidance from our separate religious foundations.
We need an ecumenical spirit not an ecumenical religion. Just as physical diversity is essential to allow for biological evolution so intellectual and spiritual diversity is needed to allow for social evolution. Our separate and distinct religions act as bodies of spiritual thought and belief to preserve the broad spectrum of spiritual genes that permit spiritual evolution in response to changing social conditions. John Kennedy's words, "when we all think alike, nobody does much thinking", clearly articulate this need for intellectual diversity in human society.
The best path to prosperity through increasing socialization is to transcend the concept of self through the achievement of increasingly higher levels of "greater than self" awareness not to regress to a one body mentality. This awareness runs counter to our biological drive that led cells to join together in the vast campaign of biological evolution. The drive for "one bodiness" is the drive for order achieved through the elimination of internal conflict. Unfortunately the prosperity created by the order of "one bodiness" comes at a high price. While order promotes today's prosperity, it eliminates the disorder needed to promote innovations to promote tomorrow's prosperity. The elimination of internal disorder makes death an essential ingredient of "one body" evolution, because innovation can only occur between generations. Of greater social significance the internal order of "one bodiness" accentuates the external conflicts between bodies. The internal harmony of an ant nest and the mortal conflicts between ant nests are both inevitable results of the "one body" approach to socialization.
Jesus taught the process of rebirth as the way for humanity to achieve an abundant life ("You must be born again of the spirit."). The conflicts between "born again Christians" and some more traditional Christians over this issue result from a refusal by both groups to really accept Jesus' teaching. What Jesus meant was that we must be born again and again and again. Only through a process of continual rebirth can we grow spiritually and intellectually. When Jesus said we must enter the kingdom of God "as little children", he was referring to the humility and openness to new ideas that are characteristic of children. Traditional Christians feel comfortable in their faith and resist the notion of rebirth and the changes that go with it. Born again Christians celebrate their new faith, but frequently are equally resistant to any further rebirths.
Christianity is a religion of social activism. An important purpose of religion is to help humanity achieve God's plan for a more abundant life through higher levels of "greater than self awareness" which permit more complex social interactions. On an intellectual plane religion promotes this goal through feelings of brotherhood and greater altruism within the human family. However to be really significant in people's lives, religion must also play a concrete role in the continual process of social renewal and reformation. Our Judeo-Christian heritage of social activism begins with the Ten Commandments and continues in the Old Testament with a wide range of specific instructions for social behavior. Jesus directly confronted the intolerances of his day by forgiving a prostitute, eating with a tax collector and lauding the deeds of a good Samaritan.
These social confrontations reached a climax during Holy Week. Several of my friends who have reviewed "Roadmap" have declined to comment on my thesis of rampant political theft in American society by offering the excuse that, "they have never taken a course in economics." Jesus never took a course in economics either, but that didn't prevent him from seeing the evil of the money changers in the temple. By word and deed Jesus confronted the money changers in the temple and instructed us to take up the cross and follow him. Of all the admonitions of the Christian faith, this one is the most difficult, because when you take up crosses you sometimes get crucified. People get confused and think the objective of Christianity is martyrdom. The objective is to make positive changes in the world by confronting evil. Such confrontations involve risk. The continual resurrection of human society can only be achieved through the willingness of people to take risks for good even if the possible result is getting crucified.
The early church followed Christ's example and many followers lost their lives in religious persecutions. Their perseverance converted the Roman empire, but too late to save the Western empire from collapse. Following the fall of Rome the church withdrew from the process of social reformation to avoid persecution by secular powers. While this allowed Christianity to spread, the result was a corrupt church and an even more corrupt society.
The reformation produced both a rebirth of the Christian faith and a rebirth of Christian social activism. Over the last five hundred years this Christian social activism both in Europe and later in America led to reforms in child labor laws, the abolition of slavery, public education, universal suffrage, social pressure to curb the abuse of alcohol, public hospitals and a host of other social innovations and reforms to broadly extend the abundance of life throughout human society. Of all these achievements, the moral and ethical principles that founded and have guided the United States and by example have guided countless other societies around the world has been the most significant single accomplishment of the moral and ethical rebirth launched by the reformation.
Mainstream Christianity became increasingly establishment in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. The decline in prosperity due to the loss of colonial empires, the devastation of the First World War and the deprivation of the Great Depression took a terrible toll on the European sense of the greater self. These conditions did not create Adolph Hitler (because there are always such people in society), but the conditions gave Hitler a political toe hold. The absence of adequate Christian leadership in the 1930's both in Germany as well as in England and France allowed Hitler to seize control of Germany. Germany withdrew from membership in the human family and became an Aryan body. The struggle of this Aryan body for world domination produced six years of unbelievable devastation with Western civilization coming close to loosing its soul in the process.
The Christian reformation began later in the New World and continued longer due to the flood of emigrants seeking escape from religious persecution. Christian churches were leaders in the anti-slavery movement in the first half of the 19th century. The devastation of the Civil War on both the secular superstructure of American society and our religious foundation resulted in the moral decay and political corruption of the last half of the 19th century. The early 20th century saw a revitalization of Christian social activism with Trust busting, woman's suffrage, and efforts to control alcohol abuse which led to the unsuccessful experiment of Prohibition.
Many factors have contributed to a loss in "greater than self" awareness of American society in the 20th century. On the international front we fought and successfully won two world wars followed by a 40 year Cold War that is just concluding. On the domestic front we endured a great depression in the 1930's. Since the Second World War, the excessive urbanization of American society has both weakened family and community ties that were a vital part of America's social unity while at the same time requiring a level of "greater than self" awareness that is beyond the present achievement of the American people. The parallel growth of big industry control of the private sector and federal government control of American society have permitted unearned transfers of wealth that are destroying our sense of national unity. The civil right's movement of the 1960's was the last major social reform effort supported by mainstream Christian churches. Like the civil war, the civil rights battles took a toll on the resolve of churches for social reform. The virtual absence of mainstream Christian churches from the efforts of domestic social reform over the last 30 years has left a moral vacuum that has significantly accentuated the loss of "greater than self" awareness among the American people.
American society is clearly in trouble. The emergence of many political reform movements from Jerry Brown's "We the People" to Ross Perot's "United We Stand America" are evidence both of the gravity of the current situation and the willingness of the American people to respond to this social crisis. However I fear these secular efforts will not succeed without a strengthening of the moral foundation of America. This foundation is necessary both to provide moral leadership and to heighten our "greater than self" awareness to actually permit secular interaction to enact needed social reforms.
While mainstream Christian churches are working hard to teach the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, the vacuum left by their virtual absence from social issues is being filled by many emerging organizations loosely referred to as "the religious right". While I believe that many of these people are well intentioned, their approach is dogmatic and intolerant and their efforts are socially divisive. They are focused on being a body of Christ rather than building the family of God.
The present crisis in American society and the world calls for a Second Reformation to rescue the human soul and lead human civilization into a new era of cooperation and prosperity. Christians and people of every faith must work within their religious communities to restore the moral foundation of America and lead social reforms that can mend and then reweave a more prosperous fabric of human society. As the church returns from its cloistered position to more involvement in the world, those who oppose change will immediately claim violation of the principle of separation of church and state. While we should not be intimidated by these cries, we should appropriately limit the scope of church involvement in social reform. I believe the following are completely legitimate and proper activities for religious institutions in a secular society.
1) Righteous Indignation over the moral shortcomings in society to motivate social reform - The most important social lesson of the Bible is that humanity needs to be constantly informed and admonished over moral failings. The first steps to social reform are a thorough understanding and then outrage over social abuses. The nation's pulpits should be leaders in moral indignation over the injustices, corruption and ethical abuses in our society. America can not continue to rely on the Reader's Digest and the editorial columns of our news papers to perform the vital functions of education and social conscience.
2) Soul searching and discussion of potential solutions to provide leadership on social reform- While stopping short of endorsing specific social reforms, churches can provide a forum to both identify potential solutions to social issues and evaluate their moral and ethical implications. By building a moral foundation, churches can permit their members to interact more purposefully in society on formulating and enacting reforms.
Roadmap to An American Renaissance calls for a rebirth of freedom, a reduction in political theft and a revitalization of both individual liberty and individual responsibility. However these social goals can not be achieved without also strengthening the moral foundation and level of "greater than self" awareness of American society. Strengthening America's moral foundation will require the moral leadership of all America's religious institutions. America has been blessed by bountiful spiritual and material wealth which both uniquely position us and I believe commission us to play a leadership role in God's plan for the social development of humanity. In this time of social crisis, we must seize this opportunity to preserve and enhance the abundance of life for ourselves and for all life on Earth.