GOD, 'THE FATHER?'
A UNITARIAN SPEAKS ABOUT GOD
In recent months it has seemed to me that there has been too much God in
Those of you who know me know that I'm not a complainer. But I am a
"concerned citizen," and I feel it necessary to present my views.
One of the key principles that attracted me to Unitarianism when I first
joined in the early 1950s was the absence of dogma and symbolism. I
believe that is a basis from which we can start a constructive search for the
truths of human spirituality. It is a basis, too, on which we can build an
ethical framework that is relevant to the human condition.
What I've discovered is that I'm an agnostic and a humanist. That means
that when the subject of God comes up I'm likely to say two things: 1) Nothing
that I've read of heard proves to me that God is or is not. I just
don't know, and see no evidence that I will know in my lifetime. 2) I
believe that man is capable of self-fulfillment and ethical conduct without
recourse to supernaturalism. In short, I'm a Merriam Webster's Dictionary humanist.
So in religious matters I try to avoid dogma and symbolism. They are not
parts of my philosophy except when I unconsciously fall into past habits. So
I'll tell you now where I stand, and if you disagree we can start a constructive
WHY DO WE NEED SUPREME BEINGS?
I believe the need for gods in mankind grows out of natural and normal
questioning. "Why do I exist?" "What is the purpose, meaning and significance of
life?" These are questions which wise philosophers examine but, like Spinoza, do
not answer. Theologians, however, are another breed. They are likely to jump into
the philosophical fray with answers born of introspection and wishful thinking.
There seems to be a human need to seek the purpose of existence. I suggest
that when we consider purpose, we should be aware of its dynamics. Man is the
result of evolution. And with the coming of man, evolutionary change could be
classified into two types: old and new. There was no purpose or plan in the old
evolution. Things were, and they changed according to existing conditions. But
with the coming of man, a unique species of life form, some aspects of evolution
can be affected by his conscious control. To quote George Gaylord Simpson, from
whom I draw most of my information on evolution, "Man, along among all
organisms, knows that he evolves and he alone is capable of directing his own
The nuclear situation is a case in point. Nuclear energy and weaponry have
not evolved in ways that are on balance, good for the healthy evolution of
humankind. However, if we can effect a nuclear freeze we will have favorably
affected the direction of our evolution, perhaps to the degree that we avoid
Certainly our efforts to understand our ecology and protect our environment
from deadly pollution are evidence that we can affect the direction of our
But, to return to myths and dogma. One of the problems with fostering myths
is that the myths tend to become dogma. It is a simple step for the uncritical
mind to accept the myth as fact, and then defend the "pseudo-fact" ferociously.
The most enormous myth is the myth of God, with a capital "G." It is enormous
because, for one thing, it extends beyond Christianity, beyond Judaism, and
beyond Islam. Its roots lie deep in the past, and like a stubborn weed, it
It is a myth that cannot be proved. It is a myth that fetters clear thinking.
Every apologia for God includes assumptions; indeed must include
assumptions because, finally, each argument ends in unprovable assertions that
are generally stated as facts.
Immanuel Kant said, "... human knowledge is incapable of supplying final
verification for God's existence." He said that a long time ago — before the
invention of computers, gas chromatographs and similar analytical equipment, but
I'll still agree with that.
Should we return, with Mr. Reagan, to the "good old days?" It
was much easier in earlier, savage cultures to know who or what gods were. The
sea, the sun, the stars; anything incomprehensible was given a name and
propitiated in some way. With the refinements of civilization, deities evolved
themselves into a closer knit family of gods. Some readers may remember the
Carl Reiner/Mel Brooks record called "The 2,000 Year Old Man." The 2,000
year old man said they used to pray to "Phil." Ohhh, Philip. Please don't take
our eyes out, and don't pinch us, and don't hurt us. Amen." Then Phil was hit by
a bolt of lightning, and they said, "Hey! There's something up there bigger than
The mythological forbears of God served a purpose. As Julian Huxley points
out, "Mythology fills a necessary place in the history of human ideas. It
arises when man first demands some explanation of the strange surroundings in
which he finds himself, some comprehensible guidance in the frightening chaos
... the formation of myths is bound to continue in any domain so long as our
desire to know and to understand is confronted and overtopped by our ignorance."
WHO IS GOD?
When we ask "Who is God?" we show the persistent influence of the
personalization of God. With all his fear and humility man unquestioningly cast
the most awesome of concepts in his own image. Doris Hunter, in her
introduction to the pamphlet "Unitarian Universalist Views of God" says, "We
seek to liberate ourselves from patriarchal and anthropomorphic concepts of
God." That's one of the reasons why the title of the talk this morning is "God,
the Father???," followed by several question marks. I like the joke about the
astronaut who journeyed far out into the universe and radioed back that he could
see God. Mission Control asked him what God was like, and the astronaut said,
"Well, first of all, she's black."
Some of the early heterodox sects in Christianity conceived the soul as a
fine gas, and God himself as a still finer gas. Somewhat along these lines an
early philosophy defined God as "a gaseous vertebrate."
The depersonalization of God has made Him less intimidating, and has
emboldened someone to define Him as a bogey man designed to keep us from
stealing marbles and hanging our teachers.
Browning spoke for the romantics when he wrote, "God! Thou art Love! I build
my faith on that." For my part I don't agree. Love is a human quality
that should be nurtured and practiced and appreciated, and not relegated to a
Someone said, "God is a Baptist." Someone else said, "Ultimate Reality is a
combination of phosphorous and glue." And to paraphrase an older, amusing
definition, "God is a sort of infinitely magnified and improved Barney
I was tempted to overlook the fundamentalist view of God, but I think we
should give it 'equal time.' The fundamentalist view of God is categorically
presented in the Handbook of Doctrine of the Salvation Army which is an
evangelical church. In Chapter III, Section II, paragraph 2 it is stated that
the attributes of God are those perfect qualities and powers which belong only
to Himself. These are:
- Self-existence (as proven by Scripture)
- Eternal Existence (it says so in the Bible)
- Immutability (it says so in the Bible)
and so on through Omnipresence, Omniscience and Omnipotence to Perfect
It is obvious that God is truly infinite in His variety. Since God is a
subjective interpretation of life and the cosmos. He is infinite in His
variety because man is infinite in his variety.
It is a little unsettling to realize that the kind of myth-formation
described by Julian Huxley is still so much with us, even though it wears the
shiny veneer of modern psychology, or any number of neo-philosophies.
THE UNITARIAN/UNIVERSALIST WRITINGS ON GOD
In the Unitarian/Universalist pamphlet "UU Views of God" there are six views
of God. four of which are variations on old themes.
- There is God as "ineffability," an attempt to put a label on what is
divine in man. Arthur Foote says something I agree with, "We need the
language of poetry as well as of science," but he puts it in a deistic
- There is God as "process," articulated by Ann Fields. She says, "God
is ... the process by which we listen to one another and learn from one
another and arrive at new levels of spiritual awareness as a result."
- Alice Blair Wesley writes of God as "experience." "Much God-talk is
confused and meaningless because it has been disconnected from its
experiential content ... it is reasonable to believe there is an objective
pole to subjective experience of the holy, the sacred, the divine life of
- Then there is God as "presence." Marni Politte writes "How do you
prove God? How do you prove Love? It can only be proved by the evidence of
its presence; by the witnessing acts that convey the assurance that lets one
feel love. One feels God ... and then one knows!"
The other two views of God in the pamphlet ar humanist so I'll spare
quotations from them but I commend them to your attention.
Why am I concerned about the use of the God-symbol? Because it is too often
used as a substitute for action. It is vicarious fulfillment for needs that
should be dealt with in more straightforward ways. It is an anchor to the past,
willingly grasped by people who are unwilling to give up comfortable
terminology. It contains vestiges of fear that many people are not aware of.
Now, in this society we are concerned with religion. Is it possible to have
religion without a deity? I say yes, it is not only possible, but it is
preferable to have a religion without a deity. But we must consider religion
in its essence, and not clothed in the connotations most generally accepted in
John Haynes Holmes spoke of religion in a way which expressed its essence.
He said, "I would define religion as a mysterious and mystic impulse working
within us to make us greater than we are, and the world, through us, better than
it is; to lift us above the low ranges of physical appetite and satisfaction. To
drive us to goals beyond the prudetial bounds of time and sense. Religion
belongs distinctively to man not because he can think and speculate, and build
... altars, but rather because he can sense the whole life, catch vision of the
ideal in things real, and is willing to give his life to fulfilling this vision
among men. To be compelled to serve an ideal cause by a conviction of its
enduring value not merely for ourselves but for humanity and its high destiny
upon earth — this is religion."
Alfred North Whitehead gave a definition of religion which I think is
basically intended to help man reach the fruitful heights of self inspiration.
He said, "Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and
within the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real and yet
waiting to be realized. Something which is a remote possibility and yet the
greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes and
yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good and yet is
beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal and the hopeless quest."
Julian Huxley once wrote, in effect, that when belief in God, immortality and
the soul were no longer accepted, the needs out of which those beliefs arose
originally, remain to be understood and often to be met.
The world is still in transition in this respect. To quote Huxley, "It is
hard to break through the firm framework of an accepted belief system and build
new and complex successors, but it is necessary. It is necessary to organize our
ad hoc ideas and scattered values into a unitive pattern, transcending conflicts
and divisions in its unitary web. Only by such a reconciliation of opposites and
disparates can our belief system release us from inner conflicts; only so can we
gain that peaceful assurance which will help unlock our energies for development
in strenuous practical action."
It is hard to give up old symbols. It is even harder to avoid replacing old
symbols with new ones. But it can be done by each of us with steady conscious
effort. It can be done by all of us together, through organizations such as this
TIMELESS NON-THEISTIC MEDITATIONS ON RELIGION
I would like to close with some thoughts for meditation adapted from several
which appeared in the Unitarian Register, which preceded the current
denominational publication the "UU World." They are as relevant now as they were
then, and they indicate that worship need not be deity-oriented to be
inspirational. They also clearly show that worship which addresses itself to the
essence of religion cannot help but express itself in terms of the finest
We believe in a religion of truth-seeking and of truthfulness; and we would
consecrate ourselves anew to the loyalties that make us free.
We believe in a religion of righteousness and we would seek and serve
together our highest vision of the good.
We believe in a bond that shall unite us, not in exclusive sectarian bonds
but in the holier and universal bond of love. Going down beneath all that
separates and estranges, to the principles of freedom and understanding; below
religions to religion, beneath all sacraments to the impulse that bends the soul
in reverence and awe; beneath all forms to the faith that strives to express
itself in and through them; thus touching common foundations and securing a
common fellowship, each helping the other by whatever deep insights may be
The distant stars speak to us, the majestic mountains, the sound of the
waves, and the wind blowing from the sea. The earth through her myriad voices
reminds us that we are at home among our own.
We believe that all things flow; no achieved forms are final and perfect.
We believe in integrity; it will never be put to shame. Our appeal is to the
human; every wrong we commit is against the law of our own being.
We believe in the satisfaction of work well done, in the joys of love and of
These things are the living waters of life; they are a perpetual inspiration.
This sermon was delivered by Henry P. Lewis at
the Unitarian/Universalist Society of Northern
Fairfield County, Connecticut on an unknown date but given the fact it
was typed on a typewriter and not a computer it was written prior to
1994. It was at that time he acquired a computer. This is long before
he'd ever had to look mortality in the face; prior
to any operation and certainly prior to his first (non-fatal)
bout with cancer.
Sources are not available for this writing, except where mentioned
hereinabove. This work copyright 2006 The Estate Of Henry P. Lewis, all rights