Journal of Unification Studies - Vol. II
The Ideal in the World's Religions: Essays on the Person, Family, Society and Environment. Edited by Robert Carter and Sheldon Isenberg. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House. 1997
These essays allow the reader to participate at arm's length in an InterReligious Federation for World Peace conference (August 20-27, 1995) on the theme "Realizing the Ideal." The essays, despite their common denominator, fall into five rather different categories. The result is almost five different mini-books, entailing a major or minor shifting of gears as one moves from one to the other.
The first section deals with broad and basic issues in ecumenical dialogue: how dare a member of one religion make criticisms about another without reverting to the imperialist condescension of the past? Should we assume that all religions have the most important things in common? If they don't, can they still mutually affirm one another? Can we take each other's religions seriously without sloughing off loyalty to our own? The questions are important and unavoidable, and several answers offered here strike me as truly ingenious, penetrating and promising.
Francis X. D'Sa sketches the basic problem of religious chauvinism as being a religion's inability to heed its own innate drive toward universalizing its truth by token of clinging to its own "scandal of particularity," the historical conditions in which its revelation was received. A religion understandably fears dissolving, losing its distinctive identity, if its message becomes so universal as to merge with the general ideals of humanity. But if it seeks universalization by means of universal conversion, we have a dangerous situation such as historically has begotten both imperialism and religious war. D'Sa makes a brilliant suggestion when he invokes the analogy (or is it a mere analogy?) of the hermeneutical task within each religion as it extrapolates from an ancient text, anchored in the original historical context, seeking to find guidance for new situations, for new generations, in a new age. The gap between the writer's and original readers' Sitz-im-Leben and that of modem interpreters and their communities of faith poses a challenge to all religions which they all accept already. They know, in the one case, they must make a great leap into an unanticipated future in which the applicability of the original revelation has become problematical. They have no choice. What D'Sa suggests is that the religions might as well recognize as an identical challenge the present situation where several equally sophisticated and devout religions face each other. While the proper response to superstition or moral degeneracy on the mission field might once have been evangelism, it must today seem absurd for, e.g., Christians to demand that Buddhists, adherents of an equally venerable and noble religion, convert. Of course, the religions have hitherto felt justified in seeking conversions because they were ill-informed about the other faiths, accepting caricatures and disparagements: if a Hindu were really no more than a demon-cultist (see popular screeds like Bob Larson's Hippies, Hindus and Rock and Roll), then he could only benefit by changing over to Christianity. The tactic is essentially the same as that whereby a nation's wartime enemies are caricatured to the point of dehumanization: if Japanese troops are sub-human monkey-men, then an American need not scruple to shoot them. Interfaith dialogues such as the one that gave birth to the present collection of essays may be seen as peace conferences seeking to establish, first, a state of detente, then of lasting peaceful co-existence, and finally-who knows?
It is always a treat to read Ninian Smart's latest thoughts on the world's religions, and his essay here, "Measuring the Ideal: Christian Faith and the World's Worldviews," is no exception. Much more can and must be made of Smart's suggestion that future religionists will regard all the faiths not as competitors but as a smorgasbord of resources to be drawn upon to season and spice one's own faith.
The second section, dealing with the Ideal as it applies to the individual, is both informative and truly edifying. Several insights will challenge any reader's spirituality as well as providing hope that interreligious unity is far more than a pipe-dream. How wonderful that there are already holy tales upholding interfaith solidarity as a virtue. The famous Buddhist-Jainist-Sufi parable of the Blind Six and the Elephant is one. The martyrdom of Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur who gave his life to defend the religious freedom of Hindus, with whose practices he certainly disagreed, from the persecution of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb is another. Both are worthy of ceaseless commemoration in all faith communities. It is a new thing to build up an ecumenical sacred lore praising the virtues of ecumenicity!
Let me confess, though it cannot count as much of a criticism, since no symposium can cover every single base, that I regret the lack of any discussion of a few issues relating the religious ideal to the individual person of faith. For instance, it would have been interesting to read something on the Sufi. ideal of the Perfect Heavenly Man (such as we find in Sayyed Hossein Nasr's essay "Who Is Man?" in Jacob Needleman [ed.], The Sword of Gnosis,
Penguin, 1974). Rudolf Bultmann denied that Paul's dialectic of the indicative ("If we live by the Spirit...") and the imperative ("... let us walk by the Spirit") constitutes an appeal to an ethical ideal but is instead a piece of apocalyptic existentialism (e.g., Bultmann, The Old Man and the New). This is an important claim by an important New Testament interpreter. I would love to have seen an essay grappling with Bultmann on the point. And Eli Chesen (Religion May Be Hazardous to Your Health) once raised a caveat not considered here: how does one avoid suppressing personal emotional growth while consciously attempting to shape oneself into conformity with a heteronomous religious character ideal? Erich Neumann, in his Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, raised a very significant question from a Jungian perspective: does the old ethic of perfection actually inculcate the very evil it seeks to suppress? Should we not rather seek to balance the Shadow and the Persona? I regard Neumann's book as a meta-ethical milestone, but it goes unnoticed in the present anthology.
The third section, that on the Ideal Family, strikes me as diffuse and weak in its impact. Anthony J. Guerra's "The Puritans and the Family" is informative, clearing the reputation of the Puritans from charges that they constituted a kind of Orwellian Anti-Sex League. An essay on the history of Roman Catholic teaching on the family is moderately interesting, though not too surprising. (One wonders for whom Joseph Martos thought he was writing: "The doctrinal letters of the New Testament, sometimes referred to as epistles..." "Great Christian leaders and thinkers of the second through the fifth centuries are sometimes referred to as the Fathers of the Church..." Has Martos adapted his essay from old Pre-Cana class notes?)
Jean Higgins's "The Healing Role of Religion in T. S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party" strikes me as a refugee from the days before Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, when literary studies were simply fodder for moralizing, or for author biography. One can overhear the editors choosing the contents for this book: "Well, it sort of fits the theme."
Sections four and five, on the social and environmental ideals, largely smack of a kind of apologetics, as various writers delve deep into Christian and Buddhist traditions to demonstrate, against popular opinion, that these religions do too have something good to say about social and ecological ethics. One often gets the feeling in such essays that their authors are trying to resolve their own crises of faith. They are committed to a particular religious identity as well as to a particular socio-political agenda. They first fear that the two may be incompatible (as Mary Daly, once a Roman Catholic, finally decided, when she gave up working for equality for women in the Church as being as pointless as seeking equality for blacks in the Ku Klux Klan!). But a search of the traditions and documents, usually neglected corners of these, furnishes sufficient proof-texts to ease the conscience. It is clear that these Christians and Buddhists are committed to social and ecological activism. That's what they think is right. Presumably that's what they are going to do. So what is the urgency of digging up a religious license to engage in these things? Do they really need to wait for permission? Are they trying to cover themselves? Are bishops looking askance at them for their social involvements? (As to this last possibility, it has been suggested that John Dominic Crossan's sudden shift from postmodern literary criticism to historical Jesus studies was an apologetical attempt to provide a Jesus-prooftext for social radicalism once the Vatican had distanced itself from Liberation Theology.) Or would they really be prepared to drop their social activism if they could not find scriptural citations? What sort of game is being played here? Nonetheless, it is interesting to see what such investigations turn up, especially the Buddhist creation narrative and theory of govemment which Francisca Cho dredges up from the Agganna Suna.
Michael L. Mickler's "The Ideal Society and Its Realization in the Unification Tradition" is another of Mickler's unflinchingly honest reports to outsiders on the Unification Church and its bumpy evolutionary path. Many religious scholars who have trouble sporting the hats of both historian and believer (see Van Harvey's great 1969 book of that title) could learn a valuable lesson from Mickler, who knows that the best apologetics for one's religious movement is complete and total openness, warts and all.
Victor Ehly's "From Cane Ridge to Human Community" might fit better in the book's first section, the one about the presuppositions of interfaith dialogue, since his intriguing autobiographical reflections suggest what many of us have come to suspect: a la Joseph Campbell, one is perhaps best able to approach and appreciate the riches of the world religions after the disappointment of personal faith. Renan once observed that, in order to write the history of a religion, one must have formerly belonged to the religion and equally one must belong to it no more. Lacking the former, one can never know what makes the religion tick. Without the latter, one has no hope of objectivity. Ehly's disillusionment with Evangelical Revivalism and with Southern Episcopalianism pushed him from any internalized religious identity to an omnivorous interest in all religions-as an outsider. Such is the experience of many of us. But then it is all the more remarkable that most of the contributors to this volume are walking that tightrope between academic agnosticism on one side and faith partisanship on the other. That is a difficult path, and probably the only path forward in interreligious evolution.
Robert M. Price, Drew University
Principled Education. By Mose Durst. San Francisco: Principled Academy, 1998,
"There is no more honorable activity in a democratic culture than educating children toward the ideals of building a virtuous life and a virtuous society." This statement aptly summarizes the focus of Principled Education written by Mose Durst. Principled Education, while not offering any new concepts in the field of character education, provides a heartfelt reminder of the desired purpose of education: intellectual growth and maturity that occurs on the foundation of a moral, loving individual who reflects the image of God.
This latest publication from Mose Durst reflects his research in support of the work of the Principled Academy, a private religious school in the Bay area of Northern California. The Academy, which covers grades K through 9, is based on the concepts outlined in the book. These concepts include "drawing out the full value of a human being who is a child of God, created in the image of God, and who has a divine potential."
The book begins by making a case for the type of character-forming education which was prevalent in American schools and which emphasized the common values of truth, virtue and the common good. Durst then moves on to defining the historical development and key changes which have taken place during the past two centuries in public education. Ultimately, Durst points to the separation of God and our Judeo-Christian values from public education as the true beginning of our social and ethical problems today.
To emphasize his point, Durst devotes a great deal of time and space to the benefits of religious schools, demonstrating that because they unashamedly base their curriculum on moral and religious values as practiced and taught in Judaism, Christianity and most of the worlds' religions, they succeed where public schools fail in producing well-educated students who are virtuous, loving and ethical. This then becomes the springboard to the next several chapters in which Durst focuses on the Principled Academy directly as a clear example of what he calls principled education in action. By using anecdotal experiences and conversations with the Academy's staff, the reader can appreciate the challenges of creating a new school with a relatively innovative curriculum.
Of particular interest is the discussion of special programs and events utilized by the Academy to support their character education efforts. These special programs include daily morning assemblies, special holiday events and themes, and service projects. This was probably the most instructive aspect of the book. An aspect of character education that is sometimes ignored in the literature is the need to manifest one's learning in order to heighten integration and learning. Service learning achieves this integration well. If I were to find fault with the book's insights or the Principled Academy's work, it would be in confining their educational outreach to volunteerism rather than a strong service learning program.
Where this book differs from the usual character education publications is the inclusion of a chapter on "Principled Education at Home." Two families share their experiences with providing strong moral education in the home and the challenges they face daily in their endeavor. While the families draw on Durst's view of principled education as the foundation of their teaching, the families also offer the reader other resources and support activities that they have found to be particularly beneficial-which was most instructive.
The book concludes with a description of how the author uses literature as one means to teach character to his students. Durst then submits a brief annotated bibliography of character education literature that he has found to be most valuable in his work.
In essence, the book is a simplified and brief explanation of the beginning point of Unification Thought's view of education. Though not indulging in the complexities and philosophy of Unification Thought, Principled Education does present the basic message of Unification Ttiought's concept of education of heart and norm. While introductory in its content, it at least supports Unification Thought's contention that education of heart and norm must be the basis of intellectual development and mastery education. In addition, the book also offers a laymen's version of the "principle of creation," one of the primary chapters in Unificationism. Does the book present new insights into Unification Thought? No. Does it clarify some of the complexities of the view of education within Unification Thought? Again, no. Does the book offer new insights into character education? Not really. But then, I don't believe that that is the purpose of the book. For me, the book is more a gentle call to action or, at least an encouragement for our schools to return to a more traditional philosophy of education which embraces our commonly held religious virtues and values.
As an educator, I found the book to be a nice collection of inspirational essays written by a man who profoundly loves God, who loves his students, and who is deeply concerned about the unhealthy direction toward which our society is moving. If you are looking for a more substantial study of the dynamics of character education, I would suggest that you select one of the books from the bibliography provided at the end of the book such as Lickona's or Ryan's books. However, if you are interested in reading how one educator has applied Unificationist philosophy to the field of education and how one school is succeeding in utilizing this philosophy, then Principled Education is one place to start.
Kathy Winings, Unification Theological Seminary
Boundless As the Sea: A Guide to Family Love. By June Saunders. New York: Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, 1997
Why should we read another book on family love? In my opinion, June Saunders would answer that the message of her book is not only innovative for its discussion of the whole spectrum of family love, but also because it contributes to the larger agenda of providing the resources for transforming the present divorce culture into a marriage culture. She is not alone in pursuing this noble endeavor. In fact, she cites a host of like-minded authors, drawing on their experience and imagination for illustrating her presentation, authors like Scott Peck, Erich Fromm, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Judith Wallerstein, Garry Smalley and Stephen Covey, to name just a few. However, it is unmistakable that Boundless As the Sea draws its unique insights into issues of family love from the monograph True Family Values (Pak and Wilson, 1996) in an effort to address a larger audience that is not particularly knowledgeable of Unification teachings.
Based on my reading, I would argue that the primary purpose of Boundless As the Sea is to present a vision of family love to a wider American public that is prepared to appreciate such a vision, based upon a general notion of God and a culturally defined Christianity that seems to be threatened by today's increasingly secular social climate. As can be expected, such an appeal to a general audience may, on the one hand, provide guidance and inspiration for reflecting on one's family relationships, but on the other hand, it may be inadequate for addressing the deeper issues required to solve the decline of contemporary family life. In order to explain why I would hold such an opinion about Saunders' book, I will focus on three aspects of her writing, identifying them as the social vision, the cultural setting and the theological content.
The Social Vision
Here Saunders is at her best. She skillfully paints the great canvas of human relationships by discussing the ideal of true love and how it applies to the individual, the family and the larger society. Based on the new paradigm of true love, we are able to discern the misapprehensions of love that pervade contemporary society. Such a discernment becomes possible based on the belief that as created beings we all have the ideal of true love engraved in our hearts. Therefore, overcoming any form of abusive love involves the process of tapping into one's God-given reservoir of true love.
As Saunders rightly emphasizes, the process of attaining true love is best described as a journey of discovery. The love we are looking for already resides within us as a potential of our original being. It is up to us to unearth this hidden potentiality and to apply the ways of true love in our daily interactions with other people. Thus, Saunders' admonition not to succumb to the pitfall of defining love through the person in front of us is well taken. Such a person-centered love would make us believe that all we need to do in order to enter into a fulfilling, loving relationship is to find the right partner. This mistaken notion propels people into a repetitive cycle of falling in and out of love. As Saunders point out, the real issue is to admit that we simply do not know how to love. We need to develop that still-hidden original faculty of being truly loving.
Once the new paradigm of true love is established, Saunders guides us on that long journey of discovery by examining its implications for marriage, family life and life as citizens. In my view, she is successful in translating for an American audience the basic tenets of True Family Values, specifically its vision of harmonious family relationships. Here, Boundless As the Sea fulfills the pastoral need of providing inspiration and guidance for what many marriage counselors consider to be the first necessary step for healing and improving marital life. Namely, a couple should develop and put down in writing their own vision for their unique marriage and family (see, for example, Harville Hendrix's book Getting The Love You Want).
When the goals for our human relationships are in place, we can focus on the business of applying them in our daily lives. Saunders succeeds in providing for couples a fertile soil of inspiration with which they can create their personalized vision of relationship. However, connecting that vision to our present situation involves the task of accounting for the cultural forces that surround us.
The Cultural Setting
In its discussion of family love, Boundless As the Sea includes a consistent effort to illustrate its message with a wide spectrum of references to our cultural heritage. In fact, over fifty authors are cited who endorse in their own unique ways the basic tenets of true family values. Rather than analyzing the contributions of any particular philosopher, social scientist, educator, psychologist or human rights activist, I will offer some general reflections on the implications of such a pronounced cultural contextualization.
Saunders employs her supporting evidence from culture in two ways. First, we find support from past and contemporary thinkers for her definition of the ideal and vision of family love. The impression is conveyed that core concepts like true love and the four realms of love in the family have been with us all along within our Judeo-Christian heritage. Admittedly, it is a difficult task to find a healthy balance between apologetic arguments and the proclamation of a new expression of truth. That is to say, Saunders succeeds in telling the reader that the presented vision of family love is something that is already imbedded in the existing culture, and thus she can count on receiving the attention of her audience at this initial level of the discussion. However, once the reader is repeatedly told that the book at hand confirms what is common knowledge, his attention may wane. In my view, it would have been a more balanced, and thus more effective, approach to highlight Unificationism's unique religious and social insights into the concept of true love, while at the same time pointing out why past attempts at practicing true love were limited precisely on account of a lack of this new understanding.
Second, towards the end of her book, Saunders discusses true love in action on the level of community and society by means of numerous testimonies about unsung heroes as well as well-known 20th-century saints like Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Indeed, to invoke stories about exemplary men and women has its own merit, providing much needed inspiration for people from all walks of life. However, it seems to me that the argument from culture assumes here a leading role, and the reader is still left with the question how these exceptional people could accomplish such outstanding results in the name of true love. Inspiration may lead us to new resolutions, but a real change in our ability to love comes, in my opinion, from a more profound understanding of truth.
Saunders' definition of true love, namely, "to act from the heart for the benefit of another," can be seen as embracing two dimensions, one transcendent, the other immanent. In other words, "acting from the heart" implies a reality that describes our God-given original nature, thus pointing to the transcendent quality of true love. On the other hand, "for the benefit of another" denotes the direction and result of our action in the temporal world and in this sense carries the quality of immanence. I would argue that Saunders succeeds in demonstrating the immanent dimension of true love through her numerous cultural references. However, she does not sufficiently explain the transcendent aspect of true love. As a result, she leaves the reader to his own devices in his desire to overcome his inability to practice true love.
The Theological Content
In what sense does the transcendent dimension of true love need further explanation? This issue concerns the theological content of Boundless As the Sea. My first impression of the book was its distinctly Christian appeal, as evidenced by its numerous references to the Bible and the presentation of family love as God's original plan for human beings. In particular, the explanation of conjugal love includes the Unification understanding of the ideal of marital love, thus allowing the reader to gain a new perspective on traditional doctrines of the love of God. In all these areas of the theological discussion of family love, Saunders delivers excellent work, to the point where Christians and even non-believers would appreciate her effort.
However, I was struck by a missing theological dimension in her writing. Somehow she does not finish building the bridge for Christians to understand the Unification position on family love. After everything is said, Boundless As the Sea remains distinctly Christian. In my opinion, the reason for such a verdict lies in its adhering to the traditional concept of God. That is to say, if God is only seen as the transcendent Creator who possesses all perfections, and if God's love is seen as an outpouring of the infinite abundance contained in His own being, then there is little room for a genuine responsiveness on the part of God towards the love of human beings. To use the terminology of process theology, Saunders refers to God in terms of monopolar theism. Yet I would maintain that the ideal of true love can be fully realized only through understanding God in terms of dipolar theism, God who is perfectly responsive to created beings.
If true love means "to act from the heart for the benefit of another," we need to examine our hearts first. In other words, we need to make sure that our motivation for loving actions is congruent with the original ideal that God imprinted on our hearts. Once we understand that the original ideal is a genuine partnership of love between God and human beings, we will have discovered the first step in a long process of changing our hearts from selfishness to unselfishness. It is through such a process of transforming our hearts that we are able to benefit others, thus becoming modem day heroes and saints. At that point, we will understand that true love is not something we possess, but it is the power generated by God and humankind mutually submitting to one another. Adding this additional perspective, I can appreciate Boundless As the Sea as a significant contribution to our common journey towards that glorious destination, the ideal of true love.
Dietrich Seidel, Unification Theological Seminary
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