Sunday, September 09, 2007



History Professor Emeritus at UCLA, Alexander Saxton has written a scholarly brilliant book in which he asks the question facing us all: Can the human species survive in face of coinciding ecological limits, runaway population growth, nuclear proliferation, a fragile multi-national market economy, conflicting religious fundamentalisms, Wars, preventive wars, pollution, over fishing? …..the list is frightening and endless. Saxton’s second question is: Can religion provide humans on this planet a collective belief system such as to make the massive changes in consciousness, behavior and life styles necessary to enable humans to live sustainably on the planet without killing each other?

The book is Saxton’s attempt to answer this question, and he is hopeful but very dubious.
Saxton was born in 1919, raised a Catholic and is now a left non-believer and brilliant academic. He has written for Monthly Review, and the Monthly Review Press has published his book.
In his attempts to answer his own questions, Saxton studies the works of other scholars who have examined religion, its successes, and its use by the powerful to maintain power, its conflicts within and without, and its many failures. Saxton is rational and scientific. He seems unconcerned with any field of human wisdom except the field based on science. He does not distinguish between the rigors of the scientific method and rationality.

Saxton says over and over that whatever solution religion comes up with must be credible to the nonbeliever.

At all times, Saxton looks only at institutional religions as contrasted with the private, individual spiritual impulse. They are different. Saxton might find support in spirituality when he finds little or none in institutional religion.

Saxton apparently has not read modern theologians for the actual substance and validity of their writings. See for example:


E. F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed (Harper & Row Publishers Inc. 1979)

Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (The Berkley Publishing Group, A division of Penguin Group [U.S.A.] Inc., 2002)

Daniel Goleman, Destructive Emotions A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama (Bantam Dell, A Division of Random House Inc., 2003)

Alan W. Watts, Myth and Ritual in Christianity (Beacon Press,Boston, 1968)

Dorothee Soulee, Against the Wind: Memoir of a Radical Christian (Forest Press, Minneapolis, 1999)

Sjoerd L. Bonting, Chaos Theology (St. Paul University, Ottawa(2002)

Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992)

Marcus J. Borg, The Heart of Christianityp (Harper, San Francisco, 2003)

Karen Armstrong, A History of God (Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1993)

Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (Bear & Company, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1983)

These modern progressive theologians offer such concepts as the following:

• Nobody can prove the existence or nonexistence of God or of a loving or creative intelligence and energy in the universe. However, most humans have always yearned for a reality beyond ordinary experience, and the yearning seems to be a part of human DNA. For many centuries, most sages have found it meaningful and useful to assume the existence of a loving God. Zen Buddhists put much more emphasis on the teachings of Buddha, but in effect Buddha occupies the place of a loving God. Today many nonbelievers or outright atheists addicted to alcohol find help in the spiritual program of Alcoholics Anonymous by “faking it until they make it,” that is by pretending that God exists and getting on with the Program.

• God is love…at least this is the reliable component that humans can experience. God is in us and acts through each of us. God is neither male nor female and is certainly not a bearded man in white robes sitting in the clouds making angry judgments about us and sending sinners to hell.

• Each of us has the capacity to be ongoing loving co-creators with God if we choose to do so because God is in us.

• God created all humans (along with the rest of creation), loves each of us humans, sinners included, and expects us humans to give each other sincere caring attention as God does. This may be a root of our socialist and constitutional concern with equality and socialist vision of a compassionate political economy.

• The Christian doctrines of Virgin birth and Resurrection from the Dead are not literally or historically true but are nevertheless profoundly meaningful stories and metaphors that give some humans meaning to their existence.

• Evil, sin, hell, the Holocaust, and wars are part of the chaos of the universe much like the entropy in modern physics. A loving God, and loving human co-creators with God, struggle to bring order and love to this chaos among humans and to make meaningful adjustments and accommodations to avoid the effects of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes insofar as is possible. There is a realization that some chaos is a permanent part of the universe co-existing with a loving God as it is in nuclear particles.

• Ancient ritual and ceremony deserve respect for being reminders of the foregoing values and to maintain and preserve the human wisdom so far accumulated.

• Ritual and ceremony, long tested by human experience, can bring order to the irrational dark sides of us humans, which if unchanneled, can lead to mob behavior, National Socialism, holocausts, and insane doctrines such as those of Jim Jones in Guiana.

• Since the word love has so many meanings, progressive sages make clear that the love involved is caring for others, being cared for, sharing, cooperation, and the absence of angry violence.

• Institutional religion does as much harm as it does good. This is because basic insights and teachings have been codified, stripped of meaning, ignored, misinterpreted, or used by rulers to manipulate the people or to achieve secular political power. Religion has been and is the opiate of the masses. The Church continues to be the Chaplain of Empires.

• All privilege and inequality is founded on violence. Violence never achieves any idealistic objective. We humans must become aware that the 5000 year old Myth of Redemptive Violence is false.

At the outset Saxton discusses 3 different definitions of religion:

Religion is BELIEF in spiritual beings
Religion is KNOWLEDGE of spiritual beings
Religion is the IMAGINING OF spiritual beings.

Saxton is not happy with any of the choices, but he finds the first least offensive, but to be effective, it must be credible, and it’s utility scientifically provable.

I have yet another definition: Religion is a FIXED ASSUMPTION that a creative loving intelligence exists in the universe and within each human, and that humans and their communities need and benefit from this postulate.

I lean toward the existence of a loving creative intelligence in the universe (however baffling and mysterious) as being helpful to me personally, but I neither believe in, have knowledge of, nor imagine such a creative loving intelligence. For me, it is a rational very useful fixed assumption upon which to live. I think that I and my fellow humans on the planet are better off if we assume, if we behave and act as if, such a creative loving intelligence exists “out there” but more importantly in each of us. As the Bible says: God is in you.

Example and explanation: In 12 step programs, the person beginning his quest for sobriety is told as the 1st step, to recognize that he is powerless and to turn his will over to God. The person who says he does not believe in God is told to “fake it until you make it.” Thousands of such nonbelieving persons have thus achieved sobriety.
The actual dynamics in a 12 step group are quite human and observable. Assume further with me, that God is love, that God is in each of us, and that each of us has the power to be caring, (and to receive caring), forgiving, understanding and helpful. Believers find this power to be divine. However, nonbelievers also have this power to be caring, (and to receive caring), forgiving, understanding and helpful In the 12 step group, the person seeking sobriety looks cautiously around the group and receives this caring help of “God” in the faces of each other group member.

Active nonviolence, as taught in the training manuals, and in the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi proceeds on the fixed assumption that there is a kernel of decency, the ability to care and to receive caring, in every human.

It is this human capacity for caring, and to receive caring that is foreign to the scientific method, and to Marxian “scientific” socialism. The human need for this quality is completely rational. It is not irrational. We humans desperately yearn for this quality from our government, from our political parties, from our friends and our families. We yearn for communities where we can give and receive caring.
This capacity for caring is honored, respected and promoted in each of the major faiths.

The point of all of this is that a worldwide mass political movement could be based on the recognition of this non rational value of caring. Whatever else the fundamentalists in each faith believe, at the core of their faiths, they share a need and recognition of this value, with the rest of us.

My scientist PhD. daughter is a ferocious atheist, but she has at least as much capacity for caring as any believer. So do atheists, nonbelievers, and cynics.

The core of each religion offers a vision of a better life on earth (as well as in heaven) and thus offers a strategy for penetrating the trance imposed on us by the oligarchy.

We all, believers, nonbelievers, and fundamentalists, share respect for some version of the Golden Rule.

At some level, we all wish to sustain and preserve our planet home for practical as well as spiritual reasons.

We can all share the discipline of active nonviolence and recognize the falseness of what Walter Wink labels The Myth of Redemptive Violence.

While institutional religion will not be on the cutting edge of a planet wide political movement, those with a private subjective spirituality, theologians and sages could be.

It is important to realize that one’s spirituality and one’s view of his own religion, are subjective and private. They are not, and cannot be, subjects for rational debate in the civic arena. There is immense wisdom in a strict separation of church and state. Rabbi Michael Lerner and his political movement, The Network of Spiritual Progressives, have not learned this. His members never do anything, but debate endlessly exactly what their mission is.

Sages and theologians of each faith might be crucial to the survival of humans on this planet. They should take the lead and publicly teach the golden rule and the value of caring and receiving caring at the root of each major faith.

September 9, 2007

Doug Page, Tucson AZ

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