The Forty-forth Day
(Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019)
No Religion is Better Than Demonic Religion
“Religion degenerates when not progressively redirected and amplified by an adequate philosophy and helpful religious fellowship, by meditation, and the religious insights of history. The manner of its degeneration is peculiarly pernicious. Nothing can be so evil as the noblest and most potent interests of human life when they go wrong. This is especially true of religion.
“One way in which religion constantly degenerates if not corrected by criticism and cultivation is to become narrow and demonic. It becomes demonic when some specific objective of endeavor which is sufficiently near to actual conditions to be within the range of practical achievement assumes the role of the supremely worthful for all human living. When this objective commands the sovereign devotion of a life and is served as though it were the final and supreme good for all history, we have a very great evil. The noblest propulsions, utmost zeal and greatest powers of human life are perverted and degraded by being harnessed to anything so low and so full of evil as any such objective always must be held subordinate to the ultimate objective which is far more spacious, and more lofty than these. In normative religion this supreme objective must eternally reach beyond the meanings and values which the individual is able to comprehend in definite formulation. Nothing short of such vastness and reach in the mastering loyalty of a life can save religion from being demonic, that is to say, destructive of the most precious values of life.” (Wieman & Wieman)
When better than Holy Week for us to remind ourselves of our unending temptation to judge our own particular way as the only good way for all, to make of limited objectives the City of God’s goal. It is this which leads to crucifixions and divisive hatreds where there should be all-redeeming love. (Donald Szantho Harrington)
God, dear God, never let us forget our tendencies to label our goals Yours, and set ourselves up as God. Keep us humble, teachable, open, ever-growing. Amen.
O life, that maketh all things new,
The blooming earth, our thoughts within!
Our pilgrim feet, wet with thy dew,
In gladness hither turn again.
From hand to hand the greeting flows,
From eye to eye the signals run.
From heart to heart the bright hope glows,
The seekers of the Light are one.
One in the freedom of the truth,
One in the joy of paths untrod.
One in the soul’s perennial youth,
One in the larger thought of God.
The freer step, the fuller breath,
The wide horizon’s grander view,
The sense of life that knows no death,
The Life that maketh all things new.
—Samuel Longfellow (Hymns of the Spirit, no. 416)
(Hymns for the Celebration of Life, no. 54)
Donald Szantho Harrington wrote the Lenten meditation manual Outstretched Wings of the Spirit: On Being Intelligently and Devotedly Religiousbased on the theology of Henry Nelson Wieman and Regina Westcott Wieman. It was published by the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1980.