Outstretched Wings of the Spirit--Day Forty-five

The Forty-fifth Day
(Good Friday, April 19, 2019)

Religion May Become Fiendish

“There is a fairly pernicious feature in the degeneration of religion. The immediate objective in any social enterprise always involves a stand in relation to persons, for and against. When the horizons of our religion narrow themselves down to some one specifically formulated objective, all the driving power of our religious loyalty may become focused upon persons, forsome and against others. Then the persons who are opposed to us cease to be human in our eyes. They become devils. They become the incarnation of all that is obstructive to the forward movement of history and the fulfillment of highest values.

“Religion often takes this form in times of war. But never does it become so evil and degraded in this respect as in the great struggles to change the status quo on the one side, and defend it from change on the other. Under such conditions a religion that is operative butt unconscious, uncriticized, uncorrected by the insights of history, the fellowships and the meditations of cultivated religion, may become fiendish. It becomes directed by social differentiation—against persons and for person. Then the most terrible persecutions, the most unbelievable cruelties, can arise. They are unbelievable except when we understand the psychological principles of a religion that has become fiendish, by reason of narrowing its devotion to a dauntless and unswerving drive towards some immediate social objective . . . No religion at all is better than that unconscious religion which becomes demonic. Yet without the sustaining devotion and driving loyalty of a religion, social reconstruction with all its difficulties  and sacrifices cannot be carried through.” (Wieman & Wieman)

Rabbi Jesus, during the period we call Holy Week, found himself confronting religions and nationalisms that had become idolatrous. Yet, he continued to believe in a God of all-conquering love, even in the hour of his own betrayal. True religion will always look for God’s judgment upon even our noblest endeavors, and will place itself under that judgment at whatever cost.. (Donald Szantho Harrington)


God, help us to catch the vision of endless growth of meaning through creative mutuality in an ever evolving world. Let it stand in judgment upon all of our small victories and partial accomplishments. Amen.


The sky has gathered the flowers of sunset,
The earth is red with dew of slaughter.
The shores are ringed with the steel of onset,
And darkness covers the weaponed water.

The world-tree sickens beyond all knowing,
The worm is wasting the leaves that wreathe it.
The bough is drying; the sap is slowing;
For hatreds gnaw in the hells beneath it.

On one sole ground will the world-tree flourish,
On earth unarmored against its bearing,
Its glories free and its strength to nourish
The world-wide lands in a common sharing.

In kinship only, with all earth gardened,
The ravished leaf may be stayed in thinning
The stony ground at the root unhardened,
The boughs be green for a new beginning.

—Ridgely Torrence (Hymns for the Celebration of Life, no. 197)

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.