miriam berg
June, 2007

In a discussion group at the Berkeley Friends Meeting in 2006, the leader asked us to reflect on what the basis of our own faith was, and then to share that out of the silence. I took notes of what I remembered that I had said, and added some things later, in the form of an outline. This essay is an attempt to expand that outline in order to explain more fully what i have come to believe in my life. (But i will not get into the question of what is faith and what is belief. Everyone knows what faith is and what belief is and i think it is hopeless to try to construct a precise definition.)


Years ago, it seems like it was in a previous lifetime, i was in a weekly discussion group called Channing Club, or Ex-Channing II as we called ourselves. (We had been kicked out of the Unitarian Church and the Unitarian Fellowship because we were all too old, well and far past college age and in their eyes the name Channing Club was reserved for their college age group. So we called ourselves Ex-Channing the second, since in a previous generation of the club the members had all resigned en masse because they felt they all knew each other too well and that was keeping new members from coming in. So we called that generation of the club Ex-Channing I.)

What does that have to do with my beliefs, you wonder? Well, it seems necessary to sketch the background of my intellectual incubation, which was certainly more in Channing Club than anywhere else in my life. I first attended a Channing meeting in February, 1956, coincidentally the same month in which i first attended a Friends' meeting for worship, and i attended for many, many years until about 1983 when i decided that they had fallen to a level of merely carping at each other's beliefs and assertions, and all trying to one-up each other or shout each other down. But in the 1960s it was a vibrant and exciting discussion group, and one of the most important activities in my life. I had been elected president in the fall of 1957, and for a couple of years i scheduled many interesting speakers, and the meetings were all well attended. In 1959 a new election was held and a guy named Jack Downing was elected president, but he kept turning to me for suggestions about speakers. In 1960 Dick Poole was elected permanent president. After we were kicked out in 1961 we met for several years in different people's apartments, and then after i got married and lived in a house with my family on McGee Street in Berkeley, we met there every Sunday night for several years. Then I moved to a new home, and now had three children, and my spouse never came to the meetings, so Channing went back to meeting in people's homes throughout the 1970s.

Now that's even more background history, with essentially nothing to do with the basis for my faith, except that it was the vessel in which my ideas were developed and tested. And while that year 1956 was a critical point in my life, when i flunked out of college, and had to leave the students' co-op dorm where i had been active, and left the college Christian Science Students' Organization because i had decided that i didn't really believe in Christian Science anyway, and got into apartment living for the first time, and got a full-time job for the first time, and went to my first Channing meeting and my first Friends' meeting, to say nothing of getting into a relationship for the first time, i find that i want to go back even further, to those ideas which had crystallized in my mind by the time i was 18 and came to Cal and to Berkeley to live, probably for the entire rest of my life.


My mother was a Christian Scientist and raised her four children in that religion. Up until i left home i think i had become imbued with a feeling, or a faith or a belief that Christian Science was the only correct religion, and the rest of humanity was merely mistaken or deluded, and i had taken the belief in God for granted. That was severely challenged during my first three college years, when i discovered that there really were people who didn't believe in God called atheists, and people who said they were agnostics, and people who didn't believe in Jesus and people who thought that Jesus never existed at all. While i was in high school i had somewhat humorously denied that there was such a thing as an atheist, because it seemed clear to me that everyone had to believe in something, whether they called it God or not. But i found out that there really were people who didn't believe that there was any supernatural being who was supervising all creation. And now as my life winds to its close i find that i have become one of them, as i have written more about in a different essay called "A Disproof of All Proofs of God". (There is a statement collected by William James in his book "Varieties of Religious Experience", Lecture IV & V, "The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness", from an atheistic person whom James somewhat derides, but i find much in that person's statement with which i agree.)


But by the age of 18 i had discovered two principles which i called the "two laws of woodcraft" because i had read them in a book about hiking and camping, and i felt they could be used in every activity of life:
Rule I. Use whatever is available (i.e. cook on stones if you find stones, or build a forked stick trestle, or bake eggs on top of the hot coals, or something else)
Rule II. Always leave a pile of wood for the next camper (so that at the end of their long hike they won't have to ather wood, or at least not as much)
And I also saw that these two rules were correlated with the two commandments which Jesus commended, which are however actually from Moses:
(Deut. 6:4-5) Love God with all your strength and heart and mind and soul
(Lev. 19:18) Love your neighbor as yourself.
And i continue to believe or feel that the two laws of woodcraft or commandments from Jesus are worth remembering more as a belief in their truth and usefulness than as a rule of thumb for my own living, as long as you realize that "God" is a metaphor and not a supernatural being.


The other principle which i had arrived at by the same age arose in the following manner, at least as far as i can remember consciously formulating it to myself or to anyone else:
It was during my last few days of high school, and the graduating class had a get-together called the Senior Breakfast, and i went to pick up a classmate named John Laugenour who was perhaps the most articulate and oratorical member of our class. Before we started to go to the breakfast we were talking about our philosophies of life, and John described his as being Moderation, with all the dramatic flourish which was characteristic of him. I can't remember particularly having tried to decide on a philosophy of life before that, but i responded to his declaration by asserting that mine was Indifference, or a code of indifference: If good things happen, well; if bad things happen, well again. Or perhaps Well, well, well. Anyway i have seen myself acting according to this code or principle of indifference ever since. As Rudyard Kipling says in one of his poems, If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same...

I know that being indifferent to things is looked down upon by many, because it implies not caring for anyone or anything. But in my recent years i have come to see that what i really meant is the same as what is called Stoicism, which is better explained as, Accept all things equally, epitomized in this elegant statement from Epictetus, one of the great Stoic teachers:
Take fast hold of what is thine; and do not seek to take what is another's;
Use what is given thee; and do not covet what is given to another;
Yield easily and willingly that which is taken from thee, giving thanks for the time thou hast had it in thy service.
But i did not discover the writings of Epictetus for another half-century!


There was a time in the history of Channing Club in the 1960s when each of us took an evening to explain what our own philosophical beliefs were. I can remember Ray Nelson saying that his was, Trying to get to the bottom of things; and Bob Furnbach saying that his was, There was an "independent power source" which he was tapped into. At the time i thought he meant some sort of electric power source, but in later years i came to understand that he meant power more in the sense of the strength and ability to handle situations as they came up, but by implication from a divine source. My own presentation was of my belief that, One cannot be sure of anything: that is, we can't know what is really true, and therefore we have to be always open to the possibility of finding out that what we think is true is false. I don't remember how i came to believe that, but that's what i thought by the mid-1960s, and still think. This led me in the direction of what used to be called Logical Positivism, and even earlier, 2500 years earlier, the philosophy of the Atomists, Leucippus and Democritus, as well as the man i regard as my personal tutor in Logical Positivism, Buzzy Turner, a Berkeley resident or Walter S. Turner, to give him his full name.


At some point i had heard the phrase Logical Positivism and it seemed to correlate with my belief that one couldn't be sure of anything and with my code of indifference. Since then i have learned that the technical meaning of Logical Positivism is the axiom, Every statement is either true or false or meaningless. This was promulgated early in the 20th century (before I was born), but in the ensuing years it came into disfavor because it couldn't be decided whether the axiom itself was true or false, and if it was neither then it was meaningless. A mind-boggling concept! But i have continued to call myself a Logical Positivist, with the explanation that what i mean by that is, I do not have to accept anything as true without evidence. And this too i have come to see is just a restatement of Democritus' assertion in the 6th century BCE that "Nothing exists but atoms and empty space; all else is merely opinion." So i am in good company in my belief that i do not have to accept anything without evidence, if everything i am asked to accept is merely opinion. If there IS evidence, then i may accept it tentatively, until there is enough evidence for certainty. However, as my friend Buzzy Turner used to say, There is NEVER enough evidence for absolute certainty. Isaac Azimov also promulgated this precept in one of his last novels Foundation and Earth, called the Skeptics' Creed:
Accept only what you are forced to accept by reasonably reliable evidence, keeping that acceptance tentative pending the arrival of further evidence.

Buzzy once spoke at Channing Club, and his topic was that you should never take more than three sentences to explain yourself, because your listeners would have let their minds wander by that time, or simply gotten lost in what you were trying to explain. That precept has also stayed with me and has helped me try to stay brief and concise whenever i try to explain something. Buzzy also wrote an essay published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology entitled "The Two Types of Scientific Conjecture". I have called it the Type I/Type II hypothesis hypothesis, since it was about the observation (written about by many others as well) that there are two kinds of hypotheses, which Buzzy called Type I and Type II. Type I hypotheses are those which can be experimentally tested, such as whether when wood burns the mass afterward is the same as before it was burnt; but type II hypotheses are those which can never be experimentally tested, such as the existence of God, whether there are really such things as the ego and the id, or whether parallel universes exist.


But the specific philosophy which has come to direct my behavior since i discovered it in 1973 is the teaching of Ken Keyes, Jr., which he called the Living Love Way to Higher Consciousness. It may be summarized in the following three precepts:
a. Accept everything emotionally.
b. Uplevel your addictions into preferences.
c. Love everyone unconditionally, including yourself.

The first of these seems to be just another way of defining Stoicism or of my code of indifference, the emphasis being on accepting things on an emotional level even if you want to change them. One of the first times i ever heard Ken speak, he spoke of this, and i (being younger and brasher than i am now) challenged him on it and asked how you could accept all of the bad things that are happening in the world. I have never forgotten his reply, and can still picture his impish expression as he looked at me, "You can work as hard as you want to change things, but you don't need to make yourself emotionally upset over them!"

The second one is merely a restatement of Gautama Buddha's teaching: The ending of desire is the ending of sorrow. What Buddha meant by "desire" is the same as what Ken called "emotional addiction", the demand or craving for something or for things to be a certain way, and what Buddha called the "ending of sorrow" is the same as Ken's postulate that the removal of your addictions would enable you to become inwardly peaceful and contented. It was natural for Ken to derive this as one of his basic principles because he himself had been a pupil of the Tibetan Buddhist Chogyam Trongpa. He used the word "preference" in order to indicate that you did not have to give up your enjoyment of anything which you discovered you were emotionally addicted to; you just enjoyed it if it came, and didn't sweat it if it didn't.

The third of the three principles (Love everyone unconditionally) was new to me when i met Ken Keyes, but after watching him and the other people living at the Living Love Ashram in Berkeley during the 1970s i became convinced of its ultimate desirability, if not its absolute truth, because of my belief that one cannot be sure of anything and the Atomist principle that nothing exists but atoms and empty space and all else is merely opinion. Therefore i have striven to practice that principle ever since, but i am still far from its constant practice as i saw it in Ken, or as far as i was then. Ken's amazing acceptance and love for all people was even all the more amazing because he had had polio some years earlier and was a paraplegic, and depended on everyone around him to be taken care of.

Ken composed a set of twelve affirmations which he called the Twelve Pathways, which i've used as a guide for my behavior ever since, and he analyzed our behavior and addictions in terms of seven levels of consciousness which correspond roughly to the seven chakras of Hindu teaching. He referred to them as:
i) the security center;
ii) the sensation center;
iii) the power center;
iv) the love center;
v) the cornucopia center;
vi) the self-awareness center; and
vii) the cosmic consciousness center.
He also taught a method of increasing your consciousness level which he called the Instant Consciousness Doubler which is simply telling yourself, "Experience everything that anyone says or does as though you yourself had said or done it." I have written several rounds on this precept which always help me to keep it in mind. (I have also written a round for each of the Pathways!) Ken had also developed an exercise which he called "Consciousness Focusing" to help you uplevel your addictions into preferences, but i was never good at it.

The third precept is the hardest. Love everyone??! You gotta be kidding! When someone asked Ken Keyes, Can you love even Hitler? he replied, Well, I never knew Hitler, but I would remember to love him as another human being even as I tried to stop his harmful acts. So I have to keep remembering, that love doesn't mean that I have to let them DO everything, especially harmful things, but I have to keep loving them as another human being. That's the same thing that Gandhi did all the time as well, and that's what made him so powerful.


Earlier i said that i attended my first Quaker meeting in the very same month in which i went to my first Channing meeting, and i have continued attending Friends' meetings ever since, and have now become one of the most active members of the Berkeley Society of Friends. I have great veneration and admiration for the founders of the Quakers, George Fox, Margaret Fell, William Penn, Isaac Penington, and many others, as well as for the dozens of Quakers i have known since i began attending the meetings. So it is a bit ironic that i have not yet described a single principle which is distinctively Quaker in its origin! The meetings for worship held in silence in which anyone may nevertheless speak if they are moved, the method of conducting business meeting where no vote is taken but unity of all members is sought, the testimonies of equality of all persons, simplicity of life, rigorous honesty even if it's to my own apparent disadvantage, and refusal to participate in war or preparations for war and seeking to reconcile those who are at enmity with each other; all these both as understood by Friends and as found in the teachings of the man called Yeshua (Jesus) are my understandings also and have guided my actions over the last 50 years, But when i look for my philosophic principles all of these Quaker teachings and practices seem to follow from the principles i have already stated, and i do not attribute them to something called "God" as most Friends do (tho' i'm not the only atheist among them).

So most of my Quaker life i have restrained myself from expressing any belief in God, since i always felt that it didn't matter whether you believed in God or not, what mattered was how you lived your life. And many times when i did tell people that i didn't believe in a God they were shocked. One of them in whose house i lived for a time was both shocked at that and astonished when i told him i was not a mystic. (I have never felt that i was a mystical person or even that mystical experience had any validity for anyone other than the person who felt that they had had such an experience. I even wrote one of my essays on the subject, called "Why I Am Not a Mystic".) He then tried to convince me that i was really a mystic after all, and that I just didn't see it. So i thought it over and coined a label for myself which i explained to him. I told him i was a "visionary pragmatist". By that i mean that i am basically a pragmatist, anything is all right if it works, if it doesn't work then i'll try something else; but i am also a visionary because i can catch glimpses of how things could be better, and i can try pragmatically to bring them about. My friend never accepted my description of myself that way, however.


Another refreshing and reassuring statement i am very fond of was coined by Frank Herbert in his science fiction novel, "Dune". It goes as follows:
Fear is the little death, the mind-killer.
I will face my fear. I will let it pass over me and through me, and when I turn to see where it has gone, there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert called it "The Litany against Fear", and i have used it ever since as a great help in upleveling my security or first level addictions into preferences.


At another point in my life i lost touch with Ken Keyes and the ashram because they moved away from Berkeley. That was in 1977, when everything was turned topsy-turvy in my life: I left my marriage, I was fired from my job with the University of California, my term as clerk of the Meeting was over, I quit teaching at the Ashkenaz in Berkeley, my friend Caroline moved back to England, besides Ken moving the Living Love Ashram to Tennessee. But i still needed help in dealing with my sexual addictions, mostly on the sensations level, and by good fortune i found and became active in a twelve-step program called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous which uses the principles developed by Alcoholics Anonymous to help us deal with our sex and love addictions. It helped me find a great deal of freedom from my sexual addictions, which i won't go into here, but they were never eliminated entirely. But while i approve of the twelve steps, and even use them to gauge my future behavior to some extent they have never meant as much to me as the Twelve Pathways written by Ken Keyes nor did i see the progress that people in SLAA made on themselves as more than the unwitting application of Ken's principles. Amusingly, I felt that that was also true of Werner Erhard's system called E-S-T. However, i did discover one set of precepts in one of the AA newsletters, called the Anyway philosophy which i will give in full here:
1. People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway.
3. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
4. The world is full of conflict. Choose peace of mind anyway.
5. Honesty and transparency may make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.
6. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
7. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway.
8. Give the world the best you can and you may get hurt. Give the world the best you can anyway.
9. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
                                     -- V.R.M.

I have always loved these statements, and they seem to me to be derived or derivable from the Living Love Way to Higher Consciousness. The 6th one especially stood me in good stead a few years ago when it seemed that everything that i had done in my life was being destroyed or at least abandoned. The third principle of Epictetus also helped me endure that experience, his direction for us to Yield easily and willingly that which is taken from you, giving thanks for the time you have had it in your service.


But to bring this lengthy monologue to a conclusion, i see the remaining task before me as seeking to reach the state of unconditional love taught and exemplified by Ken Keyes, and also expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as, Be ye therefore all-inclusive in your love, even as God includes all in his love. This is Dryden Phelps' translation of the Jesusian statement which the King James translators rendered as "Be ye therefore perfect..." because the Greek word teleoi means whole or complete, and "perfect" has a value judgment inherent in it. (I don't mind using the word "God" in a sentence by way of metaphorical expression, even though i don't believe that there is any such being. It's just a way of referring to whatever there is if anything which is greater and better than we are. Even if there isn't, as Pascal said, it's better to believe in it than not to believe in it, because it makes us or can make us better people. It is noteworthy in this context, however, that Buddha himself had no place for God in his system or practices. He didn't need it. And once when Ken Keyes was asked where was God in his system, he told us, When all the wise men of the world get together and agree about God, he'll be happy to go along with them; but we didn't need it in the Living Love way.)

So to try to summarize in a nutshell, here are the philosophical principles which i have accepted and tried to live according to in my life:
Don't be too certain of anything; it's all merely opinion, including the statement that Nothing exists but atoms and empty space. (But see George Green's list of things which he knew for certain!)
Accept everything emotionally. The Twelve Pathways are a great help in attaining this state of acceptance.
Uplevel your addictions into preferences. Again, the Twelve Pathways can help you see your addictions and to turn them into preferences.
Love everyone unconditionally. This is so hard, because we don't know everybody, but we just have to keep working at it.
The Instant Consciousness Doubler: Experience everything that anyone says or does as though you yourself had said or done it.
The Anyway philosophy: whatever you do that is good, keep doing it even if no one sees or cares, and even if someone actively opposes you.

And i will close by observing that all of these precepts are really just common sense, if you stop to think about them, and by expressing the hope that writing all of this out will help someone lead a better and happier life some day.