Published December, 1978

I  had rather a novel introduction to the deeper speculations about theological matters. I can remember when I was about sixteen walking along the street and looking at the sky and wondering Is there really a God up there watching me? Then when I was about 18 a friend was trying to persuade me of the necessity of "giving my soul to God" and among other things he warned me that there were many "atheists" that I would meet when I went to college. But I laughed and said, Nonsense, I don't believe in atheists, even if I'm not sure about God. Everyone has to believe in something whether they call it God or not.

But sure enough when I arrived at the University of California at Berkeley I discovered that there really were atheists, and I was nearly demolished by them. My first college roommate was a hard-bitten atheist, and after a few weeks of my offering "proofs" of the existence of God (based largely on A. Cressy Morrison's book called "Man Does Not Stand Alone") and receiving his counters and refutations, I retreated and for many years refused to promulgate any ideas about God at all.

At first I searched the library for books which would help me in these demonnstrations. I remember "The Soul of The Universe" by Gustav Stromberg and "Human Destiny" by LeComte DuNuoy as books which gave me support in my bewilderment without either convincing me absolutely or giving me the arguments I needed against the atheism I had discovered. I also read "Man Stands Alone" by Julian Huxley, an early statement of the atheistic position and the obvious precursor to the book by A. Cressy Morrison, without being convinced by him either.

It was during this early period of college life that I first encountered the notion that Jesus never really lived. So I was also searching for books which would prove that he actually had existed and of course I found none. (There is no proof.) But this started what has been a lifelong interest in the historical Jesus, beginning with the reading of Bruce Barton's book "The Man Nobody Knows" and culminating with my attendance at three of the summer seminars at Four Springs, California, on "The Records of the Life of Jesus", sponsored by the San Francisco Guild for Psychological Studies.

On another side of the picture, i encountered for the first time the "missionary" evangelical or proselyting Christian, whose ideas I found equally unacceptable. I could not rationally accept the Bible as the dictated "word of God" nor could I see any truth in the belief that Jesus "was" God, or that he was the "Lamb of God" whose blood had washed us free of our sins. I had been brought up in Christian Science which while in some ways a fringe religion is a deeply committed and putatively rational system of thought and the Christian Scientists I had known had always been loving and inwardly peaceful. Furthermore they do not proselytize nor does the religion expound on the divinity of Jesus nor any redeeming quality in his being crucified. To Christian Scientists, Jesus is merely the Way-shower, that's all; he "redeems" us by showing us how God prefers that we believe and act.

I  discovered Quakerism in February, 1956; the days are etched in my memory. It was a time of great upheaval in my life; I had flunked out of engineering school and had been growing increasingly convinced that I did not accept Christian Science, no matter how much I respected the people I knew in it. Only the month before I had concluded my questionable term as music director for the student Christian Science Organization. It had been controversial because I was not a member of the Mother Church in Boston, and one of the rules was that the chairman of a committee was supposed to be a member. But I had had a growing realization that I was not at heart a Christian Scientist, and that last term I knew was the last.

But it is slightly humorous that I had always thought of "Quakers" as some kind of heathens or pagans, having had absolutely no exposure to them in my life before. My landlady had described the meeting for worship to me while we were working in her garden, and it appealed to me, I think because of the similarity to Christian Science testimony meetings. So I attended, for three weeks in a row feeling a little unsure of myself, and of what to do in the silence. I remember bringing "Science and Health" to read during the second meeting I attended. The warm orange glow from the windows of the Berkeley Meeting House the quiet rows of wooden folding chairs sparsely filled with people, and the serious concerned looks on the faces of those people remain as my first memories of Quaker meeting.

But at this same time I became associated with the Unitarian Church in Berkeley, chiefly or exclusively in the college age young people's group. As a religion Unitarianism had little effect on me; it seemed mostly a place where people who liked intellectual approaches to religion could gather to share ideas. Indeed, one member of the college age group described it as based on an agreement to disagree. But it was mostly the young people's discussion group which held me and in which I participated for many years, until June of 1972.

During the late fifties I also discovered Alan Watts and Zen Buddhism and Lao-Tse and Taoism. The Tao Te Ching is still one of my favorite little books, in fact I regard it as a distillation of absolute truth; it contains no myths or doubtful stories or speculative interpretations or apocalyptic and unfulfilled predictions. And I was inspired by listening to Alan Watts (I have read very little of him); I attended his lectures and workshops and found him a compelling and even enlightened man but not a founder of a religion.

For several years I only attended Friends' meeting for worship sporadically, every three months or so, maybe more or less. But it had not completely gripped me even though I found myself getting involved in Quaker protests against bomb testing, and in vigils at San Quentin prison on the eves of executions, and in draft protests. Then in 1960 in the middle of the fall semester while I was teaching the primary class at the Unitarian Church, it came to me that what I really wanted to do was to attend meeting for worship regularly. So as of December 1960 I became a regular attender, and in 1964 after four years which included teaching in the First Day School and participating in the Adult Discussion Group I joined Berkeley Meeting, prodded by Harriet Schaffran and Caroline Estes.

When I joined I remember Caroline Estes asking me What do you think about God? And I hedged, saying God is a term which is used to refer to that which is most universal and eternal and beyond description; it refers to life, and to love, and to truth and to unity. Caroline laughed. and said, You dodged the question. I laughed also and answered, Yes I did. I don't remember the rest of that discussion with my visiting committee, but I remember well the many times during the last twenty years when I have asked a person, What do you mean by God, when they asked me, Do you believe in God. As I have written in one of these essays, I didn't believe in God but neither did I disbelieve in God; I just hadn't found any description which I could accept and it seemed to me that everyone's notion was a little bit different and most of them were also a little bit hypothetical or invented.

In 1963 Walter S. "Buzzy" Turner died, a man who had a profound effect on my philosophical attitude. He would have called himself a strict "logical positivist" which means that only those things can be accepted as true which can be verified by sensory evidence. To this day that proposition still governs me; if there is no outward evidence of something, then it is merely a hypothesis, and remains so until some evidence is discovered. So when people tell me, There is a God I ask, What is the evidence, and of course, the only "evidence" people have is their inner feelings which are unseeable and virtually unapprehendable by me, although I can grant that people do have inner feelings.

Perhaps I can restate more precisely what my logical positivist" premise is. It is this: Only those things can be accepted as true which someone else other than the disputant can independently verify or perceive in his own experience. Thus if someone claims, The sun sets in the west, I or anyone else can observe this independently of the claimant. If someone says, I enjoy Bach's music or boogie-woogie, or the Beatles, I can observe his behavior and can at least attest to the fact that he looks like he enjoys it (but of course he could be acting). But if someone tells me that the Bible is the Word of God, dictated by God, and that he knows it because of some inner experience which he claims he has had, I can on'ly attest to the fact that he thinks that the Bible is the word of God, or words from God; but whether it actually is is unproven by any of his claims of inner experience, and quite possibly unprovable and as far as I am concerned is not even a legitimate hypothesis because no evidence of any kind can be given to me. The fact that the Bible may claim to be such (which it does not), or that hundreds and thousands of people have thought so, does not prove that claim; all this proves is that hundreds and thousands of people have thought so.

So much for the Bible; one of these essays deals with this question more pertinently. As for the question of God, I doubt that anyone today believes in a manlike creatu're living in the clouds; yet it may be that many people today believe that there exists an invisible omnipresent force or spirit (a supergigantic ghost?) which dictates or governs everything that happens in some inexplicable way. Now since many things happen which we cannot explain, and even happen regularly in that way, it is tempting to say, God exists, and makes these things happen thus-and-so. But surely this is just as much an anthropomorphic notion as that of the white-haired gentleman sitting on the clouds; and surely it is reasonable to assert that the occurrence of unexplained phenomena.does not prove that a person or spirit or being is directing or causing those phenomena. So all we can conclude is that there are unexplained phenomena; and our "explanation" which posits "God" is no more than an hypothesis purporting or pretending to account for those phenomena. Even the notion of "God" as a non-causative force of goodness or love fails to be convincing; the fact that people occasionally manifest those qualities does not prove that those qualities exist as an entity outside ourselves, or even as some kind oĢ network or etheric substance joining us all together. And even if it could be shown that those properties arose in some organic way, as our brains all think thoughts and our hearts make us feel good there would be no need to worship such an organ.

Nevertheless I do not find it difficult to use the designation "God" whenever I am sure that it conveys the meaning which I intend, any more than I worry about using the term "Thor" when speaking about lightning or "Diana" when speaking about the moon or "Neptune" when speaking about the fictitious ruler of the seas. These terms are all useful but figurative ways of picturing aspects of existence in some kind of whole or complete way. And "God" serves as a useful label for that which is permanent and pervasive despite man including that which underlies the moral imperatives which we come to learn and believe in and teach. But to say that there is something permanent and pervasive is not to personify it, nor does the existence and living up to of moral imperatives prove that they were "enacted" by some supeOrnatural agency in the same way in which we pass laws in Congress. Moreover, to say that there is something permanent and pervasive is not to say that that thing "speaks" to us in words or even feelings. Such ideas are mere anthropomorphic projection.

Then again it has come to me often that God (whatever it is) does not care if we believe in it or not. All of the great religions (except evangelical Christianity) teach that conduct is more important than belief; and if it mattered what we believed then everyone who did not believe would be struck dead at once or in some other way. And it has also struck me that God must not care that much what we do, either, since there is no evidence that those who violate what we consider to be the "moral imperatives" suffer in any way from that violation, and in fact often seem to prosper, outwardly at any rate. And it even sometimes seems to me that God must be as puzzled as we are about what to do about the world situation!

But I am straying from the more personal account of the development of my religious ideas. To continue that account, during my early years of attending meeting I never asked, Was this or that message or impulse "from God" or, Did I feel closer to "God" or the "inner light" in the silence; I just enjoyed the calm and peace of the silence and the warmth and insight of the various messages and admired the people in the Meeting who seemed to me great and stable and reliable people. In no other group have I perceived such steadiness and conviction and honesty and concern as I have among Quakers. So finally I joined and I have continued to become more and more active in the life of the Meeting.

In 1961 or thereabouts I began work on a book about the historical Jesus as reported in the Gospels, inspired by the summer seminars which I had attended and the writings of Henry Burton Sharman, who originated the seminars. I have worked on and off on this project since, interspersed with periods of discouragement because it has seemed to me that people's minds are made up about Jesus, not based on the actual contents of the Gospels but on what they have been taught or have heard or what they have read about the Gospels. One of the conclusions which I have drawn from reading the Gospels is that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah; but I find that everyone "knows" that he made that claim without ever having examined the Gospels, even if they don't actually believe that claim. But nowhere in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) does Jesus say "I am the Messiah"; when asked, he answers neither yes nor no; and he tells his disciples not to spread that idea around. Another conclusion I have drawn is that he never predicted that he would rise from the dead, either as a sign or for any other reason; but everyone also believes that he did so predict. But the proof that he did not is his conclusion to the parable of the rich man and the beggar: If people hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded EVEN IF SOMEONE ROSE FROM THE DEAD. These two conclusions which can be factually supported by comparative study of the Gospels are crucial to any real understanding of the historical Jesus.which seems as hard to find as his proverbial pearl of great price.

In the interim since I began the book, and since it is not yet completed, I have written several short essays expounding these views of and about Jesus, some of which appeared in "The Editors", a magazine which I published in 1965, and some written later, and herein collected together.

In 1973 came another of the great upheavals in my life when my job moved to Sacramento and for six weeks I commuted there. I found there much more evangelism than in Berkeley, and after a deluge of this and that argument and this and that to read I reacted and wrote "God and the Bible", one of the essays herein. More recently because of the theological pressure which I feel mounting around us I have written several other essays about the verifiability of our images of God.

1973 was also the year in which I discovered the teachings of Ken Keyes as set forth in his "Handbook to Higher Consciousness" and taught in weekend and week-long intensives at his ashram in Berkeley and Institute in Kentucky. One of the reasons I have been able to accept his teachings and methods which are basically just good psychology and understanding of how the mind and emotions work is that they contain no theological myths, or any claim to be the only true teaching. Ken's teachings have reshaped my outlook and transformed my existence and responses since that time. I have also written several essays and poems which I hope to publish at some future time; they are not included herein because they do not bear on the theme of theology and Jesus. One of Ken's remarks once when asked where was God in his system and oughtn't it to be was, When all of the wise men of the world got together and agreed on what to believe about God he would be happy to accept it; but his main concern was for improving the quality of our lives and not with speculative philosophy.

Then, finally, in March, 1977, after thirteen years of being a member of the Meeting, I began to read the "Journal of George Fox", the founder and organizer of the Quaker movement. Unexpectedly I found myself inspired and enriched by his own story, more so than by any of the other Quakers I knew or had read about. Here was a man whose directness and perception equalled or exceeded that of the historical Jesus, a man who relentlessly translated mystical doctrine into consistent and ethical practice, and whose suffering and power over people was as great as or greater than that of Jesus. He was intense, fearless, incisive, and the first great proclaimer of the equality of all persons in the eyes of God -- men and women and children, rich and poor, noble and unfortunate. He has been called the "Human Bombshell"; and his writings make it clear that that's exactly what he was. So George Fox has become another of the main sources of inspiration I have found and the proximate cause of another step in my religious growth. This is in spite of his utter "Christ"-ianity, which glosses but does not conceal or distort his direct perceptions and enactments of fundamental religious insights and living.

But, friends, perhaps the event which has most profoundly affected my theology was the death of my sister in February, 1977, who suffered for three years before she died as her body gradually deteriorated from spinal cancer. It is impossible for me to believe that any God of any sort could intentionally visit that kind of suffering on anyone, whether they be wicked or good, and my sister was not wicked. The only conclusion I can draw is If there is a God, it does not care for us as individuals, because of the tragedy and suffering which individuals experience. No amount of sophistry can validate the notion that a good God would allow or cause such suffering. Therefore either God is not good or it does not care for us as individuals, or it has no power over events.

So that, friends, is a capsule of my religious growth over the past three decades. Most of my recent growth has been along lines of my own insights arising out of Ken Keyes' teachings, George Fox' life, and Jesus' life and teachings. At some future time I will try to set down what these insights and discoveries are; the content of the essays included here is clarification of what I think about Jesus, God, and Christianity. I hope it will be persuasive, but if it is not, it will still be a set of snapshots of the most serious consideration I have been able to give to these topics. It has become more than notion to me, but has entered into my daily and hourly living, in a way which makes it unlikely that I can change. And this is what seems most important in the end -- whether our lives are consistent with what we regard as moral and good. Is it not so? is it not: incontrovertible that the way in which one lives, the way in which one treats one's fellow beings, is far more important than what one professes to believe? Of a certainty it is, whether I or anyone else says yea or nay; and so I expect to continue to seek to live by that standard.

                          miriam berg (nče John Fitz)
                          November, 1978