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Ever Reworking an Affirmation of the Origins of Good Sense

© Bob Burkhardt
Last revision: April 11, 2022


My first spiritual influence was the Christian Bible. I remember attending Presbyterian Sunday School which my mother tells me she helped teach. Apparently I was a free thinker early in life: my mother tells me of a Presbyterian elder who suggested maybe it wasn't such a great idea to be dragging this protesting child to church if he really didn't want to go. She finally acquiesced, and I can imagine, if not precisely remember, that not having to go to church was a great relief for me, though I think those initial spiritual studies were useful for me. Ethics were always a big concern of my parents.

In my junior or senior year in high school I took a speech class where we were asked to talk about our religious beliefs, and at that time I was an agnostic. In my junior year English class there was this fellow who was constantly pressing on me Bernard Shaw's essay “Why I'm Not a Christian” which resonated greatly with his thinking, but I never have managed to read that myself. I did enjoy my conversations with him though I can't really remember what my contribution to them was. I did finally manage (in 2005) to read Gibbs' biography of Shaw. I guess Shaw called himself an atheist at times, but he also seemed to have a deeply spiritual orientation, and I think his “atheism” was just another of his prods to get people to thinking. In any case, I don't think it is relevant at all whether people say they are atheists or not, especially to God. It's what they do that counts. That junior-year English (American literature) class and its rogue teacher, Richard Perkins, certainly counts as a great spiritual influence. He had us constantly looking for symbolism in novels, and various Christian symbols would turn up from time to time. In addition we studied the Salem witch trials.

In my freshman year in college at Los Angeles Harbor College (LAHC), I had a sort of conversion experience when I decided to change my major from meteorology to economics. At the time, this meant cutting out the physics and chemistry from my studies and adding social science courses. To me this seemed a way of reconciling the social interests of my mother and the technology interests of my father. And I think physics and chemistry just seemed insufficient to me though I enjoyed them. My English class with Jack Walsh was also a great influence. Mr. Walsh was very interested in Hermann Hesse's work, and after taking the class I read a lot of Hesse's novels in English translation. Years later I read them in the original German. Always I find them very moving. I will also mention my African-American history teacher, Patricia Elmore, who at least once said she would not hesitate to argue with God.

My junior and senior years in college were spent at the University of California at Irvine (UCI). There I started teaching myself to play classical guitar and Margaret Murata introduced me to Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion both of which became very strong spiritual influences as time went on. And UCI was where I ran into those passionate mathematicians Frank Cannonito and Howard G. Tucker. I think I still carry some of their semi-religious fervor with me.

I stuck with economics for quite awhile, and, after doing well as an undergraduate at LAHC and UCI, I managed to do very well on my college board (SAT) exams and got admitted with a National Science Foundation Fellowship to graduate study in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This was a great achievement for me.

At MIT, I did well taking courses and passing exams, but got stuck when it came to writing a Ph.D. thesis. At that point, my experience was kind of like Buckminster Fuller's experience with his mother: “don't think dear, we're trying to teach you”. This was complicated by my involvement in Erhard Seminars Training (EST). In late 1977 I took the “training” and had an accompanying enlightenment experience. Later, I spent a lot of time taking seminars at EST and assisting in the work of the Boston center as well as in related undertakings like The Hunger Project and the Holiday Hospital Project. I also had this sort of mystical experience of imagining what world peace might be like. My activities in EST got to a level where my participation was inappropriate to my commitments as a graduate student. I did try to keep it in bounds, but occasionally it got out.

I found EST very useful for the vocabulary it gave me for dealing with my experiences in life, and for bringing me back to my roots. Finding my roots was one of my big motivations for taking the training: I thought it would be good to take out a couple of weekends and take an in-depth look at my life and where it was going. A statement by EST founder Werner Erhard's in The Hunger Project source document rang very true for me at the time: “We want to make the world work.”* I also appreciated the broad range of people I met at EST.

After five years in the Department of Economics' graduate program, three years of which were spent casting about for a dissertation topic, I left MIT. A few years later I ceased my involvement with EST as well; it had become too much of a diversion. But the EST experiences, and probably the MIT experiences as well, prompted me to broaden my spiritual investigations. Major influences during these years were Mohandas K. (“Mahatma”) Gandhi's autobiography (An Autobiography: The Story of my Experiments with Truth, Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health, the Oxford Study Edition of The New English Bible with the Apocrypha, and R. Buckminster Fuller's writings.

In Chapter 10 (Anchor paperback — probably Chapter 11 in the first edition) of his book Nine Chains to the Moon, Dr. Fuller in turn introduced me to Albert Einstein's religious philosophy . That chapter was entitled “Primary Motivations of Man: Fear and Longing” and was basically an explication of Prof. Einstein's essay, “Religion and Science” (New York Times Sunday Magazine, November 9, 1930). I found the chapter interesting enough that I looked up the original article. It strikes me much as I imagine Bernard Shaw's philosophy to have been.

Dr. Fuller rekindled my interest in the physical sciences. In his essays, the interest in the physical sciences seemed strongly integrated with his spiritual interests. In Critical Path (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981 — Kiyoshi Kuromiya, adjuvant, pp. 153-158), he presents as one of his “disciplines” what he calls “Ever Rethinking the Lord's Prayer”. I seem to have fallen into this discipline as well, hence this essay.

My reworkings of the affirmation, stemming initially from the New Testament (Matthew 6:9-13), are much less elaborate than the rethinkings I've seen by Bucky. Of course everyone must adapt a discipline to their own needs. My readings in Science and Health and Matthew clashed enough that I felt the need to reconcile them.

The first chapter of Science and Health is a very powerful introduction to the book. I was deeply impressed by the portrayal of the deity as identical with “love, truth and life” and the characterization of the deity as “omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent”. The portrayal of this divine monarch was much at odds with the insecure being I found portrayed elsewhere who strangely (or actually not so strangely) resembled many temporal and spiritual leaders rather than a divinity. I was also impressed by the portrayal of prayer as a way of bringing one closer to God rather than as a way of currying favor with the deity so God was on your side. But to me this seems the activity thus transformed seems more like meditation than prayer.

Somewhat less than a quarter century after finding Science and Health, I found Phineas Parkhurst Quimby's writings. He apparently was an influence on Mary Baker Eddy. His writings seems a useful supplement to Science and Health as well as being interesting in their own right, and I would say the same thing about Science and Health vis-a-vis Dr. Quimby's writings. Dr. Quimby's writings have a rather austere Buddhist cast to them though they don't mention Buddhist writings at all and only interpret the Bible. Of course Jesus' teachings also have a very Buddhist cast to them, but with a warmth to them that Eddy seems to capture very well. I am very glad to have both Eddy's and Dr. Quimby's writings at hand, as well as the Bible and Buddha's philosophy.

Such are my reworkings, that even the title itself has been incorporated in the discipline, and has evolved from “Ever Rethinking the Lord's Prayer,” as it started out, to “Ever Reworking an Affirmation of the Origins of Good Sense.” I read The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life by Stephen Gottschalk (Berkeley, 1974). He has obviously given much study to Christian Science, and on p. 240 says Christian Science involves not so much petitions to God as affirmations of His presence.

So I am thinking “affirmation” even better characterizes what Eddy calls “prayer” than “meditation” does, and perhaps harkens back to “acknowledgement” which I used for awhile. I will try “affirmation” out. The amount of activity in my exercise seems another reason for calling it an “affirmation” rather than “meditation”.

Ever Reworking an Affirmation of the Origins of Good Sense (April 11, 2022)
Love, truth, and life,
you guide us into your compassion, intelligence, inspiration, health, stamina, discernment, and fidelity;
you preserve us from psychological manipulation, theft, vandalism, and assault;
we trust in your watching, affirming, thinking — imagining, scheduling, working;
we rely on your considerate, scrupulous, creative and complete communicating —
and on your experimenting, innovating and nurturing;
with sustenance, peace, liberty, literacy, beauty, community and christ accessible to all.


Certainly after reading Science and Health it seemed to me a minimum condition for my trespasses to be forgiven would be to forsake them, though I do appreciate Jesus' constant admonition on the need to forgive others. Ultimately I decided to skirt the whole forgiveness issue in the affirmation as it seemed redundant and needlessly divisive. I have decided to be guided more by the following passage from the “Footsteps of Truth” chapter of Science and Health:

“In trying to undo the errors of sense one must pay fully and fairly the utmost farthing, until all error is finally brought into subjection to Truth. The divine method of paying sin's wages involves unwinding one's snarls and learning from experience how to divide between sense and Soul.”

I am also haunted by a statement at the very beginning of Science and Health: “Prayer, watching and working, combined with self-immolation, are God's gracious means for accomplishing whatever has been successfully done for the Christianization and health of mankind.” Here I interpret “Christianization” in the broadest sense possible, like self-realization or whatever is appropriate to a particular religion. The juxtaposition of self-immolation and self-realization deserves further thought.

I am uncomfortable with “self-immolation,” and I am reminded of the fate of Carl Schurz's cycling cape. Its seed was undoubtedly sown in Schurz's vain wish to emulate the cloaks of the Viennese academic legionaries he found so grand. It realized itself when he found a similar cloak, a large dark cape lined with scarlet, in the stores at Rastatt and exited Rastatt via the sewer with pistols wrapped in it. In Edinburgh, we find him in a “long, brown overcoat” with wide sleeves and lined with bright blue flannel which he said he had had made in Switzerland out of a large soldier's coat. Finally in Paris his friend Strodtman immolated it by burning a large hole into it during a haphazard cooking experiment. It was never heard from again, and perhaps this was for the best.

Did it ever make it to America? Certainly the Library of Congress would have drawn the line if someone tried to include it with his papers. It would have made an interesting addition to the Smithsonian's collection. It probably did not even make it to England with him. Perhaps it was relegated to some Parisian ash heap, although perhaps it is still enshrined in some closet somewhere. This “cycling cape” story looks different in the German edition of his Reminiscences. There, when he is escaping from Rastatt, he wraps his pistols in a cycling cape lined with red flannel he had had made out of some unspecified cloth. Actually I think he had the overcoat with wide sleeves made out of the soldier's overcoat or cape he found in the stores at Rastatt, and the latter was similar to what the Austrians were wearing. The German edition's version about what he wrapped his pistols in when exiting Rastatt must be erroneous. The whole thing sounds like Schurz's version of beating a sword into a plowshare.

To get back to my affirmation, in an earlier reworking (or back then it was actually a rethinking), “guides me in the right path” from the 23rd Psalm became “You guide us in the right path” when incorporated into my reworking of the affirmation. “Paths” brought to my mind a sort of tapestry of interwoven paths spanning the globe and also Antonio Machado's words, “caminante, no hay camino, se hace el camino al andar”: the ultimate uniqueness and mystery of each person's path. On the other hand, “right” had displeasing connotations to me of just one way, the source of so much intolerance. I find the Perl motto more appealing: “There's more than one way to do it.” So I edited out “right” altogether and path went with it.

“Watching” in the affirmation is meant very generally, that is all the five senses. I don't remember a discussion of the word in Eddy's book, but with her disparagement of the five senses, perhaps she just refers to angelic communications — “sixth sense” intuitive meanings. I'm certainly willing to include those in my sense of the word, but I am mostly thinking of the conversion of objective experiences to subjective ones.

“Thinking” is about organizing those subjective experiences and integrating them with others. The emphasis on understanding in Science and Health is something I find attractive. From my perspective, thinking and understanding have as much a role in religion as in science. An important difference is that to me religion is very subjective, and demonstrating religious truths objectively does not seem much of a possibility, although certainly the sharing of religious experience is valuable.

“Imagining” is envisioning how subjective ideas or ideals might manifest themselves in the objective world. “Working” is taking those visions and putting them into the objective realm; it is the complement of “watching,” and the sequence wraps around to become a cycle. “Meditating” (previously “praying” and then “playing”) provides a context for the cycle. True playing and recreation seem like a sort of active meditation, like Tai-Chi.

My preferred edition of the Bible continues to be The New English Bible with the Apocrypha (Oxford Study Edition) published by the Oxford University Press (1976). Its page-by-page annotations are very helpful for background on the passages involved. A few years back I took the time to read the whole thing cover to cover. It can be a ghastly spectacle at times, but there's much wisdom to be gained there. I've also benefited from other Bible scholarship I've run into. I've listened to a series of recorded lectures, by the Teaching Company I think, which I found enlightening, as well a Public Broadcasting Service program on the non-canonical gospels.

This trinity of love, truth and life is a fascinating point of the affirmation for me. Buckminster Fuller pointed out the tetrahedron as the minimum system, and criticized Plato's beauty-symmetry-truth triad as planar and therefore non-existent (Synergetics 2: [Further] Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 542.01 and 542.02). He fixes things by including the observer, and I will apply the same fix to this trinity and explicitly acknowledge the observer, us, you and I. I will still call it a trinity, but we are always there contemplating it. Love, truth and life can serve as a foundation for the construction of an ethical framework, much like a collection of axioms serves for the construction of a mathematical framework.

Besides the compelling mapping of this trinity into compassion (love), intelligence (truth) and inspiration and health (life) which the affirmation above presents, I also find the mapping into people, principles and environment compelling, but I have not been able to find a way of gracefully working this mapping into the affirmation. In principles, I would include not only moral principles, which I mainly dwell on here, but also other principles, for example structural principles like tensegrity, and perhaps physical principles. From this point of view, the maxim “Principles, Not Men” (Harper's Weekly editorial on Carl Schurz of September 9, 1871 — not something, by the way, I remember ever reading in Carl Schurz's writings and speeches) would seem to need some reworking if it is to represent useful knowledge. Perhaps it has some merit in the fact that it explicitly examines principles (back in those days this may have represented great progress in some areas), and it doesn't explicitly exclude women, children and the environment, but it seems like men should be included as well. People, principles and environment all need our attention. Useful principles are good for people, and only useful application by people can teach us about principles. And we need a supportive environment to work out the whole puzzle in.

And then there is the idea of mapping this trinity into physical analogues. Eddy, in the Key to the Scriptures part of her book seems to want to map everything into light, but I would only put truth there. A generic book, such as is found on the Harvard coat of arms, seems a good symbol for truth as well. Widely distributed editions of the Bible in their native tongues allowed people to read it for themselves and appreciate the whoppers they were getting from the priesthood. Then some realized that maybe things in the Bible had gotten little garbled. And finally it dawned on a few that maybe they might think over these things and resort to their own experience (hence Fuller's Ever Rethinking the Lord's Prayer).

I suppose I would have accepted Eddy's idea of mapping the entire trinity into light — it makes good reading in the Bible, but Buckminster Fuller's compelling mapping of gravity into love gave me a better alternative. Of course they did not have universal gravitation when the Bible was written so they could hardly have worked it into the story. For that we have to look to Isaac Newton's Principia, a work by an exceedingly religious man from many points of view. For a symbol, perhaps we can stick with the traditional heart, but that might be well used for life if we were starting from scratch. But perhaps there is some wisdom with retaining something traditional. The French Revolution and China's Great Leap Forward both seem to point to the perils of discarding too much tradition.

Then we have life to deal with. For a symbol I would use a leaf. For a physical analogue, I think the development of an undifferentiated fertile egg into a blastula of differentiated cells has something to recommend it. An illustration of Fuller's discovered principle of multiplication by division. And the tetrahelix with its association with DNA probably fits in here somewhere.

Other important influences:

I think my spiritual progress depends on coming at the deity from a variety of points of view with a critical attitude for all of them. Well almost all — Versos Sencillos I just enjoy, and intergalactic criticism is beyond me, although sometimes I find myself grumbling “not another nebula” at some of APOD's offerings. God seems inclined to diversity, so there is certainly no shortage of points of view.

A motto which interests me is, “Love with truth liberates life.” I compare this to Genesis 3.24, where an angel (love) uses a sword (truth) to guard the Tree of Life from humanity. It is curious how Science and Health argues that certain parts of the Bible don't appear to come from God, and also emphatically relies on Biblical verses for support of its arguments as if nothing more need be said than that the verse comes from the Bible.

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* In retrospect, my inclination is to make things work, and make the world be a paradise, like the Garden of Eden. People should think, exercise and have fun. Having things do the work is certainly a Fulleresque theme. Playing was popular around EST, and an objective that popped up every so often was to have work be play, or recontextualize work as a game, sincerely played. So maybe I would rephrase Werner's message as "we want to make the world play" and he wouldn't object too much. Or perhaps he would just say "that too": a lot depends on which definition of "work" is meant, and it may be harder to extract the desired meaning out of "play" than it is from "work".

“Making the world work for everyone” is a theme that hangs around Buckminster Fuller. I'm not sure if this is a way Fuller phrased his endeavors, either before or after his joint presentations with Erhard. Fuller talks more in terms of making 100% of humanity successful, without environmental offense. Maybe “making the world work for everyone” is a motto jointly formulated by Fuller and Erhard. I'm curious on this score. “For everyone” certainly is a helpful addendum to the Erhard quote I cite above from The Hunger Project source document (copyright 1977). By 1980 at the latest the “for everyone” suffix was appearing in the EST literature; for example, the title of a 1980 EST document was “A Shot Heard 'Round the World: A World that Works for Everyone”.

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