Talk 1 — Morals
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'The world stands out on either side no wider than the heart is wide. Above the world is stretched the sky, no higher than the soul is high. The heart can push the sea and land farther away on either hand. The soul can split the sky in two and let the face of God shine through.' These lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay are both sobering and heartening as a perspective for viewing the contemporary scene. They may seem to say in part that the world we live in is about as big as we are. About as big as our consciousness can see it and accept it. That the problems that we may be beset are the limitations of our own faith and ideals.
But she also points to the truth that we are never farther away from transcendent solutions than the thought of God. We may be worried about the morality of our society but despite the pronouncements of some, it is not a godless society. The activity, the harmonizing, loving integrating power of God is within every person as the key to growth and change. I would like us this morning to challenge on another to take a long look at some of the attitudes and the values of the culture of which we are a part, and of which we have helped to shape. Not from the standpoint of moralizing, we'll leave that for others. But only to determine how we can realign our own ideals and practices to this thing called truth.
We hear it said by certain ones that the great need is to get back to religion, to get back to God. It may seem surprising for me to say that I'm not really sure what that means. If it means getting back to the days of fiery moralistic preaching and piously projecting and professing cliches of a religious nature then I'm something less than enthusiastic. On a radio talk show recently, there was included among the panel a former mafia gunman as well as a clergyman. There was a discussion about various items of the morality of our day. The clergyman vehemently declared to the former criminal 'You will burn forever in Hell for what you have done.' That always saddens me a little bit because I suspect that the institution that consigns errant ones to a Hell in a future life simply reveals a total lack of any transforming help for this life.
If this idea of getting back to God means a renewed effort to, as Edna St. Vincent Millay puts it, 'To split the sky in two and let the face of God shine through within each person' in an awareness that not only improves conduct and changes character but that also modifies consciousness then I say heartily Amen to that. We do not need more moralistic preaching, but we need a deeper consciousness of the omnipresence of God in which we develop an awareness to see the divinity in people and situations instead of looking totally toward their limitations and their sins.
Unfortunately so often the institutional approach to religion has become more a means of absolution than of transformation. Quite often establishment religion has tended to place the emphasis in the same way as the business world does, on the image that is involved. Helping to correct images and make new images. Quite often it is emphasized that the best way to have a good image is to go to church, and especially to be seen going to the right church. The emphasis is often on a good reputation even if little is done directly or by implication to change the character or to enrich the consciousness, the level of thought.
A few years ago, the director of creative projects at NBC News told an advertising group here in New York City that he felt the worst word that had ever had been coined or appropriated by the advertising people is the word 'image'. He said substance and truth are the important things even if the picture may be unpleasant. Obviously his voice wasn't listened to very enthusiastically.
Today, as so often in recent times, merchants and public figures work constantly to protect and improve the image. But an image must be a true reflection of reality or else it is phony. The image is the reputation, but a reputation is only what we have been trained to think about a person or a product or a company. Character is what they really are. Quite often unfortunately, more time is built trying to get a good image to build a good reputation than in improving the product or in developing new insights into levels of character.
In our metaphysical studies, we have collectively coined a whole new word, a whole new term and have unfolded a whole new practice called self image psychology. The important thing not so much of developing an image out here, but developing a self image, a way in which we see ourselves. All of this is healthy and constructive or it can be. But if we are caught up in the tradition of the image, of what looks good, then all too often we find that our motivation is to find a self image that will look good, that will wear well, that will cause people to wanna be with us and to cause us to move steadily up the ladder of success.
A self image too is phony unless it is based upon that one image which has been imprinted upon our consciousness from the beginning, where we're created in the image likeness of God. I think this is often lost sight of because of this tremendous emphasis you see upon the respectable image that we show to the world. I think that social morality so often is based on the morays of the times.
In early times in America, some of us I'm sure are aware of the fact that by reason of the Puritan ethic, which was to say the least quite limited. It was immoral and this actually illegal for a man to kiss his wife on the front porch. He was actually put in jail or put in stocks for this. Because a thing becomes right or wrong the ways the times see it, it could be said in the larger sense that we rarely have virtue and respectability at the same time because to be respectable we must follow the accepted patterns of the times. Again, the image.
I suspect that in our day the emphasis on the image is the most important single clue to modern morality because the word 'morals' you see, come from the Latin mores which actually means customs or accepted rightness, not a question of what is right or wrong but what we have accepted as right. What we have come to see as the acceptable and the respectable thing to do. In this kind of morality, the success syndrome leads us to believe that the most important thing is getting there, with very little question about how we get there or about earning the right to be there. In this morality of expediency. Again, which is related to the image of man. The fact that everybody is doing it tends to make it right.
The question that I think each of us needs to ask for ourselves is how far can we go in this direction without ultimately destroying the fabric of a civilization of which we're a part. There's a lot of talk of a new morality, usually by the moralist because he sees the so-called new morality as immoral because of a shocking evidence of honesty that is often bordering on exhibitionism. We don't hold either one up as right or wrong. There's no right and no wrong in it. But it could be that this trend of blatant honesty is a kind of reaction to this morality of expediency. A tendency to throw it back in the face of society. Also a tendency to reject the attitude that after all one must be of one's time. These are the things that are done today. One must live in his own age. Almost suggesting a deeper question but what if one's time is wrong?
The important thing that I think all of need to ask ourselves is not what is being done but what is the best I can do. We know that there are those who say 'Oh I realize the need for moral standards and all that but don't tell me I need religion and the church. I live by the Ten Commandments, and I let my conscience be my guide.' This is the classic cliché. It's a cover for another kind of morals of expediency. I have always had the secret urge to just pin everybody down whoever uses the word the Ten Commandments. They say alright if you live by the Ten Commandments name five of them. Or four or three.
The person who moralizes on the Ten Commandments by and large and some tests have been made in this area, some surveys. The average person can't name more than three. Most folks perhaps stutter before they can name one. Then they're embarrassed when they name it when they think in terms of their relationship to it. This is cliché which is a cover for the thought 'Well after all, I live a morally correct kind of life because I live by the commandments.' I always say it's nice to live by them because you have them in a nice little box where they don't bother you any. I've always suggested that maybe the very best thing is not to learn to keep the commandment because as someone says, Christianity hasn't failed. It's never been tried.
The Ten Commandments have never been broken because we've never taken them out of the box. Maybe we need to break them. In terms of breaking them down into practical applications of everyday relationships and in terms of levels of consciousness much more than levels of so-called morality. If we're going to think about the commandments, we might think of several of them. The first one that comes to mind is Thou Shalt not Kill. This is a hard one to deal with if we say 'I live by the Ten Commandments' because the question that must come up or at least used to come up in my naïve mind when I was listening to preachers on the radio is if it's true that God says Thou Shalt not Kill then what about war? Or what about capital punishment?
The moralist or the preacher will say 'Oh the Bible really means Thou Shalt not commit murder'. Now we're dealing with semantics. Who's to determine whether it is killing or whether it is murder? The state? The church? The individual conscience? The preacher will say 'Well of course we have to use judgment. Then judgment is determined by our self interests and our culture. It is kind of simplistic and too much so to say all we need is the Ten Commandments. This is why when Jesus was asked the sum of the law he never even referred to the Ten Commandments. He said 'Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength and thy neighbor as thyself'. The implication of Jesus' whole concept here is the need is for an awareness of oneness, for an integrity in which one feels whole in his relationship with a spiritual process.
Out of that wholeness comes a flow of love and relatedness which causes him not only to deal lovingly and wisely with people, but where justice becomes consciousness not just character or conduct that is inhibited by certain laws. It becomes natural. Perhaps we could add another commandment which I think is implied in Jesus' teaching. Do not lie to yourself about what you really believe and why. This certainly could be the beginning of a new morality. Perhaps we need that kind of a beginning. Then the man says 'All I do is follow my conscience. Let my conscience be my guide.' But we need to take another look at this word conscience. Can conscience actually be a dependable guide? Society, in its superficial approach to such things says 'Yes, you just follow your conscience.'
The patriots of two warring nations both follow their conscience as they go out to slaughter each other. Conscience is an acquired sense of right and wrong. It is not and certainly never is of itself divine guidance. One who has been instructed by teaching and example that honesty and fair play is the correct way to get along with people may feel pangs of conscience if he fails to live up to these things. But history shows that a society can train its young people to feel conscience stricken if they don't bring home a human head on a pole. Or in our time, make a Huckleberry Finn feel sinful because he helped Old Jim to escape from slavery.
The great need for every person is to find a lofty sense of spiritual awareness. A sense of integration with the diviner level of his nature. To build this consciousness you see, into his whole nature. Then with that kind of preconditioning he can let his truth directed conscience be his guide. In other words conscience will always be what you train it to be or what your culture trains it to be. We have a responsibility to train it rightly.
The so-called good life is not measured by the degree to which we conform to outer codes and systems. One can be perfectly respectable and still not be particularly virtuous. The degree to which we know ourselves and give expression to the divine dimension of our nature, living by what Thornton Wilder calls the incredible standard of excellence. This is what the good life should be. If we measure our work or our conduct by that of others, then we've taken the attention away from the responsibility to open out a way once the imprisoned splendor of our own nature may escape.
We've taken our attention off the pattern that God has imprinted within our own inner self. Even though we may cover it all up with a self image that becomes respectable, we still are negating the true image of our Godself. If we conform to standards of thinking and living set by the human practices of our society, then we fail to live up to the best that is us. We may be of our own time but we're out of time as far as God is concerned and as far as our own divine pattern is concerned.
What really counts in the individual life is not what is being done this season but what is the very best I can do. This is why Paul says 'Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.' Let's face it the pressures to conform are great. They're tremendous because respectability and the right image is at stake. For this reason and out of this same state of consciousness we have created opinion polls and bestseller lists and fashion experts. Whether we know it or not we are influenced to read books and attend plays that we may not understand or enjoy at all because this is the thing that's in. Often we will wear kooky styles that may even be uncomfortable for fear that we may be out.
You see all this very subtly leads to the point where expediency becomes more important than honesty and integrity. In a book by Carlyle Marney, there's an interesting reference to General Dean who was captured by the Korean Communists back during the early 50s in the Korean War. The General was told that he had just minutes to write a letter to his family. The implication was that he was going to be taken out and shot. What kind of a letter would you write for instance to an only son? Carl Marney says that he saw the letter that General Dean wrote and it was just eight or nine brief lines. One line of the letter said 'Tell Bill the word is integrity.' Not the world is making it, the world is success. The world is getting along with people. The world is happiness. The word is integrity.
Integrity is a rather interesting word and a very important word. Because it means wholeness. It means soundness. It means being intact in terms of one's consciousness and character. It means an interrelatedness with the spirit within and then the spiritual motivations of our lives. Integrity. Interestingly enough the word is very closely related to the basics of the word religion which also means to bind together. When religion becomes hung up with the need for image and respectability, quite often there is a drawing away from this basic goal and purpose of oneness, of wholeness, of helping the individual to find the depth within himself and learning how to interrelate that depth with his own experience and the motivations of his life and his relationships with others.
Certainly many persons come unglued and go to pieces in the face of difficult circumstances because of a basic lack of integrity, or this sense of oneness. True integrity is a feeling of oneness with the deeper and finer instincts of one's own nature. It's a sense of communion. It's a kind of awareness that leads to honesty and a high level of morality along with a spiritually conditioned conscience simply because this is the level of a person's life. So he is not good because the Bible says he should be good. He does not refrain from certain breaches of conduct because it's not correct in society or because the Sunday school teacher says you shouldn't do it or because the mother wags her finger. He develops a sense of integrity or oneness so that these are his way of thought and his way of life. He cannot do otherwise. That's integrity.
Integrity means being true to oneself. Being self honest in his dealings with himself, in his prayer time, and with the life and the world around him. Being committed to a transcendent direction from the spirit within. It's a dedication to truth in a small letter sense, and to the Truth in a capital letter sense. Integrity is a commitment to spiritual law because when one knows the law he's concerned more with character than with conduct and more with consciousness than with character, with the high level of his thoughts. This is why Jesus would say 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.' The seeing being a perception with which you deal with life and with the persons and experiences in it.
When one is pure in heart, when one has a consciousness of oneness with the infinite process he knows that divine justice is such that he cannot possibly lose his own nor can he possibly take that which is someone else's, and still keep in tune with his integrity of the universe. In other words integrity is not just obeying the law or living within certain outlined ethical codes. It's a consciousness of the omnipresence. The activity of God that not only is the deep potential within himself, the deep potential within all persons, and the inner penetrating ethers that hold it all together in a great unity of life.
As students of Truth, I think that every single one of us needs to strive for a new consciousness of truthfulness, where we tell the truth not only in terms of being honest but in terms of being self honest. That we tell the truth in terms of emphasizing that which is true in absolute spiritual sense. As students of metaphysics I think we need to reach for a kind of behavior pattern that is above and beyond that which is moral or legal or ethical, and to reach for the highest so that we're not concerned and just trying to be better than somebody else, but in trying to be superior to the person we have been. That we press on constantly to the goal of the high calling of God as Paul says. That we press on to a deeper and greater awareness of our oneness with the allness of the infinite process.
As Matthew Arnold puts it in his Empedocles on Etna, 'We would have inner peace but we will not look within.' We could paraphrase that, we would have morality in our society. We would have honesty in government. We would have integrity in the business community. But are we willing to look within? To know that our world is determined by the level of our consciousness. Let there be peace on earth, let there be justice. Let there be integrity. Let there be honesty. Let there be a high level morality and let it begin in the way in which I relate myself to the depth of the infinite process within to all the interrelating experiences out of which this comes in the world in which we live.
Copyright 1981 Unity®
Unity Village, MO 64065