Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the honest disposition to receive light...

It struck me this morning that one reason I have spent so much time on William Ellery Channing's sermon, "The Perfecting Power of Religion" is the poor "reputation" that religion has with many Unitarian Universalists.  We tend to advance the intellect and yet, as WEC reminds us, "the most ruinous projects" have been perpetuated by the most intellectual of people. At the very least, we tend to use intellect to (again in WEC's words) "fortify [ourselves] in prejudice."  Of course that puts us in the same boat with most of the rest of humanity.  And yet there is a better way..."The Perfecting Power of Religion" continued:

"3. This leads us to another view, showing us the influence of the Religious Principle in perfecting the Intellect. It favours that primary virtue of an intelligent being, fairness of mind, the honest disposition to receive light whencesoever it may come. This uprightness of judgment, impartiality in research, and superiority to prejudice contributes more to the discovery of truth, and to real wisdom, than the most splendid genius or the most laborious acquirement. This simple sincerity is worth more than all books, teachers, colleges, and literary apparatus. No matter with what power of intellect a man may be gifted, no matter how extensive may be his means of knowledge, if he want candour, openness to conviction, readiness to see and acknowledge error, and above all reverence for Truth as sacred, his intellectual endowments will be used only to fortify himself in prejudice, to defend opinions which passion has recommended to his intellect, or to invent doctrines which will best serve to build up his fame. The wildest theories, most ruinous projects, and most pernicious principles, have owed their origin to highly intellectual men. Now I know no influence like that of religion to form an upright mind. This influence it exerts, not only by inspiring us with that reverence for the intellect already spoken of, but also by awakening the conviction that the intellect is formed for continual progress toward Truth; and that, consequently, to chain it down to its present imperfect views, is to rob it of its destiny. Still more religion exerts this influence, by making us feel that we are carrying on our most private inquiries, reasonings, judgments, in the Presence of that God, who is Infinite Light, and whose Intelligence is Truth. It is the secrecy with which the mind prosecutes its researches, weighs evidence, and makes objections, that tempts us to shut our eyes to the light. But a consciousness of the Presence of God to the mind brings home to us our responsibility for our judgments as well as actions. The consciousness that His pure eye inspects us, compels us to inspect ourselves &ud to guard jealously against every influence from abroad, or from our own passions, which may pervert the reason. Thus it makes luminous the intellect. Religion opens the mind to Truth ; and Truth is the atmosphere wherein our rational nature becomes illumined and made fit to enter the world of perfect light."



Allogenes said...

Clearly what Channing meant by the word "religion" is not what most people experience in the name of "religion." I think this fact, more than any overweening intellectualism, is responsible for the bad odor the word has acquired for many of us.

slt said...

Hello Allogenes!
It is great to hear from you! I quite agree with you. One of the reasons I do this blog is to put forward a view of religion that I see as healing and unifying. Without question the word "religion" often deserves the "bad odor" associated with it. I hope that some of what I post shows that religion can also be quite fragrant. Thanks again for your comment and Blessings, BU