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[Chalice]Twin Stars:[Chalice]
Naturalism and Secularism

Presented April 28, 2002, by Rev. Calvin R. Knapp
Readings for the Service:

Out of the Stars

Out of the stars in their flight, out of the dust of eternity, here have we come,
Stardust and sunlight, mingling through time and through space.

Out of the stars have we come up from time;
Out of the stars have we come.

Time out of time before time in the vastness of space, earth spun to orbit the sun,
Earth with the thunder of mountains newborn, the boiling of seas.

Earth warmed by sun, lit by sunlight:
This is our home;
Out of the stars have we come.

Mystery hidden in mystery, back through all time;
Mystery rising from rocks in the storm and the sea.

Out of the stars, rising from rocks and the sea,
kindled by sunlight on earth, arose life.

Ponder this thing in your heart; ponder with awe:
Out of the sea to the land, out of the shallows came ferns.

Out of the sea to the land, up from darkness to light,
Rising to walk and to fly, out of the sea trembled life.

Ponder this thing in your heart, life up from the sea:
Eyes to behold, Throats to sing, mates to love.

Life from the sea, warmed by sun, washed by rain,
life from within, giving birth, rose to love.

This is the wonder of time; this is the marvel of space;
out of the stars swung the earth; life upon earth rose to love.

This is the marvel of life, rising to see and to know;
Out of your heart, cry wonder: sing that we live. ---by Robert T. Weston

On April 19th, 1859 in Faneuil Hall in Boston, Carl Schurz made a statement that captured the imagination of all who heard him. He spoke words of truth that philosophers had known for some time. But Carl Schurz cast that truth into the starry heavens where it still remains as a brilliant diamond to guide the leaders of humanity far into the future. The Reverend Calvin Knapp has chosen Schurz's words to be the foundation of his sermon. They are as follows:

"Ideals are like stars: you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you will choose them as your guides, and following them, you will reach your destiny."

I am glad to introduce the Reverend Calvin Knapp, the minister who served this congregation from the late summer of 1971 until the late spring of 1976.

Sermon:

In the summer of 1970, I received an invitation to come to this congregation to preach. And, being Director of Social Work for the Council of Churches in Peoria, I did not think anything more about it than someone wanting to know what we were doing in Peoria as far as social action is concerned. After my presentation that day, Sherman Bond followed me out to the car and said, "We would like for you to come back in two or three weeks if you are interested, and at that time, our congregation would take a vote as whether or not to call you to become our minister."

Now this is a tremendous invitation to a person who was already established in the life and work of the United Methodist Church. However, an invitation is an invitation, and my wife and I took it very seriously. We did come back, and I don't know whether it was two or three weeks, and we did preach a sermon, and the congregation did meet, with my wife and I sitting out in the car. Again Sherman Bond came out to see me and said, "The congregation has authorized me to invite you to accept a call to be the minister of this church."

That is an awesome achievement on the part of a congregation! Now, congregational churches do this year after year through the decades in acquiring their ministers and this church is no different. So, I received the call to become a Unitarian minister. I did a little research about being a Unitarian minister and I found lot of exciting things. It was really such a golden opportunity to seek an area that was somewhat closed to Methodism. So, I began a ministry here, trying all kinds of things, and trying my best to be both intellectual and spiritual. And that is a task.

There was one person in the congregation who must have said, "This man is going to need help." That was Frances Morrison. She had been a Unitarian all her life and she knew what it was all about. Every once in a while she would ask something like, "How are you getting along?" And I would tell her and she would say, "I have something I'd like to share with you." I'm sure that this was something that she had been saving up to lay on me sometime or other. I think she really did like me. And she really did want me to succeed as a Unitarian Minister for this most unique Unitarian congregation.

The congregation who called me on that occasion; many of those people are not here any more. I would like to mention some of their names:

Frances Morrison, Harriet Eldred, Russell Johnson, Dr. John Morrison, Charlotte Winters, Tom and Violet Moore, Anna Dege, Anne Grey, Enid Ireland, Doris and Gentry Koch, Beulah and Ed Herman, Paul Kurtz from LaPlata, Missouri, Lloyd Harris, Carolyn Sexauer, Bob and Dorothy Campbell, Dorothe Owen, Evangeline Norton and Dolores Jenkins.

These are part of the people who called me to become a Unitarian minister. So, a part of what they are has become a part of me.

Now thirty years later I come back to this congregation; it is a different set of faces, for the most part. I see some young people here. I would like for you younger people (and by "younger" I mean less than fifty) to realize what an important role you have to be a member or a friend of a Unitarian Congregation. We are not a great big denomination, but we are a very important part of the American Mystique in religions. Never forget that.

My sermon today is really going to be around four words. And I would like for you, before I start talking about these four words, I want you to get a visual image of our President in the Oval Office. And once you get that in your mind, I'd like for you to get another picture of Jenin, in Palestine. The horrors of war and reparations in Jenin. I'm not going to speak about either of these two subjects, but I want you to hear my sermon in the light of those two pictures in your mind.

First, I want to talk about GLOBALIZATION. Globalization for us in this country is a cultural thing because we are part of rapid communication, rapid transportation, the need for resources that are not produced in this country; the need to somehow reconcile the fact that we are such a diverse nation of people that sometimes we are more closely related to people on the other side of the world than we are to people who live across the street. Globalization is a fact that has come into our lives, not intentionally, but by absolute growth of what it means to be a human being, step by step by step.

In other western countries, Europe, Canada, and even those in South America, we know how important this is. If we look at this globalization, we discover that there is one very important ingredient in it so far as we are concerned and that is the Christian card: Christianity. Now, I don't want to overplay this, but anyone who believes that Christianity is a streamlined, coherent, appreciation of what it means to be a Human Being - you're just wrong. I don't know of any institution that is as diverse, and as antagonistic in its diversity as is the scope of Christianity. So diverse and so embittered in some places, that the most we can really say about Christianity, if we are going to talk about all of the denominations and sects that are involved, we have to say that it has become a cultural thing rather than a religious thing. Now, I think the proof of the pudding in this is that most Christians are religious on Sunday mornings, but they are culturally Christians during the rest of the week, however you understand that. So it's terribly important, I think, for us to realize that in this globalization it is a Western culture and an Islamic culture and an Oriental culture that are sharing hopes and aspirations for the world to come. It won't be an easy achievement to bring about unification of Human Beings everywhere.

Another word I want to speak about is HUMANISM. In the last several years, I've been working The Jesus Seminar and have become one of the teachers who establishes Jesus Seminar study groups in Nashville. I've attended many of the conferences and some of the Jesus Seminar on the Road's. (I understand that you had one of those here in Quincy, a couple of years ago. ) I have discovered, I want you to hear this for sure, that the leaders of The Jesus Seminar in all of their great academic achievements, say the bottom line is that they have become "Christian Humanists." "Humanist" that is a tremendous word. And I would like to know that every one of you could say, "I am a Humanist." I don't care what you put in front of it, a Christian Humanist, a Religious Humanist, an Atheistic Humanist, I don't care what adjective you put in front of it, but to be a Humanist is a tremendous statement about who you are and what you think about the future.

I cannot speak of Humanists without talking about the Human brain. I don't want to talk about the mind, I don't want to talk about consciousness, or sub-consciousness, I want to talk about the brain. I believe that between our ears is the most precious gift that we have been given as a heritage. We owe it to our parents, our grand-parents, and for generations back into ancient, archaic history. These brains collectively are the fruits of the past. Almost everything that keeps us from being a cow or a sheep is because we have a brain. Consider all the abilities of the brain. There is no way to over-emphasize the capacities and the potential of the human brain. We must realize how dependent we are upon our brains; how important it is for our congregation to work with shared brain-power; how important it is for people in the nation to recognize the responsibility of utilizing the human brain to the hilt. And if you work at it, work at it systematically, you are never going to reach the potential of the human brain.

I don't care how many computers you are familiar with -- the greatest one that exists is your brain. That puts us in the situation that we must be accountable for what we think and do as individuals and as a community of kindred souls as we find in a congregation and as Americans, and above all to be citizens of Earth. That's such a powerful concept that it can't help but grab your heart and say to you, "I must live deliberately, I must think deliberately, and act deliberately." We may not always be on the winning side, that's not the way it works, but be a participant. That's so terribly important.

Now, I want to talk about the two last words; one is SECULARISM. So many people have the idea that if you are not religious you are a secularist, if you are a secularist then you can't possibly be religious and if you are a secularist, there is a good chance that you will be an atheist. I'd like to stretch that word out. I believe that most of the things that each and every one of you who are gathered here this morning believe, are secular ideas. Now I've listed some in a handout this morning that I'd like for you to look at later on. But realize just how important those secular ideas are for you. I don't care where you get your religious ideas. I believe that most of the people in this country today are cultural secularists and ought to be very proud of it -- very proud of it. Because if you are a secularist, you are concerned about things of this world -- all things of this world -- bar none. If you want to spend a little time on what it is going to be like in heaven or in hell or anyplace that's supernatural, I'll allow that won't be secular; but I don't suppose many people, even those who say they do think about it often, I really don't think they do. I think most people you accompany in your daily living are secularists.

Now I come to my closing point. I think I'm very, very pleased to say that I have become a NATURALIST in my religious scope. Being a religious naturalist, first of all it takes in everything I've said about being a human being. Everything that's about being a humanist and a human being is a very human experience, but that is a part of, but only a part of what it means to be a naturalist in your religion. As a naturalist I must acknowledge that all people that we call human beings are of one species. If our secular ideas about individuality and self-integrity mean anything at all; when we consider the vast number of people in this world we ought to be standing up for their rights as human-dignified people as much as we first stand up for these same rights for ourselves. That is a tremendous challenge, I'll admit that.

I'm a naturalist because I like clean water. I'm a naturalist because I don't like to see natural resources wasted. I'm a naturalist because I love to see how things once were in the National Forests and the National Parks. I'm a naturalist because I do believe that humankind has been very, very cruel to animals. I am a naturalist because I believe almost the way the Greek god Gaia was interpreted. Now, I'm not going to try to explain to you how the Greek Philosophers interpreted Gaia, but if I were to talk to you about Mother Nature, and if I were to ask each of you in turn this morning, to say something about Mother Nature, you could all talk about that. And what you are really doing is that you are giving Gaia, the Greek concept of Mother Earth, a very modern name. What you describe is essentially the same. I am a naturalist because I believe that this earth has become one gigantic unity of natural laws that are unfolding eon after eon. The Human Being is the one who can begin to comprehend what it means to be on a living planet in a very remote part of the universe.

You know it is really possible that we are the only planet where life exists -- the only planet that has intelligent beings -- beings like Human Beings can become. And in that sense, I think that to be a naturalist is so easy to accept. But if we do that, Mother Nature has no national boundaries. Oh my gosh, we are a long ways from not having natural boundaries. Except for one, for one group of people, maybe the Palestinians ought to really have that experience of knowing what it means to be able to say, "This is My Country." I think we owe it to them to help them experience that. Never let it be said that we aren't proud to be Americans, not proud to be Unitarians, we are. But never let that be the final circle; let our parameters be so great, so inclusive, that our subject matter never dwindles. And that every day that we draw a breath is another opportunity to understand and comprehend just what it is to be a human being on planet earth. There are all kinds of words such as understanding and comprehension and hope. Oh my goodness, we need a lot of hope in this old world today, and I think we also need faith. Now, it is a bigger sized kind of faith that I'm talking about. But it is faith. Faith in the understanding that for thousands of years, the earth has been unfolding as it should, but it isn't finished yet. We who are living now have a responsibility. We need to be thoroughly committed to the fact that we are the living link between the past and the future that is yet to come. And that is a tremendous responsibility.

These are the things that I'd like to say to a congregation thirty years later. This is where I have come to, year by year by year, serving one Unitarian congregation after the next and meeting lots of wonderful Unitarian people. These are the things that I have learned and have become as an individual. I am indebted to Unitarianism and Unitarian people for giving me so many opportunities to be a Unitarian, a Humanist, a Naturalist. And I hope that you will always know that there are some things that you can do as individuals. When it comes to calling a minister; Sherman Bond couldn't do it; Frances Morrison couldn't do it; neither could Charlotte Winters. It took a congregational vote. A congregational vote of responsibility and commitment to a man or a woman to be their leader for a while. Never let your individualism stamp out your connections to each other. I suspect that Mother Earth, Mother Nature is in fact more concerned about our species than she is about us as individuals.

These are things that I would like to say on my last sermon probably, to this congregation. Thank you.

©2002 Calvin R. Knapp

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Knapp, Calvin R. 2002. Twin Stars, http://www.uuquincy.org /talks/20020428.shtml (accessed December 10, 2018).

The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
The list of Selected Sermons.


Notes:

Dr. Lloyd Geering is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. He was a forerunner of The Jesus Seminar and is now, perhaps, its senior Fellow. Most of his adult years he has been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. More than once he was tried for heresy by that denomination, but in every instance he was not only acquitted but honored. He has been given credit for leading New Zealand to become the most secular nation in the world. He welcomes being called a humanist and a naturalist. Now he unashamedly declares that his religion is Secularism.

Dr. Geering perceives that the emergence of the dominance of the human species and the subsequent globalization of its influence to be the logical on-going processes of social evolution. He says, "I would venture that any coming global culture will need to be humanistic (rather than traditionally religious), naturalistic (rather than supernaturalistic) and ecological (designed to promote the health of all planetary life) but do we have the wisdom, courage and motivation to be global citizens and to welcome a global culture?"

Dr. Geering believes that humanity is at war with itself. He agrees with Zbigniew Brzezinski who once said, "The idea that humankind is in control of the various forces promoting change is an illusion. Man does not control or ever determine the basic directions of his ever-expanding physical powers. The plunge into space, the acquisition of new weapons, the breakthroughs in medical and other sciences are shaped largely by their own internal dynamics The human, while being the inventor is simultaneously the prisoner of the process of invention."

Possible Scenarios of the Future

  1. A Thermonuclear Holocaust
  2. World War III
  3. The Rise of Authoritarian Dictatorships
  4. Mass Starvation
  5. Pandemics: Plagues and Epidemics
  6. Destruction of Ecological Balance
  7. Collapse of the Global Economy
  8. The global Spread of Terrorism
  9. Sliding into Social Chaos
  10. Saving Ourselves and the Planet

Guiding Stars: Naturalism and Secularism

Lloyd Geering suggests that being religious in the global era will require humankind:

  1. to be devoted to maximizing the future for all living creatures whose destiny is in our hands;
  2. to place the needs of the coming global society before those of our own immediate family, tribe or nation;
  3. to develop a lifestyle consistent with preserving the balance of the planetary eco-system on which living creatures depend;
  4. to refrain from all activities which endanger the future of all species;
  5. to set a high value on the total cultural legacy we have received from the past and which enables us to develop our potential to become fully human;
  6. to value the importance of the human relationships which bind us together into social groups and which enable us to become fully human; and
  7. to promote the virtues of love, goodwill, and peacefulness.
Humanism:
An interest and concern for all things that define and describe human situations: past, present and future. It affirms the unlimited potential for improving the quality of life for people everywhere. Humankinds have generated critical problems; but only humankinds can resolve their problems.
Secularism:
pertains to all things of this world; it has no interest in subject matter related to other worlds; such as heaven, hell or other supernatural realms.
Naturalism:
A pervasive interest in all species of plants and animals (including humankind and humanism). It has an appreciation of and dedication to the natural laws that govern the behaviors of all living things. Its methodology includes such personages as: Gaia, Mother Earth and Mother Nature.

Instead of worshiping some God " we stand in awe of this self-evolving universe, continually marveling at the living eco-sphere of this planet. We are able to acknowledge the inestimable value of life in ourselves and in all other creatures, and express gratitude to the successive generations of our human ancestors who have slowly created our inheritance -- the rich variety of human culture which has enabled us to become the human beings we are." -- Lloyd Geering

Samples of Secular Ideas that Inspire Americans

  1. The Declaration of Independence
  2. Jefferson's Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom
  3. The Bill of Rights
  4. The Constitution of the United States of America
  5. Our National Anthem (Verses 1 & 2)
  6. The Invitation Emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty
  7. Virtually al of Abraham Lincoln's Affirmations
  8. The Original Version of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag
  9. The Charter of the United Nations
  10. The UN Declaration of Human Rights
  11. Humanist Manifestos #1 & #2
  12. The Seven Principles of the UUA
  13. The Covenant Affirmation of the Unitarian Church of Quincy
  14. The policy statements of virtually all environmental groups

Charter Affirmation of the United Nations

We, the people of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,
To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, In the dignity and worth of the human person, In the equal right of men and women, and of nations large and small,
To promote social progress and better standards of life in a larger freedom,
And for these ends to practice tolerance and to live together in peace as good neighbors,
To unite our strength to maintain international peace and security,
To insure that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest,
To employ international machinery in the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all people,
Have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.

The Womb of Stars

"The womb of the stars embraces us; remnants of the fiery furnaces pulse through our veins. We are of the stars, the dust of the explosions cast across space. We are the earth: We breathe and live in the breath of ancient plants and beasts. Their cells nourish the soil; we build our communities on their harvest of gifts. Our fingers trace the curves carved in clay and stone by forebears unknown to us. We are a part of the great circle of humanity gathered around the fire, the hearth, the altar. We gather anew this day to celebrate our common heritage. May we recall in gratitude all that has given us birth." ---by Joy Atkinson.

The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
The list of Selected Sermons.