What is the New Philosophy of Living Project?
by Dr. Jeffrey Wattles
The Urantia Book 2:7.10 Project: "The religious challenge of this age is to those farseeing and
forward-looking men and women of spiritual insight who will dare to construct
a new and appealing philosophy of living out of the enlarged and exquisitely
integrated modern concepts of cosmic truth, universe beauty, and divine
goodness" The Urantia Book, Paper 2, section 7, paragraph 10.
The religious challenge. What a surprise to propose this one
as primary! What would you have said if you had been asked what the main
religious challenge of this age is? Most religionists would come up with
very different answers. Let us not hurriedly nod our agreement with the
text and quickly pass on to the next edifying line. In order to discover
whether we can understand the author, we must investigate.
The religious challenge. We might have been less shocked if the
author had called this the intellectual or philosophic challenge of the
age. I can only surmise that progress on this project is important for
preachers and religious teachers before, during, and after the spiritual
Note that a religious challenge is not identical to a spiritual one.
A spiritual challenge pertains to our coordination with spirit realities;
for example, "the great challenge to modern man is to achieve better
communication with the divine Monitor that dwells within the human mind"
(196:3.31). Religion depends not only on inner spiritual experience but
also on truth coming from outside--from epochal revelation and from evolutionary
traditions. Religion is the interface of spirituality and culture.
The religious challenge. To succeed in a challenge it is well
to know the obstacles. What are they? Religious inertia? Secularist social
power? THEIR static concepts? OUR arrogance and ignorance?
Trail-blazing is somewhat lonely. It is easy to get off the track in
uncharted territory. Most people do not understand or appreciate your project.
If you say a few words about it, you may expect the polite approval generally
accorded to idealistic projects. If you say much more, people may conclude
that you belong where you are--on the margin of the culture.
If the project could be completed in a pleasant weekend seminar, there
would be no point in asking for people who will dare to construct
this new philosophy. We can only comprehend truth by living it, and a finer
philosophy presents greater challenges to the way we live.
The religious challenge of this age. This is an age of ideological
conflict--published attacks, institutional prejudice, warfare. To be sure,
there are many well-balanced, humane, and truly spiritual individuals leading
civilization forward. But two thousand years after Christ, there are scientists
who regard the acquisition and application of knowledge as the key to solving
the world's problems; humanists who believe that enlightened tolerance,
rational persuasion, and political power are adequate to the problems of
human community; and preachers who teach people to expect miracles when
they need to face facts and participate in rational dialogue.
To be a peacemaker in this chaos of ideologies one must appreciate the
values they are defending. To know them takes time to explore thickets
of fundamentalistic onesidedness, secularist error, and atheistic ugliness--in
search of truths that can be the basis of dialogue. Not only is there a
risk of getting lost in some thicket. To experience the reality of the
struggle, one must get out and talk to people--leave the quiet of one's
own study and the peace of one's own ideological circle to meet some of
the bright, well-educated, persuasive, living advocates of different positions.
A philosophy of living can express cosmic, universal, and divine values
without taking positions on social, economic, and political issues. Much
of the ideological battle today has to do with disputes over democracy,
capitalism, and nationalism. Philosophy is capable of becoming directly
involved in these controversies; but the religious challenge is not to
produce a new political theory, an attractive economic vision, or an exquisite
blueprint for interracial peace and progress. The project assigned by the
Divine Counselor comes down on the personal and spiritual side of life,
rather than the material and social side. The care with which this frontier
is understood and respected will greatly affect the serviceableness of
what we construct. It must be possible to speak certain helpful essentials
that will indirectly illuminate these issues--but without entering the
same battleground. Can we manage that? It will not do simply to ignore
such issues, for our own poorly developed positions then tend to manifest
unconsciously. Our moral mandates and spiritual precepts must keep pace
with advances in civilization (99:2.6).
Farseeing and forward-looking. A farseeing planetary perspective
ranges back to the stone age and forward to the advanced culture of destiny.
It is not overwhelmed by the immediate problems of its own generation.
A new age is under construction. A forward-looking perspective is not chained
to philosophic tradition. The more accurately we can discern planetary
developments, the more strategically we can emphasize timely facets of
Men and women. This is not a job for a lone religious philosopher;
if and when the planet receives another Plato, it will not do to just go
and implore this genius to construct our philosophy of living for us. And
the viewpoints of men and women are complementary; it takes many voices
to speak truth repletely.
Men and women of spiritual insight. This is the number one qualification
for the job, not academic degrees or impressive human achievements. It
is not even necessary to "be a philosopher." We often use the
word "insight" to refer to a momentary experience of putting
some pieces together, associating ideas to form a new arrangement or find
a new connection. Insight, however, is "the capacity to experience
unchallengeable consciousness of cosmic reality" (112:1.10). How is
insight tested? Does attack make it timid? Does seeming evidence to the
contrary suspend it? Do the months and years make it dim and eventually
dubious? One Buddhist scripture describes such insightful persons as "having
seen the Truth, having mastered the Truth, having understood the Truth,
having penetrated the Truth, having overcome uncertainty, having dispelled
all doubts, having gained full knowledge, dependent on nobody else for
the knowledge of the doctrine of the Teacher."
Construct. There is a danger to constructing a philosophy. Some
of the finest articles of Thomas Aquinas concern the nature of God. The
intellectual precision of his system, however, not only served to handle
the arguments of his day with a stunning completeness; it also helped crystallize
scholastic philosophy and thereby undermine its vitality. Intellect domesticated
experience. Confucius is said to have built too well (94:6.9); perhaps
his error was to go too far in identifying goodness with the details of
a particular ethical tradition. Why does the Divine Counselor introduce
Paper 2, which contains this project description, with the remark that
"it is permissible, and may prove helpful, to study certain characteristics
of the divine nature . . ." (2:0.1). This implies that there is a
possibility that this paper may not prove helpful. What can we do to secure
beneficial results for the coming millennium? The author emphasizes looking
up "to God as a true spiritual Father" and keeping in mind the
life of Jesus as the living illustration of the concepts of divinity being
presented. We are being invited to see the Master's life in new categories
and to discover new life in the concept of God.
Constructing a philosophy of living is different from writing down the
meanings of supreme concepts. To construct does not mean to publish. Is
the construction a literary enterprise at all? Or a life of dialogue? The
questions of whether something should be written down, and if so, which
generation should do it, were questions that Jesus and the apostles took
seriously. Those developing the new philosophy will undoubtedly yield an
abundant variety of creative expressions.
A new and appealing philosophy of living. Why not many philosophies?
Why shouldn't each person construct his or her own? To be sure, there are
particulars that give a unique hue to one's personal philosophy; not only
the way we express truth, but the ideas we highlight have much to do with
such variables as race, sex, class, occupation, education, family situation,
and personal religious experience. But something more universal is underway
in this philosophy of living project, and only by sharing with others will
we discover what is universal about our own philosophy.
This philosophy is not like a prefabricated house, a mass-production
special, one model per neighborhood. It is a flexible design that includes
the essentials of any adequate particular structure--family room with an
area for games, a place for worship, a study, and so on. And it is more
like a home to live in than one built for speculation on the market.
New and appealing. Appealing to whom? Is there a primary audience,
a secondary audience, and so on? The previous paragraph, setting up this
project appeal, contains one important clue: "As civilization progressed,
and since religion continued to pursue the same unwise course of overemphasizing
the goodness of God to the relative exclusion of truth and neglect of beauty,
there developed an increasing tendency for certain types of men to turn
away from the abstract and dissociated concept of isolated goodness"
(2:7.9). And though the new philosophy must not be distorted to appeal
to any one group, it seems to me important not to alienate needlessly the
thoughtful followers of any of the great religions. As a non-theologic
philosophy it does well not to hang on quotes from any book. The philosophy
itself should be appealing, I believe, even to people of little education,
though any writing or speaking, should perhaps be directed to more educated
people, without presupposing any particular specialization.
I find a creative tension in the marketing implications here. If you
are too new, you won't appeal to many people. Someday a keen essay about
the seven absolutes may appeal to a majority of intellectuals. On the other
hand, if you are too appealing, you won't be communicating much that's
new. The formula for quick appeal is to "find a parade and get in
front of it." At the extreme, this is the musician's' dilemma--shall
I sing pop trash and enjoy the applause, or dedicate myself to beauty and
In order to appeal, the new philosophy must relate to human needs. Sensitivity
to the ideological battleground will make the construction more relevant.
And so will sensitivity to each generation's "ever-new and varied
spiritual difficulties" (194:2.1)! Surely the spiritual difficulties
reveal needs to which the new philosophy must minister if it is to appeal.
And the more it incorporates universal concepts, the more lasting will
be its appeal, since it will be capable of application to many generation,
not only to one.
Philosophy. Consider the different functions of philosophy. First,
philosophy is half-way up the mountain that ascends from science to spiritual
experience. Philosophy is a reflection on facts in order to discern meanings;
and it is sublime thinking, a preparation for worship. Second, for someone
who has reached the top of the mountain, as it were, philosophy integrates
a balanced perspective on reality, bringing material fact and spiritual
experience together with the aid of revelation. From the standpoint of
mind, philosophy surveys the totality; and religion is one theme, albeit
the central theme within its reflective compass. Finally, philosophy finds
its place as part of a larger whole. Religion is the whole of life, ultimately,
not a part. Philosophy is religion's access to science. And philosophy
cultivates conceptual excellence: "Philosophy is to religion as conception
is to action" (98:2.12).
Philosophy of living. When a culture takes religion too seriously
and lacks a "non-theologic philosophy of living," its direct
contact with life is hampered. Every experience is filtered through scripture.
Every lesson has been written down and needs only to be quoted. Only a
philosophy grown on the soil of experience can achieve simplicity and broad
appeal. Buddhist philosophy spread as a simple teaching about universal
human concerns--the cause and cure for suffering, and discipline that leads
to moral excellence and mental serenity.
Construct a philosophy out of the expanded and exquisitely integrated
modern concepts. The network of high concepts is the raw material, not
the finished product. Exploring their breadth and integration is one task.
And expressing one's discoveries in an accessible way is another. "Jesus
brought the philosophy of religion down to earth."
Expanded and exquisitely integrated concepts. Expanded concepts
have tentacles into many fields. The concept of evolution is meaningful
in history and in many sciences; the concept of character is meaningful
in social science, literature, philosophy, and religion. Familiarity with
such concepts, the more extensive the better, is another major requirement
for those who aspire to join in the construction. The difficulty of attaining
an adequate acquaintance with these concepts (and Urantia Book study, by
itself, does not, I believe, suffice) is one reason why this is a team
project, even if individuals try their hand individually at expressing
their grasp of the new philosophy.
Exquisite is a quality of artistry. Plato attained heights of artistic
philosophy that have not been reached since. How can we approach these
heights within the limits set by our genetic capacity, education, and available
time? "Cosmic concepts of true philosophy, the portrayal of celestial
artistry, or the mortal attempt to depict the human recognition of divine
beauty can never be truly satisfying if such attempted creature progression
is ununified. These expressions of the divine urge within the evolving
creature may be intellectually true, emotionally beautiful, and spiritually
good; but the real soul of expression is absent unless these realities
of truth, meanings of beauty, and values of goodness are unified in the
life experience of the artisan, the scientist, or the philosopher"
Modern concept. What will the term "modern" mean in
two hundred years? Literally the term "modern" refers to changeable
fashions--the latest fashion. What are the modern concepts we are supposed
to use? Where do we find them? The Urantia Book contains the essentials.
But what were the "more than one thousand human concepts representing
the highest and most advanced planetary knowledge of spiritual values and
universe meanings" (F:XII.11)?. And what were the "thought gems
and superior concepts of Jesus' teachings assembled from more than two
thousand human beings" (121:8.13)? To identify these concepts will
require much research within the book; but there is a further part of the
task. Evolutionary cosmology, philosophy, and theology were not frozen
in 1934. To survey the ripening planetary harvest of expanding concepts,
ongoing study outside the book is required. No wonder there is talk of
a challenge for many men and women!
Concepts. A concept is more than an idea; it has two sides, an
intellectual side and a spiritual side. The intellectual side is a clear
idea, expressing the meaning of some set of facts; but an idea is potentially
static, for it can be treated as having a single, fixed meaning, isolated
from the rest of the organically growing universe. The spiritual side is
a value, flowing and dynamic; it can never be captured in words, but it
can be obscured by the human tendency toward standardized emotional responses.
The best way to realize the special significance the authors give to
the term "concept" is to contemplate sample passages showing
how these two sides, fact and truth, are explicitly joined. "The Master
made it clear that the kingdom of heaven must begin with, and be centered
in, the dual concept of the truth of the fatherhood of God and the correlated
fact of the brotherhood of man" (170:2.1). "The gospel of the
kingdom is: the fact of the fatherhood of God, coupled with the resultant
truth of the sonship-brotherhood of man" (194:0.4).
Cosmic truth, universe beauty, and divine goodness. The adjectives
require that our concepts not be limited to a human and earthly focus;
they should point to our participation in a wider universe. The term "cosmic"
also reminds us that science is also part of truth; the concept of God
as Creator links spiritual truth with the science of fact. The beauty we
celebrate is more than local charm; the events of our lives reflect larger
patterns. And this goodness overflows the confines of humanism; the golden
rule cannot be truly explored under the ceiling of secularist assumptions
about ethics; nor can character be fathomed without a vision of the soul
Consider the three-part structure of the project. The systematic order
given here--truth, beauty, goodness--is nearly standard in this book. "Such
a Father life is one predicated on truth, sensitive to beauty, and dominated
by goodness" (106:9.12).
2:7.9 gives an objective for the new philosophy and topics in the overarching
structure of truth, beauty, and goodness. In order for religion to come
alive for certain types of people today, it must cease to be so moralistic
and give equal attention to the "truths of science, philosophy, and
spiritual experience, the beauties of nature, the charm of intellectual
art, and the grandeur of genuine character achievement." This is the
big hint about how to flesh out the new philosophy.
I find cosmic truth best summarized in the concept of the fatherhood
of God and the brotherhood of man, universe beauty revealed most in the
joy and liberty of sonship with God, and divine goodness experienced most
directly in worship and service. Thus the three branches of the philosophy
of living can be symbolized by different phases of the gospel; on these
pillars a bridge can be built harmonizing mind and spirit, philosophy and
religion, culture and spirituality. The gospel is the seed of the new philosophy
of living; the life of Jesus is its master illustration; but it is necessary
to say more than the gospel and to show more than Jesus. Cosmic concepts
must be explored and made appealing in an unprecedented way.
Who will build the new philosophy? How conscious does the teamwork need
to be? How organized? And why do it? This philosophyk presumably, is not
an end in itself. Is a philosophic foundation required if we are to convert
our spiritual action-impulses into enduringly productive service? Do we
have the patience to establish an adequate foundation before raising up
towers of ambitious enterprises? Spirituality, philosophy, service. Has
the 2:7.10 project been overanalyzed and left for dead by the side of the
road, or are we beginning to fathom the challenge?