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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 renaissance.

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 truth.

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 starve?

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" (44:7.3).

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?