"An Unorthodox Lecture" and "Spiritual Values in a Scientific Age" by Paul Wienpahl
One of the most important single short pieces of philosophy I have read during my time as a minister was by Paul Wienpahl. It is called "An Unorthodox Lecture" and was published in June 1956 in a journal called MANAS. It was this essay that finally allowed me to begin slowly to move meaningfully away from Christian belief and into a wholly different way of being religious and a minister of religion. A couple of years ago I decided to borrow from this essay the following paragraph to help indicate "where I'm at" (it also appears on the side-bar of this blog):
“As I see it, the point is not to identify reality with anything except itself. (Tautologies are, after all, true.) If you wish to persist by asking what reality is; that is, what is really, the answer is that it is what you experience it to be. Reality is as you see, hear, feel, taste and smell it, and as you live it. And it is a multifarious thing. To see this is to be a man without a position. To get out of the mind and into the world, to get beyond language and to the things is to cease to be an idealist or a pragmatist, or an existentialist, or a Christian. I am a man without a position. I do not have the philosophic position that there are no positions or theories or standpoints. (There obviously are.) I am not a sceptic or an agnostic or an atheist. I am simply a man without a position, and this should open the door to detachment”
I first read it during my sabbatical of 2008 which I mostly spent in a small village called Bédarrides about 11km north of Avignon. One day, early on in my stay, I'd taken myself off on my mountain bike to a nearby small plantation to ride a few rough tree-lined hilly tracks to help me get ready for a planned ride up the 1610 metres of Mont Ventoux. In my bag, along with some sandwiches and lots of water, I had this and another essay by Wienpahl both of which I intended to read in the shade during a break.
(The photos in this post were taken on a return visit in 2014 to the same place which felt like a little pilgrimage and where I reread Wienpahl's essays in the shade of the same tree under which I first read them.)
Sitting in the shade of a tree reading Wienpahl I had one of those, almost cliched, moments of epiphany and, since then, I've taken to calling it, only half-jokingly, the Wienpahl Sutra. To this day I regularly go back to it and I continues to find it thought-provoking and helpful.
But, as I say, there was another essay in my bag by Wienpahl called "Spiritual Values in a Scientific Age" published in the same journal but in April 1966. It certainly made an impression on me at the time but I have to say it was totally eclipsed by the Wienpahl Sutra. However, in the past few weeks I've gone back to it for a couple of reasons.
The first is that my next sabbatical is approaching (May-August 2016) and this, naturally, put me in mind of the last one (and it is also why I've recently been posting a few photos from various trips to the region).
The second is that, between 2008 and today, I've explicitly "come out" as a religious naturalist and, inevitably, this has required a great deal of thinking about how best to bring together both religious/spiritual concerns and the various discoveries and insights of the natural sciences. In this context it's pretty obvious that an essay entitled "Spiritual Values in a Scientific Age", written by an author who has been so influential on my own thinking, is going to come back into mind.
I leave you to read this essay yourself at the above link if you wish but, as an accompaniment to the photos taken where I first read it, here's just a short extract:
Wienpahl first identifies what he thinks are spiritual values: He says "They are quiet strength, simplicity, tranquility, detachment from material things." He then goes on to write:
Religion does not concern the relation of the soul to God, though by some people, the Christians, religion is talked about in this way. (In the Buddhist religion, or at least one sect of it, we are told that there is no God and that we should abandon the idea of the self or the soul.) Religion has to do with that other part or side of our lives. We are being religious when we are being alone with ourselves. We can be alone and be with others. The “other world” of which all religious people speak is this world. Being religious, being in the so-called other world, is simply being in this everyday world in the religious way, the quiet way. There is nothing mysterious about it. It seems mysterious only because so few have practiced it. This step is so important and has such a vital bearing on our question that I want to explain it further. The other world of which religious people speak has been described in various ways. The Buddhists call it the other shore to which we cross by the raft of the Buddha’s teaching. They also refer to it as Nirvana. Some Christians have called it heaven. It is that realm to which the immortal soul goes when it is redeemed. It is described by more sophisticated people as the timeless realm of being and is contrasted with the relative world of becoming. In this vein they go on to say that the way to this world is that of faith or intuition. Knowledge of the other world, the relative world, is obtained by science.
And so to the pictures. Just click on one to enlarge it.
|In the centre is the tree under which I sat|