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Making God Very Liberal in Seven Unitarian-Friendly Aspects
Rev. George David Exoo
From a sermon delivered at The 2002 Annual Meeting of the AUC under the title, "The Seven Aspects of God."
Within our liberal congregations, discussion, nay, even mention,
of God has become taboo, especially from the pulpit. This surely leaves
many congregants, perhaps most, confused and bereft of clarification
about the very force that impels their search into our pews. I myself
would have never joined Boston’s First Church in 1962 had it not been
for the exciting alternatives to standard Protestant God talk I heard
from the pulpit of Rhys Williams and others.
During my third week in the Unitarian Church in Charleston, after a
few weak hits on the “G” word, a congregant, the biggest giver,
approached me after church and told me she expected never again to hear
that word from the pulpit. Ultimately not she, but her ilk, ran me out a
decade later. During those ten years, I did avoid the naughty “G”
word, but I also reinstituted communion and healing services, long
Yet during those years, when I visited people’s homes for dinner,
every one of them asked me to say grace before dinner. They expected
prayers, real prayers, at weddings and funerals. In Beckley, WV, the
humanists have been far more tolerant of religious pluralism. This
spring, borrowing wisdom from a little pamphlet, Seven Main Aspects of God
(1942) by Emmet Fox , I made the bold step to devote sermons from
Advent to Easter exploring these seven attributes. My congregants and I
have had wonderful discussions, as we always do, exploring them.
We religious liberals want God, as we
understand Him/Her/It, to support our ongoing, free, and open search to
understand the world about us. We seek a God that works universally
through the progress of history, one that demands extension of
principles of civil liberties to all, and one that nurtures harmony and
peace between all groups and stewardship of the planet. Whether
understood as personal or impersonal, we want a God that works through
all religious symbol systems and political philosophies. We expect
guidance and hope more than salvation and rescue. We know we share this planet with people who see God as avenger, punisher, savior,
dictator, jealous despot, yet we believe in the potential for human
goodness over evil, and we believe that this goodness will ultimately
triumph over evil, if we plan for it and work for it.
So here, with guidance from Emmet Fox, I shall advance seven
aspects of divinity. We might call these aspects percepts. I would
prefer to think of each in a Platonic perspective. There is the great
realm of the Absolute, known to us through many emanations, each of
which is a part of, but not equal to the whole, yet inseparable from the
whole. The Christian church reduces these emanations to three: Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer). I am looking at the
same Absolute using a different grid: Intelligence, Truth, Life, Love,
Soul, Spirit, and Principle. Mine is, I think, more useful for
contemporary religious liberals than is the fourth century Trinity.
I like to think of the first four attributes as especially human,
and most humanists will entertain them more than the last three. The
last three are decidedly metaphysical and may require more of a leap of
faith than some of today’s spiritually-challenged Unitarians are
willing to take. Yet even these three have their analogies (analogiae entis)
in science. Soul may be likened to the atom, spirit to invisible forces
like magnetism, and principle to theorems and laws of science.
Really, I didn’t care what the humanists thought. Right or wrong,
2001-2002—thirty-five years after graduating from Harvard Divinity
School—I was finally talking about God in my Unitarian pulpit, not
someone else’s gods and goddesses or what the deluded Pentecostals
down the street think of God, but God as I perceive God to be! I find
this a remarkable commentary on the myth of freedom of the pulpit,
imposed largely by fundamentalists of the Left (humanists) in our once,
but now sadly only, so-called “liberal” denomination.
First, let me observe that God is spirit-impersonal and infinite.
God is a force and does not have genitalia. God does not live “up
there” somewhere in some celestial hall. God is not generous like your
grandfather or vindictive like your mother, though many people,
humanists and fundamentalists especially, have a hard time separating
God and people, who were, for them, authority figures in their own
families when they were young. “He-ing” and “she-ing” are never
appropriate terms to reference God.
Second, good God talk should, in my view, aspire to be
universal—not in the old Universalist sense that all are “saved,”
but universal in the sense that what I say should be able to cut across,
or be compatible with, as many spiritual traditions as possible.
Third, these seven aspects are but principal aspects, not all
aspects, of divinity. I might have added peace, harmony, understanding,
change, and symbols as attributes, but will be content to subsume these
great natural laws of good living under the basic seven.
TRUTH. When we
say God is Truth, we do not mean God is truthful, but that God is Truth
itself; the God is absolute truth and does not change. Certain things
are relatively true, depending on time or place, but God is Absolute
Truth. When we truly make contact with the divine, all uncertainty
Making that contact is difficult and tricky. We, all of us, are
truth-challenged, and most often deluded. For this reason scientists,
Karl Popper tells us, work to disprove their theories and are humble
about the paradigms in which they work. The great New Testament scholar,
Dominic Crossan, admitted on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air that, as an
historian of the New Testament, he does the best he can, bracketing the
Still Emmet Fox urges that meditating on God as Truth can guard us
from intentional deceptions and fraud. Realizing God as Truth opens us
to the intuitive, to finding the right book or person without waste of
God is not merely intelligent, God is Intelligence itself. The universe
is intelligent, running according to laws of harmony. Physicists
apprehend this intelligent design. Though humans may act cruelly and
wastefully, in an intelligent universe, there can be neither cruelty nor
waste. In harmony and stupidity are illusions, the result of what the
Bible calls the carnal mind.
Does intelligence make God a person? No, but God has every quality
of personality, except its limitations. Though human minds cannot
imagine intelligence without limitation, this does not affect God. In
the Bible, God says, in effect, whatever you think I am, that I will be
to you (Exod 3:14; Heb 11:6). This means that if we attribute to God
attributes of truth and intelligence (all the more so loving personality
and infinite power), God will be just that to us. The same is true for
spiritually-challenged humanists who attribute to God only superstitions
they learned in childhood. In acquiring better notions of God, humanists
do not have to feel they have left the God of their childhood, but that
they are simply getting a better notion of the God they have come to
discredit and disclaim.
Meditating on divine Intelligence can help us overcome blockages.
See people you view as stupid as intelligent, and you will be surprised
how brilliant they become. Children are especially subject to the views
imposed on them by teachers. See a pupil as bright, and she will perform
with brilliance. Look at a pupil as stupid, put him in the “lowest”
reading group, never give him a grade higher than a “C,” no matter
how well he performs, and you will make him into a dummy.
LIFE. God is
Life. God is not living or even good living. God is Life, and where God
is, there is Life. God is your life. God is existence or being.
When you are sick, you are only partially alive. To be truly alive
is to be full of energy and interested in the day’s work, curious and
caring about the things around you. Physical and/or psychological
debility may rob people of this technicolor gusto as they get older.
Whether this is a function of mere false belief (the carnal mind
believes we will grow old and feeble) or truth we can depend on, I am
not here to say. Emmet Fox held aging to be delusion, yet in 1951 he
died. Mrs. Eddy thought death to be an error of mind. Her followers
placed a telephone in her sarcophagus at the Mount Auburn Cemetery,
feeling surely her death must be a delusion. Yet she has never phoned.
The Bible tells us that “the Sons of God shout for joy” (Job
38:7) and that “shouts of joy and victory resound through the tents of
the righteous of the Lord” (Ps 118:15). When we realize that we too
are emanations of God, we experience joy, while the thought that we are
cut off from God, because, for example, of a life of unrelenting
physical illnesses, brings fear.
You know how a little child, when meeting someone she loves, goes
out, arms outstretched, in joy, to greet that person, where an
in fear. And you know the energy generated by a person who says “I
can” contrasts with that of the constant “I can’t” naysayer.
The thought of Life heals and inspires. Those who truly
How is God as Life manifest? Experiment yourself. Take two plants.
Give each equal care in terms of watering, sunlight, and feeding. To one
offer prayers and affirmations of Life; to the other no prayers, no
affirmations. Love one; ignore the other. The results after several
weeks will shock you.
Here is yet another experiment to affirm the infectiousness of
Life. Travel a train or subway after work. People will be tired,
irritable, and grumpy. Now silently start to affirm the presence of God
as Life. You will see first one person brighten up and smile, another
God is Love—not merely loving, but Love itself. Of all the seven
aspects, this is the most important one to practice, for there is no
condition Love cannot heal. “By this,” said Jesus, “will people
know you are my disciples: that you love one another” (John 13:35). If
you love God more than your microbe, you will be healed. If you spread
Impersonal Divine Love to all you meet, no harm will come to you. Those
who come to rob or kill you (against your will) will not harm you. Those
with the gift of spiritual healing emanate Divine Love. They have no
sense of vengeance: “It serves him right.” We may love the criminal,
but not her action. Thus with Love, we may want her incarcerated, but
only to protect others and to reform her, never to avenge her. Likewise
we want to protect ourselves from being robbed or taken advantage of. To
do so would be to help the criminal encriminalize herself. We must
protect ourselves, but only in a spirit of Divine Love.
Emmet Fox tells us that, if our prayers are not being answered, 99%
of the time it is because we have not demonstrated Divine Love. He urges
us to treat ourselves for Love everyday: to watch our thoughts, our tongue, and
our deeds that nothing contrary to Love finds expression there.
Scientific Prayer consists in visioning God—or aspects of God—in
places of trouble, damage, or illness. Affirm the correction, just as
you might affirm 2+2=4. Give thanks aloud for the correction. Then keep
the intentions of your prayers secret.
Because God is Love, God never threatens or harms or punishes
anyone. The nearer we get to realizing our connection with God, the
happier, healthier, and more peaceful we are. When we make mistakes, the
punishment we receive is the natural consequence of the law we have
broken. This is a true mercy, for in no other way can we learn of our
mistakes. Put your hand in the fire, and you will be burned.
SPIRIT. Just as
magnetism is invisible (though its nature is not yet understood by
physicists), it does force metal shavings around a charged piece of
metal to collect in a specific pattern, so does Spirit move to change
the world, even though its nature, too, is not yet understood by either
physicists or theologians.
Spirit does not change, while matter does. Spirit is substance
“that which underlies all outward manifestations of the real
unchanging essence of things,” according to Mr. Webster.
You are Spirit. Since Spirit can not be born
or die, your true self never has been born and never will die. You know
how beveled or fluted glass can distort the way objects passing by will
appear? So it is that we can easily assume that the decaying matter we
see in bodies is the same as the Spirit. It is not. The ultimate Reality
behind you and me is
Spiritual and does not change. It is “the unity inherent in all
A time to meditate on God as Spirit is when something is damaged or
broken, soiled or in decay. Doing this will improve, if not completely
heal the condition.
All things in the material world start as spiritual ideas (mental
thoughts). We humans, in contrast, are individualizations of God, not
mere spiritual ideas.
SOUL is that
aspect by which God is individualized. The individualized entity, the
Soul, is called the Christ Within, the I Am, or the divine spark. You
are the presence of God at the point where you are. In meditation we
become self-conscious of this Presence. Loss of this consciousness may
produce depression, discouragement, sickness, loneliness.
Having this consciousness should not make you vain, but give you a
sense of humility, yet a self-confidence that will enable you to
overcome fear. Thus, a good place to practice meditation of God as Soul
comes when we are asked to undertake some project that seems daunting.
Getting a clear image of yourself as Soul will enable you to advance
through difficult challenges by drawing in God as your partner.
is the least understood of all seven aspects. It comes down on the
impersonalist side of the old (Hindu) argument between personalists and
impersonalists. Personalists see the divine as male or female or
genderless demon, but always as animate. Hindu personalists, moreover,
believe that the deities before them in temples are the same as the
gods, not mere representations of them. Not only do they worship them,
they dress them and feed them.
Impersonalists understand God as abstract principles or laws.
“Does the mathematical principle know of the error the mathematician
makes?,” asked the commentator on an edit of The Truth that Heals, the
Christian Science radio program, some forty years ago. The answer is
simply “no.” We might just as easily ask, “Does the HIV virus know
of its spread through unsafe sex?” The answer again is “no.”
Principle applies whether we wish it so or not, just as there are
principles in natural science (water seeks its own level, matter expands
when heated, the angles of any triangle add up to 180 degrees.) These
principles were as true a billion years ago as they are today and will
be a billion years from now. They do not work on Tuesdays and take off
Here are two examples: God is the principle of perfect harmony, and
Harmony is the nature of God’s being. When we pray rightly, we ask to
be brought into harmony with this principle. We do not beg for
exceptions and exemptions. We do not ask God to change the law just for
us. We tune into the Divine Principle and then find things coming around
right. Rise high enough in consciousness, and there is no problem that
cannot be worked through, no injustice that cannot be corrected, no
prejudice that can stand.
The greatest, most powerful Spiritual Principle is that of
causation: that Mind is Cause. Whatever comes manifest in the physical
world must first appear metaphysically—in the mind. Think about it.
The planning that resulted in “9/11” had first to present itself
spiritually in the mind of men of Islam. This spiritual principle, an
aspect of God, is just as true for Muslims, as for Christians, as for
Hindus and Buddhists, as for Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, as for
contemporary Gardnerian Wiccans and their magicians.
Many have played with these Seven Aspects and refined them over the centuries: the proto-mythical Hermes Trismegistus, Socrates, Jesus and Buddha, Channing, Emerson, Mary Baker Eddy, and Ernest Holmes, in addition to Emmet Fox. I find that Emmet Fox makes the clearest exposition of this metaphysic. Some have labeled the collection of these principles the “Perennial Philosophy.” For the most part all these metaphysicians have all been classic unitarians, and all have added richly to the theological treasure trove we, as classic unitarian theists, can share with parishioners Sunday mornings. Isn’t it about time we do so?
 Emmet Fox, though rarely, if ever, found on “mainline” seminary
bibliographies, remains one of the most influential popular theologians
of the twentieth century. His books, pushed by Harper, stay perennial
best-sellers. One of them, The Sermon on the Mount, a series of essays
first published in 1931, inspired Bill Wilson to form Alcoholic’s
Anonymous in 1934. A recent check of Amazon Books revealed sales the
previous week ranked Sermon at 234 of the approximately 40,000,000
titles Amazon sells. Fox was born Roman Catholic, but early on began
reading metaphysical writers, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1931 a
New York teacher, Florence Scovel Shinn, invited him to come from
England and substitute for her while she went on a six month holiday.
Fox became so popular with Shinn’s audiences that he quickly displaced
her. Until his death in 1951 he spoke on Sundays in Carnegie Hall and
during the week in packed hotel ballrooms. Certainly many a New York
Unitarian and liberal Jew listened to him in rapt attention, but his
primary carriers became the Church of Religious Science and Unity. The
American preacher who most copied his thought and method was Norman
Vincent Peale. Peale’s rise to pulpit stardom came through his 1952
best-seller, The Power of Positive Thinking, which closely followed Mrs.
Shinn’s The Game of Life and How to Play It (1928). A dozen years or
so later Robert Schuller launched his national television ministry with
the aid of the book, Move Ahead with Possibility Thinking, he lifted
from Peale. Behind both these immensely popular Reform Church preachers
stands the fundamental principles articulated from ancient sources by
Emerson, then, more clearly to twentieth century readers, (Ernest
Troeltsch called these largely solitary spiritual seekers
“mystics,”) by Emmet Fox.
© 2003 American Unitarian Conference™