Zoom Meeting Sermon April 30, 2023

 

Topic: Recommended Reading: A Creed for the Third Millennium

Today we are reviewing one of my favorite novels, A Creed for the Third Millennium by Colleen McCullough, published 1985. There are a couple of themes in this book that I want to discuss. First, we will talk about the difference between religion and faith and the space we make for both of these concepts in our lives. There is a second, more subtle lesson, as well.

This book is set in a dystopian future where, instead of global warming, there is a significant drop in temperature. Glaciers are advancing from the poles and the growing season of all major food crops is substantially shorter. An international treaty has been signed that includes a universal one-child policy, among other things. The people living in this dismal world have lost all hope in the future, for good reason.

Judith Carriol works for the government, in the Department of the Environment. She is tasked by the President with finding somebody, one person, who can by force of personality bring the people together again and give them something to believe in. She assembles a team of researchers to dig through public records to narrow down the search, and she eventually finds Dr. Joshua Christian.

Joshua, the primary protagonist of the book, is a psychiatrist with his own private practice in Connecticut. He is a genuinely charismatic and Compassionate person who treats everyone he encounters with the same gentle kindness. Judith talks him into writing a book to bring that Compassion to the masses, which he eventually does, but the book is just the beginning. Now he must travel around the country, giving lectures and being interviewed on television and radio. It goes well at first; the public loves him and his words, finding in him a sense of hope and faith that they thought was lost forever. But it goes too well for Judith, who, whether she wants to admit it or not, harbors a degree of jealousy over Joshua’s fame. Harsh words from her, delivered in the heat of the moment, strike Joshua in the heart and send him into a self-destructive spiral from which he can never recover. He crucifies himself at the end of the book in a final fit of madness, but his work and his words live on in the hearts and minds of the people he inspired. Which is something we can all hope for.

Joshua believes in one god, but he is not a member of any formal religion. It really is possible to have faith without going to church, although most religions, particularly the monotheistic ones, would have you believe otherwise. Religion – which comes from the Latin word “religare” which means “to bind” – could be called the formal observance of faith, but faith and religion are not the same thing. You can have faith in anything. I have faith in coffee and sunrises, since neither of them have ever let me down. We can have faith in the practice of the Virtues, or even in the power of Cannabis and meditation. One of the most egregious things organized religion ever did to humanity was convince us that we could only have faith in their idea of god, that only they held the keys to being a good person.

The other lesson, the one Judith learns, is that you must take responsibility for what you unleash upon the world. When she finds Joshua and talks him into writing a book, she sees him as a tool, nothing more. But he has a mind of his own, and she has no more control over him that the sorcerer’s apprentice had over the animated broomsticks. Joshua’s eventual madness is a direct result of the sudden fame from publication  of his book, and his eventual death is, in a way, Judith’s fault.

The main takeaway that I get from this novel is that the most important idea is not original or surprising: Be kind to everyone. That is all you need to do in order to be a good person. It seems so simple and obvious, although it can be challenging at times. In the book, Joshua is described as a genuinely good person, but one who never made you feel morally inferior or in any other way lesser than they were. That is the kind of person we should all aspire to be, and our religious or spiritual practices should have that goal in mind.

Do you believe that following the Path can help you become a kinder person? Have you applied any of the lessons of the Path to your daily life?

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