“The Unitarian Universalism’s Good Life Model”
-A meditation/commentary by Richard J. Van Iten-
There is an over-abundance of literature devoted to discussions regarding “what constitutes the Good Life. Plato, for example, was convinced that what makes a life truly good requires an unrelenting discipline whereby humans break free of any inclination to allow reason “to go on holiday” and thereby granting our inclination to be driven by emotions and the adjacent “appeal of the senses.” Reason must be the master of our minds and souls. By itself, however, Reason is powerless-it requires the guidance of universal truths and principles which are themselves self-justifying. Ultimately Plato’s thinking takes him in the direction of a profoundly important and, for many, appealing merger of Goodness and Beauty. In short, the Good Life is a manifestation of Beauty itself. Think here of the observation that “…while physically unbecoming, Socrates was a beautiful human being…” Imagine how you might expand upon this observation for the benefit of persons unfamiliar with the historical Socrates. Depending upon your own life experience, you might hit upon the idea that to regard Socrates as beautiful, given what we know of him, is really a fruitful way of suggesting it makes very good sense to think of Socrates as “a work of art!”
- The Heidelberg connection-Aesthetics Seminar-The “Einheit in der Mannigfaltigheit” Theory-unity in diversity: The Plato-Aristotle Tension-human nature as “fixed” vs human nature as the basis for the person as a social being (keep in mind the 1st and 7th UU principles-the affirmation of individual human worth realized in community with the latter understood as the context within which the person as a work of art in progress.
- The Appearance of Salvific Philosophies/Religions. (Insert a comment regarding the notion of Salvation as it appears within Eastern and Western religions and philosophies-emphasize the stark difference between notions of the Self and the origin of Suffering. East and West share a common quest-salvation but have very different views regarding how to take Life seriously.) Re: the UU position: Note the emphasis on the immortality of individual souls which is accompanied by a waxing and waning of the congregation’s role in the aesthetic development of individuals-important tension develops between my portrait as my own and my portrait as “painted by the numbers” specified by the congregation. Reference here to Sartre’s play, No Exit, in which two basic existential tensions persist over time. The first has to do with the challenge humans as individuals face when confronted by their own histories-think here of what is sometimes referred to as “over-painting,” a way of disowning one’s past by personal reformation and the second having to do with the persistent effort of other individuals and society to “do the painting for you.”
- The “Making of Modern Humans” Faith-based religions and mathematically dependent Science (E.G. Galileo’s struggle) in conflict. Think here about the tensions created for individuals and society when a paradigm shift occurs as a consequence of the development of a science of human nature-think here of the notion that whatever is true of human nature and whatever shall be true of human nature are measurable-quantifiable-hence predictable. Thus, the very notion of a self-portrait becomes problematic. Genetic determinism provides, at least in principle, the basis for rethinking the identity of “the artist at work” as we go about getting on in life.
- The Unitarian Universalist Response: Sources (1) emphasis on humanistic communitarianism & (2) eclecticism-cp. P1/P7 and Sources of our Living Tradition
The “Aesthetic Challenge” Closing Meditation
(Recite “The End of a Perfect Day)
The UU palette and the Visionary Guide its Principles and Sources provide no description of the ultimate Human Condition…cp. Michelangelo’s view: His sculpting task was to do nothing other than free from the marble the creature locked within. Ultimately Unitarian Universalism is Aristotelian at its core-humans are aggregates of potentialities…and although we may not have a clear and distinct fore-image of the beings we are determined to become, like Aristotle, we begin this life-project knowing that we share a fundamental commonality-the potential to accomplish that which is aesthetically (spiritually) good and the potential to accomplish that which is aesthetically (spiritually) evil. And so, it is we can appreciate the ancient Greek admonition, Be wary of taking on a prideful disposition regarding whatever accomplishments you or your friends may think your own. True self-knowledge is invariably sure cause for humility.