© 1994 Ken Glasziou
© 1994 The Brotherhood of Man Library
Often when faced with having to do something that I would prefer to relegate to the “too hard” basket, my stomach reacts with real rather than symbolic “nausea.” This occurred when Ann Bendall handed me about 300 pages of literature on symbolism and religion. Symbolism was not on my list of favorite pastimes. However, I was aware that The Urantia Book had some important things to say, for and against, symbolism:
Regardless of the drawbacks and handicaps, every new revelation of truth has given rise to a new cult, and even the restatement of the religion of Jesus must develop a new and appropriate symbolism. Modern man must find some adequate symbolism for his new and expanding ideas, ideals, and loyalties. This enhanced symbol must arise out of religious living, spiritual experience. And this higher symbolism of a higher civilization must be predicated on the concept of the Fatherhood of God and be pregnant with the mighty ideal of the brotherhood of man. UB 87:7.6
Note the four-fold use of the imperative “must.” The Urantia Book uses this word 756 times. A random sample of about fifty indicated that it is never used facetiously. So it appears that, sooner or later, we readers must do something about developing a meaningful symbolism. Jesus himself provided a beginning with his inauguration of the remembrance supper.
This supper of remembrance, when it is partaken of by those who are son-believing and God-knowing, does not need to have associated with its symbolism any of man’s puerile misinterpretations regarding the meaning of the divine presence, for upon all such occasions the Master is really present. The remembrance supper is the believer’s symbolic rendezvous with Michael. When you become thus spirit-conscious, the Son is actually present, and his spirit fraternizes with the indwelling fragment of his Father. UB 179:5.6
I have yet to experience a remembrance supper at any meeting of Urantia Book readers that I have attended, either in Australia or overseas. Perhaps that is because all present had minds of “greater spiritual illumination ” UB 91:5.7, and no need for puerile symbolism. Nevertheless, we are told that “those who are God-conscious without symbolism must not deny the grace-ministry of the symbol to those who find it difficult to worship Deity and to revere truth, beauty, and goodness without form and ritual.” UB 91:5.7
Personally I have no problem with revering truth, beauty, and goodness but I do have problems in worshipping the First Source and Center. I really don’t know what to do! There are two reasons, one being my inability to comprehend or visualize a supreme and infinite being, and the second that I do not know how I should go about worshiping such a being. However, the book tells me that, to all intents and purposes, a Creator Son is God to his universe, and I have no problem worshiping Jesus-Michael. Apparently I have an inbuilt need for some kind of mind-image as a focus of worship. Have you ever wondered about the form of worship on Paradise that gets out of the control of the Conductors of Worship? UB 27:7.3 What do those worshippers actually say, do, or feel?
I began to understand some of my own inadequacies when I read about the difference between “discursive” and “presentational” forms of symbols. About the former, I’m told that, when reasoning, our minds organize word-symbols in a logical sequence appropriate to “discursive” thought. The relationships of these symbols of discursive reasoning are set by the rules of logical syntax. Mathematics is made up of discursive symbols and science has little use for any but discursive symbols! Having spent a large portion of my life working in the field of science with a sprinkling of mathematics, I presume my mind shuts down automatically when confronted with the “presentational” form of symbolism. This automatic mechanism probably infects most of us who have been nurtured in this age of science and technology.
Now the really rich field for psychological study is with the other type of symbol, the expressive or presentational. I’m not going to get anywhere in expounding on this form until I tell about the findings of the “Gestalt” psychologists whose experimentation revealed that perception comes to us, not in bits and pieces to be stuck together by some logical operation of mind, but all in one in a coherent, patterned, and structured whole. For example, the baby seeing the face of its mother does not see a collection of parts —a mouth of a certain shape, eyes of a certain color positioned in a certain way, a nose of a certain shape and so on— no, the baby sees and recognizes the face as a single whole, as an image thrown onto the screen of consciousness. And the baby recognizes that the unkempt mum that gets out of bed in the morning and the one having undergone metamorphosis at the beauty parlor is one and the same!
The marvels of this kind of perception of pattern or “Gestalt” are illustrated by other types of stimuli. A melody is recognized although transposed into another key - a completely different set of individual notes. A live rabbit, a cuddly cloth rabbit, and a mere outline drawing present three distinct sets of sensory data but even a young child quickly matches them. In one of the articles that I read, a pianist was mentioned who, while socializing with a group of friends, stepped up to a piano and, by striking just a few chords, portrayed each person in the group so vividly that no one present had difficulty in knowing which personality was equated with each piece of music! This led to the conclusion that “the essential pattern or Gestalt was communicated without words or other conventions. Minds are metaphoric in nature. . . The fact that feelings cannot be communicated by testable logical proposition does not argue against their real existence. It is the words that fall short, not the experience. To share the meaning of profound experiences, we must turn to metaphor.”
“Minds are metaphoric in nature”—that appears to mean that our minds store important memories in an easily recallable, symbolic form. Perhaps this is the clue to why The Urantia Book is telling us that we must develop a new and appropriate symbolism as an aid to the communication of its revelatory message.
The practical use of symbolism in modern times has been confused by our failure to differentiate between discursive and presentational symbols. For example, the newcomer to the bible, or the teenager seeking to break the ties with parental or religious authority, may ask: “Do you really expect me to believe that a snake tempted Eve with an apple, that a trumpet blast collapsed the walls of Jericho, that a whale swallowed Jonah and, three days later, up-chucked a still living Jonah onto a beach, that a flood wiped out all living animals and people except those taken onto the ark with Noah? You must be kidding!”
Presented as the infallible word of God, such tales invite skepticism and disbelief. But if presented for what they really are—the symbolic tales, legends, and mythology of a desert tribe in their quest to know God, then the same “presentational” stories may acquire a depth of meaning and significance not apparent when looked upon as “discursive” and historical truth.
The Urantia Book has these words for us: “The one distinction between man and the animal is that man can communicate with his fellows by means of symbols which certainly designate and identify meanings, values, ideas, and even ideals.” UB 160:2.1 “It is regrettable that so many modern believers in moral standards and spiritual ideals have no adequate symbolism—no cult of mutual support—nothing to belong to.” UB 87:7.3 “The cult is the skeletal structure around which grows the living and dynamic body of personal spiritual experience—true religion.” UB 87:7.10 “In the past, truth has grown rapidly and expanded freely when the cult has been elastic, the symbolism expansile. Abundant truth and an adjustable cult have favored rapidity of social progression.” UB 87:7.5
We of the Urantia movement may have been excessively timid in the way we have approached the spreading of the message of the Fifth Epochal Revelation, afraid of the power of symbolism and ritual, afraid of the labels “cult”, or “religion”, or “church”, afraid to sing hymns of worship, afraid to use the cross as “the great symbol of the bestowal life of Jesus” UB 188:5.9, even afraid to carry out the supper of remembrance, that symbolic rendezvous with Michael, inaugurated by Michael himself!
Recognition by the Urantia movement of the expectation that a new religion should emerge, founded upon the teachings of the Fifth Epochal Revelation, occurs in the Declaration of Trust creating Urantia Foundation. The book tells us that a cult is the skeletal structure around which grows true religion, and that cult members have a need of symbolism. Modern psychology confirms that thesis. The Urantia Book provides this admonition:
But the great difficulty of finding a new and satisfying symbolism is because modern men, as a group, adhere to the scientific attitude, eschew superstition, and abhor ignorance, while as individuals they all crave mystery and venerate the unknown. No cult can survive unless it embodies some masterful mystery and conceals some worthful unattainable. Again, the new symbolism must not only be significant for the group but also meaningful to the individual. The forms of any serviceable symbolism must be those which the individual can carry out on his own initiative, and which he can also enjoy with his fellows. If the new cult could only be dynamic instead of static, it might really contribute something worth while to the progress of mankind, both temporal and spiritual. UB 87:7.9
Surely it is time for change. We all have work to do - but each of us must work out their own involvement. Our Thought Adjusters and Jesus’ Spirit of Truth are on stand-by to help us.