Sunday, July 8, 2007

Erich Fromm on Universal Religion (4)

Hello again,

A possible page error in the original quotation I received brings this further clarification on Fromm, despite my “last foray” comment.

When I checked the page reference in my paperback copy of Fromm’s The Sane Society, it comes from the concluding passage in the last chapter, on pp. 305-306, not on p. 352 as the original email I received indicated.

But the quotation is correct.

By the way, I can’t take credit for finding this quotation. As mentioned, it was forwarded to me by Carol Rutstein and Rob Stockman. I don’t know where it all started. If I once read it in Fromm, I had forgotten it.

I realize that Ismael’s report based on Hugh McKinley’s assertion does not amount to “proof” as the notion exists, say, in the exact sciences or in historiography. So the sceptical “it’s all speculation” comment is perfectly justified. We know from David Piff’s book, Baha’i Lore, that some Baha’i hearsay is accurate; other hearsay is pure invention.

I know that from personal experience. I heard the most bizarre stories about how Dizzy Gillespie had become a Baha’i, but it wasn’t until I sat down with Bethy McKenty, who taught John Birks the Faith, that I realized everything I had heard was nonsense. But even documentary evidence can be fabricated, and all documents have point of view, which is a type of bias.

But the textual parallels are just too similar—to my mind at least—to be coincidental. I am obviously not attempting to impose a viewpoint, which usually proves futile in any case, unless one is predisposed to accepting it. In a court of law, there are possibilities, plausibilities and probabilities. There the jury decides based on the evidence. If we apply the legal criterion , “beyond a shadow of a doubt,” then Mr. McKinley’s assertion would not pass. If we found documentary evidence from either Eric Fromm or Hugh McKinley, that would be a different story.

In “the court of scholarship” one makes an argument and it is either accepted or rejected. I frankly don’t know what the consensus is on this one.

Jack McLean

Erich Fromm on Universal Religion (3)

Hello again,

This will be the final foray into the remarkable Eric Fromm quotation. One of the respondents to my message was scholar, Ismael Valesco (Spain), who offered the following explanation for Fromm’s quote, which is so strikingly similar, if not entirely identical, to the main lines of Baha’i theology. If Ismael’s source is correct, it would be a very plausible, if not probable, explanation of why Fromm’s statement is identical to Baha’i teaching. Could such a close textual resemblance be entirely coincidental? You decide. (By the way, possibility, plausibility and probability in law and in science show ascending degrees of certitude).

Ismael tells me that the source is “kosher.” He heard it form Hugh McKinley himself. I don’t doubt that Hugh was able to change Fromm’s mind. This is not to say that he turned him into a theist, but I think it seems clear that Mr. McKinley convinced EF to see religion in a new light, one that agreed with his progressive, socialist mind-set. And I should add, that if all this is true, Hugh did a very good job and Eric Fromm was a very perceptive and articulate student. The time frame, as Ismael has pointed out, also fits since The Sane Society was published in 1955.
Of course, the whole theory would fall down if Hugh McKinley arrived at his pioneering post after 1955. So perhaps Ismael, or some other enterprising soul, could check that date.

Jack McLean

Here is Ismael’s comment:

“I believe that it may very well be that it was a Bahá'í who was responsible for that passage by Fromm. One of the Knights of Bahá'u'lláh for Cyprus, Hugh McKinley, lived on a little Greek island and wrote a literary column for the Athens Daily Times. He reviewed new books and took the opportunity to correspond with authors, striking solid friendships with great figures such as Kathleen Raine, Helen Shaw and May Sarton. One of these exchanges took place with Erich Fromm, in which Hugh questioned Fromm's dismissal of religion, and engaged him in a debate that led Fromm to change his treatment of the subject subsequently. For years I have been meaning to look for the passage in question, and I believe the quote you shared, coinciding perfectly with the timescales involved, is a prime and highly probable candidate. It explains the seeming anomaly of such a Bahá'í description of world religion, precisely in those dates, from an otherwise consistent dismissal of the subject.”

With love and gratitude,

Ismael [Velasco]

Erich Fromm on Universal Religion (2)

Hello Friends,

This is probably as close as I am ever going to get to blogging, so I wanted to share these few thoughts, just in case any readers might find them to be of interest. [Jack gave me permission to post this series of messages on my blog. Peter Terry]

I am following up with a few observations to the quote that I sent out on June 20th about Erich Fromm’s remarkable views about a new, coming, universal religion. To paraphrase, you will recall that Fromm (1900-1980) referred in that quotation to an evolutionary, new religion that will correspond to “the unification of mankind which is taking place in this epoch.” It went on to say that this new religion will embrace the “humanistic teachings common to all the great religions of the East and of the West,” that its doctrines would not contradict rationality, that it would emphasize praxis rather than ideology, and so forth. It alluded to the coming of a “new great teacher, just as they have appeared in previous centuries when the time was ripe.” (The Sane Society, p. 352).

In his The Imperishable Dominion (1983), Dr. Udo Schaefer devotes 4 paragraphs to Erich Fromm and quotes him there (pp. 90-91). Udo’s comments seem to me to be accurate. I will convey the gist of Dr. Schaefer’s remarks here, while adding a few others. On the surface of it, Fromm’s vision seems so remarkably inspired and close to that of the Bahá’í Faith, that one has to wonder how Fromm missed it. Bahá’ís, understandably, would read into Fromm’s statement a close description of the Bahá’í Faith by an enlightened, believing spirit of the age. For all the important factors that count in Bahá’í belief seem to be there: evolutionary development, the unification of humanity, progressive revelation, a new teacher, an emphasis on spirituality rather than doctrine, the harmony of faith and reason, etc.

I wish that were true. But as some of you already know, Eric Fromm’s statement must fall into the category of a description of a religionless religion. For to put it simply, Erich Fromm was an atheist. The more complimentary phrase would describe him as a socialist humanist. His statement, as enlightened as it is, reminds me of a phrase from 2 Timothy, 3:5 that men in “the last days” …” will have a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” The roots of Fromm’s thought are in psychoanalysis and Marxism. Although he rejected Freud and his psychoanalytical theory, as being too repressive and too bourgeois, his admiration for Marx remained complete. (See his Marx’s Concept of Man, 1961). His entire psychological project was based on a merger of Marxism and psychoanalysis. Erich Fromm grew up in a devout, orthodox Jewish home. But early on, he renounced, not only Judaism but all religion, for like many intellectuals who can see only the dark side of religion, Fromm believed that religion had divided humanity and had done more harm than good. He also had a horror of totalitarian systems, having fled Nazi Germany to come to the United States. For him, religion was a repressive, totalitarian system and stifled the freedom of individual conscience.

However, Fromm’s dilemma--again like many humanistic intellectuals-- was that he could not entirely divest his project of the basic elements of world religion since he realized that religion stood out as one of the permanent features in human history and consciousness. Marx boasted about turning Hegel on his head to formulate his system of dialectical material; Fromm turned religion inside out. But regrettably, his new outside presentation of religion divested it of its most essential elements. Instead, he promoted a new humanistic, non-institutional “religious” consciousness while, as Saint Timothy’s prophetic vision of the latter days rightly says it, “denying the power” of its Source. Thus, the new teacher of the age that Fromm envisions and advocates, is not a theistic prophet, one who speaks on behalf of God (Gk. pro + theos), but a humanistic teacher, like Karl Marx, who will spread an ideology, however enlightened. The religionless religion that he advocates will come about in a post-religious age.

“So close, and yet so far.” But perhaps Fromm’s thought may cast a spark in the divinely enlightened mind.

Jack McLean

Erich Fromm on Universal Religion(1)

Hi Friends,

I received the following highly interesting quotation from Carol Rutstein via Rob Stockman. Where it started, I do not know. Just in case you haven’t seen it, I am forwarding it to you. I own The Sane Society, but somehow I missed this one. It’s well worth reading.

Jack McLean

"….In fact, for those who see in the monotheistic religions only one of the stations in the evolution of the human race, it is not too far fetched to believe that a new religion will develop which corresponds to the development of the human race. The mostimportant feature of such a religion will be its universalistic character, corresponding to the unification of mankind which is taking place in this epoch; it would embrace the humanisticteachings common to all the great religions of the East and of the West;it's doctrines would not contradict the rational insight of mankindtoday, and its emphasis would be on the practice of life, rather thanon doctrinal beliefs. Such a religion would create new rituals and artistic forms ofexpression, conducive to the spirit of reverence towards life and thesolidarity of man. Religion can, of course, not be invented. It willcome into existence with the appearance of a new great teacher, justas they have appeared in previous centuries when the time was ripe. In the meantime, those who believe in God should express their faith by living it; those who do not believe, by living the precepts of love
and justice and - waiting." (The Sane Society, p. 352)

(The same ideas are also expressed in Julian Huxley's book, Evolutionary Humanism; see "The Humanist", Vol. XII, 5, 1953, pp. 201 ff.)

"Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself makes you fearless." Lao Tzu