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.