A New Universalism for a New Century
by A. J. Mattill, Jr.
Universalist Herald Publishing Company, Second Printing: 2008;
“A man before his time” is an apt phrase to describe Dr. A. J. Mattill, Jr. Very few of the individuals who gathered for the first Universalist Convocation fully appreciated the brilliant insight and theological thought A.J. Mattill brought to this 1990 event with his introduction of A New Universalism for a New Century. However, interest in Mattill’s book has grown over the years and many Universalists and Unitarian Universalists who have read Mattill have come to identify with the ideas and concepts found in A New Universalism for a New Century. Unfortunately, this book went out of print several years ago, and it has been difficult for interested folks to locate a copy to read. With this second printing, many Universalists,
Unitarians, Unitarian Universalists, and other religious liberals, who have been searching for a positive and practical religious credo to match their modern understanding of the world, now have the opportunity to acquire a copy of this book and consider Mattill’s very meaningful and practical contribution to religious thought.
At the heart of Mattill’s theology is Fourfold Reverence: Reverence for Truth; Reverence for Beauty; Reverence for Life; and Reverence for the Mystery of the Universe.
The first element of his New Universalism is reverence for truth. By reverence for truth Mattill does not mean boasting that we possess the whole truth and nothing but the truth, for our conclusions are only approximations to truth and have only a greater or lesser degree of probability rather than absolute certainty. Truth is too elusive for any person ever to attain fully. Reverence for truth means a magnificent obsession for coming ever closer to truth, an all-absorbing search for truth that is never ending. To observe a reverence for truth requires that we become lifetime students. The greatest truth seekers are learners to their dying day, realizing that the more they know the more they have yet to learn.
The second element of a New Universalism is a reverence for beauty. A religion without beautyis cold and sad and incomplete. As human beings, we hunger for art, beauty, ceremony, music, and poetry. A religion which fosters beauty, appeals to our sense of beauty, and satisfies our hunger for beauty is to that extent a true religion and an uplifting influence to the human spirit. Reverence for beauty means to train ourselves to see the maximum of beauty in the world around us. Once we can see and recognize the limitless beauty all around us, then we can contemplate this beauty until our hearts are on fire with ecstasy. Every day we can expose ourselves to a flower or a mountain or a sunrise or a sunset. Reverence for beauty not only means to see and contemplate beauty but it also means to cherish beauty as one of the most valuable assets of life. Reverence for beauty is seeing and contemplating and cherishing and creating all those sights and sounds and compositions and lives which are so excellent in form or color or harmony or spirit.
The third basic element of a New Universalism is reverence for life. Reverence for life requires a humane religion which is sensitive to the misery and suffering of both people and animals and embraces both human rights and animal rights. Reverence for life requires that we honor nature and respect nature. The non-violence of reverence for life leads to the highest standards of conduct which are grounded in compassion and kindness which are not limited to humanity but which embraces all living beings. Whoever is filled with boundless compassion and kindness will respect the rights of all other living things,
harm none needlessly, and help every one so far as possible. Reverence for life requires us to exercise a sense of benevolent kindness and loving responsibility for animals and plants and people, for all will to live and not to die, and all of us share in the marvelous mystery of life which flows through all living things.
The fourth and final element of a New Universalism is reverence for the Mystery of the Universe. As we meditate upon mystery, we are filled with an overwhelming emotion concerning the inherent limits to the competence of our minds and the limits to our knowledge. We are forced to acknowledge that there are ultimate limits to what we may know both now and probably forevermore. Because of these limitations, we have to accept the fact that there are unfathomable mysteries in the world which are altogether beyond our comprehension. This Mystery of the Universe is what many, if not most, people have in mind when they refer to God. The name “God” has long been used to symbolize the Unexplainable Mystery of the existence of the universe, of life, and of the lawfulness governing all things. The reverential awe we experience before the Mystery of the Universe is the fundamental religious feeling, the permanent and irreducible hard core of religious experience. The intense emotional thrill derived from contemplating this Mystery is the ultimate religious experience. This Mystery of the Universe is the Tremendous Mystery or Mysterium Tremendum. Before this Tremendous Mystery, be it personal or impersonal, we feel so utterly small and insignificant. As we meditate on the Mystery of the Universe, we are lifted above our everyday concerns and we begin to lose our inflated sense of our own importance. Observing a reverence for the Mystery of the Universe creates a life-long sense of awe and wonder.
After presenting the outline of his religious philosophy, Mattill describes eleven characteristics of a New Universalism and provides several expositions of this world view to include The Jubilee Avowal which is a rewrite of the 1935 Washington Declaration of the Universalist Church of America.
This is a wonderful book. Mattill’s theology is intellectually compatible with modern science andhe provides practical disciplines for the expression of his theology that are compassionate and healing to the Earth and all its living inhabitants.
A. J. Mattill, Jr. has earned three degrees: B.A. from the University of Chicago; B.D. from Evangelical Theological Seminary; and Ph.D. in Biblical studies and theology from Vanderbilt University. He has done post-doctoral work in Israel, Canada, and Germany. Dr. Mattill was a frequent contributor to the Universalist Herald in the 1980s and 1990s. He and his wife, M.E., are retired and live on a small farm near Gordo, Alabama where they follow a vegetarian lifestyle and practice organic gardening.
To order a copy of the second printing of A New Universalism for a New Century, send check or money order payable to Universalist Herald and mail to Joyce Gilbert, 70 Harper Street, Rochester, NY 14607. Cost per copy is $10 postpaid to any US address and $12 postpaid to any international address.
Reviewer, Vernon Chandler is a military chaplain, former pastor, prison chaplain, and also a former editor of the UNIVERSALIST HERALD.
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