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Is Ultimate Reality Unlimited Love?
By Stephen G. Post, John Templeton
Templeton PressCopyright © 2014 Stephen G. Post
All rights reserved.
Sir John's Biggest Question
I AM WRITING A BOOK with a title of Sir John's choosing as he had hoped to write it for himself before his health finally failed at the age of ninety-six. My hope in part 1 is to unveil his core theme of Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality more or less as Sir John might have done so. I focus on his published writings, and draw on his letters to me on the subject over a seven-year period (2001–2007), as well as closely related conversations. In part 2, I focus on three intersecting axes of plausible scientific evidence for the hypotheses of Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality, each of which I discussed with Sir John because I found them to be so central to his writings on the topic and queried him about them. In part 3, more than twenty scholars and associates or family members who knew Sir John generously reflect on what the concept of Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality meant to him or on how he tried to live a life of love.
Throughout the book every effort has been made not to diminish or retreat from the full contrarian boldness of Sir John's mind, for he considered mere human love to be frail and unreliable, preferring to write often of Unlimited Love as the very Ground of Being (a.k.a. "God") that underlies all of reality. He meant this substantively, not symbolically or metaphorically. Sir John often asked me to investigate a love that is infinitely greater than our human love. He never intended to write a book on mere human love, for while he appreciated this asset, he understood such love to be limited with regard to duration, range, consistency, purity, and wisdom. Therefore, he saw "spiritual and religious progress" in our coming to a greater awareness of, and connection to, not human love but the love that made humans—that is, with the Ultimate Reality that is Unlimited Love and the matrix of being.
Sir John wrote me these words in a letter dated August 3, 2001, words that I know he thought deeply about and felt to be crucial for spiritual progress:
I am pleased indeed, by your extensive plans for research on human love. I will be especially pleased if you find ways to devote a major part, perhaps as much as one third of the grant from the Templeton Foundation, toward research evidences for love over a million times larger than human love. To clarify why I expect vast benefits for research in love, which does not originate entirely with humans, I will airmail to you in the next few days some quotations from articles I have written on the subject.
Is it pitifully self-centered to assume, if unconsciously, that all love originates with humans who are one temporary species on a single planet? Are humans created by love rather than humans creating love? Are humans yet able to perceive only a small fraction of unlimited love, and thereby serve as agents for the growth of unlimited love? As you have quoted in your memorandum, it is stated in John 1 that "God is love and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God in him."
For example, humans produce a very mysterious force called gravity but the amount produced by humans is infinitesimal compared to gravity from all sources. Can evidences be found that the force of love is vastly larger than humanity? Can methods or instruments be invented to help humans perceive larger love, somewhat as invention of new forms of telescopes helps human perceptions of the cosmos? What caused atoms to form molecules? What caused molecules to form cells temporality? Could love be older than the Big Bang? After the Big Bang, was gravity the only force to produce galaxies and the complexity of life on planets?
Sir John wanted to devote at least one third of his grant to support investigations into a love "over a million times larger than human love." Anything less would be an act of human arrogance. Two months later, on September 1, 2001, he repeated by letter, "Unlimited love may be billions of times more vast than any one temporary species on a single planet can yet comprehend."
Dear readers, Sir John was not at all interested in writing a book titled Human Love as Ultimate Reality. He was one who knew, both by introspection and by observing human behavior, that human love is a very limited enterprise, and human nature a very mixed bag indeed. Although he condoned investigating it, he also counseled that our investigations focus to a very significant degree not on human love at all but on Unlimited Love. I found this exciting because I agreed with his analysis, although in the modern secular university situated in a materialistic era the very idea of studying Unlimited Love would prove challenging. Sir John directly chided me in a nice way for supporting one small study on non-human primates, stating, "This is not just very interesting to me. Let's focus on Unlimited Love."
Sir John was always most curious about three areas of evidence related to Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality. First, he wanted to know quantitatively how many people experience this Unlimited Love that seems to invade and permeate their awareness, and how this experience affects their behavior. He wanted hard numbers, although he was also keenly interested in the qualitative understanding of this experience. A decade later, after I finally assembled the right research team with the immense help of the distinguished sociologists Matthew T. Lee and Margaret M. Poloma, we conducted a national survey showing that an estimated 80 percent of American adults self-report an experience of God's love (see www.theheartofreligion.net) that enlivens their benevolence and is perceived as emotionally healing. Second, Sir John wanted to know if people who love their neighbor have benefits with regard to happiness and health, and if these benefits are amplified when such love is prompted by a sense in the giver of having a participation in Unlimited Love and serving as a conduit for it. Third, Sir John wanted to know if science can objectively demonstrate through physics and cosmology that the idea of Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality is at least plausible with respect to its lying at the very origin and continuing essence of all that exists in the universe as the underlying matrix of being.
In other words, Sir John did not wish to leave the evidence with human experience alone, but he wished to extend it to the objective essence of the universe in the form of reality itself. (These three areas of research constitute part 2 of this book.) This was fine with me, although it flies in the face of a materialistic sensate culture with ruling scientific paradigms locking out such metaphysical possibilities. Like Sir John, I am a realist about human nature and doubted that we as a species could ever much amplify our love for all humanity without a dramatically increased awareness of the Unlimited Love that made and sustains all that is. Sir John's own lines about the presence of God in the universe will hopefully demonstrate to the reader just how intent he was on the third area of evidence. These lines are taken from his Riches for the Mind and Spirit:
When man becomes humble in his approach to God, then he can think and speak in this way:
Billions of stars in the Milky Way are upheld in the dynamic embrace of God's being, and He is much more. Billions and billions of stars in other galaxies are creatively sustained in God in the same way, and He is much more. Time and space and energy are all included within the power of God's presence, and He is much more. Men who dwell in three dimensions can apprehend only a very little of God's multitude of dimensions. God infinitely surpasses all the things seen and also the vastly greater abundance of things unseen by man.
God is the only ultimate reality—all else is fleeting and contingent. The awesome mysteries of magnetism, gratitude, joy, and love are all from God himself, and He is much more. Five billion people live on earth and live and move and have their being in God, and He is much more.
Untold billions of beings on planets of millions of other galaxies are what they are in God, and He is much more.
God is beginning to create His universe and allows each of us His children to participate in small ways in this creative evolution.
God is infinitely great and also infinitely small. He is present in each of our inmost thoughts, each of our trillions of body cells, and each of the wave patterns in each cell. God embraces all of us within the presence and power of His being, but we are a very little of all that subsists in Him. (1990/2006, 204)
Sir John would ask if love could be older than the big bang, and if we could seriously study a love "which does not originate entirely with humans." Sir John wanted to think big, think cosmic, think Ultimate Reality. And because I share his larger spiritual intuitions, I was going to write this book for him.
In 2001, my doctoral dissertation director, James M. Gustafson of the University of Chicago, under whom I had long before (1982–83) written a dissertation reconciling agape (God's) love with the flourishing of the giver, kindly advised me by phone not to undertake this adventure because it "was beyond the acceptable paradigms and might well destroy your career." "You and Sir John may be right," he said over from New Mexico, "but the academic world will not tolerate such paradigms for a century or more, if then." But by December 2013, Professor Gustafson congratulated me by phone on the Institute and on this book. The idea of Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality is actually not at all a strange idea for anyone versed in the history of world religions. For example, here is a quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927), who was born in India and ventured to the West in 1910 to found the international Sufi movement in 1918. He wrote,
And the love of God is that which is the purpose of the whole creation: if that were not the purpose, the creation would not have taken place. As the whole creation is from God, then it is of God. If it is of God, then it is a manifestation of love, and the manifestation of God is purposed to realize perfection in love. (in Rose 2007, 215)
Sir John greatly appreciated Sufi metaphysics, and befriended the great contempory Islamic scholar of divine love, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University and a graduate of the Massacusetts Institute of Techology. Islam and Hinduism have more easily sustained this metaphysical tradition of Ultimate Reality as Unlimited Love than other great faiths, but it is essential to each and every one of them with regard to their great mystical exemplars and deeper spiritual thought.
No matter what we do, "God loves us all equally and unceasingly," wrote Sir John (2000a, 127). It is said that God can do anything. Sir John would have said that this is not true. There is one thing that God cannot do. God cannot reject anyone, no matter what difficult and even despicable a life they may have lived, because God's Unlimited Love is too radically big for that. People feel sometimes that God cannot love them because of a mistake they made, a poor decision, or some bad habit or personal history. They feel unlovable and even hated by God. But the one thing God can never do is not love anyone. God's Unlimited Love is millions of times deeper and more unchanging than anything we human creatures have within us by nature alone.
This radically unconditional, universal, and unchanging love made Sir John thankful, and this was at the center of his interest in gratitude, which always went beyond mere interpersonal gratitude to an appreciation for a God of Unlimited Love. His son Dr. Templeton, along with other relatives, reports that at about the age of ten John Templeton was already speaking of how much gratitude he had for a God who could love him, and love us all, overlooking our many faults. Young John Templeton preferred Thanksgiving to any other holiday for this reason, and later in life, during the 1960s, began to write Thanksgiving cards to all his family and friends.
Sir John thought that humanity has not yet begun to explore the infinity of potential in this Unlimited Love. Such love can free us at last from the shadowy myths of fear-based gods and it can open the doors to a future free of the conflict and violence that arises from our tendencies toward retaliation, domination, exclusion, vengeance and most of all from the arrogance that underlies these evils. Hence, he created Humility Theology, focusing on how little we know about God. Unlimited Love for Sir John represents the greatest leap forward in consciousness and progress imaginable.
In speaking of Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality, Sir John was also referring to the most significant grounding for human freedom conceivable. A God who is love is not the God of slavish, fearful obedience. In the place of coercion is the voluntary loving relationship of freedom. Love is the very basis of freedom, for influence is exercised not through superior force but instead through truth telling, persuasion, and attraction. So it is with God's love. Knowing that human nature tends to choose security over freedom, Sir John considered freedom an aspect of God's love that is bestowed upon us and that we should accept. Freedom is not rightly understood by analogy to a dog wanting to chew through its leash. In fact, the dog will stop chewing whenever a large plate of food is placed before it. No, for Sir John freedom is an inherent element in the eternal part of the human mind that is creative and loving, and participatory in Infinite Mind. In other words, freedom has its origins in God.
A ROUTE 80 MOMENT
As alluded to in the Preface of this book, I was pleased to undertake this responsibility to write on Sir John's behalf, but did so only after considerable prayer in July 2011. With a bit of bright sunrise inspiration at the Delaware Water Gap on Route 80 driving west to attend a funeral in Cleveland, I pulled over and called Dr. Templeton on my cell phone to tell him that, indeed, I would like to give this book every effort. I pulled over because a retired pediatric trauma surgeon like "Dr. T" would not like to see me on my cell while driving. My qualifications for this project are (a) an absorption in Sir John's writings over a span of two decades, (b) personal interaction with Sir John on the theme of Unlimited Love for more than a decade and as founder and president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love that he supported, (c) interactions with his family and friends as associated with the John Templeton Foundation, and (d) a personal interest in the topic of God's love that led to the writing of my Sixth Form thesis on the topic at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire in 1969, and that has defined a career spanning forty years that has not deviated an iota from this interest.
Dr. Templeton was clear in not only affirming my commitment but also in stating that this was one of the best things I could do as a trustee of the Templeton Foundation to encourage future generations of individuals associated with it to take his father's thought world with the seriousness that it deserves, even if it is difficult for them to conceptualize Divine Mind, Ultimate Reality, and Unlimited Love. Dr. Templeton wanted to avoid any drift away from Sir John's full intent in founding the Foundation. So we firmly agreed on the project in that ten-minute conversation. I was careful to put my cell phone down before heading west again on that great highway.
This book is not a formal intellectual biography, although an assessment of major influences on Sir John's thought is offered. Rather, the book is an attempt to write more or less what Sir John would have wanted to write himself about his core idea had he lived a little longer. I am not writing as a historian or a biographer, because Sir John would not have written the book this way. Rather, I am working with Sir John's major publications and putting myself in his shoes as best I can. Hopefully, this book makes the case he wanted for his core assertion in a manner that appeals not just to professional theologians, philosophers, and scientists but to all those who knew him and loved him, and to the informed lay public that deserves to understand the deep spiritual and intellectual authenticity of the man who was both one of the twentieth century's greatest investors and the founder of the Templeton Prize for spiritual progress.
In the final analysis, Sir John wanted to transform our increasingly decrepit and destructive culture by reanimating the great perennial spiritual and metaphysical truths, Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality being chief among these. Thus, I write as his fiduciary, and stress his metaphysical commitments and biggest questions, none of which can be contained within or appreciated by mere evolutionary naturalism, for Sir John was definitely a nuanced substance dualist who believed that Mind is not merely an epiphenomenon of matter but also has a primacy of it own. In a nutshell, Sir John rejected "ontological reductivism," that idea that Mind as an order of being can be explained as "nothing but" matter in the form of brain chemistry and neurons.
Excerpted from Is Ultimate Reality Unlimited Love? by Stephen G. Post, John Templeton. Copyright © 2014 Stephen G. Post. Excerpted by permission of Templeton Press.
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