Towards Individual and Group Harmony; a Challenge to People of Goodwill
byNoel W. Davis
Book Cover & Preview Text
This book is based on four principles:–
1. What a person believes governs their attitudes and actions.
2. That unless someone is in some way severely mentally impaired, they have beliefs.
3. The effectiveness of beliefs is ultimately shown by their outcomes.
4. That to endeavour to convince others to align themselves to one’s particular beliefs blocks efforts at co-operation.
1. Examples bearing out this principle are almost numberless, three will suffice. If one believes that a particular race is supreme then there will be no concern for how those who are not of that race are treated.
If one believes that they have no responsibility for the state of the environment they will make no effort to conserve it.
If one believes that differences can be reconciled through dialogue in spite of mammoth differences in view point there can be reconciliation. The power of belief cannot be overestimated. This is well born out with the Placebo effect. The word comes from a Latin root meaning, “I shall be pleasing or acceptable”.
Time and again it has been shown that when treatment is suggested for a particular ailment, if one group of people is given an actual form of medication with the others receiving a form which looks the same but could be a sugar pill, the positive outcomes in the control group are very high because the participants believe they are receiving something beneficial.
In his fascinating book “Timeless Healing”, Herbert Benson MD sets out his work on this effect. He suggests a different name for the phenomenon to remove the negative connotations which are sometimes associated with it, making it a form of “hocus pocus”. The term he uses is “remembered wellness”.
He lists three components: “1. Belief and expectancy on behalf of the patient; 2. Belief and expectancy on behalf of the caregiver; and 3. Belief and expectancies generated by the relationship between the patient and the caregiver” . He makes the statement “In every incident of remembered wellness, the catalyst is belief . . . As humans we are laden with beliefs, influences so interwoven we cannot precisely distinguish their sources” . It is my contention that the effectiveness of belief in regard to health issues also applies to belief in general.
2. The beliefs of a great number of people on planet earth are very obvious because of their allegiance to one of the ancient and well established belief systems such as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. In spite of the time honoured nature of these beliefs, it is my contention that there is no exclusive meaning system which leads to the outcomes in the checklist to come.
There will be no attempt to find similarities between the priorities or doctrines of the various religions. For the purposes of this book religion is given its broadest possible definition as a “Search for Meaning”. Certainly it is true that a number of people could be surprised that that they have beliefs in that they may not have formalised them but there are four questions which in your thoughtful moments you may have sought to answer consciously or unconsciously: “Who am I?”; “What am I?”; “How can I make sense of the existence in which I find myself?”; and “How can I handle this existence?”
The German word “weltanshaung”, usually translated, “world view” suggests a broad approach to beliefs in general. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Victor Frankl wrote “Each man is questioned by life and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life.”
I recognise that followers of established belief systems may find it off putting to be cast in the same light as those whose beliefs may not have been formalised. By the same token those who have spent a large section of their lives trying to make plain that they don’t subscribe to any particular belief may be equally disturbed. However to say that one has no beliefs is at that point to state a belief.
3. The validity and/or effectiveness of beliefs is shown by their outcomes. This principle is at the heart of the argument of this book. It is not enough when the wellbeing of the individual and society is being considered to maintain beliefs on the basis of their long tradition or because they happen to be enshrined in what is regarded as some sacred text. I’m not saying that beliefs which are held on this basis are necessarily not positively effective, just that the ultimate test of the validity of beliefs is their positive outcomes.
Jesus is recorded as saying about people bringing a message “Beware of false prophets! You can tell what they are by what they do. No one picks grapes or figs from thorn bushes.”
This is the basis for the checklist which constitutes the greatest part of this book. It is made up of the 10 outcomes which I consider to be crucial to finding individual and group harmony. They have been arrived at through a lifetime of reading, study, thought and association with people of different cultures, races and to some extent beliefs. As indicated in the Preface I happen to have grown up in a Christian home of the Methodist variety and have been trained in the Methodist ministry. I gladly joined the Uniting Church at its inception. Over the years, however, I have moved to the left of the theological spectrum and call myself a Christian Humanist. I feel that the items on the checklist can be arrived at through a broad spectrum of beliefs.
My studies have been mostly in the fields of the Bible, Christian Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, Education and Pastoral Care. A particular learning experience has been an association with those whose critical acuity cannot be questioned, High School students, in my time as a School Chaplain.
It is my hope that those reading this book will recognise the value of the attitudes in the checklist and, if necessary, modify their beliefs so that positive outcomes are possible. In his book “Fully Human, Fully Alive”, John Powell gives hope of this happening with his words, “My attitude has changed therefore everything has changed.”
4. There is no attempt at proselytisation as to do so immediately suggests the superiority of a particular belief. The way towards group harmony will be through open dialogue between people of different beliefs each sharing what they believe and being open to hearing the beliefs of others. In a book published in 1963 Reuel L Howe spoke of the place of dialogue in the community. I don’t think the sentiment expressed in the title is excessive, “The Miracle of Dialogue”. He wrote “When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hatred are born.” Some of the requirements of dialogue are well set out by John Bodycomb in his book “No Fixed Address” in his recollection of a conversation with Krister Stendahl, Dean of Harvard Divinity School. “First principle was that if I wanted to know something about another faith, I should ask some knowledgeable active member to tell me about it. Second principle was ‘compare like with like’, it is quite improper to compare our best with their worst. The third principle is, ‘learn how to cultivate a ‘holy envy’. Learn to see something beautiful in the other’s faith that is not yours but that you wish was yours.”
It is encouraging that there are a number of signs that there is an increasing degree of openness between many beliefs throughout the world. Hans Kung in his book “A Global Ethic” has made the comment “There can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions” . “A Global Ethic” is “The Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions”. At the parliament of 1993 there were some 70 different religions present. Succeeding parliaments have had even greater representation. Such gatherings give definite hope of greater group, even world harmony.
This book realizes that there are many, many beliefs. It may be that through dialogue, a person can change their belief; however, the book suggests that this could be unlikely. The main thrust is that there can be outcomes from all beliefs that can lead to greater harmony in the world.
About the Author
Noel Davis, BA, MDiv, Thd, Dip.Div., Dip Ed is a Uniting Church minister who has retired from active ministry. He spent the last 21 years of his working life as a School Chaplain. He spent three years in Fiji with his wife, Mary and his three sons, Paul, Stephen and Mark, moved to San Diego and then to Denver where he did more study for five years. He collaborated in writing three books of black line masters in the area of Human Relationships Education. He also wrote a biography of his grandfather, Walter Taylor, a building contractor, architect and engineer. He regards himself as a "Christian Humanist".