Sermon by

Rev. Glenn O. Canfield

May Memorial Unitarian Church

Syracuse, New York

June 10, 1951

Broadcast over WSYR


Everyone, I believe, is interested one way or another in religion. Some people are interested negatively in religion. They are interested only in the extent to which they disagree with it, or the extent to which they refuse to believe its teachings.


But almost all people are interested affirmatively in religion. They ďhave a religionĒ as it is said, rather carelessly. Or, rather, almost all people live by certain general principles of religion, or what might be called rules of good living. Even agnostics usually live by religious principles, broadly defined. A great many of us, however, are adherents of one or another particular kind of religion. And I think this morning that it would be very beneficial if we did a little thinking about our own religion. There are a few questions which, I would like to suggest, it would be good for us to think about.


First, how did you get your religion? Did you inherit it, like most people do? Were you taken by your parents to a particular church, when you were quite young, and brought up in that church and taught to accept the religion of that church? Or, is your religion today of your own choice? Do you enjoy the pleasure of your religion today because it is the one you have chosen for yourself? Have you ever stopped to think whether or not your religion is the one you would have chosen if you had exercised your right of choice?


And another question: What kind of religion is it? Let us think more carefully about this. Is it largely a set of beliefs which you are required to accept? Or, is it largely designed to further the interests of the church? Or, is your religion dedicated to you, and to your interests? Does it do something for you, to build up your life in the great human values which bring a better and finer life to you and your fellow men? Is your religion something which is imposed upon you from above by some authority? Or does your religion really satisfy your basic needs, and arise from your needs, and does it help you to develop your life in the ways of happiness and growth and life fulfillment?


Now these are pertinent questions, and I should like to say something more about them. First, I do not care very much what kind of religion you have, and neither do I care very much how you got it. Those questions, I think are really not very important. Among all the questions I have asked up to now, the only really important question is whether or not your religion satisfies your deepest needs, and does it proceed from your needs to build up your life, and does it help you to learn how to live with your fellow human beings?


Now I think that each of us should very carefully analyze his religion, regardless of what he may have, to see if it is producing these desired results. We should re-think our religion frequently, I think, to see if it is leading into life fulfillment. And I think we should re-think our religion frequently in order to prevent it from becoming encrusted in tradition and simply the tool of a church.


One of the fine things about our Unitarian religion is that we are encouraged to study and learn new truths about the life of man, and we are expected to use these new understandings to improve our religious living. Research and experimentation in all the fields related to the science and art of successful human living, provide a continuous stream of new insights and understandings which help us to determine the deep basic needs of man, and help us to learn how to fulfill those needs and thus find a happier and finer and more creative life.


Now, if we go into an examination of our religion, where shall we begin, and what guides do we have to follow? Now from what we have already said it is evident that there are, generally speaking, two kinds of religion: the kind which primarily serves the interests of the church, and the kind which serves the interests of the church, and the kind that serves the well-being of man. I reject the first kind. I do not believe that religion should be used to build up the power of a church or any other organization. So, I want to think about the latter kind, the kind of religion which is dedicated to you, and to your well-being and to building up your life to its highest level of fulfillment.


Now, what is the first step in this examination? First, if we have a religion which serves the well-being of man, we must learn all we can about man. We must determine what kind of religion man needs. Then we must set out to try to find that kind of religion. We must first attempt to discover man's deepest needs - what he must have, and how he must live -- if we are to live as well-developed human beings, and live up to our highest and fullest possibilities. Then we must discover how to answer those needs, and how man can build a happy and successful life which will inspire him onward and upward to yet higher levels. This it seems to me, will provide the basis upon which successful religious living can be built. A religion based upon manís deepest needs, and which guides him into the satisfaction of those life needs, and which teaches him to aspire to the highest values and the most complete fulfillment of life, is the kind of religion which man really needs today.


Now let us begin this analysis. What are the basic needs of man? They seem to fall into three different classifications. First, there are physical needs. We need to breathe -- the first thing that we need to do when we are born. We need to eat and drink. We need shelter and clothing and sleep and recreation. We need to maintain good health; to reproduce the race. We need to provide economic security for ourselves, and then we need to fill all of these needs for those who are dependent upon us.


Now the second group is what may be called personal needs. The child needs to be accepted in the family, not rejected. One of the worst tragedies that can ever befall a child is to be rejected. The child needs to be accepted in the family. The child needs to receive love, especially from its mother, and from its father, and the rest of the family and the relationship. It must have this love. Then, as we grow older, we need to develop self-respect, as a member of the group. And we need to develop self-reliance, again as a member of a group. And we need, further, mental freedom, and again, as a member of a group. Not mental freedom to think or do simply as our whims may dictate, but with a social consciousness, and with a sincere realization of the implications of our thinking and the power of our mental freedom upon others. Then, again, we need to be venturesome and courageous. We need to be creative. We need a sense of security, a feeling of at-home-ness in the world and among our fellows. We need a sense of belonging, that this is our group, that we are a part of this group, that we are at home in this world, that we belong to the human family. We need to discover and build our lives upon basic human values. Then, finally, we need aesthetic development. We need to learn to enjoy the beauties and spontaneous pleasures of living.


Then there is a third group of basic human needs, which may be called social needs. It is difficult to distinguish between these groups, of course, and these distinctions are only arbitrary. But under the classification of social needs, we might list these: A human being needs to love, to relate himself to others, for love is relatedness and cooperation. A person must express his love to someone else. A person needs to be with other people. Our authorities tell us today that man is born with an innate need for love, and a need to respond to the love of others. We need to feel a sense of relatedness to others, to recognize our dependence upon others, as a member of our group. We need to recognize our need to live in cooperation with others. We need to be identified with our group; to belong to a group; to find expression in a group; and to communicate with a group. Finally, we need to sense the security of love in our group, for love is security, and relatedness and cooperation.


All of these have been discovered as the major needs of man Ė our needs. This list, however, should not be considered complete. There are probably many more, but at least these are enough to keep us very busy for the time being, until we discover other basic needs of man.


Now our purpose in listing all these physical and personal and social needs, then is to find a basis for testing our religion, whether or not it is answering these needs; and to change our religion, so that it will answer these needs; and perhaps, for some of us, to build a new religion, if need be, which does answer these basic human needs.


With regard to testing our religion as to whether or not it is answering these needs; that, of course, must be the job of one of us. No one else can do that for you. But let me ask these questions: Does your religion pass this test? Does it answer your needs or build up your life in fulfillment of all these human needs we have mentioned? Analyze it carefully. Does yours work well? This is important, for the reason that religion is important. The right kind of religion can guide you into the greatest happiness, success, and life fulfillment that you have ever known.


Now, it is evident that we people of today need the kind of religion which is dedicated to us, to our well-being, to the fulfillment of our lives. There is no other honest or legitimate purpose for religion. Now I have no doubt but that the overwhelming majority of us need to do something to improve our relation. It probably needs some rather drastic changes. It probably needs some major improvements. Some of us may find that we need a complete change Ė that we should build our religion upon our basic needs, instead of as it is. And I might say that I know of no religion which passes this test very well, not even my own. I think all of us need to examine and improve our religion, and thus improve our living.


What concern should religion have for all these needs? What concern should the church have for the physic needs of man, for example? What business has the church delving into those matters? Well, I say unto you that it is high time that religion became deeply concerned about manís physical needs, and his physical well-being. I know it is written, ďMan liveth not by bread aloneÖ.Ē And that is true, but that does not say that bread is not important. It is important. And everyone must have an equal opportunity to satisfy his physical needs. Without this reasonable satisfaction of man's physical needs, there can be little hope for the satisfaction of other needs; and where man does not have opportunity to provide economic security for himself and his family, then to him the whole life of man is out of adjustment; and, it is. If we had a religion that was genuinely concerned for manís physical needs, purely for the man's well-being, we could effectively oppose the greed and exploitation which is manifest in so many ways about us.


And we need to be concerned about manís physical needs for yet another reason: that without the satisfaction of these physical needs man simply does not live well, and it is necessary that those needs be satisfied, for manís well-being. Anything that is necessary to the fully developed life is, and must be, a concern of religion.


What concern should religion give to personal and social needs? Isnít it enough that man be given a set of beliefs, handed down from some church or authority, that he must accept as the way he should live? The difficulty here lies in the fact that many of these religious beliefs which are handed down for us to accept have little or nothing to do with the personal and social needs of man; but they have to do with ancient theological doctrines which have little value today except as a record of what some men believed many hundreds of years ago. What we need today is a religion for today, not a museum-piece.


Now, out of all this can we find one or two important truths, possibly the central truth around which all of what we have said revolves; or a great truth from which all the lesser truths are derivatives? I think we can. I think the central truth of all we have been saying is that man needs today a religion which will guide him into the satisfaction of his need to love and to be loved, to live in cooperation and relatedness and security with his fellow men.


Jesus said this same thing 1900 years ago. He summed up all of his religious teaching in this one great central truth, in different words, that fateful night in Jerusalem, just before his arrest and execution, when he had his last supper with his disciples. As he talked with those twelve men about that table, giving them the best that he had, he said, ďA new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one anotherĒ (John 13: 34, 35). There it is! The greatest religious principle ever enunciated by man. And man is only recently discovering the full import of this great principle, and very few even try to live by it.


We need this very same principle today. This is the central truth of the religion we need. For we need a religion which has as its central truth the principles of love and relatedness and cooperation and security, which fills manís deepest needs, and which guides man into the way of life fulfillment.


If we would only change our religion, ourselves, to be like that, and if we could only get enough other people in this world to do so, we then could hope for a world at peace, forever.




Prepared for web page display on April 1, 2006