-By Roberta Russell
How could there be an all-knowing, all-powerful god who punished and rewarded his creations for deeds that he made them do?
Even after reading Bertrand Russell, Spinoza, and Freud, three very exciting forces that clarified my thinking, I could not find a reasonable answer to this question. At 16 I was captivated with the age-old conundrum that others had called “free will verses determinism.”
My efforts to solve this riddle resulted in a persistent and formal multidenominational search that entailed scheduled appointments with select priests, ministers, and rabbis. Even heated discussions with Mario Savio, my super articulate junior high school valedictorian classmate, who went on to formidable intellectual achievements, did not resolve this dilemma to my satisfaction.
I, a Jewish girl and veteran of Hebrew school and traditional family observance of Jewish holidays, had set out to discover the answer to my persistently discordant question. My normally intellectually curious father, Frank Ottenstein, a self-educated skeptical businessman, vehemently objected to my outreach to other religions. Regardless of his usual inclination, he could not consider this to be proper behavior for a Jewish girl. I proceeded against his wishes nevertheless.
By age 36 I had become an independent corporate head-hunter specializing in IT professionals, done graduate study in psychology— workshops and independent studies—and had affiliated as an elected public member of NAAP, an American psychoanalytic accrediting body. I presented my report on effective psychotherapy as legislative testimony at a formal hearing before NYS Assemblyman Mark Alan Siegel, and also at international conferences—one of which was in Rome and featured RD Laing, the 1960s rebel philosopher/psychiatrist. Laing concurred with my findings, which favored native ability over academic achievement. Consequently, I later contracted to write a book with him, with the working title How to Take Your Own Advice, published in 1992 as RD Laing and Me: Lessons in Love, by Roberta Russell with RD Laing.
I found myself ensconced in the house of Francis Huxley in Hampstead, England, as a guest of Laing. Hence, I serendipitously discovered the book Religion without Revelation (1956) by Julian Huxley, Francis’s father. Buried within that tome was the answer: …religion can coexist with a complete absence of belief in a personal god. Julian Huxley thought that although it is necessary to believe in something, he also considered it always undesirable and often harmful to believe without evidence (p. 13). These reflections provided a numinous experience for me, a lone woman on a path.
My Report on Effective Psychotherapy: Legislative Testimony, published in 1981 as an exploration into the evidence for the effective ingredients of therapy, had brought me to Laing’s attention. During our collaboration to create our nascent book, we were meeting daily in Hampstead. I raced excitedly over to Laing’s house, Huxley’s book in hand. Laing said that his father was also an admirer of Julian Huxley’s work. I was in heaven.
“Though gods and God in any meaningful sense seem destined to disappear, the stuff of divinity out of which they have grown and developed remains.” (Julian Huxley, 1967, Religion Without Revelation, p. 4.) “A humanist evolution-centered religion too needs divinity, but divinity without God.” (Ibid, p. 5.)
Fast forward to the present. In this time of world strife and planetary turmoil, most formal religions are losing ground. According to a recent Pew poll in America, the fastest growing religious affiliation is “none.” If unaffiliated was a religion, adherents would be the largest religious group in the United States.
Our divine sense of unity can be expressed individually and in groups. With eight billion people pushing the limits of the planet, and technological change advancing at exponential speed, the possibilities for divine coming-together have never been greater nor more urgent.
What do you want to accomplish? Don’t wait for a formal ceremony. Reach out and touch someone. Make an alliance. Open your heart and feel life flow in.
© Roberta Russell, January 9, 2023, New York City
Roberta Russell is the founder of the New York Calorie and Exercise Logging Group and author of R.D. Laing & Me: Lessons in Love with R.D. Laing (Hillgarth Press, 1992), Report on Effective Psychotherapy: Legislative Testimony (Hillgarth Press, 1981, 1984, 1994), and Report on Permanent Weight Loss (Columbia Academic Commons, 2017).
©Roberta Russell, February 1, 2023