This I Believe

Boulding, Kenneth E. (Kenneth Ewart)

  • Kenneth Boulding explains that as a quaker and an economist he understands that pure scientific knowledge is important but meaningless if unaccompanied by an appreciation for the intuitive and spiritual side of life, which he experiecnes through prayer and contemplation.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Kenneth Boulding is an economist. A native of Liverpool, England, he started his teaching career at the University of Edinburgh. Since 1937 he has been a professor of economics at a number of colleges in America and is, at present, at the University of Michigan. In 1949 he was awarded the John Bates Medal of the American Economic Society. Author of several books, he is also a frequent contributor to various journals. Here now is Kenneth Boulding.
As I have been wrestling with the problem of how to condense about forty years of life into three-and-a-half minutes of talk, I have been reminded of the old story of the little girl who defined
faith as “believing what you know isn’t true.”
Now there is something about the word belief which implies just a shadow or suspicion of doubt. And in a way, I’m more interested in what I know, what I really experience, than what I believe. I find there’s a certain temptation to say what I think I ought to believe, or what it would comfort me to believe, rather than what I really know. But when I ask myself, What do I know, I find it almost impossible to answer. Because though I’m quite sure I know something, I find it very difficult to talk about it.
Now you really have to come with me, to come with me some Sunday morning into Friends’ meeting, and sit down in the deep silence and see if something doesn’t happen to you. It happens to me, I know, although what it is, is difficult to say—a sort of awareness, as if somebody opened a window somewhere and you saw things you never saw before.
I’m both a professor of economics and a Quaker. There’s a certain amount of tension between these two aspects of my life, although I’m sure they both pull ultimately in the same direction. As an economist, I do of course believe in the power of science to increase knowledge. I believe in careful observation and the painstaking collection of facts and the object of frame of mind. I’m also convinced that all
these virtues lead to mere accumulations of intellectual junk without the flash of insight, the poetic intuition, and the mystical experience. And these things I find also in my religious life.
As a teacher, I know perfectly well that all my efforts will be in vain if the student does not attend to his inward teacher even more than he does to me. He will not learn. Similarly in my religious life, I know there is an inward teacher because I find myself being taught. I’m taught, for instance, in prayer.
I don’t know how to tell you what I know about prayer, either. It’s a pity it’s such a stuffy word. Sometimes I’m walking along the streets and I’m almost overcome by sheer gratitude and thankfulness.
That’s one of the things that prayer is.
And then this business of being guided. It’s so easy to be silly about it, as if you were such an important person that the lord of the universe could hardly wait for you to ask him exactly what you ought to do. Sometimes I’ve asked for guidance and the lord has said, “Don’t be silly. This great decision you thought was so important isn’t important at all.” Well I just have to confess to a sense of direction, the being led.
And then, I believe in Christ. I don’t see any other explanation of that extraordinary document we call the New Testament, except that the events it records, for the most part, actually happened. And that
makes a lot of difference. It means there was a time when love really won out. And that means we can really trust in God—without that nasty little reservation about keeping your powder dry.
That was Kenneth Boulding of the University of Michigan, who lives with his family of four in Ann Arbor.