Letter from Kenji Okuda to Eleanor Ring dated November 9, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Eleanor Ring dated November 9, 1942. Ring Family Papers, Acc. 4241, Box 1, folder 13. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Amache, Colorado
Nov. 9, 1942

Dear Eleanor,

Having just laid aside a wonderful book on modern civilization, I cannot squelch the desire to recommend it to you. It’s a masterpiece “The Crises of Our Age” by Pitirim Sorakin, head of the department of sociology at Harvard — a fascinating and thought provoking volume expareading??? a philosophy of history which has such a revolutionary and dynamic analysis of this present agonizing seeming suicide of modern civilization”. To those of us who are so anxious to do our part in the creation of a newer and better society, the analysis of Dr. Sorakin does not make our path easier—we need it though to make us realize the depth of this present revolution. Sorakin’s personal philosophy is difficult to analyze, but his analysis would make any serious thinker, and a pacifist particularly, more sensitive to the world about him. I’d like to hear you say that you’ve read the book already, and yet I want to feel that I wasn’t blowing off steam on “old stuff”. If you have any time—load it up.

No—this first paragraph wasn’t a deliberate shield to try to cover up the fact that I was such a procrastinator and cogitator—I can offer no words of apology—just that I’m sorry and really wanted to write sooner. One’s inner tension springs loosen up as one starts to settle down to any routine, and especially to a routine such as exists encamp where there is no need for worry or thought if one merely wanted to live from day to day. This is no apology—just a statement of unfortunate fact, and feeling that this is the place of greatest need for spiritual and mental discipline, I am trying to do my best. My intentions are always of the highest level----unfortunate, isn’t it, that we can’t live up to our intentions?

Together with thanking you for you letter, I must also thank you for the letter you wrote on behalf of Regional Council. The air mail special delivery letter gave me a pleasant moment of excitement and moments of thankful thought and meditation on the fact that Christian fellowship true friendship and understanding, can and will exist and survive despite all of the hate, bloodshed, and barbarism which is rampant in the world today. The oftener I experience these moments of grateful prayer, the stronger I feel in my Christian pacifism—love is a binding force which is stronger than any physical violence or unpleasantness. But oh—I need to search and cleanse myself—there is so much of the unchristian, the over materialistic within me!

How did Gordy’s trial come out and where is he? I’ve read of his conviction and sentence—Caleb Foote thought that he might be in the Federal prison at Du Point by this time—but I’ve received no personal news on the trial—the judge’s attitudes, or the thousand and one factors which emphasize the human factor. I wish that I could have been there with him—to the unthinking he took a poor way out, but we know that his was a more constructive path than the blind, sheep like obedience of the great mass of us. It is unfortunate, isn’t it, that we can’t catch the full significance and spiritual strength of living firmly by one’s innermost convictions until someone whom we know is made to suffer for it. True—we can read of Gandhi’s suffering—of the treatment of the C.O.’s in the last World War and even in this, but that strengthening “personal touch” is so often lacking—the spark which kindles for us our spiritual strength and courage.

Eleanor, I enjoyed sharing with you your innermost convictions on the sources and the necessity for your spiritual courage. As the Fellowship believes, there is no greater strength to be gained than from the exchange of mutual ideas—to know that others are striving honestly and earnestly for those ideals in which I believe. In camp, though, when see and read of the manner in which others are carrying forth their convictions, I cannot help but feel weak and helpless. What am I doing here to make this world a better place, to relieve the burdens of the other residents? Nothing—absolutely nothing, though we talk and talk until blue in the face about the necessity of doing something. At least this realization may serve a purpose in pushing me forward, but I need too much pushing. As I said before, I need spiritual and mental discipline as never before in my life.

It interests me greatly to hear of Al’s point of view. I don’t know what caused his change of opinion—although I have some ideas—but I felt the same way he did before I found myself growing within the U. Many of the naturalistic philosophers, and several on the U of W philosophy staff , would agree whole-heartedly with Al. Sorakin in his book which I mentioned at the very beginning has a very interesting analysis of modern philosophy and theology—an analysis which, whether one agrees or not, is worth a lot of serious thoughts. I don’t think that I can answer Al’s questions to his satisfaction nor even to yours, for, though I’m not a skeptic, there is so much which is included in one’s whole philosophy which is beyond explanation, and comprehension if I thought that I could put into words.

I might ask Al several questions relevant to his new philosophy—are there any eternal values in this world, and if so, upon what are they founded? I would argue for the existence of God upon several bases—sensory, rational, and intuitive. The error, if there is an error, in the reasoning that there is no God, is in the manner of thinking. If sensory experiences are the total of reality, then God’s existence cannot be proved—but—sense experiences are not and cannot be the total of reality. If reality is something in existence whether we have a human mind to comprehend it or not—then sense experiences cannot understand the whole of reality—there is no infallibility or all-inclusiveness or finality about sense experiences. Reason is need to bring order out of the chaos of a thousand sense experiences—but beyond reason and sense experience is intuitive knowledge—knowledge which we grasp purely subjectively. It is in this realm that the greatest strength exists for God’s reality—I feel that there is something above & beyond the material world—God. How can I base any conclusions on intuition or faith when they might be mistaken since it is a fallible human machine which caught the thought? If intuitively we feel God, then all things about us fall into a pattern which proves His existence. William James’ progmatism has its strength, but a purely “better” path puts too much emphasis upon the relative. Thus I feel that God is present!

What difference does it make after I’ve established Him? It makes a lot of difference—it impacts permanency and stability in our whole field of ethics, logic, truth. If there is a loving eternal God (faith), His presence does away with all of the relativism which is driving the modern world to doom. Relativism will be the death bed of modern civilization—we can escape it only by the presence of the Eternal. Without God or any eternal qualities, what is good? or bad? All is relative, you might say. Yet, if I should decided that all is good which does the most for me—then war, murders, brutality are good and actually there is nothing essentially bad. The human personality is just another something to be afforded no relevance nor worth more than the chemical ingredients which go to make him up. It is only when man is given a part of the divine—when we respect his personality because we all are children of God—then, and only then, can we escape the dilemma of modern civilization.

How would you distinguish between a religious experience from any normal experience? Is it essential that we make such a distinction? With due regards for the great mystics, isn’t there something of the religious quality in each and every experience we undergo if we believe in God? Isn’t it this quality which is as important as any we might want? I don’t think that we can clearly draw a line between a religious and “normal” experience—that doesn’t count— what counts is that our belief in God makes every experience have something of the religious in it. I think that Al makes a mistake when he tries to study religion and God as entirely divorced from “normal life” —the two can’t be if God is to have any meaning.

I’ve written a whole page and feel that I have gotten nowhere in my philosophical ramblings. Perhaps you can catch a glimpse of what I mean! I certainly hope so—and if you disagree, please bring the point out sense my thinking definitely needs clarification.

Last week-end I was able to take a trip up to Denver where I met the Yoroza sisters. Harry Matoba, and Walt Williams—among others. To feel free again, though for a day or two, was a thrilling experience, but it emphasized the need for a spiritual freedom which I am far from attaining. What of money — wealth — cars? If anything this camp life is proving to us that simplicity has its beauty and virtues — we’re acting more like people—enjoying the sunrises and sunsets, the beauty of the common things which we had taken for granted! There is an inspirational quality in everything about us if only we will open our eyes—but how quickly we close them again swept away by greed and desire.

This evening we are organizing a council of college youth to promote activities among that age group in camp. We can keep each other in touch with relocation (student) plans and procedures—bring in outside speakers—sponsor forums within—provide a fellowship which will be meaningful, especially when those of us who are more fortunate are able to go on to college. We can select students to go out and attend various conferences—these opportunities to go outside and make friends as well renew old are the needed tonic to keep alive the spirits of a number of us — revitalize and broaden our outlook on life which camp life so easily distorts. There is much to be done— and so few who are willing to take the responsibility!

What of the future for us? The picture is dark and dismal, but a number are devoting serious thought to the problem—this will have to be saved for another letter. I wish that I could write more, but my work calls me—so much to do & so little time to do it in———please write soon — I’ll try to dispatch a reply in better fashion — my regards to all — I’d appreciate word from any of the kids I know out there——


P.S. Where is Bob Rose?