Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Inflammatory Comments R Us!

I am working on an article for our publishing house on why I am a Unitarian Universalist Christian. This thing is very overdue, and my friend and colleague K. is being very kind to accept it from me tomorrow morning as opposed to three freaking weeks ago.

Anyway, it has been very hard to write, as the whole story is really a book and who has time to write a book, and who in the world wants to read a book about me? No one. Okay, maybe my mom.

At one point in the essay I ask why Unitarian Universalists would "go out of their way to construct a religion intentionally bereft of theology, rendering themselves a quasi-religion and many of their churches temples of denial, hypocrisy and crimes against memory."

Ouch. Them's fighting words. I 've been chewing my cud on them for some long minutes now, and I think, well that's what I mean, so that's what I think I'm going to say. I don't know how else to put it. What do I mean by "bereft of theology?" Well, I mean exactly that. I mean no theological discussion allowed. Not even a lively and mutually respectful inquiry about what we might mean by "God," why many of us reject "that" God, and why some have no God concept and all. No God allowed, period. It's gotten better, but for much of my growin' up years, this was the norm everywhere I went. We were the great project in non-theistic religion -- which might not have been a disaster -- but we did it with such arrogance, such certainty that secularism was the wave of the future and baby, we were hanging TEN! Religion was OUT!

Wasn't THAT prophetic!

What do I mean by a "quasi-religion?" I mean, again, the "we meet on Sunday mornings, we sing hymns and hear a sermon and take an offering, and we're tax-exempt, but we're THE RELIGION FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS."
Isn't *that* cute? That was actually -- I'm not making this up -- the title of a very popular brochure we actually used to provide to NEW MEMBERS.

What do I mean by "temples of denial, hypocrisy and crimes against memory?"
Just this: "We're the non-religious religion -- we don't have a creed, we're theologically open, we really accept everyone, and ... excuse me? Did you say 'Christian?" Did you say 'Bible?' Oh, well that was something some of us did a long time ago, but those who did mostly approached the Bible with a pair of scissors*, and we've never observed traditional Christian practices in our church."

Pardon me, ma'am, may I show you the archives of your very own congregation's orders of worship? Was that a lapse in knowledge, or an intentional obfuscation of a past that makes you distinctly itchy?

And I'm sure you want to revise that "welcome and affirming" spiel. I think what you mean to say is, "We welcome and affirm you if you're willing to speak our language, conform to our politics, and share a sneering distaste for anything that could be vaguely described as traditional religion."

Disclaimer: I haven't seen nearly so much of this behavior lately, and this is in no way a reflection or report of conditions in my current congregation which is perfectineveryway.

*= P.S. Despite what you have heard or seen on any number of T-shirts, Thomas Jefferson was NOT a Unitarian!! He said he thought it would become a very popular religion for thoughtful lads and lasses in America someday, but he was not one himself. Practically speaking, for God's sake, there was no such formal denominational designation in his lifetime. He was theologically unitarian. And a Deist. 'Taint the same thing.


Blogger fausto said...

Granted, it's a valid question. Were youable to give a valid answer?

Blogger T-man-Sam_former Visigoth and musical Goddess said...


That is quite the dialectic and connundrum.

If folks follow the question you raised .. wouldn't they find a spiritual peace easier if upon entering the church*..they checked all their spiritual beliefs and teachings at the door?
(*or belief- or discussion?)

In a way isn't this what Jesus asked his followers to do? Come to him open minded? hmmn. you have far wiser visitors than me..maybe your priest friends can help you figure this out.

This is something I will think about all day.

Blogger Adam Tierney-Eliot said...

And, I believe, JQA is a trinitarian burried in a unitarian basement... Is this true?

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Adam T-E asks about John Quincy Adams being buried in the basement of a Unitarian church.
He is indeed, as is his father and mother, John and Abigail Adams, and his wife Louisa Catherine.

John and John Quincy Adams were both faithful Christian men who were well versed in the classical tradition and earned some raised eyebrows from their colleagues for their great interest in "the pagans" (ie, the Greek philosophers).
A close reading of John Adams' religious thought leads me to accept him as a proto-Unitarian, in that his foundational beliefs are very much in keeping with the Unitarianism articulated in his lifetime by William Ellery Channing. I know much less about his son's theology, or for that matter, his wife's, who seems to be a practical Christian of the finest order.

However, given the Adams family's intimate connection in both life and death to the First Parish in Quincy -- the first Puritan (or was it Pilgrim?)Congregationalist church in the town -- I don't mind nearly as much when folks label the Adams' as being "Unitarian." At least they have the church membership to show for it, and lived in the period immediately preceding (and in JQA's case,the period during which) American Unitarianism flourished and established itself as a religion for Rational man (and woman).

NONE of these characters would have religiously recognized themselves the 20th century hybrid "Unitarian Universalism."

Blogger fausto said...

Does anyone know precisely when the Quincy parish became aligned with the antitrinitarian and anti-total-depravity, or at least "broad and catholick", Congregational faction? Was it during JA Sr's presidency, or after? It may well have been that early; for example, I think the Plymouth church divided into unitarians and trinitarians right around 1800.

In any event, it would in all likelihood have been prior to JQA's presidency and JA Sr's death. It's probably safe to say that they were both buried as Unitarians, even if the dad wasn't overtly such during his term of office.

Blogger Oversoul said...

"go out of their way to construct a religion intentionally bereft of theology, rendering themselves a quasi-religion and many of their churches temples of denial, hypocrisy and crimes against memory."

You took the words out my mouth.

Even though I’d not classify myself as UU Christian, but just a plain-old generic Unitarian (mono)theist* I agree with your comment.

*I find that I agree with much of Alfred Hall’s writings, I just think referring to myself as a Christian is a stretch because after much pondering, there are some things Jesus taught that I disagree with, while other things he said are profoundly meaningful to me; by calling myself a Christian I think I’d be trivializing the term and its history.

Blogger chutney said...

There is only one complaint I've heard regularly from my fellow 20/30somethings at my UU congregation: "Why do we always have to go on about how so-and-so was (almost) a Unitarian? Is that the only way we can get legitimacy?"

Hey, some chemist guy and some presidents were (virtually) UU! Now you can tell Grandmama you're not in some crazy cult!

Then pray you don't get to the part of the conversation where they ask, "But aren't there any famous UUs from the 20th Century?" Cause then you're SOL. Unless you're talking to the president of the Adlai Stevenson Fan Club.

Oh, and my apologies for saying "pray." The last thing I'd ever want is to offend someone in my own religion for using religious language. Jesus. H. Christ.

Blogger chutney said...

Hey, how about we make up some t-shirts that say, "Famous UUs Suck."

But I get bonus points if it makes someone cry.

Blogger sari gordon said...

yes hello, can you help me out here? i'm really attracted to your "opposite-of-everything" approach. you'll be obsolete in about 30 seconds! seriously, PeaceBang said no theological discussion and now there's this big long dangling string about the history of your church and celebrities and different beliefs and traditions. What's going on here?

Blogger Phil said...

Let's not forget this: Fredric J. Muir points out that, "Unitarian Universalists are about one-tenth of one percent of the population.... We are already isolated because we are so small. But then when we use the language of science or psychology or politics to describe what traditionally has been faith and religious issues, people look at us like we’re from another world: What on earth are these UUs talking about?" From "Watch Your Language."

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

chancehunter wrote:
"Then pray you don't get to the part of the conversation where they ask, "But aren't there any famous UUs from the 20th Century?" Cause then you're SOL. Unless you're talking to the president of the Adlai Stevenson Fan Club."

Strangely enough (given the non-military and liberal political leanings of most Unitarian Universalists), both of President Clinton's Defense Secretaries were Unitarian Universalist:

William Perry
William Cohen

Here's a quote from the Jan/Feb 2002 issue of UUWorld where Rev. John Buehrens talks about UUs running the Pentagon:

"I once went to call on the late Elliot Richardson, a staunch birthright Unitarian, who had served briefly as Secretary of Defense. It was shortly after William Perry, another UU, resigned that office, and President Clinton had named as his successor William Cohen, still another UU. So I asked Richardson why, with our relatively small numbers and our liberal values, three Unitarian Universalists in three decades had been placed in charge of the world's largest military establishment. He replied that our commitment to the use of reason might have something to do with it."

I'm still waiting for someone to bring up Joani Blank (sexuality educator and founder of the "Good Vibrations" business) as a famous 20th century UU. She's a member of First UU in Oakland CA.


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