Sunday, March 20, 2005

Thin Soup, Not Bread

(I found this posting in my "drafts" folder from back in February. I am in the process of deleting some posts that mention my church, even though they mention my church with great pride and appreciation. Peacebang is undergoing a very subtle make-over; so subtle that you'll wonder if she had any work done at all. -- P.B.)

Phil's Little Blog on the Prairie tells us that a group of folks over at the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis came up with this answer to the question of "What are our essential religious beliefs?" They decided, in part,

You are loved in this world (the simple message of Universalism) and
You are good (the simple message of Unitarianism).

Phil writes,
"These simple messages articulate the essence of both our traditions—historically and theologically."

I think the statements above are nice, and religiously true -- but they feel theologically amuptated to me. Since the original statement was made in the context of a religious education forum, it may be enough to teach our children that they are loved and they are good. They are worthy of love and they are worthy, and therefore they should go forth and love and bless the world, themselves and each other, and live for this life rather than the next life, etc. and all that good stuff. I'm for it.

But I dearly wish that among us grown-ups, we would be willing to expand those statements to reveal a glimpse of where in Reality we locate those claims to love and goodness.
The "simple message of Universalism" in its classical expression was not quite that simple. The Universalists who bequeathed upon us this lovely spiritual heritage said, We are loved in this world because God loves us, and all love flows from that eternal source. I don't care if people nowadays want to define a spirituality that has no transcendent referent, but if we're invoking the past we should do so in a way that's honest, and not revise it to accomodate today's discomforts.

Likewise, early Unitarian faith in human goodness and improvability was tied to their conviction that humans are created in the likeness of a benevolent God (a proposition most disstasteful to the Calvinists). There is no ontological condition of goodness outside from that bestowed upon us by the Father (hey, I don't like the gender-exclusive language any more than you do, but that's what they said and wrote and lived, okay?).

Our children should know these things. Our adults should know them. You cannot reject the God of the fathers and mothers and painstakingly work your way to a sustaining personal theology unless you know the God of the mothers and fathers. Watering it down to "you are loved and you are good" is thin soup, indeed.