Thursday, July 28, 2005

Just Another Critique of Unitarian Universalist Practices

I'm always slightly depressed when I hear a Unitarian Universalist say that their minister "gave a talk" on various religious traditions. "This week we heard about Hinduism," they'll say, or "We're hearing a talk about Islam next week."

PeaceBangers know by now that PeaceBang believes in the sermon which instructs, and guides, and heals, and challenges, and digs into the guts.
I believe that congregations gather on Sunday mornings to gather the strength and wisdom they need to get through the week, and a "talk" on Hinduism -- while potentially very interesting -- does not accomplish this goal.
We have a whole wonderful secular culture -- books, magazines, radio shows, television programs, continuing education courses at the nearby college, book groups, etc., ad nauseum, to sate our exclusively intellectual curiosity. Church is something else. It is a place where we remember, in the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but are spiritual beings having a human experience. Theology and belief have little or nothing to do with accepting that basic premise. Church is the place we "remember backwards" and contemplate the moment of our death, and consider whether we have earned for ourselves a shining name and the regard of other humans, or if we have merely hoarded experiences and knowledge like a squirrel stores nuts for the winter. We do make claims in our congregational life, whether we admit to that or not. One of the claims we make is that how we live matters. An examination of "other people's" religious practices does very little to help us collectively confront how we are living.

I know that Stanley Hauerwas is hardly a favorite with religious liberals, but it wouldn't hurt to acquaint ourselves with some of his trenchant critique of liberalism.

Listen to Stanley Hauerwas on the problems with the modern university, and apply it to congregational life:

" Universities, of course, pride themselves on 'freedom of speech,' as well as providing a 'safe' place for 'radical opinions,' but that is exactly how conflict is domesticated. Namely, you can think and say anything you wish as long as you accept the presumption that you do not expect anyone to take you seriously. Thus, the presumption that students ought to be educated to 'make up their own minds' since indoctrination is antithetical to 'education.' Of course teaching students to 'make up their own minds' is a form of indoctrination, but since it underwrites the hegemonic character of liberalism, few notice it as such.

Students [congregants], as a consequence, approach curricula [church life] not primarily as students but as consumers. Teachers [ministers] are expected to present in class in an objective fashion various alternatives. If asked, 'Which one do you think is true?' the teacher is expected to say, 'That is not my task. I am trying to help us understand the best options so that you can come to a reasonable judgment on your own.' Students are thus further inscribed into capitalist practices in which they are taught to think that choosing between 'ideas' is like choosing between a Sony or a Panasonic. It never occurs to them that the very idea that they should 'choose' is imposed."

-- Stanley Hauerwas, "Positioning," from Dispatches from the Front

I hope you can see how providing a series of sermons on the Chinese buffet of world religions relates to Hauerwas's point.
Meanwhile, I have a 20-page paper to write and a dinner party to prepare for this evening.


Blogger Oversoul said...

Amen and Hallelujah!

Blogger David said...

JUST a 20 page paper and dinner party? That should fill up the morning. If you need something to do after lunch, I have a few summaries to finish.


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