Saturday, August 06, 2005

Musing in Montreal

Writing from an internet cafe in Montreal, I was just catching up with Boy in the Bands (sorry if my syntax is scrambled, I've been speaking a combination of Spanish and French for the past three days) and found this set of comments tres interesant:

This conversation reminded me that I always wonder what people mean when they say that Unitarian Universalism is an "inter-faith" religion.

How so?

Doesn't "inter-faith" mean a community of people of different world religions?
How are we that? The vast majority of us have, at best, a passing acquaintance with non-Judeo-Christian traditions.

I think Unitarian Universalism is a Humanist religious tradition that uses readings and teachings from various world religions, and which respects and remains enthusiastic about the diversity of wisdom sources available to us. We're not inter-faith, IMHO, unless we actually are congregations of Muslims, Jews, Christians, pagans, etc.

Does anyone belong to that kind of congregation?

I spent two nights in Vermont on the way up here, and it turns out that the little lodge was run by some serious Christers (pronounced "Christ-ers," a mild bit of snark I got courtesy of my friend Steve). They invited me to a campfire the first night and as soon as I figured out it was going to be all church songs and sharing stories of salvation and such, I quietly bid my goodnight.

Interesting how a little brush with the part of the family I'd like to disown clarifies a girl's loyalties. I wasn't happy with myself, but there you are.

Tolerance is WAY overrated.


Blogger Tricycle Blog said...

I'll need to read the comments at the BinB thread, I've been away for a couple of days. But as for inter-faith congregations, that has been the way of my UU experiences. All the UU churches I've attended had people of different religious affiliations (not just orientations). Of course we were all UU. But for example there would be some Jews and Christians who at least sometimes went to services elsewhere. Often there were less common affiliations on prominent display. I remember one Zoroastrian guy at Community Church of New York, a church that also had a healthy dose of Buddhists. I was one: I suppose I make every church I go to "inter-faith" since I've been a Buddhist for a decade now--not just the "night-stand" type, but a regular temple attendee and duly certified lay teacher. Neo-pagans have been prominent too, especially in my youth group.

The upshot is that going to church has always meant interacting with people who had different religious affiliations than me, not just different religious orientations (I take it this is your criteria for inter-faith). But we also all shared a common affiliation with UUism. So, maybe this is all just semantics. Certainly most UUs seem to be interested in multple religions, but don't actually commit to any of them in a way that marks them as truly Buddhist, Neo-Pagan, or Jewish. Not sure about Christian, since some argue that we're Christian by reason of our heritage.


Blogger Jaume said...

The first person that I know of that suggested the idea of UUism becoming an "interfaith religion" was Rev. Carl Scovel, who in an article published in InterConnections a few years ago rather despairingly commented that he saw the UU church becoming "a federation of faiths".

Running a Google search of "federation+faiths+Scovel" shows a limited but interesting number of comments on Scovel's perception. E.g. in a sermon at First Unitarian of Ithaca, NY, it is said: " Gathered here today is an assemblage of Christians and pagans, theists and humanists, pantheists and deists, and a number who do not wish to be categorized. This congregation is, in a sense a 'federation of faiths.' And perhaps that is the mission: to demonstrate how people of such differing faith perspectives can transcend tolerance, truly accept one another and encourage each other in spiritual growth. This much vaunted diversity might well be seen, not as a drag on congregational vitality, but as a source of pride."

As an active participant in the interfaith movement representing the U+U religious tradition, I see the possibility of UUism becoming a "federation of faiths" more as a threat than as a tangible reality. And I call it "threat" because I perceive danger in following that path. Danger of losing our religious identity (or whatever remains from it) and becoming a conglomerate of belief-based subgroups or a parasytical religion that draws on wisdom from world religions without having nothing original to add of its own.

As a representative of U+U in interfaith tables and panels, I feel compelled to give a distinct U+U view of reality that does not rely exclusively on traditions that are already honestly and competently represented by other participants. This is a discipline that helps me a lot but that has also increased my concerns about developing a "UU identity" that gives meaning and personality to our religious movement today.

Blogger Adam Tierney-Eliot said...

I am once again unsure as to where my church fits in to this "inter-faith" discussion. It is something that I, too, encounter from time to time. My congregation is self-avowedly "Liberal Christian" or "Christian Humanist" with a substantial minority of liberal Jews.

One reason for this is, of course, our ongoing relationship with the UCC. However, the major motivator is increasingly the fear of becoming (in Jaume's words) "parasytical." As with many United congregations, whether the Eliot Church, as a group, even has a "UU (or UCC)identity" is pretty much up for debate...

Anyway, I share Jaume's concerns.


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