Monday, June 26, 2006

Including "God"

CK asked me in the last comment section why I hoped for a return of "God" to our Sources.

Good question.

When we assiduously avoid the word "God" in our Principles, our Sources, pulpits and in our religious education offerings (except to include God as A Concept That Some People Believe In But We Don't, Not Really), we invite both seekers and adherents of Unitarian Universalism to make the following assumptions:

1. This is a fellowship of atheists. (It's not)

2. If my spirituality involves praying to God and praising God in a traditional manner bequeathed me by my Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Unitarian Universalist background, I am not really going to be welcome here. I will not be supported in my spiritual growth unless that growth travels along a trajectory of "getting over" my faith in a personal God.

3. UUs proudly wear "Famous UUs" t-shirts and claim every Unitarian and Universalist forebear they can drag out of the cemeteries, but staunchly refuse to proclaim the name of the One those same ancestors invoked and relied on when doing all their admirable, redeeming work. Therefore, UUs must be hypocrites or just in really serious denial.

4. These people claim to respect "the best" of a Judeo-Christian heritage, yet steadfastly ignore the great gift of the Jews, which is monotheism. According to the Unitarian Universalists the great gift of Judaism is intellectualism and bagels.

5. Unitarian Universalists must all be so wounded by an abusive Theistic past (or by the grossly offensive theistic strains in American and global culture) that they all agree on the necessity of expunging "God" from their lives and replacing it with vague, poetic metaphors that will offend no one.

6. Unitarian Universalists are so theologically uneducated that they actually believe that all Theistic concepts are firmly grounded in a medieval mentality.

7. Unitarian Universalists, obviously having such a damaging view of God that they cannot invoke God in any of their worship or associational materials, must have completely abandoned their Universalist heritage, which claims the unconquerable, everlasting love of God.

29 Comments:

Blogger fausto said...

Point 3: Yes, exactly.

Point 4: You left out movies and stand-up comedy.

Point 7: May not apply so well in historically Unitarian congregations, especially in the Midwest. Wasn't it the Illinois Unitarian Adlai Stevenson who defined Unitarianism as "the belief that there is, at most, one God"?

16:22  
Blogger Denise said...

I love this list. I totally agree.

17:58  
Blogger ms. kitty said...

But what do we do about those non-theists for whom "God" is not part of their religious vocabulary? You know, those pesky Buddhists and religious humanists? Do we just impose our language on them? Tell them to get over it?

I think we have moved beyond our Judeo-Christian roots and are re-imagining religious faith, asking people who join us to treat each other and the universe with love and justice, and it doesn't matter whether "God" is invoked or not by all these good folks.

Yes, I do agree that using the word "God" would make us easier to communicate with, but I'm not sure that's a reason to use it. It seems to me that hidden in this idea is a desire to dominate, to have one's own perspective dominate. That's not the UUism I know and love.

19:52  
Blogger CK said...

I waited to post, hoping someone would say what I wanted to... ms. kitty did.

The reason I am hoping for new terminology is because of the aim of finding commonalities as well as acknowledging difference.

"GOD" is so ultimate, so final, that mention of him seems to eschew the possibility that values and morality come from anywhere else. If we can find/create language that recognizes the personal aspect of the universe--transcendent, even--of theistic UUs, wonderful. If we can find/create language that recognizes how the universe itself (and humanity as a part of humanity) is the Ultimate for humanist and Buddhist UUs, wonderful.

If we can bring the two together--amazing. We need to find a way to see that the two are not exclusive. If they are... well, then oughtn't the theists join the UCC (and the humanists the Ethical Society?).

21:09  
Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I use the word God sometimes, and I can handle people using it, but I do not believe in it.

One thing that concerns me is that when people do talk about "God" they are usually referring to a Christian God, and while I do not mind learning about or witnessing other people celebrate their Christian God, that is not my faith, in particular.

Some people are oversensitive about other folks using God language to describe their religious experience, yes. But God language does not describe the UU experience - necessarily. So I think we just need to leave room for people not to use that language without being seen as party poopers.

22:30  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

CK, I have to say that I find your comment chilling.
What I hear you and Kitty saying is that we should keep bending over backwards to make sure non-theists are pandered to while maintaining the ridiculous belief that we can totally recreate a relevant language of faith without God. Sure, all 100,000 of us.
And CK, should Jewish theists and other God-believing peoples join the United Church of Christ, too? THEISTS ARE NOT ALL CHRISTIANS.

Wounded comments about "pesky humanists and Buddhists" sound to me like default victimy accusations that don't really honor either of those groups.
I think it's time for us to give non-theists among us more credit than to keep insisting that they're going to curl up in the fetal position and cry if they hear the word "God" a few times, or if we include it in our worship and public outreach.

23:13  
Blogger fausto said...

ms. kitty says:

I think we have moved beyond our Judeo-Christian roots

Some of us may have, but certainly not all of us have, and they are still the legitimate roots of the entire denomination, even of those of us who have "moved beyond" them.

That being the case, this sounds alarmingly condescending and discriminatory toward those who still consider the Judeo-Christian tradition to be not just a historical footnote but the living core of their U or U or UU identity.

Would you even for a moment consider going to an AME Church and suggesting that since Jim Crow is abolished they should move beyond their Afro-American roots? That's exactly how prejudiced it sounds.

It's comments like this, no matter how benignly intended, that make traditional Universalists and Unitarians feel unwelcome and marginalized. It's also the decreasing frequency of comments like this that move people like PeaceBang to feel free to give a living voice to our authentic religious roots again.

ck says:

"GOD" is so ultimate, so final, that mention of him seems to eschew the possibility that values and morality come from anywhere else.

But theists believe God is the source of all values and morality, and everything else too. To them, that's the whole point. If you would not allow them to say so in a UU context, how else would you make room for them in UUism?

ck also says:

If we can find/create language that recognizes the personal aspect of the universe--transcendent, even--of theistic UUs, wonderful. If we can find/create language that recognizes how the universe itself (and humanity as a part of humanity) is the Ultimate for humanist and Buddhist UUs, wonderful. If we can bring the two together--amazing. We need to find a way to see that the two are not exclusive.

Is there any practical difference between not requiring the use of the word "God" out of sensitivity to those who find it uncomfortable, and not allowing the word "God"?

I think the solution to the dilemma is not in avoiding the word "God", but in embracing a broader, not necessarily personal definition of "God" as Ultimate Truth or Ultimate Reality, beyond human knowing, which can be apprehended and revered in an infinite variety of ways.

23:48  
Blogger fausto said...

PB says:

And CK, should Jewish theists and other God-believing peoples join the United Church of Christ, too? THEISTS ARE NOT ALL CHRISTIANS.

What's more, even most of those UU theists who do call themselves "Christians" within a UU context are nevertheless so heterodox that they would be rejected as Christians in many other Christian denominations. You can't just wander in to any old church, declare that Jesus is at best inferior to the Father and probably wholly human, that he nevertheless redeemed even all nonbelievers and unrepentant sinners, and that there is therefore no eternal Hell, and expect to be welcomed into the warm embrace of Christian fellowship.

In fact, during the 19th century, at the high water mark of the classic "Christian" Unitarian and Universalist movements, the predecessors to the UCC were among the most vehement detractors accusing our predecessors of unacceptable heresy. The UUA, and not the UCC or some other denomination, really is the authentic home of UU "Christian" beliefs.

00:04  
Blogger fausto said...

(And a whole lot of Christian churches wouldn't jump with enthusiasm when the visiting UU "Christian" happens to mention that the Bible is a flawed compilation of human witness rather than a seamless, infallible divine revelation, either.)

00:29  
Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

Maybe I am just too new to this religion but why can't those who want to use God language just do so - without insulting those who don't?

Why do we have to negate?

01:20  
Blogger Jaume said...

If UUs are not a problem for God (I'm sure we aren't), then I don't see why God should be a problem for us.

Let's take the paternal (or maternal, for my purpose it's the same) image for the Higher Whatever. For some of us this Father (Mother) is alive and well and we visit him (or her, I won't insist) from time to time, eat cookies and bring and receive gifts. For others, he died some time ago and they may remember him with fondness or rancour, but they keep an emotional relationship with the memories and with the absence. Others never met him before he was dead before they were born, and therefore they have no connection and no feeling.

Let's just accept our feelings as perfectly natural according to one's own conditions.

08:04  
Blogger fausto said...

The problem with "just using God language" is that it so frequently draws rebukes. If UUs could "just use God language" without provoking indignant responses there would be no problem, but that doesn't seem quite possible yet.

Did you find anything PB or I said insulting? ms. kitty called Buddhists and religious humanists "pesky", but there I think she was using irony as a rhetorical device. I did find her inappropriately broad use of the first person plural somewhat insulting, but she certainly wasn't defending "God language". I didn't mean to insult her with my reaction, but anti-discrimination work is anti-discrimination work no matter where the discrimination occurs.

08:19  
Blogger CK said...

Real quickly...
1. My UCC/Ethical Society was sarcasm. If that's the way I thought, then I'd be arguing for the disintegration of Unitarian Universalism. It apparently didn't come across as irony--I know that not all theists are Christians, which is what my comment was supposed to bring out.

2. PB: What I hear you and Kitty saying is that we should keep bending over backwards to make sure non-theists are pandered to while maintaining the ridiculous belief that we can totally recreate a relevant language of faith without God.

What about you wanting to "pander" to theists? And why is it okay to call the non-theist belief "ridiculous"? I'm not supersensitive to god-talk myself, but I am interested in exploring ways to underscore the commonalities between a/theist groups (without negating their differences). Not pandering, not insulting--exploring.

3. You're right, I'm not going to curl up under a pew if I hear the word 'god.' Would a theist curl up under a pew if they heard the word "Source of Life"?

4. Fausto: But theists believe God is the source of all values and morality, and everything else too. To them, that's the whole point. If you would not allow them to say so in a UU context, how else would you make room for them in UUism?

I'm not against them saying so, just maintaining room for what others believe to be the source.

Again, I apologize if anyone thought I really am for sending theists to some kind of UCC camp... I am trying to explore the tensions here, in having theists and non-theists together, and the challenge of finding out what they can both affirm.

08:32  
Blogger fausto said...

I know that not all theists are Christians, which is what my comment was supposed to bring out.

And I agree with your efforts to find common language that embraces our common reverence for Ultimate Truth, in all the many ways we may apprehend it.

The problem is more complicated than that, though. In reality, most "UU Christians" are not Christian in the orthodox sense of the word, yet they constantly have to endure a presumption on the part of other UUs that Christianity is something that is done elsewhere, and if they want to practice Christianity they should find another place to do so. Too often, the same people who feel freest to express that normative presumption are the same ones who are least aware that what "UU Christians" want to do is nothing more than to preserve and practice Unitarianism and Universalism in their historically authentic form. Our denominational heritage is not an obsolete anachronism but an authentic living faith, and I'd like to see it preserved and supported more aggressively within its own theological home, even among people whose personal spiritual paths may diverge from it.

09:20  
Blogger CK said...

Can I turn it around, then, Fausto, and ask what you and the other UU Christians here would like to affirm with those of us who are nontheistic (or agnostic)?

What do you see as tying us together? With Hafida, I am new to Unitarian Universalism, and am trying to learn from others here.

(And actually, I have gotten the question why nontheists don't join the Ethical Society, since that's *really* what we want, anyway--a society, not a religion--I think there are parallel prejudices going on here.)

09:45  
Blogger fausto said...

As the Rev. Forrest Church says, "What kind of a God don't you believe in? Chances are, I don't believe in that God either."

I can't help but think of this as a debate more about superficial differences in semantics and epistemology than about deeper differences in cosmology. Many if not most UU "theists" are "non-theistic" by Bp. John Shelby Spong's definition. Few of them would be content to limit themselves exclusively to a Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition. However, they do find in our own historic tradition a helpful compendium of accumulated insight, experience, and vocabulary in the otherwise lonely individual effort to name the unnameable and know the unknowable. Indeed, it is the counsel of that tradition that encouraged our predecessors to look for spiritual truth outside Judeo-Christian boundaries in the first place.

Similarly, today's avowedly non-theistic UUs don't see or understand all that differently from the way Emerson and Parker did 150 years ago. What's different is that Emerson and Parker were willing to express their dissenting ideas in a traditional "language of reverence" -- and, it might be argued, were able to reach a wider audience and exert more influence than we do today by expressing themselves that way.

Finding and affirming truth outside of tradition does not necessarily imply the need to reject truth within tradition. They are two sides of the same coin. As William Ellery Channing (citing 1 Thessalonians 21) counseled us in "Unitarian Christianity", the sermon that served as the founding manifesto for the Unitarian denomination, we should "prove all things; hold fast that which is good".

10:28  
Blogger ms. kitty said...

It seems to me that there has to be room for all of the folks who subscribe to ethical, moral, humane treatment of living things and the universe and want to be Unitarian Universalist.

It sounds to me as if those who want God language used regularly in our worship are responding to decades of feeling ostracized by those who do not want it used. This is completely understandable, but it's important to recognize that those who have felt bullied in the past often become bullies themselves.

Those of us who love God language and are committed theists must not exert revenge on those who have denied it to us in the past. We must find a way to include all in our language of reverence.

10:35  
Blogger fausto said...

Do you think there is bullying or revenge going on? I haven't seen that myself, at least not on the part of our "theists". What I have seen is a surge of interest in a serious exploration of our religious heritage and its continuing validity, and countervailing efforts to suppress any serious revival of that heritage.

The Rev. Davidson Loehr has remarked on the prevalence of an unhealthy (in his view) soteriology of victimhood within the modern UUA. If he's right, I can see how it would be possible, though not particularly constructive, for individuals within either faction to fancy themselves in the "victim" role.

12:10  
Blogger ms. kitty said...

I would invite folks to mosey on over to Ms. Kitty's Saloon and Road Show for an exposition on my thinking about UUism. Fausto, maybe your question will be answered there. If not, feel free to ask again.

I hate to impose on PeaceBang's good nature and hog space on her blog to expound my views extensively, so I had to create a blog of my own.

12:58  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

For the duration of my life in UUism, I have been literally required to use a language of reverence that does not include God. I have never been allowed, in the typical UU worship service, to proclaim my love of God openly, to praise God unabashedly, and to say with all sincerity that Jesus Christ is my lord and savior. If I want to do that, I have to make sure I'm in a specifically UU Christian environment, or a non-UU environment.

I understand that I have been called to a spiritual path that itself REQUIRES me to openly praise God and to bring the "good news" to the world in a theologically specific way. It's an interesting and challenging irony that I can't do that within my religious tradition. But I accept that. It is what it is.

It's astonishing to me that UUs -- all of whom have never attended a worship service where God was praised like I'd like to praise Him, are somehow under the strange impression that they're having God rammed down their throats in any way whatsoever. I just don't understand it. Where's all this God language and praising going on? I've been a UU all my life and I've never seen it once. Never. Not anywhere.

What I mean by "pandering" is that I have always been angrily required -- or at the very least, kindly asked --to share own "direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder" in carefully non-traditional ways so as not to scare, offend or confuse my brothers and sisters in UUism. What this means is that I hurt almost all the time. What this means is that I consider myself a soldier in the Army of the Lord (thanks, Lyle Lovett) on a specifically healing mission; one that is centered on the hope that all of God's children CAN worship, live, and do good works together in the bonds of love despite the radically different ways each of them partake of the Spirit of Love.
It is my total conviction that God/Ground of Being/Goddess/Ultimate Reality makes its magnificence incarnate in us and known to us in totally unique ways FOR A REASON. And I believe that that reason is holy, and that it has a soteriological purpose of some kind that I cannot discern. This is why I feel called to live my religoius life in a pluralistic movement.

I wait in the spirit of faith, hope and love for the day that UUs can abide with one another in AFFIRMATION, and that I will someday be able to wear a big cross and pray with people in Biblical terms and speak of the spirit of Christ as often as I speak of the Spirit of Life, and that there will be no threat in this, no anger, and no fear.

Hafidha asks why those who want to use God language don't just do so without insulting those who don't. Again, I find this baffling. I have been a UU my entire life and can say from experience that while I was an atheist (ages 5-19), I was utterly at home. When I was exclusively pagan, I was utterly at home. When I became a Christian Theist, I experienced episode after episode of insult, encouragement to leave, and countless messages that "sophisticated people like us don't believe nonsense like that anymore."

During my nine years of UU parish ministry, I have never heard anyone do anything but warmly welcome atheists, and even go out of their way to evangelize to atheists ("you'll love our church! None of us believe in God, either!") while time and time again, those who wanted to speak of God's love or their reliance on Jesus were greeted with uncomprehending dismay.

I sincerely believe, and will continue to argue, that in bleeding our public outreach materials and public worship of references to God, we have gone out of our way to promote the message that a passionate faith in God is not an appropriate orientation to be held among us. In doing so, we have cheated ourselves not only of passionate Theists, but of passionate folks of other non-theistic, mystical or spiritual bent.

14:29  
Blogger CK said...

FYI, Free and Responsible Search has a post on this very topic. He looks at both sides and makes some excellent points. I haven't read it very carefully, but it might be worth looking at.

PB, just so you know where I am coming from--I welcome specific messages from the pulpit and in conversation. They are more authentic that way, and isn't it kind of silly to ask that you stifle what you believe?

I haven't been in this movement for long, and only at one church. So my perspective is veeery limited. My focus is theological/philosophical--I'm interested in the discussion of vocabulary used at the level of UU statements of unity/belief/covenant. That's where I've been focusing my comments.

I would love to have you preach at my church any time, invoking God and Jesus every other sentence. And I'll take from it what I can, interpret it into a language that makes sense, and enjoy the discussion (and hopefully impetus to action!) that results.

14:54  
Blogger Jess said...

Wow - y'all been busy. ;-)

PB's last comment, just above this one, resonates completely with me. I'd just like to add that I feel leaving the word "God" out entirely also leaves out those of us who have redefined it from "Christian norms." I haven't been able to find a better word than "God" for what I believe in and what I strive to worship, but when I use the word I am frowned at.

I think we need to strive for a language of reverance where each person can express their religious faith in the way they have found to be meaningful, and where we learn to listen more deeply. If God is not in your language, I shouldn't have to leave it out of mine. Likewise, if God is in your language, I don't have the right to tell you to leave it out. We can still understand each other if we listen more closely for the underlying currents that transcend language.

15:09  
Blogger Tricycle Blog said...

Even at this late date, it never fails to amaze me how local our denominational culture really is. The historically Universalist church I grew up in has God-talk all over it--you'd encounter stiff resistence from non-theists if you tried to remove the Lord's Prayer or the weekly doxology that praises God. It's our tradition, after all, and we're not ashamed of who we've been or wish to forget. The reason my wife and I don't haven't attended a UU church regularly in the past five years basically boils down to the fact that since we moved our local options haven't been "churchy" enough. But neither or us has ever been a theist to the extent that Peacebang is.

Sometimes I wonder if when we have these online debates we're not all talking past one another because our local UU experiences don't necessarily match those of any of our conversation partners.

I don't say this to belittle anyone's experiences--I believe they are fully real and accurately described. It just strikes me again and again how many different worlds there are in our post-merger, religiously diverse, regionally-various, congregationalist denomination.

Jeff

15:26  
Blogger Clyde Grubbs said...

No Unitarian Universalist has ever stopped me from using the word God. In preaching I recognize the agnostics and the atheists and then go on and talk about God.

Which I say is a name we give to that source of our being, which holds us and sustains us.

When I get some body who scolds me, I look them in the eye, and reply "you are new to Unitarian Universalism aren't you. I recognize your freedom and I expect you to recognize mine" That works.

My wife says sometimes people fuss at her about her God talk, but she smiles and responds "so that is how you see it."

16:48  
Blogger Jamie Goodwin said...

I once yelled Halleluiah! while presenting a sermon at my church. Later I yelled I love this place! where I can yell Halleluiah and you can take it as affirmation of your faith or simply join me and support me as I affirm my own.

Of course I am not a minister, so I have less to deal with of what I am "aloud" to say.

Oddly enough, as a Universalist I do not think I would use as strong language as PB did up a few comments "Jesus as my Lord and savior" yet I am hurting with her that she does not feel free to say as much in her own faith community.

18:28  
Blogger Kim said...

I'm not supersensitive to god-talk myself, but I am interested in exploring ways to underscore the commonalities between a/theist groups (without negating their differences). Not pandering, not insulting--exploring.


I’m not supersensitive to God-talk either, but I would like to see some progress on this issue.
Some people are super-sensitive. We need to help heal the hurt that makes people feel pain when someone says, “God”. It’s just a word – we need to get people to a place where it doesn’t hurt.

I don’t mind someone using “God” in our pulpit, but I would be bothered by using it all the time, with the exclusion of the other terms. (Ground of Being, Goddess, Ultimate Mystery, Ultimate Reality, etc.) In personal discourse, you can use whatever term works for you, and I don’t have a problem with it as long as I am not expected to concur. (I consider them ALL to be metaphors, for what it’s worth….)
Peacebang said, “…those who wanted to speak of God's love or their reliance on Jesus were greeted with uncomprehending dismay.” This I have a problem with: What’s wrong with uncomprehending dismay? I feel you may have whatever belief you have, and I don’t have a problem with you believing it, as long as it doesn’t hurt me or others (fundamentalism I think does do harm), but if the uncomprehending dismay is genuine, why not show it? I must admit that it’s about how I feel about your belief. I do not comprehend it, and am dismayed that I do not comprehend it. I must also admit that the word that bothers me most is “Lord”. It’s so, so, so medieval, so hierarchical, so masculine…. But, whatever floats your boat…. As long as you don’t expect me to agree with it. I am perfectly capable of hearing “God” in a sermon and supplying my own “that’s a metaphor” – I don’t NEED you to use other terms and wrestle with word salad every time. But I'd rather you did use other terms some of the time if you are in the pulpit.

23:29  
Blogger tinythinker said...

Just a few snippets to preface a brief comment or two or a thousand:

ms. kitty:But what do we do about those non-theists for whom "God" is not part of their religious vocabulary? You know, those pesky Buddhists and religious humanists? Do we just impose our language on them? Tell them to get over it?

I think we have moved beyond our Judeo-Christian roots and are re-imagining religious faith, asking people who join us to treat each other and the universe with love and justice, and it doesn't matter whether "God" is invoked or not by all these good folks.

Yes, I do agree that using the word "God" would make us easier to communicate with, but I'm not sure that's a reason to use it. It seems to me that hidden in this idea is a desire to dominate, to have one's own perspective dominate. That's not the UUism I know and love.


LaReinaCobre: Maybe I am just too new to this religion but why can’t those who want to use God language just do so – without insulting those who don’t?

Why do we have to negate?


fausto: The problem with "just using God language" is that it so frequently draws rebukes. If UUs could "just use God language" without provoking indignant responses there would be no problem, but that doesn't seem quite possible yet.

In addition to the issue of differences in perspective based on congregational differences is the larger and ever-present issue of what ‘God’ means to different people, and religion and faith for that matter. It is one thing to be polite in discourse, and it is another to be silent when you feel something needs to be said. People come to the UUA in different ways, but we all bring baggage, our karmic conditioning, whatever you want to call it. Of course UUs, particularly ministers and those in the congregations outreach/new member-type programs, should be welcoming of peoples of various experiences, whether they be ex-this or practicing that. This includes those popular terms ‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance’. There is a lot in those terms as they are used in UUism, but it can be boiled down to one important element for this discussion: one should expect to be exposed to the religious affiliation (including terminology, hymns, readings, prayers, etc) of others to the same degree one expects his or her own religious affiliation to be exposed to others.

As a corollary to this, if one does not wish to be exposed to these different religious and spiritual affiliations, united through the common principles adopted by the UUA, then one should probably not be a Unitarian Universalist. Hence people who want to preach that the redeeming power of Jesus by way of the sinner’s prayer and baptism is the only way to salvation from a certain eternity of hellfire and that all other religions are tools of the debbil, while they should be welcome in a UU church for any and every service, cannot expect to have all pagan or buddhist or universalist elements to be expunged because they find it uncomfortable or offensive. Nor can they expect to be able to preach their exclusivist claims/denegrate other sacred traditions. And the same hold true for atheists, agnostics, or others who may have had bad experiences with Jewish or Christian or Islamic imagery and God-language. So while all should be welcome in a UU church, IMHO it should also be a place to challenge our preconceptions and the baggage we bring with us, learn the value of diversity and plurality, and affirm our common values. For many this is a wonderful opportunity for healing and coming to terms with old prejudices, perceived (i.e. real and imagined) slights, and grudges about this or that religion or belief that has ‘done us wrong’.

Using myself as an example, I went from ‘evangelical Christian fundamentalism’ to ‘disinterested deism and agnosticism’ to ‘religion is for the weak and foolish brand of atheism’ to ‘opening myself to something more than my previously conceived limits’. I hope that I would have been welcomed in a UU church at any step along that path. Until a recent hiatus for personal reasons, I had been going to a Buddhist practice for well over a year which meets at a UU church every week, and on the two or three occasions early on I had the opportunity I went to a Sunday service. I felt really uncomfortable at the Sunday services. There was so much there that reminded me of the typical protestant church service. I suppose I could have let that get to me and keep me away, but it really highlighted for me how many hidden assumptions and biases I had even though intellectually I was espousing religious pluralism and thought UUism was a great idea. I think it can does us good to be exposed to things which make us uncomfortable if we take the time to consider why it is it makes us so. Developing some new synthesis of totally neutral (and some might say neutered) language and ceremony devoid of historical connection and designed to not possibly offend anyone would be so bland it would be appealing to no one (as was so tastelessly pointed out in an old South Park episode about a Christmas play gone horribly wrong).

On a slight side note, I personally don’t use the term nontheist to collectively refer to those who don’t identify explicitly themselves as ‘theists’. I have heard atheists argue convincingly that if you don’t believe in (a) God, you are embracing a (without) theism (a system of beliefs and attitudes based on the foundational presumption of the existence of God). I’ve also heard agnostics convincingly argue that they are not ‘theists’ or ‘atheists’ because they lack sufficient reason to choose one ‘side’ over the other. Plus, I also know some who accept pantheism or panentheism, particularly those who are into process theology, also refer to themselves as nontheists because they reject the classical notion of the personal God as a personified all powerful big-guy-in-the-sky passing out judgment. They see God more like a verb, a unity of consciousness that creates and sustains existence. My own use of the term nontheist indicates that none of my views require or reject a belief in (a) God. Another way to put it is that it is beyond the atheism-theism dichotomy, or fails to recognize that dichotomy. Or for the Buddhists: Not accepting, not rejecting.

Now you may be wondering why I bring this up. It isn’t in any way to try to suggest that I have a better perspective or more enlightened attitude. But it highlights what others have said—that many nontheists appreciate God-language and many people who use God-language may not be considered theists to most people. Still, is the goal of UUism to try to have the most ‘evolved’ view and pity the rest? Do (any) UUs see UUism as the most advanced or most progressive spiritual community? Or is it about promoting the values as embodied in the principles by living them? To answer one earlier question, I would hope that those pesky Buddhists and religious humanists, either of which I supposed one could use to label me if they felt the need, would see beyond form and attachment to words and symbols, seeing the different terms and rituals and ‘fingers pointing to the moon’.

I recently read a great quote that I think is relevant to the topic and I would like to share it with you in closing:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine,
then let us work together.

-Lilla Watson, aboriginal activist

Thanks for reading my slightly-longer-than-intended reply, and forgiving any conceit, condescension, or 'Bodhier-than-thou' atttitude which may have crept into my otherwise well-intentioned comments.

Amitabha! :o)

00:01  
Blogger fausto said...

kim says:

I must also admit that the word that bothers me most is “Lord”. It’s so, so, so medieval, so hierarchical, so masculine...

Yes, from one perspective that's true. But from another perspective it's also a term that has been in continuous use for 3,000 years or more. The overwhelming weight of that witness carries its own authority that calls for humility in asserting contrary personal judgments.

Part of the value of a religious tradition is in challenging us to question our personal suppositions and perspectives in order to discover that which is greater than, and frequently hidden by, our individual selves. Often it's the irritant rather than the analgesic that produces the pearl, but we UUs with our emphasis on the authority of self have a tendency to become too addicted to the spiritual analgesics to be willing to engage the spiritual irritants with integrity.

tinythinker says:

if one does not wish to be exposed to these different religious and spiritual affiliations, united through the common principles adopted by the UUA, then one should probably not be a Unitarian Universalist. Hence people who want to preach that the redeeming power of Jesus by way of the sinner’s prayer and baptism is the only way to salvation from a certain eternity of hellfire and that all other religions are tools of the debbil, while they should be welcome in a UU church for any and every service, cannot expect to have all pagan or buddhist or universalist elements to be expunged because they find it uncomfortable or offensive. Nor can they expect to be able to preach their exclusivist claims/denegrate other sacred traditions. And the same hold true for atheists, agnostics, or others who may have had bad experiences with Jewish or Christian or Islamic imagery and God-language. So while all should be welcome in a UU church, IMHO it should also be a place to challenge our preconceptions and the baggage we bring with us, learn the value of diversity and plurality, and affirm our common values.

I agree 100%. But in my experience the UU variety of Christianity is very open and inclusive, not exclusive, and historically it always was. While I cannot off the top of my head think of an instance where I saw a UU theist or Christian being hostile or exclusivist toward UUs of other spiritual persuasions, I have indeed seen among some other UUs a unique hostility toward Christianity, which is an attitude that is in fundamental conflict with the very origins of our denomination.

00:16  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Highlighting the exact same quotes from Kim and TinyThinker that Fausto highlights in the last comment, let me point out to ya'll what happens when I try even for a moment to honestly express my theology: I get obnoxious put-downs like, "Whatever floats your boat" about a faith that keeps me alive and doing a powerful ministry. WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT? Kim, that was obnoxious and dismissive, and it's not okay. It's not acceptable to refer to someone else's religious life in such terms.

Guess what? I know what you think about the word "Lord." I have a theological education from one of the most progressive seminaries in the world, so I'm actually hip to the fact that "Lord" is regarded as medieval, etc. I could have guessed what you think of it. I'm waiting for the day a UU actually asks me what *I* think of the word "Lord" and why I would intentionally reclaim it. But this probably won't happen in my lifetime; not at the rate we're going here, anyway.

In the same vein, look at how Tiny veers immediately into the assumption that Christians -- EVEN CHRISTIAN UUs -- are exclusivist believers who are just itching to preach hellfire in the pulpit. Look at how Kim assumes that I'm using exclusivist language from my own pulpit: "I'd rather you did use other language some of the time if you are in the pulpit."

Look at the assumptions here. First of all, IF I am in the pulpit? I'm in the pulpit 32 times a year, using "God" judiciously and ministering with great success to my pluralistic congregation. Why not ASK me about it instead of imperiously giving me pastoral advice that comes from a total lack of knowledge and experience? Again, insulting and embarrassing.

Tiny, are you acquainted with anything about Unitarian or Universalist Christianity? I recommend you to the sermons of Channing or Parker, or to the works of Hosea Ballou or John Murray. When you become acquainted with Unitarian and Universalist theology, you will never again have to feel or express such anxiety about a UU Christian preaching in such a manner.

A good dose of serious religous education would do a world of good here. Substituting knowledge for anxious reaction is the only way this movement is going to be the strong, living tradition we claim it can be.

11:34  

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