UU Carnival: More Entries And More Thoughts
Here, Earthbound Spirit muses about the accusation of atheism being thrown at all kinds of reformers and infidels through the ages:
The original conversation is here:
If anyone else has been writing on this topic and would like to be included, let me know.
For myself, I'm having a hard time finding Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion -- it's not at the Andover-Newton library and my local library has a hold list a mile long -- and I find that I really don't want to spend $28 of my professional expenses on it. I've promised to address it in my Feb. 25 sermon, though, so I need to get my hands on a copy.
Someone in my congregation sent me a great article by John Shelby Spong called "Human Definitions of God Need Revision." One of my favorite quotes from Spong's article says, "I believe that atheism as a challenge to organized religion has a worthy vocation to fulfill. The real atheists are saying that the God they have encountered inside the life of the church is too small and too compromised to be God for their lives. If the church is dedicated to such an unbelievable, magical and miracle-working deity that it cannot admit to any genuine probing of the divine, then the atheist speaks a powerful truth."
This quote makes me think that in the Unitarian Universalist context, where we clearly have the "genuine probing of the divine" part down, we need to get a lot better at finding a theos we can affirm. When people walk through the doors of our churches, they are so often relieved at being freed from the Big Daddy Wonderworker in the Sky concept of divinity that they rest in that relief forever after, and build a faith based on the rejection of the faith claims made by other religious traditions.
We UUs have become so enamored of the motto that we are "non-creedal, non-dogmatic and non-doctrinal" that we have failed to realize that we need doctrine if we are to effectively communicate a soul-fulfilling, prophetic and affirming faith to seekers. There is nothing wrong with doctrine: the Universalists crafted powerful doctrine and converted many Christians to their theological understanding. They were not great institutionalists, but they made a tremendous impact on the faith lives of Americans and the theology preached in the mainline Protestant church.
I believe that we have milked all that we can out of pure atheism and have been enthralled by its presumed exoticism as a theological position for too long. Is atheism radical any more? Not if you're a Unitarian Universalist. We've had publicly atheistic ministers for longer than we've had female ministers!
Yes, it seems radical that so many of UUs are atheists. But only if you keep comparing us to conservative churches, which I don't. I would like to stop treating atheists as some exotic species among us -- some "problem" that needs special care and kid gloves. Atheists come to church for the same reason any believing person come to any house of worship: to be nurtured in love, compassion and prophetic challenge, to be part of a community, to express reverence, and to grow as a human being. If any atheist in a UU community doesn't want to grow, doesn't want to authentically worship, and doesn't want to cultivate reverence, he or she is no different than the similarly dysfunctional theist or self-proclaimed mystic or Buddhist who also refuses to do those things.
I've had the dubious honor of watching Christians choke the life out of the worship life of their church by arguing about language and harrassing the poor choir master over choices of anthems. I've known theistic Jews who picked apart their rabbi's sermon with an acid pen and spared no insult in their parsing of his or her unacceptable theology. I've seen Goddess-worshiping pagans start hate campaigns against church leaders and ministers whose worship style did not fulfill their spiritual vision or meet their personal needs. Anyone in the religion biz has heard these stories, yet it seems to me that when the perpetrators of this kind of dysfunction are atheists, there is a special kind of scandal associated with them, as in "Those nasty atheists -- who shouldn't even be here, 'cause you can never make an ATHEIST happy in the church! -- started this terrible problem!!"
Let's consider this: no one who behaves in a consistently vile and unchecked manner in a religious community should "even be here." Also: it may be interesting to consider that Unitarian Universalist history conclusively proves that many atheists apparently have been made happy in their churches, as they have stayed there for many good years and been grieved in them at their death.
There are atheists in all kinds of religious communities all over the world, where they have decided to abide both with the integrity of their convictions and with the God affirmed there. In the end, are the finer points of our various theological beliefs or spiritual practices what anyone remembers or cherishes about us in our religious communities? No. It is our service to others and to the institution, our generosity of spirit and kindness, our gifts and our talents, our sharing of self and our wisdom, that are remembered.
Faith is a beautiful thing. We have all known someone whose faith in God animated them and made them a shining presence among us. But we have probably also known someone whose absolute certainty in the non-existence of God animated and inspired them. We haven't expected spiritually vibrant atheists among us, so we haven't looked for them.
The atheist in the church is not the Other. The atheist in the church or synagogue or mosque is part of a community of questioning, questing human beings. The only truly Other in any religious community is the Thou whose ineffable presence draws us together as faithful seekers in the first place.
[Hot diggity, kids, I think I just wrote my sermon!!!]