Thursday, October 13, 2005

What a Great UU Church Could Be

Scott Wells over at Boy in the Bands started a lively conversation about whether authentic Universalist and Unitarian beliefs no longer have a home within the UUA. In the course of that conversation, visitor Kim asked what it is that UU Christians want in a UU church, considering that (in her experience) many UU churches don't like to talk about theology. It's a great question that I tried to answer over there, but I'm not sure if Scott's blog host accepted my post, and in any event I think it also deserves its own stand-alone thread. Here's my answer again, slightly edited.

Here's my idea of the ideal UU church, at least, "ideal" from this one humble seeker's point of view. Churches like these once were common, and there are still a precious few of them around. In a perfect world I'd like to see the UUA work much more aggressively to support, promote and plant more of them:

A church that promotes theological discussion and preaches theology from the pulpit, rather than avoiding it.

A church where “worship” is routinely used as a transitive verb, rather than only as a noun.

A church that embraces many different apprehensions of “God”, rather than avoiding or denying the concept.

A church where not only is the word “God” as easily spoken as “human”, but also “Jesus” as easily as “God”, “Christ” as easily as “Jesus”, and “Tao” and “Buddha” and “Brahman” and “Mother Earth” as easily as (but no more easily than) “Christ”.

A church that cherishes and uses the Bible as its first source of moral and spiritual insight, rather than neglecting or disparaging it.

A church that not only discusses theology in the abstract, but also affirms “Channing” Unitarianism and/or “Ballou” Universalism at its own foundational theological identity, and uses them as a home base for broader spiritual exploration, rather than avoiding them as anachronistic oddities.

A church that refuses to search for spiritual truths either only within the Christian tradition, or only beyond the Christian tradition, but accepts truths from all other sources as accretive and supplemental to its Christian heritage, rather than superior and contradictory.

A church that employs both reason and tradition as a test of validity for all new spiritual truths and insights, and employs them rigorously and equitably, rather than raising vague ideals of community and inclusiveness above those of reason and tradition, or holding Christianity alone among spiritual paths to a uniquely demanding, nearly impossible probative standard.

A church that is not afraid to see the “Humanist” worldview first pronounced in the 1930s as a half-true, half-false heresy, at odds with itself, rather than as an inviolable bedrock doctrine: half-true in its affirmation of human worth, but half-false in its bitter, categorical denial of all prior human apprehensions of the Holy throughout the entire course of human experience.

53 Comments:

At October 13, 2005 at 8:12:00 AM EDT, Anonymous David said...

fausto-- what an awesome post! Your kind of ideal church sounds pretty good. I bet more UU churches than now would have fit this ideal, say, back in the 60s and 70s. You're right, today they aren't so numerous.

Basically, what you're saying is this (correct me if I'm wrong): UUism can be (and once was) biblically-rooted and Christ-centered without being closed to other sources of wisdom and truth. Is that right? If that's what you're saying, then I agree 100%

 
At October 13, 2005 at 9:32:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

UUism can be (and once was) biblically-rooted and Christ-centered without being closed to other sources of wisdom and truth. Is that right?

Yes. As far as I'm concerned, though, it doesn't even have to be wholly "Christ-centered", as long as it recognizes the validity of the traditional Christian witness, especially when expressed in its historic Unitarian and/or Universalist idioms. In fact, I think a Christ-and-Bible-only diet can get tiresome pretty quickly.

I bet more UU churches than now would have fit this ideal, say, back in the 60s and 70s.

My own church was more that way 30 or 40 years ago than it is today, but I think we're the exception rather than the rule. Across the whole denomination I actually think the trend is opposite. There was a far stronger, stridently polemical, Humanist hegemony prevailing in the '60's and '70's than there is today, and its declining influence opens the door for many new investigations of mysticism and spirituality today that would have constituted valid grounds for shunning a generation ago -- including, among others, our own earlier traditions.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 9:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger Oversoul said...

Nice post, well thought out.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 9:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
"A church that is not afraid to see the “Humanist” worldview first pronounced in the 1930s as a half-true, half-false heresy, at odds with itself, rather than as an inviolable bedrock doctrine: half-true in its affirmation of human worth, but half-false in its bitter, categorical denial of all prior human apprehensions of the Holy throughout the entire course of human experience."

Fausto ... so you're saying that a religious agnostic like myself should not be welcomed into a UU congregation? I didn't know that we had a "UU Inquisition" dedicated to eradication of heresy. I must have missed the news coverage in UU World.

Seriously, your "strawman humanism" that you've described as "bitter" isn't the humanism that exists today. Humanists reject over-reliance on supernaturalism for the same reasons that Liberal Christians do. The "Kingdom of God" (to borrow the traditional language here) isn't going to happen if we don't roll up our sleeves and get to work. God isn't going to "miracle" us out of whatever trouble we find ourselves in. The expectation is for all of us (including Liberal Christians and Religious Humanists) to create a community where all are saved and all serve.

Check out the latest version of the Humanist Manifesto to see where religious humanism is today:

http://www.americanhumanist.org/3/HumandItsAspirations.htm

The "humanist heresy" that you're complaining about was responsible for the institutional survival of Unitarian Universalism through the 1940s, 50s, 60, and 70s.

Here's Bill Sinkford's words that he wrote in reply to Rebecca Parker on the "language of reverence" debate"

"I’ve learned that the response to Unitarian Universalist “Humanists” needs to begin with gratitude. These persons supported our congregations and institutions for decades. Without their faithful support there almost literally would not be a Unitarian Universalism today, or at least not one that we would recognize. It is also critical to affirm that there will always be a place in our faith for persons who name themselves “Humanist.” The great virtue and value of our faith is its ability to live as a religiously pluralistic faith, where our religious differences are seen as blessings rather than as curses. We live that reality imperfectly to be sure, but we hold fast to that vision. This is one of the great gifts we offer to our wounded world."
http://tinyurl.com/2l2xx

I would recommend reading David Brumbaugh's book on Unitarian Universalist history. The process where we moved from Unitarianism and Universalism that were 100% Biblically-rooted and Christ-centered to the current pluralistic faith that embraces both Religious Humanism and Liberal Christianity along with other sources wasn't an unfortunate mistake. It's an expected outcome from a faith tradition that embraces conscience and freedom of belief.

Since Religious Humanism arose in both Unitarianism and Universalism due to the value that we place on conscience and freedom of belief, eradicating what you're calling "heresy" may difficult unless we change our core religious values.

If you're seriously intent on removing UU Humanists from our faith community, the only way to do it is by curtailing freedom of belief through a statement of faith that excludes folks like me.

Are you willing to do that? Is this a price that we're willing to pay as a faith community?

 
At October 13, 2005 at 11:20:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Fausto ... so you're saying that a religious agnostic like myself should not be welcomed into a UU congregation?

Nope, never said it, never would say it. I'm describing my ideal church, not yours. You might choose a different church than I would, and that should be your right.

I think we as a denomination need to embrace and encourage more kinds of religious communities, not suppress them. One-size-fits-all apprehension fell with the Tower of Babel. The effort to reconstruct it is and always has been human folly, not God's will.

If you're seriously intent on removing UU Humanists from our faith community, the only way to do it is by curtailing freedom of belief through a statement of faith that excludes folks like me.

Are you willing to do that? Is this a price that we're willing to pay as a faith community?


Nope. I'm not intent on it, not willing to do it, and have never advocated it. I'm speaking against denial and exclusion, not for it as you suppose.

Seriously, your "strawman humanism" that you've described as "bitter" isn't the humanism that exists today.

Then nothing I said should have alarmed you. What I called a "heresy" was not what many self-defined UU humanists today conceive of when they use that word to describe themselves, but rather the "worldview first pronounced in the 1930s" that expressed a "bitter, categorical denial of all prior human apprehensions of the Holy throughout the entire course of human experience". I described that very specific notion with the word "Humanism" enclosed in quotes. If that description doesn't apply to you, then don't apply it to yourself. I didn't.

I do hear what sounds like a genuinely bitter tone between the lines in your comments, however, as well as an instinctive eagerness to suppose that any other congregation's "free and responsible seach for truth and meaning" ought to be suppressed to the extent that it is not consistent with your own personal understanding. I think you are wrongly reading that same underlying supposition into my own remarks. That top-down, normative supposition is directly contrary to the covenantal, bottom-up polity of the UUA as a voluntary association of autonomous congregations, and it is indeed exclusionary. If our congregations have the right to freely gather and covenant themselves, and to freely associate with our other congregations to affirm a broad (but limited, and purposefully vague) statement of shared general principles, why should you, or I, or any other one of our many disparate theological factions have the right to insist that every other UU congregation should conform strictly to our own specific theological positions and way of thinking?

We shouldn't. And when you assume I'm advocating a uniform model to be imposed upon the entire denomination, with the purpose of excluding anyone, you're the one setting up the straw man, not me.

Unfortunately, the kind of call for exclusionary, cookie-cutter conformity and uniformity of thought that you rightly abhor does exist within our denomination, Steve, and I think it even manifests itself in some of your own comments. I think it is severely limiting our overall growth and influence in the broader society, and I'm all for purging it.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 11:56:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Jeff Wilson said...

Fausto, great effort, this is a very interesting post. Please submit to Matthew or Chris as the next subject for discussion at Coffee Hour. You might want to clean it up slightly first.

Although you're accusing Steve of underlying bitterness (and I see it there too), I think you should be aware that your own original post comes off as between-the-lines bitter itself. You leave the impression that you are definitely bitter about the words and actions of some Humanists, and your tone shifts noticably. I think you need to re-think this section. Among other things, consider your reaction to a post that calls Christianity a half-true, half-false (let's face it, mainstream forms of Christianity have plenty of historically inaccurate and often spiritually damaging aspects) heresy. I would be all over that hypothetical post looking to deal out a rhetorical whooping. If you're bitter about Humanists, perhaps you can find a more constructive way to express yourself.

As with Paul W. at his blog, I'm not really on-board with a UUism that considers the Bible its first source. I don't think we've seen that Unitarian/Universalism for a long, long time. I'm not comfortable with putting any text ahead of others, that clearly seems to me like a decision best left to individual conscience than to decisions at the church or denominational level. I don't think this applies, however, to your vision of a church that takes Channing or Ballou as bedrock and moves on from there, which seems fully justifiable and indeed sensible. My chilhood Universalist church was much this way and though I didn't end up explicitly Christian I have a strong sense of how I benefitted from this deep connection to our historical tradition.

Anyway, I'm gonna save further comment in the hopes that you'll get this thing posted over at Coffee Hour. I'll just close by saying thanks for opening a good discussion and overall I can get behind this vision. Indeed, I'd be more likely to attend this church (despite my non-Christian status) than many real UU churches I have visited.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 2:17:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

I think you should be aware that your own original post comes off as between-the-lines bitter itself. You leave the impression that you are definitely bitter about the words and actions of some Humanists, and your tone shifts noticably.

Thanks for your kind and gentle criticism, Jeff. Perhaps I am, and perhaps also the things that bug me about certain dogmatic Humanists are the same things that bug many Humanists about dogmatic mainstream Christianity: both share a smug attitude of supersessionist triumphalism that allows no room for alternative understanding.

It would be my argument that neither the Unitarian nor Universalist versions of Christianity shared that supersessionist vision with more conventional Christian denominations. That argument may be too subtle, however, for the many UUs who grew up in a different Christian tradition and have never really been exposed to our own.

What I find sad and ironic, and do speak strongly about above, is that some Humanists seem to think that the Manifesto I's rejection of all prior religious apprehension ought to be received as dogma by all congregations in the UUA, and that any religious expression that is contradictory to that rejection should be discouraged. Not only is that attitude antithetical to the "free and responsible search" that we supposedly affirm and promote, but it is also supersessionist and exclusionary in a way that the older Unitarian and Universalist Christianities never were.

I think you need to re-think this section. Among other things, consider your reaction to a post that calls Christianity a half-true, half-false (let's face it, mainstream forms of Christianity have plenty of historically inaccurate and often spiritually damaging aspects) heresy.

Maybe the word 'heresy' is still too highly charged, even for us. Maybe 'bitter' is too strong a characterization of the original HM I declarations. But I'll stand by my proposition that HM I is self-contradictory, and simultaneously "half-true in its affirmation of human worth, but half-false in its categorical denial of all prior human apprehensions of the Holy throughout the entire course of human experience".

As with Paul W. at his blog, I'm not really on-board with a UUism that considers the Bible its first source.

Well, Channing and Ballou did, so that's why I expressed it that way. It really is the original source for nearly all UU ethics and morality, even in today's post-Chrsitian polyglot denomination. I'd be willing to settle for "a primary source" or "an important source", though. To my eyes, the deepest, surest truths of the Bible are those that are confirmed by other witnesses in other cultures, anyway.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 2:23:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

(let's face it, mainstream forms of Christianity have plenty of historically inaccurate and often spiritually damaging aspects)

Yes, indeed they do. If they didn't we'd all still be Congregationalists. Except for the folks at Kings Chapel; they'd still be Episcopalians.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 8:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
"But I'll stand by my proposition that HM [Humanist Manifesto] I is self-contradictory, and simultaneously 'half-true in its affirmation of human worth, but half-false in its categorical denial of all prior human apprehensions of the Holy throughout the entire course of human experience.'"

Fausto ... Maybe I'm missing something here. Perhaps you could point out the offending language in HM I for me. Most of the comments about religious traditions in the Humanist Manifesto I have also been voiced by Liberal Christians such as Bishop Spong.

In the Manifesto I document, I find the following text:

"We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of 'new thought.'"
http://www.americanhumanist.org/about/manifesto1.html

It's interesting to compare HM I to Bishop Spong's Liberal Christian critique of theism as copied from his collection of theses ("A Call for a New Reformation"):

"Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found."
http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/jsspong/reform.html

If a Christian is wedded to the idea that the only way to envision Christianity and God is in theistic terms, then HM I's text could be a problem.

But it may be possible for Christianity and God to be viewed outside the theistic framework that gave birth to these concepts.

It may be worth comparing the three successive revisions of the Humanist Manifesto to see how Humanist thought has changed over time:

Humanist Manifesto I (1933)
http://www.americanhumanist.org/about/manifesto1.html

Humanist Manifesto II (1973)
http://www.americanhumanist.org/humanism/manifesto2.php

Humanist Manifesto III (2003)
http://www.americanhumanist.org/3/HumandItsAspirations.php

There are large parts of all three revisions of the Humanist Manifesto that sound very "Unitarian Universalist" to me.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 8:32:00 PM EDT, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
" ... even in today's post-Chrsitian polyglot denomination. I'd be willing to settle for 'a primary source' or 'an important source', though."

I think our current denominational position is just what you are asking for.

Of all the world religions, only two are mentioned by name in our denominational documents that define who we are:

"Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves"
http://www.uua.org/administration/bylaws.html#sectionC-2.1.

No other world religion is singled out for this type of special recognition in our organizational documents.

If our religious movement were as scornful of our movements's Christian history as you're suggesting, would we even mention these two world religions separately from the other world religions?

The fact that we acknowledge Judaism and Christianity this way is a tacit acknowledgement that this is a part of our movement's history and deserving of special recognition.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 9:25:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

There are large parts of all three revisions of the Humanist Manifesto that sound very "Unitarian Universalist" to me.

Yeah, as I clearly said, I really do think Humanism is half true. Where it's right is in the positive things it affirms. Where it's wrong is in the negative things its adherents insist that others also should deny.

Do you know who Corliss Lamont is, Steve? His daughter was one of my mother's best childhood friends. My mother hung out at the Lamont home all the time, and called him "Uncle Corliss". He, my grandfather, and John Dewey (who signed HM I) were all on the Columbia University faculty together.

I really do know a bit about Humanism. In fact, it's a large part of why I'm a UU. So I feel fully qualified to form a valid opinion.

It's interesting to compare HM I to Bishop Spong's Liberal Christian critique of theism as copied from his collection of theses

Funny, his church is a whole lot more orthodox and liturgical than the one I'm imagining, but you jumped down my throat, not his. Somehow I doubt that even the most dogmatic Humanist would feel more at home at high Mass in Bishop Spong's Cathedral of Newark than in the UU church I'm envisioning. Sounds like you're saying it's okay to be a heterodox Christian as long as you're in the orthodox Anglican Communion, but not if you're in the UUA, notwithstanding our own longer and more authentic tradition of Christian heterodoxy.

No other world religion is singled out for this type of special recognition in our organizational documents.

True enough, but the "heretical" variety of Humanist that I am objecting to feels just as free to ignore this clause as the "free and responsible search" one. A UU who takes this clause seriously, on the other hand, would have no objection to anything I've suggested.

this is a part of our movement's history and deserving of special recognition

Agreed, but that's hardly the same thing as continuing to practice, preach, and promote it as a vital, living faith.

 
At October 13, 2005 at 11:19:00 PM EDT, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"Funny, his church is a whole lot more orthodox and liturgical than the one I'm imagining, but you jumped down my throat ... "

Fausto,

For the record, I didn't attack you at all. I don't know why you interpreted my objections to your comments as an attack.

Then Fausto wrote:
" ... Sounds like you're saying it's okay to be a heterodox Christian as long as you're in the orthodox Anglican Communion, but not if you're in the UUA, notwithstanding our own longer and more authentic tradition of Christian heterodoxy."

Please don't misinterpret my words.

I never said that. And I think you should be looking at Spong's theology and not the worship style of his denominational home.

His "Call for a New Reformation" lists the following statements intended to be a provocative start for a debate within and outside Christianity about what Christianity means to us today:

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/jsspong/reform.html

These statements probably don't sound too radical to a UU Christian or other theological flavors of UUism. I suspect that most UUs and most UCC folks are in agreement with most of these statements. But they would be a radical departure from tradition for many mainline and conservative Protestants.

Spong's self-described "low church" worship style may be too liturgical and traditional for many UUs, but his theology would be at home in most UU congregations.

Then Fausto wrote
-snip-
"True enough, but the "heretical" variety of Humanist that I am objecting to feels just as free to ignore this clause as the "free and responsible search" one. A UU who takes this clause seriously, on the other hand, would have no objection to anything I've suggested."

The only thing I found objectionable was the insulting tone that you took in your attack on Humanism.

Jeff Wilson's comments about this are a fair assessment. If I had called Christianity a half-true/half-false heresy, I suspect you would take offense at this insult. I wouldn't intenionally insult anyone like that and I would apologize if someone pointed my mistake out to me.

And ... I'm still curious. Exactly what parts of the various Humanist Manifestos do you object to?

 
At October 14, 2005 at 6:34:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Please don't misinterpret my words. I never said that.

Uh, I think you pretty much did, even if you didn't do it directly. When you object to the kind of church I described because you think it would exclude you, but you hold up Spong as a theological leader you agree with, there isn't much difference except that Spong isn't in your denomination so you don't have to worship with him. You seem to be saying, we're happy to talk about him, as long as we don't have to worship like him. It's a reasonable inference that you approve of Christian dissenters who rattle the cages in more orthodox denominations, but you aren't willing to allow room for them in this denomination, their traditional home.

I think you should be looking at Spong's theology and not the worship style of his denominational home.

See? You're happy to talk about him, but not worship like him.

I've got no problem with Spong, Steve. I read him too. I am more or less as heterodox as he is. I rather doubt your claim that "most UCC folks" would agree with "most" of his statements, though.

Jeff Wilson's comments about this are a fair assessment. If I had called Christianity a half-true/half-false heresy, I suspect you would take offense at this insult.

Then you and Jeff misunderstand my take on Christianity, and I should clarify it further. (I thought I had already done so by agreeing to his point on the errors of Christianity.)

Unitarians and Universalists have always been heterodox dissenters from orthodox Christianity, not orthodox followers. There are more of them than there are of us, so they get to call Untiarianism and Universalism "heresies" rather than vice versa, but if you were to propose to me or James Freeman Clarke or Theodore Parker or William Ellery Channing or Hosea Ballou or John Murray that mainstream Christianity has half of it wrong, we would all wholeheartedly agree with you, rather than taking any offense. This is the part of "UU Christianity" that "UU non-Christians", amazingly, just don't seem to get. And it's the Unitarian and Universalist understanding of Christianity that I think the UUA has a special duty to preserve and promote, not the orthodox one.

For the record, I didn't attack you at all. I don't know why you interpreted my objections to your comments as an attack.

When you accuse me of "saying that a religious agnostic like [your]self should not be welcomed into a UU congregation", of calling for a "UU Inquisition", of being "seriously intent on removing UU Humanists from our faith community", and of arguing against strawmen, I experience that as an attack.

And ... I'm still curious. Exactly what parts of the various Humanist Manifestos do you object to?

The parts that call all prior religious apprehension obsolete and meaningless.

 
At October 14, 2005 at 9:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger Oversoul said...

“Fausto ... so you're saying that a religious agnostic like myself should not be welcomed into a UU congregation?”

I think UUs have gone horribly astray in understanding tolerance. Tolerance means that, let’s use King’s Chapel for instance, while KC has a BOCP and is Christian-focused, no one is going around rooting out those who don’t believe in a certain way. That’s liberal religion. Liberal religion is not setting up a booth for every conceivable ideology so that anybody who might stop in can have their specific itch scratched. I have yet to find a single UU who would expect the local Wiccan coven to allow a Catholic to come into their group and celebrate the Eucharist, lest the Wiccans be deemed intolerant. As I keep saying, it’s both OK and quite possible to have a substantive religious practice while still respecting differences of belief.

“Christianity and God is in theistic terms…”

“Theism” is a term which, properly used, simply means belief in the existence of a deity or deities. That’s the way it was most likely used in HMI. HMI was a clear shot at religious belief as it had existed up to that time.

Spong uses “theism” in a very different way, and I think he pretty clearly defines his use versus the more generic use of the term. Spong tends to use it in the sense that the deity or deities one believes in have certain anthropomorphic and anthropocentric characteristics that he finds untenable in modern theology. Spong is very radical (although I do agree with him on some things and find his writings interesting), and I think it’s a mistake to take him as a measure of liberal Christianity.

“No other world religion is singled out for this type of special recognition in our organizational documents.”

Really?

“• Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
• Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”

Judaism, Christianity, Humanism and Earth-centered traditions are all mentioned specifically. You could argue that the latter is too broad a category, but then again so are the other three as there are a million flavors of each of those religions.

 
At October 14, 2005 at 10:11:00 AM EDT, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"When you object to the kind of church I described because you think it would exclude you, but you hold up Spong as a theological leader you agree with, there isn't much difference except that Spong isn't in your denomination so you don't have to worship with him."

Fausto ... I'll repeat myself again. Your interpretation of what you think I'm saying "between the lines" is your creation and not my thoughts.

In terms of your "ideal church," most of what you wrote sounded OK to me. With the exception of what sounded like an undeserved criticism of current-day UU Humanism, I agreed with much of what you wrote. My comments were directed towards your attack on Humanism.

Then Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"You seem to be saying, we're happy to talk about him, as long as we don't have to worship like him."

Maybe I should just be quiet and let you speak for me? Apparently, you know my own thoughts better than I do.

In all seriousness, please don't misinterpret my words for me. "Reinterpreting" my words into a meaning beyond what I've written is rude.

Then Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"It's a reasonable inference that you approve of Christian dissenters who rattle the cages in more orthodox denominations, but you aren't willing to allow room for them in this denomination, their traditional home."

No ... I never said that. Again, that "inference" is your creation and does not reflect my thoughts on the role of Christianity within modern Unitarian Universalism.

UU Christianity and UU Humanism two examples of the many current-day theological descendents of classical Unitarianism and Universalism. I see a place for this theological diversity and more in our faith community.

However, this hasn't always been the case in my congregation. We have some members who self-identify as UU Christian who are strongly anti-Humanist and anti-Pagan. They've made mocking references towards Earth-Based religions when our Pagan members were organizing our town's Pagan Pride celebration.

These folks have also suggested that UU Humanists were somehow unethical for their role in moving our religious movement historic shift from an exclusively Biblical and Christian movement to a pluralistic movement that incorporates a diversity of religious paths that we have today.

 
At October 14, 2005 at 12:14:00 PM EDT, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Oversoul wrote:
-snip-
"'Theism' is a term which, properly used, simply means belief in the existence of a deity or deities. That’s the way it was most likely used in HMI. HMI was a clear shot at religious belief as it had existed up to that time."

Oversoul,

Actually, "theism" isn't just a belief in deity or deities. Deism is also a belief in deity or deities but it's not the same as theism.

Theism has traditionally been understood as more than just belief in deity or deities. My Webster's at work talks about theism as belief in a personal deity or deities as creator(s) and ruler(s) of the world. Wikipedia talks about theism as the doctrine that " ... God(s) is immanent in the world, yet transcends it." The Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance web site defines theism as "Deity created the universe and continues to actively participate in the world's activities and in human history."

Most religious thought prior to the 20th century was theistic. However, Humanists pointed out instances where theism didn't work very well. Liberal Christians like Spong, Crossan, etc also pointed out instances where theism starts breaking down.

So, I asking my question again.

How would a non-theistic form of Christianity look?

Then Oversoul wrote:
-snip-
"Judaism, Christianity, Humanism and Earth-centered traditions are all mentioned specifically. You could argue that the latter is too broad a category, but then again so are the other three as there are a million flavors of each of those religions."

In terms of "world religions," I was using that in terms of what writers like Houston Smith have traditionally considered to fit in this category (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity).

While Humanism is where I fit, I've never seen it listed as a "world religion." The same is true with modern-day Paganism.

So ... our denomination's organizational documents specifically mention Judaism and Christianity but lump Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam into the "world religion" category. Given our historical roots in Protestant Christianity, this special recognition makes sense.

How much "special recognition" do we need for our historic roots in Christianity and Classic Unitarianism and Classic Universalism? It appears to me that we've already recognized Christianity and our special historic attachment to Christianity in the sources of our living tradition.

 
At October 14, 2005 at 1:05:00 PM EDT, Blogger Oversoul said...

“Actually, "theism" isn't just a belief in deity or deities. Deism is also a belief in deity or deities but it's not the same as theism.”

Indeed-it is the belief in a deity based on reason and nature, not revelation. It is a subset of monotheism.

“My Webster's at work talks about theism as belief in a personal deity or deities as creator(s) and ruler(s) of the world. Wikipedia talks about theism as the doctrine that " ... God(s) is immanent in the world, yet transcends it."

Wikipedia says: theism is the belief in one or more gods or goddesses. More specifically, it may also mean the belief in God, a god, or gods, who is/are actively involved in maintaining the Universe. This secondary meaning is shown in context to other beliefs concerning the divine below.

Now that we’ve exhaustedly defined theism, what’s next?

“How would a non-theistic form of Christianity look?”

How would a car with no wheels move? I’ve commented before and elsewhere that what Spong proposes is something other than Christianity; again not that I necessarily disagree with everything he says, but at some point we have to be willing to recognize when something has changed or evolved into a new and different thing. For example, pre-American Revolutionary war the 13 colonies were parts of the British Empire in North America; by 1783 in spite of the majority of the people in the 13 colonies being of British descent and speaking English, it’s pretty clear that they were no longer part of the British Empire.

“How much "special recognition" do we need for our historic roots in Christianity and Classic Unitarianism and Classic Universalism?”

I don’t of anyone who wants special recognition; most people I come across in this debate who are unhappy (and theistic in their orientation) want a different experience in church.

 
At October 14, 2005 at 8:17:00 PM EDT, Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Oversoul wrote:
-snip-
"How would a car with no wheels move? I've commented before and elsewhere that what Spong proposes is something other than Christianity"

I don't know ... maybe the answer to your car analogy question is "hovercraft"?

In a more serious vein, is theism an essential element of Christianity? If so, how much theism does Christianity require to remain Christian?

Do we require omniscience? Do we require omniprescence? Do we require omnipotence?

Or does the theism in Christianity allow for a deity that isn't all-knowing, ever-present, and all-powerful?

As we learn more about the natural world, we may discover that there are fewer tasks left over for our theistic personal and intervening deity (or deities) to do.

In a commentary on the nature of faith and miracles, John Crossan had observed that shrines at Fatima and Lourdes have many recorded instances of healing. But there are limits to this healing. One finds plenty of discarded crutches and braces testifying to these healings. But one never finds any discarded artificial limbs or empty caskets.

If deity is involved in these healing miracles, apparently there are some observed limits to divine power. This may be a self-imposed limit that God has accepted or an involuntary limit imposed by the world that we and God inhabit.

 
At October 15, 2005 at 1:40:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Kim said...

wow! I'm glad that my comment sparked such an involved discussion.
I think there is an inherant inability for humans to objectively see just how much of "my theology" would be a fair amount. I think it always looks like too little time is spent on "my" view. If we mathmatically divided the congregation and the pulpit time to give exactly the right proportion of time to each theology, it still wouldn't look quite right to most anyone.

 
At October 15, 2005 at 8:38:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

wow! I'm glad that my comment sparked such an involved discussion.

Me too, Kim. Thanks!

Steve, I'm not ignoring your questions to me. I'm just waiting till I have some uninterrupted time to be able to give you a thoughtful response.

Carry on, everyone!

 
At October 15, 2005 at 9:43:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Jason Pitzl-Waters said...

Interesting post. I too would appreciate a more worshipful UU on the whole. I find myself in harmony with many of the vision statements you make.

As a modern Pagan and a UU, I have no problem with those wishing to invoke or talk of Christ. But we must also be willing to go beyond "mother earth" and also give a full embrace to my gods and the gods of those who follow "earth-based" paths.

I hope the UU body can eventually find a meaningful path where Christians, Pagans, and Humanists can all feel comfortable with our future.

 
At October 15, 2005 at 4:26:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

But we must also be willing to go beyond "mother earth" and also give a full embrace to my gods and the gods of those who follow "earth-based" paths.


Jason, you'll see that in the statement previous to the one mentioning "Mother Earth" I talk about embracing many different apprehensions of "God". You'll also see in my recent "John 14:6" thread and my February "Credo" statement that I think differing religious traditions all share differing partial apprehensions of a single sacred reality, the entirety of which is beyond the human ability to completely comprehend. When I speak of Tao or Buddha or Brahman or Mother Earth, that's only shorthand for all the many other apprehensions of the Holy that have been recognized outside the conventional Judeo-Christian one. If your gods are another apprehension of the same reality, there is room in my multiple apprehensions for yours.

Steve, there is also room in my multiple apprehensions for impersonal, non-supernatural apprehensions of the Holy. Spong's is one such view. Ralph Waldo Emerson's is another. So are those of Whitehead, Hartshorne, and Tillich. So is the affirmation of Religious Humanism of the inherent worth of human experience and the ultimate nobility of human ideals. There is an apprehension of "God" in all these views. (What does a non-theistic Christianity look like? There are many different things it could look like, but a high Mass from the Book of Common Prayer in the Newark Cathedral officiated by Bishop Spong is certainly one such. In that example the language and forms are the same as the orthodox ones; it is only the apprehension of "God" that differs.) Moreover, there is no apprehension of "God" that is not a human apprehension -- and it is one of Humanism's greatest contributions to the discussion to remind us of that.

But this is also why I say HM I and other similar statements are self-contradictory, and therefore half-wrong: they affirm human experience, but then they invalidate all prior religious understanding, apprehension and language in favor of a new, supposedly superior, understanding based only in reason and empirical knowledge. In doing so, they would invalidate all prior human understanding -- the very thing they purport to affirm. I see science-based Humanism and Biblical inerrancy as two sides of the same coin: both are so devoted to a literal, but superficial, epistemology that they close the door to deeper, more useful modes of understanding.

And in the case of our own Unitarian and Universalist religious traditions, to demand that we all should adopt this new dogmatic way of apprehension based in knowledge that is provable by reason and science alone, to ask that we abandon and repudiate all prior modes of religious expression, and to enjoin us from ever again appealing to God or to the Bible or otherwise making use of those older idioms (or alternative idioms like Taoism's or Buddhism's or Hinduism's or Jason's), when many of us still do find useful meaning in them is indeed ... (drum roll please) ... a heresy.


her·e·sy n.
pl. her·e·sies

1. 1. An opinion or a doctrine at variance with established religious beliefs, especially dissension from or denial of Roman Catholic dogma by a professed believer or baptized church member. 2. Adherence to such dissenting opinion or doctrine.

2. 1. A controversial or unorthodox opinion or doctrine, as in politics, philosophy, or science. 2. Adherence to such controversial or unorthodox opinion.

[Middle English heresie, from Old French, from Late Latin haeresis, from Late Greek hairesis, from Greek, a choosing, faction, from haireisthai, to choose, middle voice of hairein, to take.]

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

 
At October 16, 2005 at 11:06:00 AM EDT, Blogger Oversoul said...

“In a more serious vein, is theism an essential element of Christianity? If so, how much theism does Christianity require to remain Christian?”

Again, I’m not a Christian, but I think theism as you’ve defined it anyway, is pretty essential to the 2000 year old tradition of Christianity. Since Christianity’s premise is based on the intervention of a personal deity by means of an incarnation (or at least a special emissary), I’d say that taking out theism leaves us with basic be nice to people philosophy. Which is fine, but it’s not Christianity. I think the parts of Christianity that UUs try to excise are still important to the overall tradition; I think the Buddha’s achievement of enlightenment is important to the tradition of Buddhism.

“Or does the theism in Christianity allow for a deity that isn't all-knowing, ever-present, and all-powerful?”

It depends on the theology within Christianity; I think there’s a wealth of thought on those topics within the greater tradition. But I think that simply dismissing them out of hand is too simplistic; I’ve seen some pretty interesting, innovative thoughts that I’d say still fit within the bounds of tradition as I understand them.

But then again, what the hell do I know? :)

 
At October 17, 2005 at 11:20:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my opinion, any belief that could be defended using rationalism should be welcomed at a Great UU church.
Any belief based on magic and miracles and the like should be regarded as superstition. I'm just as hesitant to belief in things like Reiki as I am in the Celestial Santa Clause version of God or in spirits in the trees.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 9:03:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

In my opinion, any belief that could be defended using rationalism should be welcomed at a Great UU church.

I don't disagree. But what differentiates a belief from a fact is that beliefs are affirmations through faith of unproven hypotheses, while facts are susceptible to rational proof. Religion is the realm of belief, not proof. Will you allow in your "great" church those beliefs that can be defended by appeals to historic authenticity and tradition, even if they can't be proven rationally?

Any belief based on magic and miracles and the like should be regarded as superstition. I'm just as hesitant to belief in things like Reiki as I am in the Celestial Santa Clause version of God or in spirits in the trees.

Well, I'm not asking you to believe those things. A wide diversity among UUs' personal beliefs goes without saying. But as a denomination that has traditionally affirmed the ultimate authority of personal discernment, we all venture onto thin ice when we invoke the word "should" -- because that is where our own testimony stops and our prescriptions for others begin.

In spite of our diversity, would you argue that material empiricism should be regarded as a sine qua non for a valid UU faith? That view is what I am calling heresy.

Would there be room in your "great" church for people who do believe in what you so scornfully call "the Celestial Santa Clause version of God or ... spirits in the trees" to preach and practice what they believe? I'm sure those folks wouldn't use the same belittling words to describe their system of beliefs that you do. Your magic, miracles, and superstition may be another person's non-material apprehension, or metaphorical means of expression. Would you deny that those beliefs are valid as partial apprehensions of the Holy if they inspire those people to leave happier, more fruitful, more fulfilled lives?

 
At October 18, 2005 at 10:31:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you said earlier, this is MY great UU Church.
I can handle the other beliefs when they:
1.) Do not expect me to believe them too.
2.) They don't try to convince my children to believe them, but present their ideas and let them stand on their own.

The trait that brought me to UU'ism was the rationality and the seemingly unending evolution of the religion. When a group gets too hung up on bringing in something that was long ago left behind as unproductive, then we are in trouble. I see some of the UU Christian movement as a Trojan Horse. We had such a group and then we found out that they were sent by the local Assembly of God to try to take over the congregation and then dissolve it. So sorry somewhat about my Celestial Santa Clause comment, but that is MY belief.
If you want explicit Christianity, there are many churches willing to take you into their fold, I'm sure UUC would be happy to have more liberal Christians. I would think that almost 200 yrs away from Biblicentricity should be proof that is what UU does NOT need. We need less hand holding and affirmation and more butt kicking and addressing of societal problems in a rational manner. Being Christian Lite won't help UU any more than being Republican Lite helps the Democrats.
My 2 cents worth....

 
At October 18, 2005 at 12:13:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

If you want explicit Christianity, there are many churches willing to take you into their fold, I'm sure UUC would be happy to have more liberal Christians.

They would not embrace explicit Unitarian Christianity, no. In fact, 200 years ago, they all quit the Harvard faculty en masseand formed a rival seminary at Andover, precisely to avoid us.

One of the things I am saying (in response to Scott Wells' thread, if not Kim's more specific question) is that the UUA should continue to provide a home -- and not just provide a home, but conceive of itself as the primary home -- for Unitarian and Universalist Christians. Those traditions were not "left behind a long time ago as unproductive" as you say, but are still going strong in some of our congregations. I'd like to see more such congregations, not fewer.

That does not mean that the UUA cannot or should not also be other things to other people. But if you want our denomination to to repudiate its unique contribution to the Christian witness, rather than merely looking beyond the narrow confines of the older witness, then it is you, not the traditionalists, who are introducing the Trojan Horse. That is precisely why I called that attitude a heresy, and why I call for a church that "is not afraid" to name it as such.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 5:40:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Shannon said...

"Anonymous" said:

When a group gets too hung up on bringing in something that was long ago left behind as unproductive, then we are in trouble.... If you want explicit Christianity, there are many churches willing to take you into their fold, I'm sure UCC would be happy to have more liberal Christians.

Let's change only a few words and see how this sounds to you, if you are the person being described rather than the speaker, shall we?

"When a group gets too hung up on bringing in something that was long ago left behind as unproductive, then we are in trouble.... If you still want explicit anti-racism now that the Civil Rights era is over, there are many churches willing to take you into their fold, I'm sure AME would be happy to have more anti-racists."

"When a group gets too hung up on bringing in something that was long ago left behind as unproductive, then we are in trouble.... If you still want explicit feminism now that ERA has been defeated, there are many advocacy groups willing to take you into their fold, I'm sure NOW would be happy to have more feminists."

"When a group gets too hung up on bringing in something that was long ago left behind as unproductive, then we are in trouble.... If you still want explicit liberalism now that the Contract with America has triumphed, there are many left-wing political organizations willing to take you into their fold, I'm sure the ACLU would be happy to have more political liberals."

"When a group gets too hung up on bringing in something that was long ago left behind as unproductive, then we are in trouble.... If you still want explicit atheism during this time of religious revival, there are many atheist sympathizers willing to take you into their fold, I'm sure Ethical Culture or the American Humanist Association would be happy to have more atheists."

All of these statements, including yours, "Anonymous", end with the unspoken tag, "but not here among us". Of course, it would be pretty surprising to hear some of my offensive and exclusionary restatements coming from the mouths of UUs. Nevertheless, "Anonymous", what you said is just as insulting and arrogant as what I said.

The only difference is, what I said was only hypothetical. You sound like you really mean it.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 5:47:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well,
In my mind, we can honor the tradition without being beholden too it. UU is no longer a "Christian" religion in any sense of the current use of the word. I get the feeling that you might be happy to move UU back to what it was 100 yrs ago. Sorry but been there, done that.
UU is about growth and evolution, not fixed point in time.
I will honor the tradition, respect it, but not follow it. I am a 2005 UU, with all the warts and complexities that includes. I respect the teachings of the man Jesus, I do not nor will I ever worship the Christ.
Specifially working to increase the number of explicity Christian UU churches is not where we need to go. I've been to Kings Chapel and found it about as UU as going to my mother in laws UUC church, if that's were you want UU to go, I'm not there. But if you want to be a part of our group, and support me in my humanism, I will support you and your Biblical Unitarianism, but don't call me a heretic. Using those terms leads to anger and hurt, just like the Trinitarians already do.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 5:56:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And to comment to Shannon, you need to read my earlier comments about rationality. In no way did I say anything about the hypotheticals that you mention.
I could take your examples and twist them to my purposes too.

Ask yourself, is the future of Unitarian Universalism in being an group commited to bibliocentric Unitarianism? If you say no, then why are you insulted?
What I'm trying to say in my imperfect manner is that while we can respect the past, it is the past, we learn from it an move on.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 6:57:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

I have called nobody a heretic.

I certainly haven't called your stated desire for "more butt kicking and addressing of societal problems in a rational manner" heretical. However, I have called the desire to suppress and repudiate prior human apprehensions of the sacred, and especially those springing from our own historic Unitarian and Universalist Christian traditions, a heresy. I even supplied the dictionary definition. It fits.

If there is room at our big table somewhere to continue to preserve and promote our own historic affirmations in your vision of UUism, if you value the denomination's overt support for the faith path and type of congregation I describe (along with many others), well and good. You're no heretic. Go out and kick butt and address society's problems and I'll be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you on the barricades.

But are you really willing to allow that much room at the table? You may not have enjoyed your visit to Kings Chapel, but aren't you also saying it no longer belongs in the UUA? Because if you're not saying that, and if it reflects our authentic Unitarian identity and still speaks to some people as it clearly does, why shouldn't the UUA try to plant a few more of them, even if it doesn't speak particularly well to you?

As Shannon wryly illustrates, it doesn't sound as though you really are willing to make much room at the table for UU Christians -- or for any other UU followers of any other spiritual or figurative, as opposed to literal and rational, epistemology. (And, contrary to your charge, Shannon didn't twist your words at all -- Shannon merely dropped all pretense and said "house nigger" where you said "Christian", to help you hear more clearly how your own words actually do sound.) What you really seem to be saying is that you don't value religious diversity; you'll tolerate its presence, but you'll do nothing to support it, and those who foolishly cling to a long-ago-superseded UU paradigm are outdated, irrelevant relics who, like followers of a more orthodox Christianity or other superstitions, ought only to speak when spoken to, and they all really should just go away. They should go find a UCC church or an ashram or a sweat lodge somewhere, and just leave you alone to be completely rational and literal while you kick some butt, and everyone would be much happier, or at least you would.

If that's what you would really like to say in a less guarded moment, yes, that's heresy. Not only 150 years ago when more UU congregations looked more or less like Kings Chapel, but today in the era of the 7 Principles, too. And if Jeff Wilson detected any bitterness in my earlier posts, the mirror that Shannon holds up to your own words rather clearly exposes why it might be there. You are not the only one speaking them.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 9:45:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Jeff Wilson said...

Wow! Go away for a little while, and when you come back a thread is FULL! I can barely begin to wade through all of this.

Fausto, to come back to your original response to my comments early on, I just wanted to thank you for a very good clarifying post. I continue to think that your great UU church would be quite appealing to me as well. Changing the Bible from "the first source" to "a primary source" is sufficient to get me back onboard. I think my hesitation here is over prescriptive approaches to UUism (which "first source" smells like) to descriptive ones (like "a primary source"): I'm one of those umpteen-zillion UUs who (for better or for worse) will immediately shy away from any text/theology/agenda someone tries to push on me or others, but will readily take up the same text/theology/agenda and engage with it if it is offered in a positive, "come and see" manner. It must be a basic part of the liberal religious psyche, at least for many of us. The trick then is simply to figure out how to "market" to us: the Bible becomes genuinely exciting to me when offered as a living resource (especially a historically important one).

I should probably say more and respond to more of your comments, but I feel like this thread has moved on to cover so much other ground that there's little point in dragging back early comments.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 10:07:00 PM EDT, Anonymous David said...

I surely didn't expect this discussion to become as heated as it has, but, UUs will be UUs after all.

Speaking as a "non-UUA UU Christian" (if that makes any sense), I've always liked the idea of Jesus and the Bible being primary, in Fausto's words, but not one-and-only sources of our faith. The Bible is a compass that points and leads us wherever truth gravitates. The Bible is not factual...but it IS truthful. Not factual. But truthful. And with or without it, UUism would not exist. And we're supposed to chunk this to the been-there done-that don't-need-it-anymore past?

Think about what that is saying about us as a covenantal people. As a people bound by an ancient, emanating religious yearning, not by the random, stop and go tides of theological fads.

Peace.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 10:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Shannon said...

In no way did I say anything about the hypotheticals that you mention.

I didn't say you did. That's not my point. My point is that you made a bigoted statement. The substitutions I offered as examples show your bigotry toward UU Christians, not toward minorities or women or liberals or atheists. No wonder UU Christians don't like being talked about this way. No wonder it provokes bitterness.

Ask yourself, is the future of Unitarian Universalism in being an group commited to bibliocentric Unitarianism?

I would say no, it's not committed to that at all. I also wouldn't say it should be, if you mean exculsively or even primarily. But it isn't that white-black, either-or. I would say that there's no reason why the future of UUism can't still include the same "bibliocentric Unitarianism" (and Universalism, too) that it has always included up until now, as part of an ever-expanding menu of religious sources and practices. Having some UUs around who still observe it as a living faith can help the rest of us respect and learn from our heritage much more meaningfully that if we only know it as dead history. There's no reason to reject it completely and cast it loose, just because we were nothing more than that once but we've become more than that alone now.

If you say no, then why are you insulted?

I'm not a UU Christian, so I'm not so much personally insulted as I am personally ashamed. I'm ashamed of UUism because of you, speaking as though your bigoted views and insensitive condescension fairly represent all of us, and Fausto is right that you're not the only one who speaks like this. If I were a UU Christian and were tempted to answer 'yes', though, I sure would be insulted -- and the very premise of your question seems to acknowledge that I should be. So I suppose your insult to UU Christians is deliberate? That makes it even worse.

while we can respect the past, it is the past, we learn from it an move on.

Judging from your comments here, I don't see that you either respect the past or have learned anything from it. Neither do you seem at all willing to acknowledge that for some of our fellow UUs it is not the past, but their present and (at least partial) vision for the future.

How will you feel when the Pagans in your congregation begin to outnumber the Humanists and speak of Humanism as an outdated vestige of the past that it is time to move on from? For goodness sake, what we're now calling "UU Christianity" was our collective theological consensus for far longer than Humanism ever was, so if you've got a point, one day when those Pagans toss it back in your face their point will be even stronger.

I think there need to be places set at our table for both where we have been and where we now are, as well as unset places left open for where we are going.

 
At October 18, 2005 at 11:48:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK
I think that there is room in UU for those who believe in an older vistion of UU, and to respect our traditions of origin. And if some UU churches go the way of Kings Chapel, great.
It's not something I am comfortable with, I will admit.
In much of the US, the local UU is the ONLY place we can go and be an open liberal and not be looked at like a three headed frog. So I get nervous when people talk about having specialized UU congregations. In much of the US, there is not another UU congregation down the street to move to if we don't like that congregations focus, the nearest one to me is almost an hour away.
I do not mean to be condescending. I'm sorry if I came off that way. I'm not a bigot. I'm tired of being told that I'm a bigot by some UU's if I don't become a big advocate of everything placed in front of me. I feel as uncomfortable about Reike, for example, as I do about Biblocentric UU.
I'm a common UU in that I had a very traumatic experiance as a "Christian" when I was young, and expressed doubts about divinity and the trinity, and in the ministers control over the congregation. There are many of us who came to UU to escape traumatic experiances with traditional faiths in our youths.
In that light, can you see how much Christian talk might just push a few buttons on my part? Have you ever been told that you would be tortured in hell by demons because you had doubts about the trinity and pointed out some biblical points that contradicted other ones? To have your parents and sibling be told to deal with you "damned to hell brother"? It took almost 20 yrs to be able to even think again about a religious community. Part of me wants to say there are so many places for Christians, why do you have to try to come and dominate UU too...irrational, perhaps. But it is the way I feel, and it's honest.
If UU evolves to be Pagan based faith, I'll have to make my decision then. Or Biblically oriented. Or any other tradition.
BTW- I post as anonymous as I don't like to register on the net for privacy reasons.

 
At October 19, 2005 at 9:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

I have doubts about a "Big Guy in the Sky" God too, Anonymous. Spong might have trouble calling me (and a lot of other UUs who refer to themselves for convenience as "theists") a "theist" by his definition.

I believe Jesus was fully human, and not in any way divine, except in the sense that there's an inherent spark of divinity within all of us, and that he exemplified what to do with it. That view, BTW, is pretty pure Wiliam Ellery Channing and Theodore Parker. Or if a Buddhist wants to call him a bodhisattva, I'm cool with that too.

So my conception of what, if anything, constitutes "God", and how to live life here and now in furtherance of human ideals, may not be so different from yours after all. The bigger difference may be only in the way we use language to express it.

Your point about the scarcity of UU churches outside the Northeast is well taken. I think the cure to that, though, is not to try to found a few more churches that are "a mile wide and an inch deep", nor is it to try to found only more of only one style, whether it be mine or yours or Steve's. The answer is to promote many different varities of worship experience, many different styles of churches. The more variety we have rather than bland uniformity, the more people will be able to find a comfortable home with us.

Athough I've been to Kings Chapel too, and find it too stuffy and liturgical for my taste, I think if you spent some time there you'd find an entirely different Christianity than the hurtful one you experienced in your childhood. As I said in an earlier post, many UUs who come to us from elsewhere have never seen authentic UU Christianity in practice, so they don't understand how different it is/was from the exclusionary, judgmental, triumphalist Christianity they were taught as children or that hurt them with its rigidity and condemnation. I agree with Shannon that one reason to keep our own Chrsitian witness alive is to demonstrate that it is not like those other hurtful versions. (At least, it isn't when it's done properly.) Rather, it's the one Christian tradition that was humble and accepting enough to make room for everything else we've become since, and to recognize legitimacy in those other apprehensions.

If I'm saying that we don't do a good enough job teaching what our authentic religious roots mean or at least can mean today, I'm also saying that we likewise don't do a good enough job helping victims of "bad" Christianity like you process their bad experiences and try to heal from them. Avoiding God talk may help you feel safe, since you know you won't be abused by it, but what hurt you was not the God talk itself, but rather how both it and you were abused by cruel people who really didn't understand it themselves. You were taught that religious language is to be understood literally and to associate it with cruelty. If the God talk is freed from its cruel associations and literal meaning, however, a whole new horizon of meaning becomes available.

BTW, I use a pseudonym on the net for privacy reasons myself. It's come up in other threads before. (No, my real name isn't Faustus Socinus.) I've got your back on that one.

Jeff, I'm eager to hear your thoughts on any segment of this conversation, not only the more recent ones.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. -G. K. Chesterton

 
At October 19, 2005 at 12:38:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Jeff Wilson said...

Fausto, I think this thread has gone through too many twists and turns for me to get a good handle on it now, especially because I'm swamped with schoolwork and can't afford the time to read through the many lengthy and meaty comments here. But I did reply at length to your comment at Transient and Permanent and in doing so have partially addressed some of the issues here. Very sorry I can't do better by you right now.

 
At October 19, 2005 at 12:44:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fausto,
I think we have reached a point of shared values in our discussion.
I have the same mile wide and inch deep issues too.
My Society is getting large and we are just that way. We are discussing moved out to the sticks and away from the University to build a big ugly place. I would rather we split and perhaps have each group have a somewhat different identity and in that way grow UU.
My experiances with Christianity in UU have been 1 where a small group came in and we discovered their true agenda after a month or so. This was in a small fellowship in Florida. The second was in the same location when a couple moved down to retire from Mass. and they right away acted like we were not UU because we did not have an explict support system for UU Christians. In the bible belt UU is the refuge I described in an early post, and we all did not handle it well.
What are your comments on being labled a bigot in some UU circles if you don't care to fully embrace every variety that comes along?

 
At October 19, 2005 at 3:42:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

My Society is getting large and we are just that way. We are discussing moved out to the sticks and away from the University to build a big ugly place. I would rather we split and perhaps have each group have a somewhat different identity and in that way grow UU.

If you're saying it's better to have several smaller congregations with different identities but each with its own depth, than it is to have only one that has grown large and is trying to be all things to all people but has to sacrifice depth to do so, I'd agree with you.

Heck, it's better to have several than only one, period, as long as they're large enough to sustain themselves. In the old old days in colonial New England, when a parish got so big that they couldn't hold everyone in the meetinghouse, they divided and formed another one, even though their theology was identical. That's why there are so many UU churches in New England compared to elsewhere today, even though the theology has changed a lot since way back then. (PeaceBang's church is one of those daughter parishes. So is mine.) I'd say it's why UUism is more an accepted part of the community in New England today than it is elsewhere, too. Let the evangelicals have their megachurches. We're better suited to small cells and committees of correspondence.

In the bible belt UU is the refuge I described in an early post, and we all did not handle it well.

Understandable. But if you take the Bible to be a witness to human experience (as most UUs who bother with it do) rather than a perfect, inerrant, self-contained and complete Truth (as most Bible Belt residents do), it becomes a lot less itchy and more accessible.

What are your comments on being labled a bigot in some UU circles if you don't care to fully embrace every variety that comes along?

There's a difference between not embracing and actively rejecting. Few people want to embrace anything that comes along, but saying "live and let live" is nothing like saying "That's beyond the pale and I don't want you to do that here -- or anywhere else, either".

Now, perhaps I could be accused of saying just that in this thread. But (as I said over on Jeff's blog) the thing that I am calling beyond the pale is raising unnecessary barriers to community, not affirming the worth and ideals of humanity.

 
At October 19, 2005 at 10:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Sorry, Robin, much as I appreciate the lonely battle you've been waging, I deleted your post because I don't want to slam individual churches in this discussion.

I'm happy to post a link to your web page, though, where you share your own unique apprehension of God. And your portfolio of Stonehenge photos is also well worth a visit.

 
At October 19, 2005 at 10:16:00 PM EDT, Blogger PeaceBang said...

I heard Anonymous say a few things that no one commented on, and I'd like to:
(1) If the Christians who came to your fellowship were sent by the local Assemblies of God, they weren't UU Christians. Not even close. Just wanted to clarify that.
(2) Anonymous said that she/he had a devastating experience with Christianity in the past, and came to UUism to get as far away from that as possible. This is an important factor in Christian-phobia among us, and I really appreciate Anonymous's honesty about that. My friend Tom Schade says that UUism is "a hospital for the religiously wounded." I hope that when Anonymous feels more healed from the religious abuse of his/her youth, he or she won't be so bothered or upset by the Christians in the UUA. Who, by the way, DO resemble other Christians in many "meaningful" senses of the word. We just don't let the right-wing Xtians define the word.

For those of us who were raised UU and didn't experience the same God-abuse growing up, it's impossible to know what that was like. What we experienced was often the mirror opposite of that abuse, which was to be told that nothing was real beyond our own brains, there is no God, you can believe whatever your little self feels like believing, and sorry, we don't have any really compelling spiritual teachers we think you should follow. You can hardly blame some of us for getting our little hands on a Bible (initially, in my case, just to gather ammunition against the fundies) and falling in love with it. And the Jeez.
Finally, and just for the fun of it, I took literally Anonymous's earlier comment that Fausto was trying to bring us back to "100 years ago" and "been there, done that."
I wonder: if Anonymous HAD been to one of our churches 100 years ago, would he/she have found it a vibrant, life-giving, dignity-enhancing, justice-seeking institution (given the cultural limitations of the day, of course)?

 
At October 20, 2005 at 4:23:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jaume said...

It is interesting that UUism is supposed to be "creedless" and then we always end up discussing about creeds. I thought "creedlessness" meant "beyond creeds". Apparently it means "as many creeds as you possibly can".

 
At October 21, 2005 at 9:20:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Robin Edgar posted this a few hours ago. I'm deleting his post as it first appeared, but I'm reposting it in its entirety without mentioning the name of the particular church he complains of.

Hi Fausto,

I too am sorry that you felt it necessary to delete my post about how a so-called "Unitarian Church" in [name of city deleted] has proven to be the complete anti-thesis of "What a Great UU Church Could Be". I guess that those interested in engaging in a genuinely free and genuinely responsible search for the truth and meaning contained in that deleted post can run appropriate searches in Google and other search engines.

I hope you don't mind if I return to post in this thread in more general terms about the same issues since it seems that the intolerance and abusiveness of some "Humanist" UUs is a core part of the discussion and I have experienced more than my fair share of their intolerance and abusiveness. I agree with you and others posting here, indeed I have said it long ago, that the intolerant fundamentalist atheist subset of UU "Humanists" regularly flaunt UU principles and ideals.

- I'm happy to post a link to your web page, though, where you share your own unique apprehension of God.

This would be a better page to link to in that regard -

http://revelationisnotsealed.homestead.com

You might find my alleged "cult" interesting too -

http://creationday.homestead.com

I intend to continue my "lonely battle" until such a time as the Unitarian Church in question throws inb the towel and agrees to begin to work towards being what a great UU church could be. . .

Again, my apologies, Robin, but I don't want this conversation to become one where specific accusations are leveled against specific churches or individuals without their knowledge or any opportunity to answer your accusations. I'd also like to keep the subject matter of this particular thread focused on the conflict (or agreement) of larger ideas and trends within UUism, rather than grievances over the specific handling or mishandling of particular incidents. If you'd like to take issue with positions that anyone here has expressed, those folks are here, and they all seem to be smart and articulate, and they will have a fair opportunity to defend their own views.

I don't mean to silence you, though. I think you're right that a Google search would bring up some of your more specific allegations. Let me also suggest that if you feel the need to complain further against the offending church, go back up to the top left of the page, click on the "blogger" icon, start your own blog, and post away to your heart's content! Blogging is fun, it's easy, you can lead and control your own discussions (unlike some other public discussion forums), and it will be great to have another contributing member join the fast-expanding UU blogosphere.

Since this thread began, others touching on the questions of humanism and exclusivity have sprung up at Clyde Grubb's A People So Bold and Jeff Wilson's Transient and Permanent.

 
At October 22, 2005 at 12:40:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Robin Edgar said...

Thanks Fausto,

No apologies necessary in this case. ;-)

It guess it is a bit too much of a give away if I name the city the "church" in question resides in. After all how many cities, Canadian or otherwise, have more than a small handful of UU churches anyway?

I will post more in more general terms later.

Feel free to contact me privately at robinedgar59@yahoo.ca

Best Regards,

Robin Edgar

 
At October 22, 2005 at 4:47:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Kim said...

as someone said, maybe we should be doing more to help ex-Christians who were wounded by it, to heal. I wonder how we would do that?
Ex-other things too, for that matter....

 
At October 22, 2005 at 11:35:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Robin Edgar said...

You mean like unjustly ex-communicated Unitarians? ;-)

 
At October 23, 2005 at 10:27:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Robin Edgar said...

Hi Fausto,

I just reread your manifausto as it were. ;-)

I generally agree with most of the points however I do believe that one must be very careful about using the Bible as the "first source of moral and spiritual insight". Unfortunately there are things in the Bible, particularly the "Old Testament" that might best be "neglected" and even "disparaged" by modern human beings of conscience. I have said it elsewhere, but it bears repeating, that the God of the Bible has all the hallmarks of a war criminal in some Bible stories. In other Bible stories God seems to be committing crimes against humanity in other ways. Some of the "moral" values presented in the Bible are open to considerable question. I believe also that there are valid and valuable spiritual insights that are simply not to be found anywhere in the Bible or even in the greater Judeo-Christian tradition and must be sought out from other sources.

From my perspective a Great UU Church would be one whose congregants would take existing UU principles and ideals very seriously and make a bona fide effort to actually practice what UUism preaches. Still looking for one of those I am afraid. . . I paraphrased a statement made by Philocrites in his blog and it was one of the few posts that he did not censor. I think that it is appropriate to repeat it here -

Robin Edgar:
October 22, 2005 06:21 PM

If you take UUism's Seven Principles seriously, you've got a good thing going; if you only pretend to, you've got a sham. . .

Based on how most of the UUs I know, including you (i.e. Philocrites) I am afraid. . . willfully disregard and flagrantly violate the Seven Principles of UUism, you've got a sham. . .

Allah prochaine,

Robin

 
At October 24, 2005 at 8:49:00 AM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

I do believe that one must be very careful about using the Bible as the "first source of moral and spiritual insight". Unfortunately there are things in the Bible, particularly the "Old Testament" that might best be "neglected" and even "disparaged" by modern human beings of conscience. I have said it elsewhere, but it bears repeating, that the God of the Bible has all the hallmarks of a war criminal in some Bible stories. In other Bible stories God seems to be committing crimes against humanity in other ways. Some of the "moral" values presented in the Bible are open to considerable question. I believe also that there are valid and valuable spiritual insights that are simply not to be found anywhere in the Bible or even in the greater Judeo-Christian tradition and must be sought out from other sources.

I would agree with all of this, as would most Jews and Christians, I expect, with the possible exception of the extreme Protestant right wing. If you read the Bible either as a progressive revelation of God to humanity, or as a progressively sophisticated apprehension of God by successive generations of humanity, as most critical scholars do today, many of the superficial moral objections fall away. The more primitive and morally objectionable parts of the Bible can be understood as very early partial apprehensions that have long since been supplemented or corrected by subsequent additions and re-interpretations. Moreover, many of the difficult passages that portray human weaknesses or moral ambiguity, or seeming divine indifference, do accurately reflect the human condition as we continue to experience it today, and they force us to confront it, warts and all.

It is only if the Bible were to be read as a single seamless, complete, internally consistent document, with every line in it taken to be equally factual and true, and equally significant to us today, that its gaps and internal contradictions would render it meaningless. However, my argument would be that it is that particular hermeneutic, and not the text itself, that is meaningless. We shouldn't reject what legitimate value there is in the text merely because others loudly insist on the wrong hermeneutic.

 
At October 25, 2005 at 5:46:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Robin Edgar said...

Well said Fausto.

 
At October 27, 2005 at 11:22:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jaume said...

Fausto, everybody who has visited UU forums on the internet knows what church Robin, the man who never forgives or forgets (hey, that could be a good title for a Steven Seagal movie!), is talking about.

 
At October 27, 2005 at 5:30:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Verily, Jaume, you speak as one having authority, and not as the scribes. It's not as if I've successfully protected the identity of Valerie Plame here, I realize. That cover is long since blown.

Nevertheless, I'd prefer that the discussion here continue to address general issues and aspirations, not specific incidents.

 
At October 31, 2005 at 6:41:00 PM EST, Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

Hi Jaume,

I am more of a Clint Eastwood man myself. Thanks for making my day though. . .

Indeed the UU cover-up was blown long ago. I am just plugging away at UU institutional denial now.

 
At April 8, 2006 at 9:27:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never posted before having just found this discussion on a quiet Saturday morning when I was thinking about the problems in my own UU church...In my opinion this is what we should strive to become. Disagree as you will...just remember that because I disagree I am not attacking you personally. My wife makes the mistake of thinking that I am not listening when I don't agree with her.

www.americanunitarian.org

 

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