Thursday, June 29, 2006

In or Out?




[another version of this was originally posted earlier today in a thread on the ChaliceBlog, in response to ChaliceChick's declaration that Christianity doesn't really work for her]

It may be surprising given some of my recent blog posts, but Christianity doesn't really work for me, either. Never has. I can't recite the creeds in good conscience. I deny the Virgin Birth and the Trinity, and can't figure out what to make of the Resurrection except to say that its meaning must be primarily figurative, but that feels like it would be a cop-out for a "real" Christian. I question whether the ego boundaries of the self can survive death as a distinct individual spirit. I'm not baptized. I've considered it, twice, but each time I've concluded that I'm too different to honestly feel like one of "them". I've tried to read "Mere Christianity", twice, and never finished it either time. It just didn't make enough sense to me to keep going. I did get all the way through Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters", in seventh grade, but I liked Mark Twain's "Letters from the Earth" a lot better.

And yet, and yet. Unlike some other UUs, my objections to Christianity are only theological, not moral. I admire Christian moral ideals (but not necessarily the way some Christians apply them) tremendously. And I am absolutely convinced that, however many souls have been hurt in the name of Christianity down through the centuries, it has brought joy and comfort to countless more. Other religions may come nearly as close, but in my estimation there isn't a more ethical or hopeful belief system out there than Christianity.

And I'm in love with the Bible. I can't read it as the infallible Word of God the way Christians are traditionally called to do, but I'm awed by it merely as the cumulative record of thousands of years of fallible human testimony to the human encounter with the Divine. It's an incredible compendium of experience, a bonanza of wisdom and insight, that grips me and resonates with me like no other sacred writing of any culture or tradition.

The open secret of the "UU Christians" is that most of them are just like me: they wouldn't be able to pass for Christian anywhere else but within our four walls. They're simply too different. And what's more, for the last 200 years or more, they always have been. William Ellery Channing gave his "Unitarian Christianity" sermon only after 20 years of being refused fellowship by his ostensible fellow Congregationalists, and finally deciding that the rift was simply too wide to be able to repair. The objections to Christianity that our rugged UU individualists are continually discovering for themselves anew today are pretty much all the same ones that our predecessors discovered centuries ago.

I can't pass for Christian anywhere outside UUism, but within our walls, it's the "Christian" camp that I gravitate toward. Why? I think it's because my spiritual orientation and vocabulary is essentially Biblical. On the UU scale of measurement, if you've read the Gospels all the way through once without throwing up, you're one of "them", and if you regularly turn to them and a few of Paul's letters for guidance in life, well hell, you're indoctrinated.

So it's always dismaying to me when other UUs, with whom I share an inability to practice "real" Christianity, speak so scornfully of the faith that spawned our own as being nothing else but corrupt, evil, harmful. I don't see it that way. I see it as a treasured, invaluable legacy -- one with which we have always had our differences, but without which we have no foundation whatsoever. And when the angry mob jeers that all of Christianity is irredeemably corrupt and contemptible, and fails to draw any meaningful distinction between "real" Christianity and the peculiarly distinct UU variety when delivering that verdict, and seeks instead at every turn to deny, crucify and bury our own authentic denominational heritage and draw lots to possess its clothing, that feels a lot like the same unwitting, self-righteous, self-preserving oppression that Christianity's critics ascribe to Christianity. Yes, it hurts.

But if the Christians are right, Christ is right there suffering along with us. And if our own Universalists are right, he knows us even if we don't really know him.

6 Comments:

At June 30, 2006 at 9:11:00 AM EDT, Blogger Peregrinato said...

Brilliantly and wonderfully said. Thank you.

 
At June 30, 2006 at 2:19:00 PM EDT, Blogger Will Shetterly said...

Well said! I guess I'm a UU Christian, too.

Still working on liking Paul, though. Someday I'll tackle Paul vs. Deutero-Paul.

 
At June 30, 2006 at 8:04:00 PM EDT, Blogger Roger Kuhrt, PhD said...

Yes, I think they call the position you describe: HUMANIST Xians of the Arian dimension!

Thanks for your truth in advertising.

Cheerfully, ROK

 
At July 1, 2006 at 4:29:00 AM EDT, Anonymous dunno said...

A short while back I was discussing his grandma's Catholicism with my 5 year old son who has attended UU RE since he was 3. At one point he asked me if we were Christians. I gathered that "we" included only our family or maybe even just him and me. I paused realizing that this was in some sense a defining moment, a little bit of a 5 year old's identity was to be put in place, however weakly pasted. The urge to enter into all sorts of distinctions was strong. I had already said there were different kinds of Christians, and I felt the need to say much, much more, to qualify my response in all sorts of ways that would, of course, have been meaningless (not to mention boring!)to him but which would set me at ease in answering.

Finally, I just said yes, with the idea that Christianity is our heritage and that we affirm the best of it. I wondered,however, how much license I can really have to re-define an entire religious movement that has had and continues to have the allegiance of millions of people. Words have meaning in a social context and surely it is not just up to us change their meaning, not at least if we hope to be understood by outsiders. So, then I wondered how much saying what we are to a 5 year old insider must differ from saying what we are to an adult outsider, who is not interested in a bunch of qualfications.

 
At July 1, 2006 at 4:29:00 AM EDT, Anonymous dunno said...

A short while back I was discussing his grandma's Catholicism with my 5 year old son who has attended UU RE since he was 3. At one point he asked me if we were Christians. I gathered that "we" included only our family or maybe even just him and me. I paused realizing that this was in some sense a defining moment, a little bit of a 5 year old's identity was to be put in place, however weakly pasted. The urge to enter into all sorts of distinctions was strong. I had already said there were different kinds of Christians, and I felt the need to say much, much more, to qualify my response in all sorts of ways that would, of course, have been meaningless (not to mention boring!)to him but which would set me at ease in answering.

Finally, I just said yes, with the idea that Christianity is our heritage and that we affirm the best of it. I wondered,however, how much license I can really have to re-define an entire religious movement that has had and continues to have the allegiance of millions of people. Words have meaning in a social context and surely it is not just up to us change their meaning, not at least if we hope to be understood by outsiders. So, then I wondered how much saying what we are to a 5 year old insider must differ from saying what we are to an adult outsider, who is not interested in a bunch of qualfications.

 
At July 1, 2006 at 12:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger SteveJ said...

Well said.

One area of disagreement: I don't believe that Christianity is first and foremost a set of doctrines. It's the movement that grew out of a group of Jews and the impact that Jesus of Nazareth had on them.

When Jesus preached, he didn't unfold a take-it-or-leave-it body of theology. He told people to love one another, regard God as Father, care for the suffering, practice sacrificial living, walk humbly.

Yes, as a first-century Jew, he took for granted certain tenets of religion (such as afterlife ideas). But these aren't necessarily part of the core message in the gospels.

 

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