Saturday, July 14, 2007

What if an individual discerns new truth, but the gathered community rejects it?


[The Trial of Anne Hutchinson]

This problem has been faced many times in our denominational history. Two of the better-known precedents are the Antinomian Controversy involving Anne Hutchinson in the 1630's and the Lord's Supper Controversy involving Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 1830's.

9 Comments:

At July 14, 2007 at 11:44:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

(Robin, this is the thread you requested. Have at it, but keep it hypothetical, please. On my blog it's about how we handle, or ought to handle, personal discernment in general; not how we handled, or ought to have handled, your own personal discernments in particular.)

 
At July 15, 2007 at 10:29:00 AM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

That's funny Fausto. You seem to have no qualms about openly discussing ancient U*U history. Why is it that you are so reluctant to freely and openly discuss more recent U*U history? Why do we have to discuss this issue in purely hypothetical terms when there are plenty of actual examples that clearly illustrate what happens if an individual discerns new truth, but the gathered community rejects it?

 
At July 15, 2007 at 12:15:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Well, we UUs love to describe ourselves as heirs to a "living tradition". If that is indeed true, how we have traditionally resolved this thorny problem in the past has value as guiding precedent when it arises again in the present.

Are you saying in this case that we need not always worry about describing ourselves truthfully? Your comments elsewhere seem to fall firmly on the opposite side of that particular proposition.

IMHO, both Anne Hutchinson's assertion that those who are filled with the Holy Spirit need not be bound by the laws, obligations or expectations of the religious community or society at large, and the chilly reception that the political and religious communities of her time gave to her "revelation", is rich with lessons for UUs in their collective pursuit of personal truths through covenanted relationships today. And Emerson's example of both witnessing to a personally discerned truth, and accepting the consequences of its incompatiblity with the truths more widely recognized by his congregation, remains an outstanding model of how to reconcile the conflict while preserving religious integrity.

 
At July 15, 2007 at 1:39:00 PM EDT, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

You are talking past teh questions I posed Fausto. Why is it that you are prepared to discuss ancient U*U history, but are not prepared to freely and openly discuss much more recent U*U history. Why must we speakn only in hypothetical terms rather than deal head-on with the obvious failure, if not outright refusal. . . of the current U*U religious community to respond in responsibility to the Spirit that bloweth where is listeth.

:Well, we UUs love to describe ourselves as heirs to a "living tradition". If that is indeed true, how we have traditionally resolved this thorny problem in the past has value as guiding precedent when it arises again in the present.

Of cours; however, as a "living tradition" surely U*Us can come up with new and evolved ways of resolving this thorny problem. . . BTW Speaking of thorny problems you might want to look up the meaning of the name of a certain unmentionable U*U minister. What the heck. Let me spare you the trouble. It is Blackthorn.

:Are you saying in this case that we need not always worry about describing ourselves truthfully?

Absolutely not. Where in what I wrote do you get that idea?

:Your comments elsewhere seem to fall firmly on the opposite side of that particular proposition.

Indeed they do.

:IMHO, both Anne Hutchinson's assertion that those who are filled with the Holy Spirit need not be bound by the laws, obligations or expectations of the religious community or society at large, and the chilly reception that the political and religious communities of her time gave to her "revelation", is rich with lessons for UUs in their collective pursuit of personal truths through covenanted relationships today.

That may be so but any relgious community that claims to be open to revelation and prophecy should not give a "chilly reception" (dare I say a corpse-cold reception?) to those people who claim to have actually received a bona fide revelation of God of some kind.

:And Emerson's example of both witnessing to a personally discerned truth, and accepting the consequences of its incompatiblity with the truths more widely recognized by his congregation, remains an outstanding model of how to reconcile the conflict while preserving religious integrity.

Where is the "religious integrity" in a "religious" community that claims to be open to revelation and prophecy in its "religious" propaganda not only willfully ignoring such claims, refsuing to investigate such claims, and even allowing its members including some of its clergy to respond to claims of revelation and prophecy with intolerance, bigotry and outright hostility and abusiveness Fausto?

 
At July 15, 2007 at 2:19:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

Why is it that you are prepared to discuss ancient U*U history, but are not prepared to freely and openly discuss much more recent U*U history.

Because you've already discussed your personal circumstances so many times elsewhere, and you have your own blog where you can do so again whenever you want, so there's no immediate need to tread over that old ground once more here and now.

There are, however, intriguing issues regarding how we resolve conflicts between the personal and collective discernment of truth that, I think, are more usefully framed in the abstract than in the context of a specific situation. If general, abstract principles for dealing with such conflicts can be identified, those general principles can then be applied to specific situations.

I find it intriguing that in both the Hutchinson and Emerson cases, the individual discerners of truth left their communities in the immediate moment, but over the longer sweep of time their apprehensions came to be more widely accepted. In the immediate moment, it was necessary for the dissenter to withdraw in order to preserve the cohesion of the community. However, over the longer term, for the truth to be heard, for the good seed to fall on fertile soil, it was just as necessary for the truth-teller to find different ways to witness.

Truth can be rejected for a time in one closed community, but if it truly is truth, it will out anyway. We see that, for example, in the increasingly ridiculous-seeming refusals of fundamentalist Christians and Muslims to accept the progressive revelation of scientific discovery.

However, not all personal epiphanies are universally meaningful. Most, in fact, are probably not. That is why so many of our UU congregations both affirm the personal search for truth and deny the validity of any collective creed. In our tradition, the outside boundary of my right to pursue my personal truth is your right to reject every creed but your own.

 
At July 23, 2007 at 2:17:00 AM EDT, Blogger indrax said...

Valuing the free search inspires us to say that your thoughts are welcome.
Valuing the use of reason inspires us to say that your thoughts are flawed.
Valuing the democratic process inspires us to act on the thoughts of the majority.

Valuing the three together causes a collision.

I don't think a proper balance is really possible, and I don't think we'd know we had it even if we found it.

When someone gets pinched at the point of the three way collision, they may think we failed to uphold one of these values, and may claim hypocrisy where there is none.

 
At July 23, 2007 at 1:29:00 PM EDT, Blogger fausto said...

You're right about that, but there's also a further nuance you don't mention: the voluntary subordination of personal freedom to the collective will of the group that occurs when an individual joins a covenanted community -- which isn't exactly the same concept as pure democracy. The "glue", if you will, that keeps our denomination together are the covenants of our individual congregations and the covenanted relationship binding our congregations in association with one another. We have spent so much energy in recent decades emphasizing Emerson's view that each individual should be free to discern spiritual truth as he/she perceives it, that we have largely forgotten the role of our covenanted relationships in keeping the community free from the seduction of misleading personal apprehensions as well as the tyranny of imposed belief.

We all have the right to search for truth along our own paths, but we do not have the right to expect the covenanted community to affirm every novel insight that occurs to any of us as valid to everyone everywhere, not even if we may personally consider it a "revelation". Rather, under the bonds of covenant, the covenanted community has a duty to us to hold us to an appropriate burden of proof even within our own personal search for truth. In fact, the corresponding discipline that imposes constitutes a great deal of the value that we as free seekers find when we conduct our searches within a community, rather than entirely by ourselves.

 
At July 24, 2007 at 1:51:00 PM EDT, Blogger indrax said...

I think that's two things, one is the basic responsibility we have not to damage others needlessly, and the other is the responsibilities we take on in a covenant.

I think my model can account for the first, if you apply it to individuals as well as groups.

Just as an individual can get pinched by the balance an organization has found, an organization can be pinched by the values held by an individual.

If an individual values any of these more than an organization can handle, then there will the much same kind of damage done as if it were the other way around.

We can and should debate where that pinchpoint should be, (when that damage would be necessary,) but it is clear it is the individual doing the damage.

A covenant is a bit more complex in that it creates an expectation to hold these and other values in a certain way. Are we on the same page here?

 
At November 10, 2007 at 4:33:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That process is happening again right now as I type while first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the moral teachings of Jesus the Christ is spreading on the web. It focuses specifically on marriage and human sexuality, overturning all natural law moral theory and presumption. At stake is the credibility of several thousand years of religious history and moral theology. Links:
http://www.energon.org.uk
http://thefinalfreedoms.bulldoghome.com
http://www.dunwanderinpress.org
http://thefinalfreedoms.blogspot.com
http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/1676
http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/1726

 

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