Sunday, December 30, 2007

Biblical Prooftexting for UUs

For a couple of centuries now, we Unitarians and Universalists have tended to hold a pretty relaxed view of Biblical authority. We tend to see the Bible as an anthology of human spiritual insight from an ancient time – some of which may still be useful in our own lives, some of which has been superseded or refuted by more recently acquired human knowledge, but none of which comes directly to us from God’s mouth as a perfect utterance or supernatural set of rules.

As a result, may of us don’t take the Bible as seriously as we might. Which is too bad, because a lot of that ancient human insight is still pretty reliable. In fact, we tend to forget that historically it is the original source of many of the distinctive religious premises that we UUs think define us and set us apart from mainstream Christianity.

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this is that when we do get into religious discussions with Real Christians[TM], we find ourselves at a disadvantage, because many of them ascribe such overwhelming authority to the Bible that won’t take any religious argument seriously that isn’t supported by Scriptural prooftexts. We UUs generally do not place much credence ourselves in the probative value of Scripture, much less prooftexting, not only because we do not hold the same exalted view of Biblical authority that conservative Christians do, but also because it is so easy to misconstrue or misapply the meaning of a text. We would agree with Shakespeare's observation in The Merchant of Venice that even “the Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (that is, provided we assume at least for the sake of argument the existence of a Devil). If we remember those Biblical passages that our denominational ancestors traditionally used to support our religious beliefs, though, and if we can cite them when appropriate, we might regain some of the influence we have lost over the years in the larger interdenominational and interfaith discussion.

So, ladies and gentlemen, coming to you direct from a prior engagement at the KJV Fundamentalist Auditorium, here are a few Bible verses that we Unitarians and Universalists have traditionally understood “our” way.

On the validity of religious insights from beyond the Abrahamic tradition:

Matthew 2:1-2 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

On perceiving Jesus as a human exemplar, rather than a deity incarnate:

John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

I Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

On the principle of “deeds, not creeds”:

Micah 6:6-8 Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

On revering the immanence of divinity in nature, or “earth-centered spirituality” as we sometimes call it:

Genesis 1:31a And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Psalm 19:1-6
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Psalm 23:2-3a
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters: he restoreth my soul.

Psalm 24: 1-2
The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.

Psalm 139:7-12
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

On the inherent worth and dignity of every person:

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Matthew 25:34-40 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

More specifically, but to the same point, Unitarians have traditionally denied the doctrine of Original Sin as developed by St. Augustine and emphasized to the point of unhealthy obsession in Calvinism. Contrary to widespread Christian teaching, there is no Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden story, and no corresponding consequence of total depravity and unworthiness or eternal damnation burdening all the descendants of Adam and Eve. Instead, there is only a specific, rather moderate and limited, punishment for their limited transgression -- pain in childbirth, and toil for sustenance:

Genesis 3:16-19 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

And finally, on the universal reach of divine love and reconciliation, excluding no one on the basis of culture, tradition or belief:

Matthew 18:12-14 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

I Timothy 2:3-4 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

I Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Solstice Mistakes for UUs to Avoid

1. Don’t turn the Flaming Chalice into a seasonal idol. It has no seasonal significance. In fact, it has no figurative significance at all. It began out of convenience as a randomly chosen image for some stationery, for goodness’ sake.

2. Don’t turn the 7 Principles into a seasonal idol. They have no seasonal significance. They may be sound rules to live by, but they aren’t our creed or a statement of our highest truths. They are no more than a transitory statement of broad propositions that all of us in our wide theological diversity were at one time willing to support, a lowest common denominator. When they were first written and adopted, it was on the express condition that they be periodically reconsidered and revised as appropriate. We are already several years late in meeting that condition, so it could even be said that their denominational validity has lapsed.

3. Don’t envy or covet the authentic seasonal observances of other traditions if they don’t have authentic meaning for you. As your mother told you a million times, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to go along.”

4. Don’t bowdlerize the authentic seasonal observances of other traditions to make them more enjoyable or meaningful to you. It’s an insensitive, self-centered affront to others, who take their own traditions quite seriously and might see even well-intentioned imitation as blasphemy or mockery. Rather, celebrate other traditions’ seasonal observances authentically if at all, and preserve and uphold our own authentic traditions of the season as well. We have enough of our own not-oppressively-dogmatic seasonal heritage to draw upon if we wish – for example, the Puritans’ rationalist rejection of midwinter celebrations of Jesus’ birth as being unsupported from Scriptural or other evidence; or Charles Follen’s 19th-century re-introduction of Christmas trees and other “Yuletide” traditions that had been forbidden as unacceptably pagan by the Puritans; or Edmund Sears’ beloved carol, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, which manages to express the spirit of the season without mentioning Jesus; or Charles Dickens' similarly Jesus-less masterpiece, "A Christmas Carol"; or James Pierpont’s “Jingle Bells”; or Thomas Nast’s Santa Claus illustrations.

5. Whatever you do to mark the season, don’t just pull it out of your @$$ and make it up as you go along, while holding forth as if “this” is what “we” do at this time of year. Most people are smarter than that, or at least most other people are, so it only makes “us” all look like fools and dilettantes.

If you’d like to simplify your seasonal planning by avoiding all these mistakes at once, consider avoiding Chalica.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mrs. Fausto Wants to Know

if Chalice Chick can please explain the difference between a bailment and a license.