Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Liberal Gospel

While combing the internet for reflections on the infamous hyphenated UU identity ('I am a UU- fill in the blank'), I came across an article in UU World that records Helene Knox's first encounter with the Good News of a liberal faith. The liberal Gospel that she heard preached included:

Individual authority in religious matters;

The continuing search for truth;

The right to use reason as well as emotion in the search;

Freedom of belief;

No fixed creed required to be a member of the church community;

Tolerance for all beliefs;

Equal rights for all persons, including women;

Affirmation of the goodness of life and human nature;

Belief in the natural tendency of people to be loving;

Belief in the democratic process and in working for social justice to make the world a better place.

The list is impressively comprehensive, on my view, and largely attends to the seven principles (aside from the striking lack of an international or ecological component). At the same time, I am left wondering: where's God in all of this? By this I am not asking for a one-size-fits-all definition of the divine mystery - rather, I long for a reverent recognition of the transcendent as implicated and involved in the aforementioned commitments. Further, as I gestured in my previous entry on EcoQuestions, I question the transportability of these guiding principles to non-Western (read: non - largely white, middle/upper-class) contexts. What does the affirmation of life's goodness mean for communities ravaged by genocide? What does the natural loving nature of humanity look like in communities exploited by capitalist imperialism? It seems to me that such contexts might demand a more robust expression of sin and redemption.

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ogre said...

Where is God in all this?

Well, it seems to me that one of the lessons of the last few thousand years is that (apologies in advance to Lao-tzu) the God that can be pointed to is not the true God. Instead of grasping the handful of air, water, or words that "describe" God, I think we're opting for letting it be.

Don't point--it's not polite. Don't insist on the word; it upsets more than a few people, which interrupts the ability to discuss the thing that some of us label "god" and others do not, but that we tend to agree about--as long as it's not grabbed and named.

God is not the name of god. It's not even clear to enough of us who believe in god that god is a being.

Rev David Bumbaugh recently offered what he believes is an accurate statement of faith for us--now, anyway--having watched the movement struggle to find its common center from before the consolidation.

It's a bit long, so I won't plug it in as a comment; you can find and read it here:

It doesn't attempt to name or locate god either, although... given David's background, I suspect he's a theist of some stripe.

In my case, the "thing" that seems it might be "god" is simply too large to try to locate within this. Point in any direction...

Erik Resly said...

Thanks for the comment and helpful reference to Rev. Bumbaugh's reflections on the core of Unitarian Universalism. I second his suggestion that the values we hold deep in our souls and hearts prove more similar than different - in fact, I once preached a sermon expounding such a position, entitled "Courageous Faith and Dynamic Belief."

In reading through Rev. Bumbaugh's statement, I couldn't help but notice his poetic interplay between part and whole - that existence is defined by relationality (physically, temporally, intersubjectively, even spiritually). For me, this experience of 'being connected to' extends to the divine realm as well.

Thus - and I suspect I'm not alone in voicing this frustration - there arises a human inability to, as you eloquently spell out, pin down that which is "simply too large." One solution is abandoning the exercise of putting such abundant plenitude into language. Another solution is moving forward with the act of naming, while bearing in mind that such a name (and associated aesthetic projections) reflects but a part of the whole; Islam and SIkhism, among other traditions, thus encourage worshippers to meditate on a long list of attribute-names.

While such approaches inevitably open up space for abuse (anthropomorphic absolutisms), they also speak to a human desire to be in relationship with the familiar. By 'domesticating,' as it were, that which is wholly Other, they allow for powerful encounter.

I agree that we must be open to 'pointing in every direction,' but I also find myself being lured by God (a hint of process theology in that phrase!) to point in certain directions at certain times.

Thanks again for your thoughtful response!

ogre said...

(With due apologies to Mr. Carroll)

We seek it with thimbles, we seek it with care;
We pursue it with forks and hope;
We threaten its life with a railway-share;
We charm it with smiles and soap.

We shudder to think that the chase might fail...
It's an exercise that--I suspect--is akin to hunting after blue whales, wearing water wings and armed only with butterfly nets.