Saturday, July 25, 2009


Standing in the shadow of the Transcendentalist legacy, Unitarian Universalism frequently prioritizes individual experience over church dogma and scriptural revelation. Clarifying this approach, Eliza Thayer Clapp described 'Emerson's Method' as a search for the presence and authority of spiritual law in one’s own consciousness, which is at one in nature and with God, and consequently divine in essence and infallible in its moral guidance. Doing theology, then, begins with the personal, the phenomenological, the intuitive, the guttural, the experiential.

Derridean theorist Avital Ronell raises an important caveat, however, for the continuation of this hermeneutic into the present. In effect, she calls our notion of experience into question: what does experience look like today? Consider, for example, our obsession with living a virtual life through Facebook and Twitter, or the way we now take photographs and immediately look at them; we have conceded to a "traumatic theory of existence, which is to say you’re not truly present to your experience.”

What does an experience-based faith mean when “experience as such no longer carries authority”? Are we worshipping the God of the LCD screen?

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