Saturday, March 11, 2006
A handful of liberal religious definitions.
A reader asked me for some definitions from a Unitarian Universalist or liberal religious perspective. What do we mean when we talk about theology, religion, faith, and worship? Here's my take:
"Theology" in UU circles usually refers to critical reflection about our religious practices, stories, and terms. It's "thinking the faith."
"Religion" is a more general term. It can refer to the practices and ways of life of a group of people, organized around some self-conscious ultimate commitments. These commitments can be values-oriented — like the Seven Principles, or the Humanist Manifesto — rather than theistic. The ways of life that are recognizably religious are usually social: People practice a religion either in a group or in reference to a group.
"Faith" is, for me, the most nebulous of these terms — at least as UUs use it. It's often a generic term for religion, as in the awful phrase "people of faith." But it's also a term for the ultimate commitments people orient their lives around. They may feel or believe that their commitments are rationally defensible, proven, or self-evident — but in practice, people are religiously or philosophically committed before they have developed a thorough theological or philosophical defense of their commitment. Experientially, faith is your presumption that your worldview is reliable and worth holding.
Finally, "worship" refers to practices — often communal, sometimes private — that focus one's attention on one's religious commitments, that embody one's faith. Sociologically, worship is what a religious community does together when it is concentrating on being religious.
The key point I'd want to make about the history of these terms in Unitarian, Universalist, and liberal religious communities is that the liberal Protestant heritage is both real and generalized in these terms: UUs acknowledge — even when they're very strongly resisting — the Christian origins of all four terms, but each term has been generalized in our use as we've come to appreciate and embrace other religious traditions and distinctively modern worldviews. I believe that this kind of generalization and liberalization of terms is entirely legitimate. I recognize, however, that orthodox and secularist critics of liberal religion often insist that only the "orthodox" definitions are true, but I disagree.
How would you define these terms?
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 11 March 2006 at 9:50 AM