July 8, 2002
Revelation and relation
I had written:
But my key point in bringing up the question of "revelation" is simply to point out that a religion needs a way of orienting or rooting its claims on people's loyalties, something on the order of "that's how it really is."
And Deborah Kate H. replied:
Now, I'm a relative newbie so I may find some serious disillusionment along the way here but I think we can and are thriving as we are, without a central agreed upon belief of "how it really is."
What unites us, it seems to me, is a fascination with dialogue and an attraction to the particular communities in the congregations we join. We like being with people who disagree, sometimes radically, about "how it really is." We like a liberal, critical, open-ended approach to religion, and I agree that this creates a lot of vitality in our movement. But that's also why we UUs each have our own personal "religions" our own deep senses of what's real rather than sharing a religion that can be described in rich general terms.
Deborah Kate added:
I know they think we're a club. I don't feel that way. I also don't have the energy, or tools, to try to convince them or make them see us as other than that.
When I lived in Utah in the early 1990s, a Unitarian friend of mine told me one day that she was perplexed by her Mormon co-workers who sometimes described "feeling the spirit." She couldn't begin to imagine what that feeling was. Since I had grown up in a Mormon family, I could remember similar experiences so I told my friend that I thought they had learned from their religious tradition to see particular experiences in specifically religious ways. In my friend's case, these experiences might be a feeling of resolve after a period of uncertainty, or a sense of relief at being reunited with loved ones, or a feeling of wonder at seeing a herd of deer on a hillside.
In one way, these experiences could be described in essentially mundane or everday terms but Mormons had also developed a way of sensing God through these experiences, and learned to talk about them and value them.
Unitarian Universalists, though, don't always recognize what other religious people are describing when they talk about their faith and so we may know how to translate our experiences into secular terms, but not into terms that other church-goers would recognize. I think this is one reason why many Christians in the United States think of us as a club or a pseudo-religion: We don't know how to describe ourselves to them, and the secular vocabulary we're often more comfortable with doesn't translate back into traditional religious language very easily.
You're right to focus on the fact that you feel what happens in your congregation is more than a club. I believe that. One liberal theologian described "creativity" as the fundamental characteristic of nature, and identified "creative interchange" as the activity that characterizes God and healthy human relationships. The richest truth that liberals experience in healthy communities is creative interchange in a pluralistic environment. We call it many things. Christians quote Jesus' statement that "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." I think they are pointing to something quite similar.
I don't think that the biggest problem among UUs is that we don't have religion; I think it's that we don't have adequate ways to notice what happens among us, or to distinguish differences between the ultimate commitments that characterize personal faith and the forms of allegiance that genuinely bind people together in a common cause.
Each of us, in our personal quest for truth and meaning, seeks to know the truth and to live with integrity. We are convinced that it is easier to seek these things in a community that supports individuality. We simply have a hard time identifying why our forms of liberal community are more religious than other communities that also support individual integrity like educational institutions, self-help groups, literary clubs, etc.
I think we should continue doing what we do best support the integrity of multiple individual paths while also finding ways to speak coherently and theologically about what enables us to do what we do best. That's what I'm trying to find a way to do.
Philocrites | Copyright © 2002 by Christopher L. Walton | clwalton at post.harvard.edu