Thursday, April 09, 2009

An inadequate answer

In the latest post in the "Peter Morales for UU President" blog, Morales Addresses “Humanist/Theist” Question , Peter addresses the following question: "Our denomination seems to be undergoing a philosophical shift. Twenty years ago in our congregation, the concept of a “Christian UU” seemed nonsensical. Now our congregation has a Christian UU minister and many of the secular humanists of previous generations, despite the acceptance of diversity that we say we believe in, are feeling bereft - bereft of a sanctuary from the world of deity (Christian or otherwise). The UU church was the one place in many UU’s lives where those who lived to a different drummer, theologically speaking, could live without the expectation that they subscribe to a divine being. Where they could go on a spiritual or religious journey without having to subscribe to the supernatural. How will you lead us as we struggle with this fundamental challenge?"

I thought his response began well- "Religion is not ultimately about what we believe. Religion, literally “that which binds us together,” is much more about what we love, what we share and what we aspire to become. A congregation is a religious community of memory and hope." I thought he carried that a bit too far with "Only in modern western society are religious groups defined by what they believe."- that's only true if you define "modern" as "within the last couple thousand years", and "western" as "including the middle east, and as far as the Indian subcontinent and up to Tibet", but I realize that's a quibble. But I don't believe he ever directly addressed the last and most important sentence of the question, "How will you lead us as we struggle with this fundamental challenge?"

I would have liked to have heard him address some of the underlying assumptions of the question. While I realize that historically many UU congregations have been- and many still are- majority atheist, has there really ever been a time when the very concept of a "Christian UU" was "nonsensical"? And if so, wasn't that an offense against our tradition of openness and welcome, rather than a policy to be protected? Why does the presence of a theist in the congregation create "...the expectation that they subscribe to a divine being."? Not all Christians are evangelical, and many other faith traditions actively discourage- even forbid- conversion. While I am happy to answer questions about my faith, for example, not only do I not seek converts, I would be less likely to accept one than an orthodox rabbi. Am I, or that rabbi, really so scary atheists need a sanctuary from us?

I believe that the questioner was right that finding fellowship between atheists and theists is a fundamental challenge we must struggle with. This may be an even more important issue that the much-debated question of growth, for growth is certain to throw ever more theists and atheists into the pews together... and if the presence of a Christian UU Minister is going to leave atheists "feeling bereft - bereft of a sanctuary from the world of deity (Christian or otherwise).", and believers are going to hear Dawkins quoted at them, (which the questioner did not do, but is a common happenstance in my experience), then not only will the new members not stay, but many old ones will leave. It's all well and good to say, "Compassion, community, justice, peace. These are good humanist values. They are also the teachings of Jesus. Let’s join hands and bring these values to life.", but we need leadership to get there from here.

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