In her most recent post, Kim Hampton asks Are we afraid of religion? Her thoughts had been inspired by this quote from the GA-listserve: "Advocacy has always been..and will always be…at the core of UU…", and she asks, "Really? ADVOCACY has been, and always will be, at the core of UUism? Really?" I know that many UUs believe it to be. Indeed, if you read the comments to The UUA Presidential Election and The Point of Our Faith at Elizabeth's Little Blog, you'll see that there are people who get incensed at the very idea that anything else could be at the core of our religion.
I was thinking of this when I read the following passage from a story by Neil Gaiman:
Rose Walker's Journal:
I've been making a list of things they don't teach you at school.
They don't teach you how to love somebody.
They don't teach you how to be famous.
They don't teach you how to be rich, or how to be poor.
They don't teach you how to walk away from someone you don't love any longer.
They don't teach you how to know what's going on in someone else's mind.
They don't teach you what to say to someone who's dying.
They don't teach you anything worth knowing.
It struck me hard, because I had made the same list myself many, many years ago. Not in exact detail- for example I did not yet need to know what to say to someone who's dying; at that age, I was more concerned with questions like "How do I accept the responsibility for my actions without being paralyzed by fear of consequences". But the spirit of the list, including the fact that I actually wrote it down, was the same. And I knew, even at that age, that this was the purpose of religion: public schools are the schools where you learn what you need to know to earn a living; churches are the schools where you learn what you need to know to live. And I knew, even then, that the lessons that are the most important are on how to live- Simon and Garfunkel taught me that.
What I didn't know then was that there were two philosophies of religion, just as there are of schools: one teaches you answers, and the other teaches you how to find answers. Religions such as Christianity and Islam are of the first sort; UU and a number of Pagan religions are of the second sort. Or at least that's what I had thought when I first discovered, in order, Paganism and UU. But as I got to know more people in my congregation, and then people from other congregations through travel and the internet, I learned that there was a third school of thought: church was where you went to learn the status of House Joint Resolution 234, and who the committee chair overseeing it was.
I agree with Kim; I hope that the core of our church is not that third sort, "Cuz if it is…friends…we are dead." Not merely because we're not really very good at it, (though as she says, and I have written many times, we're not) but because we'll have forsaken what religion and only religion can do- help us learn how to live. There are a hundred places where one can learn about community organizing, but only one school where you can learn the things on that list- church. And if we aren't there to provide the Montessori school of religion, then where is one to go if the fixed set of answers school of religion doesn't satisfy one's soul? Do we really want a country in which the only school offering the lessons of life is the Religious right? I think that being an alternative religion is the ultimate social service we can perform.