Saturday, January 27, 2007

So near, and yet so far, Part 2

Davidson Loehr, in his essay Salvation by Character:
How UU's can Find the Religious Center
, once again does what he always does so masterfully: correctly diagnosing the disease, then discussing the symptoms instead of the underlying illness!

To Mr. Loehr, the problem is that our religious language has not kept pace with our changing religious concepts. What change is he referring to? “...we have not adequately filled the hole left by the death of God... The theological problem of Western religion can be put another way: During the last few centuries, God ceased to be a being, and became a concept. The "being" God needed a place to be, and that vanished when people stopped believing there could be anything "up there." Since then, "God" has "dwelled" in the minds and hearts of believers, as a concept, an idea, or a feeling. While the language has stayed the same, this "category change" for the word "God" has changed the game of theology almost completely.” He goes on to describe the problems this has caused, and the attempted solutions or ways around the problem others have tried: “Scientism, Politics as a Religion, Theological Double-talk”. He proposes his own solutions- redefining the language we use, and the questions we ask.

But there is one question so basic it cannot occur to him, any more than a fish can question water... his one TRUTH, the central concept upon which all else in his (and nearly all of UU theologians) philosophy hangs prevents him from asking it: Is God dead? He is so proud of not telling me what I must believe that it never occurs to him that it is equally hubris to tell me what I must NOT believe- a living God. This is the modern liberal theologian’s one essential creed, that God as being is dead. How many currently serving UU ministers believe in a living God- 5%? 1%? Any at all? Is it even possible to graduate from a UU seminary believing in a living God?

Mr. Loehr is aware that this is out of the mainstream of humanity- “Most dictionaries define "religion" as involving a belief in a god, and nearly everyone still takes that to mean a supernatural Being who lives somewhere "up there."“ Just how far out of the mainstream is it? While it’s impossible to get any definitive numbers, here are some low conservative estimates, culled from an evening‘s Googleing: believing in a living God, (not necessarily Abraham’s Jehovah, but a being nonetheless), some 5 billion. Those who have felt the presence of God directly, whether in a church service, or during a transcendental moment in their lives, over a billion. Those who feel the presence of God regularly, several hundred million. Those whom God has spoken to directly, (including Pentecostals who have spoken in tongues, Wiccans who have drawn down the Moon, VouDoun and Obeah and Santeria who have been possessed by a Loa, etc.), tens of millions.

One of the most important and meaningful dialogues the UUA could get into would be “Is a living God compatible with modern science?”- but it is a debate the UUA as presently constituted will never have. How do I know? Because one cannot have a true debate with those whom you despise- and that is not too strong a word for how believers are perceived within the UUA. Contempt for any such belief was the central theme of the “Language of Religion” forums the UUA held through the official website a couple years ago, and contempt fairly drips from every page of this, and many other of Mr. Loehr’s essays- “The Liberal Bias: Intellectual Integrity. Not all religious paths require intellectual integrity. In fact, most don't. ...That's a key difference between the broader conservative religious paths and the narrower liberal paths. ...If we're going to check our brains at the church door, almost any faith will do. Ours is, and has always been, a much harder and more demanding route. ...Like Santa, the old God-as-a-being is gone. Those who've dressed up in his clothes have tried to sell us visions of science, politics, and theological self deceptions.“

The fourth paragraph of his essay opens, “Mainline and liberal churches, including ours, continue to attract a smaller and smaller percentage of the population.” How many times has this been noted? How many blog entries, forum threads, and discussion groups have asked “We’re the most welcoming denomination there is- why don’t more gays join?”, or “We put more effort into race relations than any other denomination- why don’t more African-Americans join?” Could it be that after the first visit, they stopped thinking of themselves as a minority, and instead looked at themselves as believers amongst those who think ordinary Christians check their brains at the door? Could they have first felt welcomed as gays, then felt their integrity questioned as believers in a living God? It’s amazing to me how many UUs who lecture about institutional racism and heteronormative behavior in our culture at large fail to recognize the institutional atheism within the UUA.

I think we need to start a new dialogue among ourselves. Is an anti-creed- things thou must not believe- the same as a creed? Should we be as welcoming to those who have conventional beliefs as we are to those with alternative beliefs? Is God dead?


Lilylou said...

Not to diss Rev. Loehr too much, Joel, but I have noticed over the years that he specializes in making people mad. He tends to irritate deliberately; I guess it's his way of creating a "teachable moment". He is proud of his credentials as a curmudgeon and misses few opportunities to strengthen them. IMHO.

Unknown said...

I know many potnetial UUs who ahve stayed away because of the dismissal of God-talk.

I am not sure what the answer is. Would there BE more UUs if it was *primarily* a home for non-Christian theists, as opposed to being primarily a home for non-theists as it is now. (By *primarily* I mean that the sermons and spiritual needs wuld be focussed on those who believe in some sort of God, but that it would be made clear that there is room in the church for those who do not beleive in God. Currently, it seems that mos UU chuches try to meet the needs of non-theists, but acknowledge that there is room for theists in the Church.

I don't know what the answer is. I guess the only way that we will know is as each congregation slowly changes. And those changes will occur slowly and at the congegationa level.