28 November 2006
There’s been a lot of portrayal of smaller religious groups on television lately. South Park’s treatment of Scientology is probably best remembered, but this season’s two-parter Go God Go parodied atheism with a theme I’ve often used in debates with anti-religionists. Namely, that even if all religion was done away with people would still find arbitrary things to fight about.
The rival Cartoon Network has had some interesting portrayals of religion in its Adult Swim shows this season. One episode of Metalocalypse followed one of the characters as he explored different paths, including atheism and the Church of Satan. Each in turn was as boring to him as the last; even Satanism, which he expected to be “hardcore.” This Sunday’s Moral Orel, itself a parody of Davey and Goliath, also mocked the Church of Satan in a surprisingly accurate way.
This just goes to show how flimsy one of the arguments for Christian persecution in the media is. The aforementioned shows go to show that Christianity isn’t the exclusively the butt of jokes in mass media. Not that making fun of a religion is anywhere near the same thing as persecution, anyway. It should also be noted a fair amount of humor at Christians’ expense comes from Christians themselves. In my opinion, any religious tradition worth its salt should be able to laugh at itself. Just look at the rich heritage of Jewish and Unitarian Universalist self-deprecating humor.
24 November 2006
Turns out Rev. Joel Hunter won’t become the new president of the Christian Coalition because the board won’t let him expand the group’s agenda from just the two hot-button issues of abortion and homosexuality. Hunter summarizes the response he got to hoping to focus on poverty and the environment this way: “These issues are fine, but they’re not our issues, that’s not our base.” Looks like the CC would rather continue to pander to the Far Right by sticking to deadlocked litmus issues than actually bothering to get anything accomplished. Guess I’m back to hoping the CC is a sinking ship once again. I wonder if evangelicals who actually care about the same things that Jesus did will ever be able to get their voices heard.
17 November 2006
State of Belief, a radio show primarily about religion and politics which is hosted by the president of the Interfaith Alliance, is to feature Rev. Sarah Clarke of First Parish of Plymouth on this Sunday’s episode. She will “explains how a calvanistic church founded by the Pilgrims has become a thriving Unitarian Universalist congregation.” It’s bound to be an interesting story both for people within and outside our tradition. You’ll be able to listen to the show here.
10 November 2006
Like anyone else, I often have many thoughts flying through my head at once. A lot of these are ideas, either ones that others have given me or that have come up with myself, that I have not yet been able to grok. Instead of keeping them my turbulent mind, I think it would benefit myself and others to keep track of ideas for consideration here.
A) Something I noticed this summer when I attended various Christian services is that they all seemed to have a heck of a lot less narration than UU services. I was reminded of it in a recent post by PeaceBang. So the question is, would dropping the narration in any way detract from UU services? I for one think our services would stand to benefit greatly in a number of ways by such reform. It seems the the service as a whole would feel less stilted and more coherent. And as PB noted: we already have printed orders of service.
B) I attended a panel discussion by rabbis from the three major Jewish movements (Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative) on women in Judaism. As anyone who is familiar with the differences between the three could imagine, it was quite a lively discussion! But one thing in particular stuck with me. The Orthodox rabbi spoke of how he loved his wife more than himself. When I was younger I always wanted to have just such a relationship, but as I’ve grown older I’ve thought of this as youthful naivete or a relic of an older generation. But here was a young man, probably no more than 15 years my senior, who was doing it. So is such love possible in this era, in this culture? I can see how it would be possible in a conservative subculture such as Orthodox Judaism, but is it possible for UUs?
26 October 2006
I’ve come up with the name Brother Damocles for myself. I still like Jehovah’s Fitness, but it seems a name more suited to the actual blog than its author. This new nom de clavier, as it were, seems appropriate in several ways. I was trying to come up with a new Unitarian Jihadesque name, but was having trouble deciding what weapon was symbolically apt when I recalled the Sword of Damocles. As I’ve been lately trying to consider the potential difficulties as well as the potential joys of UU ministry, it seems just right. Plus, it fits right in with Philocrites and Pericles, if I may flatter myself by the association.
17 October 2006
The Christian Coalition of America is known by most Americans as being one of the first large and highly visible organizations in the Religious Right. Past leaders have included Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed. Recently secularists have been cheering the Christian Coalition’s fall from power, though many other Religious Right groups have since steadily increased in power and visibility. Until recently I was among them.
So why am I hoping the Christian Coalition will make a resurgence among conservative Christians? The organization once helped set the Religious Right’s narrow focus of issues concerned with (what we on the Left consider to be) issues of restrictions. Namely abortion, homosexuality, private schools vs. public schools, increased presence of Evangelical Christianity in the public sphere, and so forth. But I believe the leadership of the Christian Coalition has finally realized just how narrow this focus is and the stagnation it to which it has led.
Something that may shock those on the Left is that the state chapters of the Coalition in Alabama, Georgia and Iowa have pulled away from the national organization, citing a supposed left-leaning trend in the national organization. Some basis for this argument is that the Coalition has teamed up with MoveOn.org on the issue of network neutrality. Here’s the kicker: on the first of the month Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter was appointed as the Coalition’s new chairman starting next year. I had not heard of Hunter before his interview on last week’s State of Belief, but he is known among Evangelicals as a vocal voice in the growing movement to stop global warming. Hunter sees the maintenance of the climate as a Biblical imperative. Hunter has also authored a book I am interested in reading entitled Right Wing, Wrong Bird on the topic of political involvement of conservative Christians. Just from listening to his interview on State of Belief and the brief podcasts on his website I can tell that Rev. Hunter is an intelligent, humble, compassionate and forward-thinking person.
I never thought I’d say that about a self-avowed member of the Religious Right. He might seem liberal to both conservatives and liberals, but it is quite important for everyone to remember that he is not. He is conservative. The Christian Coalition is a conservative organization. It is for exactly this reason that I am so excited about his appointment. The aforementioned characteristics I used to describe Rev. Hunter are characteristics that will be needed for those on the Left and the Right if we hope to get anywhere.
I think that Rev. Hunter will be open to dialogue with liberals. Too many leaders of the Religious Right have not sought dialogue. They are firebrands that just want to yell so only they get heard. But this is not how democracy works, and I’m sure Rev. Hunter and those like him realize this. Democracy is about nothing if not discussion. Though I suspect that many in the Religious Right don’t really care for democracy at all. Not only committed to democracy, Hunter makes a corollary to Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbour on The Leadership Blog, “[My goal is] to impact the world for Christ in a way that non-Christians are thankful.”
Another hope I have for the refocused Christian Coalition is that it will help conservative Christians to see beyond a black and white worldview. The Christian Coalition might be able to offer them a new vision of what can be achieved. I also hope that this will help those that are anti-Christian or anti-religion to also move beyond black and white views of Christianity/religion. Though we may disagree on issues of human sexuality and reproductive health and education, I am confident that we can make progress on the environment, poverty and other “compassion issues” as Rev. Hunter calls them. To use his own words, “Unless Christians can explain their values and their voting decisions in an intellectually credible way to those who disagree, we will not create understanding … or make headway on the issues most important to us.” So while I won’t be contributing money or volunteer hours to the Christian Coalition anytime soon, I will be glad to know that they will be actually acting in a way that is based on what Jesus taught.
16 October 2006
I discovered something at church yesterday; I’ve become a pious Unitarian Universalist. What does that mean? How can a UU be pious?
Somehow, over the past ten years of my life, I’ve become addicted to going to church. The Sunday before last was the first Sunday in a very long time that I hadn’t gone to church at all. Even during the Summer recess during which my church did not have services, I attended various other groups on Sunday. This summer my Christian Friend and I went to Catholic Mass, a Quaker meeting, services at a church that belongs to both the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church and a Unity service. For as far back as I can remember now, I’ve gone to a church service at least three out of four Sundays a month. I’ve even managed to catch some Friday night services at local synagogues.
I’ve become a keen observer of every detail of a service. The manner in which the ministers speak, and act, the topics and literary style of their sermons, the mood of the music and the instruments used to play them, the order of service and attention payed by the congregants to each have all proven to be very interesting things for me to observe. But they’re not just interesting. Interesting isn’t enough to get up up and out of the door on a weekend morning.
Something about services even made me a bit disappointed to have missed church last Sunday. What was it? What is it about going to church that draws me in? Certainly the group aspect of it is part of it. The emerging experiential aspect of my spirituality also forces me to admit that the sheer experience of something new every Sunday is also part of it. There is also the certainty that each time I’m bound to take something away from it, whether intellectual or emotional, or both.
To be brief this is only part of why I go. There is a great part of it I can’t really put into words. Suffice it to say, what happens is religion. Religion happens.
3 October 2006
Lately I have been studying various esoteric groups that believe that you are not your body. Everytime I come across this concept I nearly wince. All of my life I abstracted my mind from my body. I didn’t pay much attention to my body until puberty when hair started sprouting everywhere. Even then my lump of flesh was no different than all the other lumps of flesh, except that I could chose to shave it or pierce it or tattoo it or whatever else I wanted to do with it because it was my property. But now I know my body is not my property. My body is me. My mind is the processes of my brain. Emotions and thoughts are chemical reactions. But the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Those that say we should pay more attention to the spiritual than the material create a false dichotomy. It’s quite possible (and I’m very open to the idea) that the material world is only an emanation of the higher worlds, but that does not mean it is an abberant world. Often the language of giving into the temptations of the flesh is used. I think this misses the mark. Gluttony, lust and sloth all seem to happen to me when I’m not paying attention to my body. We humans like to kid ourselves into thinking we’re so much different than other animals, that “bestial” things are beneath us. Man may not live by bread alone, but bread is still a prerequisite. One must be attentive to the things of the material world as well as of the world of ideas. To be attentive to the body is a supremly spiritual thing to do.
19 September 2006
When I saw the Speaking of Faith episode entitled The Need for Creeds I just knew I had to listen to it. I often like to test and challange my beliefs and perhaps nothing could be more challenging to a UU than to assert that creeds are good for you. The format of SoF is an hour interview with a certain person about a certain topic. The interviewee in this episode was Christian historian Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan.
Pelikan asserts that when one removes a creed, it must necessarily be eventually replaced by another creed. He quoted Emerson’s Divinity School Address, in which he said to the Unitarian seminarians, “So let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil. … Yourself, a newborn bard of the Holy Spirit — cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint people at first hand with Deity.” This is a precursor to the UU principle of the free and responsible search, which now guides all UU congregations. His response to Emerson was that “The only alternative to tradition is bad tradition.”
According to Pelikan once one raises children and must teach them, all (s)he has to teach them is what (s)he believes, which over time becomes, itself an institutionalized creed. I disagree. Even before any of us had ever heard of Unitarian Universalism, my Zen Buddhist father and lapsed Catholic mother did not raise me in their faith traditions (or lack thereof). That is not to say that they did not share with me their insights or those of teachers that inspired them. They raised me how any UU parent would raise their child; not to believe something just because they do, but to think and experience for myself. This is what makes our tradition so different from others and difficult for others to grasp.
I would not go so far as to say we must refuse the models which others offer us, as Emerson says. I personally like to collect models, and examine them at my leisure. One may be able to purchase pieces of art, but can never buy the actual art itself. So it is with our theological models. The models which have been fashioned by other hands, but the only one I can truely own is the one I have made myself.
Unsurprsingly, I’m not the first UU to respond to this show. Several other UUs had some insightful responses to Pelikan’s assertions. It’s too bad that Pelikan has passed away. A conversation between him and a modern Unitarian Universalist would certainly have been a sight to see.
17 September 2006
I thought it would be quite appropriate to end my hiatus with a discussion about the Water Gathering/Water Communion/Ingathering of Water service. Last Sunday my church put on a pretty good one incorporating four bowls at each of the cardinal directions to symbolize the direction from which their water (or most of it, anyway) comes. I actually was told ahead of time how this would work by the minister during a discussion about starting a campus ministry at my school, but that’s a topic for entry. He told me that he was glad that four people of very diverse theological backgrounds would be helping at each of the four directional bowls.
Elseblog there has been thoughtful discussion of class tension within UUism and how they are demonstrated at Water Communion, but on my mind during the service were the theological rifts. During our talk, the minister noted that part of the reason he was called to our congregation was because of his mystical leanings, and that our congregation has more of a humanist bent to it. I think that was a good idea on the part of the Search Committee. I remember hearing now, I don’t recall if it was our minister that said it, but for whatever reason someone recounted one Sunday about a UU minister that was asked his/her personal theology. (S)He said something to the effect of, ‘If you’re mostly Christian, then I’m a humanist. If you’re mostly humanist, then I’m Pagan.’ OK, I think I greatly reinterpreted whatever the original statement was, but I believe that’s true to the spirit of the statement.
I haven’t yet read the Commission on Appraisal’s Engaging our Theological Diversity but at the outset it seems to me like we are too reserved in general about our individual beliefs. One might think that if people were more vocal about their beliefs that it might cause an even greater rift within UUism, but I don’t think it would, if we go about it the right way. I think that in our culture we have been conditioned to be wary of those whose worldviews differ significantly from our own. Many UUs, perhaps most, have grown up with people shoving their beliefs down their throat. We are all aware how unhelpful, and even destructive this is. So it is out of genuine compassion that we keep our religiousity hidden, even in at church. The problem is that this isn’t really a genuine approach either.
Right now I think that the best approach is two-fold: We must give others the benefit of the doubt, and assume that their expression of their religiousity (or lack thereof) is not intended as a challenege to ours. We must also be upfront about who we are and what we believe and do not believe, but to do so in a way which is not intended to be threatening to challenge others. This is not to say that we should not have our assumptions challenged at all. On the contrary, I think that is one of the most important things about liberal religion. But there are those that are not comfortable with this, and church is the last place one should have to feel defensive. Whatever one’s theological position, church should be a place were we can lower our defenses and rejoice.