Does Louder and Prouder Work Any Better?
Author of "When Spiritual but not Religious is not Enough"
UUMA Theme Speaker 2013
Rev. Lillian Daniel was the theme speaker for the UUMA Ministry Days. She's a UCC minister, an author and a great presenter. She had a lot of fun with us, the UU ministers, teasing us about our unhealthy anxiety about John Calvin and how he ruined everyone's life. She was clever, bright, charming and very funny. She deftly lampooned the shallow, self-centered "spirituality" that we hear these days, about walking in the woods, seeing God in the sunset, yadda, yadda, faces of children and so forth. Religion, she said, was what was needed - religious community through which difficult wisdom passed, wisdom that might be hard to hear. When Spiritual But Not Religious is not enough, then Religion itself was needed. So how do we as religious leaders convince people of that.
I think the key line she said was to the effect that she wasn't going to apologize for a church she didn't belong to. In other words, there is a branch of Christianity that is politically reactionary, anti-gay, that sold its soul for political influence, but she was not a member of that Church. She was a progressive Christian and she would be more brave about proclaiming what her church believed.
When she used the word "apologize", she meant it, I believe, in the theological sense. Christian apologetics is the work of justifying the Christian belief system to other belief systems. A Christian might say to a UU, "What we call 'God', you call the 'Spirit of Life'. That's Christian apologetics -- explaining Christianity in terms that another belief system will find comprehensible."
When James Luther Adams explains God as "that creating, sustaining and transforming power not made by human hands" -- he is engaging in Christian apologetics -- making Christian doctrine explainable to a humanist world.
There have been three intellectual responses to Modernism in Christianity. One was Humanism, which was to leave. A lot of contemporary UUism is the creation of Humanists who saw themselves as leaving Christianity behind. Now, their descendants see themselves as never having been religious at all.
Another response, you could say, was represented by Paul Tillich (who inspired James Luther Adams, who is the inspiration of contemporary UU theists and Christians) and the third, was Karl Barth, who is the intellectual inspiration of the contemporary fundamentalists.
Tillich and Adams engage in apologetics, which has been a long standing tendency in the Unitarian and Universalist theologies. To wit, "love is the doctrine of this church". In other words, everything that is important about Christian thought is permanent; the words of the doctrine are transient. They engage in a creative reinterpretation of Christian doctrine.
Barth said, instead, that the Christian thought world was its own world. It did not need to be -- (indeed, it could not be) adequately explained to people outside of it. You don't convert people by explaining it to people outside of it; you convert them by inviting them into it, and once in it, they will make sense of it. (Barth was essentially post-modern -- multiple thought worlds co-exist in the world, and they all seem "true" to the people inside of them -- no one single narrative will ever emerge as the one true reality.)
Lillian Daniel's message seemed to be that progressive Christianity, such as the UCC, should understand itself as its own thought-world, and just invite people into it. It should quit engaging in a competition with rightwing Christianity over who was the real Christianity.
She is saying this in an environment where many of the "nones" or "spiritual but not religious" identify "religion" with conservative Christianity. So her answer to the drastic decline of the UCC, is that they should be louder and prouder about proclaiming who they are, which is progressive Calvinism. I don't know anything about the internal theological debate within the UCC, but I imagine that she has a fairly conservative position in that context.
We UU's hear her quite differently.
A number of people inferred from her talk that we should be louder and prouder about as its own religious thought-world: this space we have at the crossroads of humanism and Christianity, creatively-reinterpreted. Others seemed to hear her saying that we should be more assertive about our religious-ness, our connection to the Christian traditions with which we are linked.
I would never write a book with the title "When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough." I don't accept the premise of the title. When shallow spirituality is not enough, deeper spirituality is what is needed. I don't think that is a more confident assertion of the religious thought-world of progressive Christianity is the answer. I think that a more confident assertion of the virtues of liberality and the development of the habits of the heart that go with them is what is needed.