Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why I am concerned about Sectarianism

When someone talks to you about Christianity, they ask you if your know Christ.  They don't ask you to consider giving your life to being a Baptist, or joining a Methodist congregation.

Islam asks you if you agree that there is only one God, and Mohammed is his prophet.  They talk about God and prayer and a few practices,  not being Shia or Sunni or Salafi.

When your friends asks you consider meditation and the study and practice of Zen, they don't talk about this or that lineage of teachers.

What is proposed is changing your life, your orientation, your spiritual practice, your beliefs.  The invitation to make that change through a particular institution comes later.

We ask people to be grateful, generous, loving, holistic, just, compassionate and self-aware persons.  We ask them to start where they are and do their best, and keep trying, to become persons who embody and enact love and peace and justice and reverence in everyday life. We seek, for them and for ourselves, to form a liberal and loving character.  That is the goal that we set for ourselves and we propose that they set for themselves.  It is what the world needs.

Joining a Unitarian Universalist congregation, or even committing to UUism in the abstract, is only a means to that larger goal.  It would bring you into community with others who are trying for that same personal transformation.  It gets you in touch with a living tradition of writers and thinkers and activists and leaders who have been seeking the same for decades and centuries.  But being a Unitarian Universalist is not the goal of anyone's life.

When people say that they are "spiritual, but not religious", I suspect that what is objectionable to them about religion is its self-serving ways.  An institution whose only goal is the success and preservation of itself gets no respect.  And that is what organized religion so often looks like.  And we focus too much on UU identity, UU growth, UUism itself -- we look like that as well.


2 comments:

EB said...

The greatest sin we UU's commit is hiding. Our message is powerful, and we have changed many lives for the better. To correct that, we must evangelize. You and I are already here and we "get it"--but the millions of people who are looking for what we have to say need to be told we exist.

But our message does not revolve around a personality, be it Jesus or Allah or Mohammad or the Buddha--or the Dalai Lama or Pat Robertson. I think we should focus on a modern interpretation of small-u unitarianism--an idea, not a person. And that is a lot harder than being able to point to a picture and say "Do you accept the Flying Spaghetti Monster as your personal mentor?".

Until we build up the unitarian movement to the point where, say, there is a cable news network that has a bias toward promoting the worth and dignity of all persons and respect for the interdependent web, the Unitarian Universalist congregations have to be the nexus where people who share our principles should gather. Until we get so large where we split into sects (which has kind of happened in Massachusetts and at times near Washington DC where it is possibly to go "UU church shopping") we have to noisily work to be the promoters of our values--a unitarian theology.

Christana said...

I find it to only be relevant to talk about Unitarian Universalism when it serves a larger theological point - for example, we will be talking about the idea of a God who love all in a few weeks, so I will be talking about Hosea Ballou. I think because so many of our congregation are fairly new, and we work hard to make sure that everyone can relate to our worship every week, our "brand" is rarely mentioned any more. The plus side of this is that I suspect it is a large contributor to our growth, which has been significant. The down side is that it takes our people much longer to develop a denominational identity because it is not an explicit part of who "we" are. "We" are about changing the world, living our lives as the best people we can be and loving all people. But we don't often talk about it being specifically UU. Interesting question!