grasping at space

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  • Friday, June 10, 2005

    On strait gates, narrow ways, ordinary people, and why this refugee is moving on

    I think I may have to stop calling myself a UU. I’m only a unitarian in the sense that I’m not a trinitarian and don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. To the extent that there is some general agreement about what he said and did, I’m more comfortable calling Jesus a Buddha than a Christ. And while I like the idea of universalism, my belief in it is actually fairly lukewarm, although it is a notion I have an easier time accepting than the fundamentalists’ insistence that a decent person with a vice or two is going to hell right along with Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. But in reference to my own beliefs and my religious affiliation, I’m no longer comfortable capitalizing those U’s.

    Recently I learned about the wrestling match of ideas going on in Phillip Lund’s head. In one corner, the notion that UUism is “a faith worth working for and sacrificing for”; in the other corner, the notion that UUism is “a liberal religious panacea … that lets us be comforted and rest assured in our worldliness.” A few months ago, it would have been easy for me to dismiss this as a false dilemma, since these two notions really are not mutually exclusive. But I’ve come to the realization that Lund isn’t talking to people like me. He’s talking primarily to lifelong UUs, and I am merely a refugee from another religion.

    In any given church on any Sunday morning, I’m sure that quite a few of the attendees – perhaps not a majority, but certainly a significant proportion – don’t really know why they are there, don’t really know (or care) what their fellows or the church authorities believe, attend more out of habit than conviction, attend because it seems like the thing to do. The UUA is no exception to this, though some UUs might want it to be. But when you open your doors to everyone indiscriminately, you shouldn’t be surprised who walks in.

    I’ve never read Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I understand the implication of not wanting grace to be cheap. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way.” That’s a perfectly sensible statement when taken to mean that sainthood isn’t easy. But when taken to mean that religion shouldn’t be easy, it loses a lot of sense. That’s a step toward shoving ordinary people out the door, toward making them feel like there’s something shameful about being ordinary, toward making them feel like they should be associated with Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. (And I do understand that Lund doesn’t intend to say these things.)

    Here’s a recent remark by Chutney at My Irony:

    I’m pretty sure we can identify the good people and the evil people. MLK is good; Tim McVeigh is evil. The problem is that most of us don’t fit into either category [emphasis mine]. Somebody once said, show someone with no vices and I’ll show you someone with no virtues. Being good and being evil both require a lot of practice. Few of us put in the sweat equity.

    Not being Francis of Assisi does not make you Hitler by default. When I discovered UUism, I knew I had found a religion that understood this principle. But UUs who worry about the alleged cheapness of their grace don’t seem to value that principle, and don’t seem to want to be the religion of ordinary people.

    Like many UUs, I have a supplemental faith or creed. Mine is Western Reform Taoism. What I lack is fellow WRTs to associate with. The UUs were a more than adequate substitute, but if my presence in their church is going to give them an identity crisis, then it’s probably time for me to go.


    Blogger Athana said...

    The definition of western religion is pain & suffering. If you can't chuck the suffering god for the loving Goddess, with her adoration of humor and all things sensual, then at least go to something not drenched in the love of pain -- maybe Buddhism, for example.

    Mon Jun 20, 03:23:00 PM PDT  

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