Over the course of my sojourn in Oregon a few weeks ago, I read A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism by John Buehrens and Forrest Church. Though I’ve been an infrequent participant in my local UU congregation for over three years now (and a member for two), my actual knowledge of Unitarian history and the basis for the modern faith is dismal. I’ve participated in two separate Ask Me Anything sessions- one in the general community, and then later as part of the Christianity community’s series of Q&As with members of different denominations. However, that was just me talking about personal experience, rather than appreciable knowledge. In fact, I would have been totally in over my head had it not been for some fellow UUs to help explain what we’re about. For a while it looked like the conservative Christian community was looking to do a similar series, so before that I decided to do at least some kind of prep work.
Overall I’d recommend it to people just starting out, as it gives you the gist of UU thought. It’s divided into essays- each co-author does one meditation on the six sources that provide wisdom and guidance; this was helpful as it shifted the tone and scope frequently, and didn’t feel like a huge endeavor. A couple essays had me fighting to stay awake- the early parts can get pretty Transcendentalist and abstract- but it’s a good experience.
What I’d like to mention is the extended metaphor of the infinite cathedral, which Church opens his piece about world religions with. It’s a pretty compelling concept, and if I had to make an explanation that’s longer than an elevator speech it would be the backbone. Quoting:
Yet on the cathedral floor and in the eyes of each beholder, refracted and reflected through different windows in different ways, it plays in the patterns that suggest meaning, challenging us to interpret and live by the meaning as best we can.
I’m suggesting a new theological model, in which one light (Unitarianism) shines through many windows (Universalism) in various, yet telling ways.
The idea of truth as light, and religion as a window refracting and reflecting truth is neat. The concept of cultural relativity is something I bring up often, even in non-religious contexts. Some of my friends are recently moved from the Midwest, and they universally think California drivers are the embodiment of Satan. However, they moderated when I pointed out that had I moved to Missouri or Minnesota or Illinois, I may have found those drivers to be equally insane. Humans acclimate, and we cease to notice the peculiar characteristics of our surroundings. Surely some Christians may forget how unusual the idea of the Trinity or Millennialism is to an outsider. And a non-theist such as myself could forget that the concept of morality is very different in other cultures, and it would be silly to think that we all are starting from the same starting place with the concept.
World religions can strengthen a church, rather than inhibit it. A key part of why UUism is appealing is that it sees wisdom as wisdom, irrespective of context. The idea that good ideas must be rejected due to their incompatibility with dogma is appalling; it seems akin to throwing your money away rather than helping those around you.
Presently I’m reading The Vikings by Robert Ferguson, but it’s just a matter of time before I dive back into the convoluted and controversial subject of theology.