Thursday, January 15, 2009

Peacemaking: Draft UUA Statement of Conscience

I have reviewed Peacemaking: A Draft Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience (November 2008 draft). I am not surprised at the content, and frankly wonder how it could have taken so long to craft the statement.

Aside from this one note of snarkiness, the draft certainly expresses the point of view I expected, since the Association is simply not ready to become a peace church. That said, my main response is this. Someday, maybe in the not too distant future, we are going to have to get off the fence. Someday, we will no longer be able to rationalize our use of violence...ever. Because if you support war, in the end it does not matter what your rationale is. You are still supporting war. Which means that we have compromised our first principle to affirm and promote the inherent worth of every person.

Now, I have made the personal choice to become a pacifist, so it is fair to ask me how we can resolve conflicts that seem to meet all the criteria for engaging in a just war. I ask you to imagine a possibility. Imagine that a country is engaged in a terrible civil war and innocents are being slaughtered on both sides. All diplomatic avenues have been exhausted. The only solution left would seem to be to load up the planes and ships with soldiers and guns and send them over to invade.

But, instead of sending 100,000 soldiers with tanks, rifles, and bombs, what if we filled all those planes and ships with 100,000 peacekeepers and crates of food, medicine, and other supplies? Using the same infrastructure one would use to support a military force, what if we unloaded 100,000 people, armed with only good will and knowledge to help the country rebuild? What if those 100,000 people simply walked, arm in arm, across the border and into the middle of the fighting? What would happen?

Some would almost certainly die. Ten, a hundred, even a thousand. But, some would walk and continue walking. They would be joined by the people of that country, becoming a human arrow of nonviolence into the country. In time, the shooting would stop. Impossible, you say. I say, "Why not?" People are already dying and will continue to die. You cannot kill people to make them stop killing. Killing only produces more killers, if not now, then in the next generation. Only by irrevocably breaking the pattern of killing can we end war.

The UUA Statement of Conscience is a present-oriented statement and probably reflects the opinions of the current membership of the Association very accurately. But, war and violence is never going to end through incremental transformative change. It will take a nonviolent revolution to end war. It will take enough people committed totally to peace who are willing to sacrifice everything to end war. We must begin building a peace army to engage in that revolution.

Funds for Unitarian Universalist Lay Theological Education

I recently received a request from Doug Muder, fellow Unitarian Universalist blogger and member of the UU Lay Theological Education Task Force. The Task Force is charged with determining what to do with the money collected on Association Sunday earmarked for "lay theological education." He is asking UU bloggers for help in getting an Association-wide discussion started about what needs "lay theological education" ought to satisfy. Here is some of Doug's specific language.

What I'm hoping to see is a lot of testimony by and discussion about individual UU's who find themselves at a plateau. They're happy with Unitarian Universalism as far as it goes and as far as they understand it, but they feel a call to go deeper and they don't know how to answer it. Maybe they've been trying to answer by doing more: joining committees, starting projects, and so on. But outer work at some point needs to be balanced with some inner work...In the discussions the task force has had among ourselves, we talk a lot about the gap between the kinds of adult ed you'd find at a typical UU church and the far more arduous program of a divinity school. What could we offer the person who wants to go deeper, but can't take years out of his/her life and spend tens of thousands of dollars? That's the "lay" part of "lay theological education."

As a person who did lay youth ministry for 15 years before deciding to enter seminary, I can see the powerful need in our movement for lay theological education. So, here is my take on the matter, and I encourage you loyal readers to comment as well.

Religions have an orientation in time. Some focus mostly on the past, looking to ancient leaders and texts for guidance. Others focus primarily on being present in the now. For me, Unitarian Universalism is fairly unique in having a mostly future focus. We believe that we can make our lives better. We advocate for more justice and love while ever searching for answers to the mysteries of the universe. This is an enormous strength and one that additional funding could help us capitalize on.

The tsunami of technological change brings wonderful possibilities. At the same time, those who fail to keep up will be engulfed and swept away. Unitarian Universalists should be at the very forefront in the use of technology. At the operational level, our web pages should be excellent. Our publications should be openly accessible to all and cover every conceivable topic of interest to current and prospective members. We should be a leader in cyber-community building, relieving us of the crushing burden of maintaining expensive physical plants and allowing members from all walks of life and situations to be in fellowship with us. We have some incredibly gifted and dedicated folk out there who simply need a helping hand distributing the fruits of their labor to others.

We should end the "conflict" between science and religion by modeling how the two can walk the same road together. Our curricular offerings should work to combine learning with spiritual practice whenever possible and eliminate dualistic, "either-or" thinking wherever it arises. The vision of liberal religion is a world where people are free to self-actualize in an environment free of oppression and preventable hardship. Religious education curricula should move beyond "UU 101" types of courses to offerings that delve deeper and offer lay leaders richer development.

In a more futurist vein, we are the one religion poised to explore the deep questions of the nature of humanity. In our lifetimes, we will face the real promise and challenge of our evolution into a transhuman state, as technology becomes intertwined with our biological and mental processes and as the nature of consciousness is explored. The potential for interaction and understanding at a quantum level offers us the opportunity to craft worship experiences never before possible in human history and perhaps find ways to create revolutionary change in society without the need for violence and destruction.

Lastly, I'll put in my plug for making some funds available to youth also exploring lay theological development. Faith development in the teen years is rich and vibrant. Teens could benefit from funding for travel opportunities, or the chance to develop their own service projects.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Religion Without God

In 1961-62, Samuel H. Miller delivered a series of talks as part of the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School (published in 1963 as The Dilemma of Modern Belief). One of these lectures, titled "The Point of Religious Atheism," argues that atheism exists merely because humankind can no longer "see" God in our modern times. Nearly 50 years later, I reject such an apologist view of religious atheism.

Miller begins his lecture quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote in his Letters from Prison, "our coming of age forces us to a true recognition of our situation vis-a-vis God, in the God is teaching us that we must live as men [sic] who can get along very well without him." Adding to the list the names of Buber, Nietzsche, and Dostoyevski, Miller lays the groundwork for an era of godforsakeness, in which God has simply vacated the premises, or in which the modern lenses of human vision are too sophisticated to view the subtle presence of the divine.

Miller cites Joseph Wood Krutch, who in the Preface to his 1929 book The Modern Temper wrote of that age, "one of its most distinguishing features is just its inability to achieve either religious belief on the one hand, or exultant atheism, on the other." Miller builds upon this and other writers to conclude that modern religious atheism as practiced by skeptics, unbelievers, and others indifferent to sacred presences means merely the religious experience of the death of God.

In the next section of his lecture, Miller begins with the assertion moving to its potential requires that modern religious atheism move beyond "staring blinding at the shocking idea of rejecting God" and merely criticizing predominant opinions about God. I could not agree more. The New Atheist authors, such as Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris do masterful jobs of shocking their readers with a preponderance of evidence why a belief in God is unfounded and why organized religion threatens human society. Perhaps such scare tactics fit the era of the Holocaust and nuclear nightmares. But, I believe that many of today’s seekers wants more than non-belief and validation for the rejection of the faith of their childhood or of the dominant social paradigm.

For me, the simple paradigm is this. Every child is born an atheist. We are taught to believe in God; we are taught to believe that morality derives from faith in a deity who prescribes rules for our behavior; we are taught that our natural human imperfections somehow require us to fill the gaps in our understanding of and experiencing of the universe with some sacred spirit or presence whose existence is unproven and unprovable.

We are taught, at least in Western traditions, that theism and religion are inseparable. Therein lies the future of religious atheism for me. I believe in the value of living in religious covenant with my fellow humans and with the world about me. I believe in courageously using the force of our human reason toward compassionate purpose. I believe in religion without god.