Friday, October 27, 2006

Your religion is like your significant other

Recent ex-UU Sean Anthony has a thoughtful if angry post up called
So I can't really build my own theology in the UUA?
As evidenced by a recent post of mine, I don't take the opinions of ex-UUs, especially recent ones, very seriously in regards to questions about my faith anymore than I trust recent ex-Fundamentalists to offer the most objective and reasonable criticisms of THEIR old faith. Those who have left their churches slowly and have the more "High School Sweetheart" view of their old religions are a good deal more trustworthy, but on the whole I'd say one has to be gone for awhile to get the perspective that brings with it truly useful insights.

Anthony makes some rather strange assertions in his post. Essentially his issue is that in the year before he left UUism, he declared himself a religious humanist, then said he was a UU christian, talked about how at home he felt in the AUC, then ended up at the church of the breathren. He left UUism and a bunch of people made fun of him for his rapid changes of faith. Were he not a seminarian, I would say that the sheer speed of the changes suggested that he wasn't really exploring each option fully before taking up the next, as he was a seminarian, I have more faith that he knew what he was doing and takes faith more seriously than that, but I'm still not sure what was up and maybe it's not my business to know.

In some senses his problem is more a blogger's problem than a Unitarian problem. I often think out loud on this blog and I do sometimes change my mind. I write passionately when I'm feeling passionate and sometimes regret this passion the next day. Usually, though, I'm pretty careful to not use language that suggests I'm committed to something until I really am. I have for years said that I consider myself a Unitarian Universalist first and don't feel I need additional labels, but if you press me on it, I'm a humanist. I have a conception of the holy and am sometimes willing to call it "God" for the sake of argument, but see it more as a force than a personality.

I've believed roughly this for the entire time I've been a UU. I've messed around with various rituals and ways of expressing my relationship to the holy, but my sense of the holy has remained pretty consistent.

Anyway, here's the response I wrote to his post, slightly edited.

To me beliefs are like significant others.

Nobody objects when someone, especially someone youngish, dates around. But when you go through three or four significant others in a year, declaring each in turn a true love*, and then claim you have to treat your friends badly because your latest true love said to and love is more important than friendship, the people who don’t know you well will make fun of you and the people who care about you will feel jerked around.

That’s life.

However, if the marriage between you and the Brethren is meant to be and you stick with her for a long time, everybody will have forgotten about your sowing-your-religious-oats period in time.


*My guess is part of the confusion may come from your willingness to try on labels publically. Often it’s good to fully make, say Buddhism a part of you before you start calling yourself a Buddhist to everyone. You don’t tell all your friends that you and Peggy Jean are in love until you know her pretty well and are sure it’s true. Same principle.


Ps. On another post on his blog, Shawn is now expressing his amazement that when he insults a religion people show up to say "Actually, that religion works fine for me."

Wow. When you insult something, people who like that thing decide you're wrong and sometimes defend it! Will wonders never cease? Shawn totally didn't see that one coming!

The world must be such an amazing and unpredicatable place for Shawn.


Bill Baar said...

Labels are a very bad habit from the 60's I think.

We have no choice but build our own theologies...

Ratzinger said it nicely. (And by the way he's quickly taking Roman Catholicism well on the way to eclipsing UUism as the thinking person's Church)

Here he is on page 32 on Salt of the Earth responding to the question,

How many ways are there to God?

As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man's way is an entirely personal one. We have Christ's word: I am the way. In that respect, there is ultimately one way, and everyone who is on the way to God is therefore in some sense also on the way of Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that all ways are identical in terms of consciousness and will, but, on the contrary, the one way is so big that it becomes a personal way for each man.

When I attended Oak Park's Unity Temple, Scot Giles gave a wonderful sermon about spiritual journeys and how for many (maybe most?) people we were just a way station on those journeys.

I think that's more and more the case for many Churches and we best gear up to serve those travelers because we're all on our own paths like it or not.

A Church should simply make it less lonely for a time.

SC Universalist said...

cc - can you please stop all these wonderful posts? how can we know which one to vote for when the UU Blog Awards come up???? :-)

Chalicechick said...

That's very kind of you to say-- and I'm pleased to see the success of my plan to keep people distracted so they don't notice the truly amazing stuff blogs like A People so Bold and The Lively Tradition and Ministrare have done this year.

As Lizard Eater says, Bwahahaha!

PG said...


I hadn't been following what Ratzinger is doing. Do you think he can be fairly said to be abandoning the idea that Catholics have a duty to convert people currently on other ways to the Catholic way? If there are multiple ways to God, why should the Catholic Church put so much money into getting the "heathen" (generally people who already have a conception of the holy) on the Catholic way?

kim said...

I followed your link to the discussion about the "Jesus Take the Wheel" song. Whew! People get so defensive. What are they afraid of -- will the world come to an end because you don't like their song?
I keep reading stuff ABOUT Sean Anthony's comments. Where are they? Is it something I should read? Or, did you have to be there?

Chalicechick said...

Welcome back, Kim. (Meant to say that yesterday but somehow didn't. A few days ago I was like, "gee, haven't heard from Kim in a bit. Hope she's ok.")

While I thought the utter passion of the people who wrote me to defend "Jesus Take the Wheel" was a little odd (better than Amazing Grace? Seriously?) I did not get snippy with them and accuse them of running a Carrie Underwood PR machine or anything. I was contrasting myself to Anthony there.

The highlighted title of Sean's peice in my post is also a link.

That said, judging by how pissy he got about what I thought were some pretty mild questions, I think he's starting to feel piled on, so probably we should be nice and minimize the snarkiness level of the comments.

I've set I'm going to let him alone and will probably do so from now on, unless he does something really tempting.


kim said...

Thank you for noticing.
I did eventually find that link, so I at least read this latest post of his, but I missed the rest of the controversy-- it's just as well.
I did make a comment there and probably shouldn't have, but I have no history with Shawn, and therefore have only seen him in his defensive pissy mood. But I really couldn't keep myself from commenting on his criticizing UUism for being both too specific and not specific enough.
More seriously, he does say he is "disappointed" in UUs. It looks to me, like most angry ex-UUs, they are disappointed because they expected us to be better than other people, and when it turned out that we aren't, they felt personally betrayed.
How can we be better than other people when, almost by definition, convert UUs have MORE baggage than others rather than less? (Since it's that baggage that made them come to us....)

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, Shawn's blog is now off the air. If you click on this link:

you get the following text:

"I am all done here. I will not be updating this space any more.

My time will be used for much more important and edifying things, such as:

Spending time with family.

Worshiping God.

Listening for God.

Becoming more obedient to Christ

Becoming more like Jesus


Thanks to all who participated. Blessings to you."

CC ... the link in your post to Shawn's blog is now dead.

kim said...

I was jsut thinking about how angry ex-UUs sound -- but it occurs to me that ex-anything tends to be angry -- don't we comment on the way those ex-Catholics and ex-Fundamentalists and ex-whatever sound like they are so angry at what they are ex of? Isn't that "ex anger" the source of the Christian-bashing that so many criticize in UUism? And if they spoke negatively of their former ex, why not of the new ex? Rather like, as you said, it's a significant other....

alll points said...

How is "Jesus Take the Wheel" any less laughable than the "Trust The Force Luke" bit at the end of the first Star Wars.

Don't get me wrong, I think both are pretty ridiculous.

Bill Baar said...

PK you asked,

I hadn't been following what Ratzinger is doing. Do you think he can be fairly said to be abandoning the idea that Catholics have a duty to convert people currently on other ways to the Catholic way?

Let me point you too this,

Defending Dominus Iesus in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cardinal Ratzinger was pressed with the question of the necessity of the Church's mission, "if, in the end, man can reach God by all paths" -- or, in the words of Cardinal Kasper, "one does not have to become Catholic to be saved"). The Cardinal responded:

"Those who seek the truth find themselves objectively on the path that leads to Christ, and thus also on the path to the community in which he remains present in history, that is, to the Church. To seek the truth, to listen to one's conscience, to purify one's interior hearing, these are the conditions of salvation for all. They have a profound, objective connection with Christ and the Church. In this sense we say that other religions have rites and prayers which can play a role of preparing for the Gospel, of occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to open itself to God's action.

The way of conscience, the keeping of one's gaze focused on truth and the objective good, is one single way, although it can take many forms because of the great number of individuals and situations. The good is one, however, and truth does not contradict itself. The fact that man does not attain one or the other does not relativize the requirement of truth and goodness. For this reason it is not enough to continue in the religion one has inherited, but one must remain attentive to the true good and thus be able to transcend the limits of one's own religion. This has meaning only if truth and goodness really exist. It would be impossible to walk the way of Christ if he did not exist. Living with the eyes of the heart open, purifying oneself inwardly and seeking the light are indispensable conditions of human salvation. Proclaiming the truth, that is, making the light shine (not putting it 'under a bushel, but on a stand'), is absolutely necessary." 22

I bolded some lines I thought especially important.

Ratzinger juggle with a multicultural church. It really is diverse.

We UU's live in a pretty uniform culture despite all our talk about diversity and tolerance (my local mega Church is more diverse then my Church in Geneva).

Any how, trying to link this back to CC's original post, people are on faith journey's today. We live longer, move all over, pass through different phases of life.

A modern church has to accomadate that... Ratzinger opens to it because of the reality of the church he leads. Mega Churches because of the span of audience they try and reach....

We UU's insular. I like it in the sense we have a tradition worth keeping. We are a small niche faith if you want to put it in marketing terms.

The response to this fellow who left us should be good luck on your journay. I hope you've taken a part of our tradition with you that will serve you well.

If this all makes sense at 6am on a Sat.

Anonymous said...

Leaving one's religious community is an intensely personal and emotional event. I chose not to be hurt by things that Shawn said about UUs and the UU religion; we should all just let it alone.

Chalicechick said...

Oh, as I wrote in the comments above, I'm not going to respond to anything else he writes anyway.

But the general phenomenon does interest me. In UUism we tend to get it in both directions, mostly people coming from and going to Christianity.

I get that the complaining may be part of a healing process, but your healing process shouldn't involve the members of your old or new religion, IMHO.


Anonymous said...

I would agree that it shouldn't, CC, but during stressful times especially, people do a lot of things they shouldn't. While some of the things Shawn said towards the end disturbed me, I was also disturbed by the folks who kept asking him a lot of questions - as if he were an object of curiosity. Yes, he made his conversion public, but it struck me as cold the way in which some folks were analyzing him, or attempting to ferret out what his motivations were. I didn't find that to be an appropriate response at all. Not coming from people of faith.

I would liken this to going up to a person who has just lost their house in a fire, and saying,"You seem upset; can you explain what items you lost exactly that are causing you to have such an emotional reaction? Do you realize you can build another house? Have you considered that you're not the only person to have lost a home due to fire? I wonder how many other people's houses have been destroyed in such a manner? Hmmmm.... "

That mightn't be malicious, but definitely insensitive - and kind of missing the point. And even while I agree his eventual lashing out against all UUs was unfortunate, I would no more hold that against him than I would a terrified mother who yelled at her child after he wandered off.

When I left Islam, I did so without speaking a word to any Muslims except my own parents. It wasn't because I didn't want to talk to them. It was because I was not in an emotional state to deal with all of their questions and challenges to my decision. Unfortunately, Shawn did not have that luxury. Being expected to explain such a heartwrenching decision is horrible.

PeaceBang said...

Loved this post, CC. Watching from a distance, this all looks very ugly and painful. Ouch.

Chalicechick said...

Trust me, if you'd heard some of the things about his behavior behind the scenes that I have, you wouldn't have much sympathy.


Chalicechick said...

Also, I think if he'd ever sounded heartwrenched, he would have been let alone. Actually, when he sounded the slightest bit sad, people rushed to offer their support.

My recollection is that initially he got quite a bit of support from folks like Philo,
Joel Monka
and Boy in the Bands. (If you only look at one, look at BITB, where the comment trail is 20 supportive comments long.)

Heck, Ministrare even mentioned him, though not by name, in a sermon.

People were wishing him the best and saying how much they cared about him, until he decided to screw those people over by destroying the Scribe after promising that decisions on it by a committee, then he said he wasn't and had only been testing them. Then when those people got angry, justifiably so to my reading of both sides, he took it out on UUism.

Again, I'm limiting my comments on him to this thread, but I'm not sure God appreciates it when people blame God for their own tacky behavior.


Anonymous said...

You're correct that numerous UUs were supportive of him; I just think we should continue to be supportive, is all.