Friday, December 01, 2006

Potato, poTAHto, or something else?

PB has a great post where she writes about a peice of internet glurge she got, "What makes this an eye-roller to most people I know, however, is not the theology (break it down and it's just like yours and mine: Every human being possesses inherent worth and dignity, if God is present in the world, it is through the work of human hands, people are to be cherished more than things, etc.), but the sentimentality of the writing, the inclusion of angels, the effusive praise of God's grace, the misplaced quotation marks, the misuse of the word "literally," and the fact that this woman actually took her child to McDonald's for breakfast. How often do we conflate pure class snottiness with theological superiority and sophistication? How often does it close our ears and keep us from spiritual solidarity with others?"

I don't know. I have an orthodox Catholic friend who is as committed a church member as I am. When we talk about surface stuff, such as sunday school, jumble sales and potlucks, we get each other. When we talk about the really important stuff, we have some disagreements (that some Christians can read the bible and not come away with the message that it's our duty to take care of the poor mystifes me, but one sees such people all the time, ask Joel Hunter,) but mostly get each other.

But it's the issues in the middle where we feel so different.

One time I said something about not going to church to be told what to believe.

"You don't?" He said, and I almost thought there was an implied 'why else would you go?' in his tone.

I've had a Mormon very seriously ask me why I didn't run around doing evil all the time since I had told her I honestly don't believe that God is lying in wait at the end of my life to punish me for my sins. A friend's mother is very concerned that if her granddaughter should die in a car accident tomorrow, she will go to hell because my friend hasn't taken her to church.

Another Christian once told me that she didn't mind torture because it saved the lives of soldiers like her husband. I asked her if she was sure her husband's life was worth so much more than an Iraqi woman's husband's life and the question seemed to flat out amaze her. Her husband was a Christian. He was saved. He was on God's side in this war. Duh?

All of these times, I felt a huge gulf opening up between the person I was talking to and me. (OK, except when I felt the gulf between the friend's Mom and me as I heard that story secondhand.) It felt like a theological gulf rather than a cultural one, but I'm willing to be talked another way on the issue. Actually I'd LOVE to believe that greater solidarity does exist but is getting lost in translation. It's a far more optimistic vision.

OK, Chalicesseurs, what do y'all think? Are we missing that the message is roughly the same because of cultural differences? Or do the differences run much deeper than that?

CC

11 comments:

Joel Monka said...

The differences really are theological, not just cultural. Culture only plays a part in that it can mask the theological difference- if you know it's trailer park trash (or trust fund trash) you're talking to, you don't look any deeper.

How deep can those differences be? My brothers and I were told growing up that we were the last of our line in America- but after my mother died, I learned we had relatives in Chicago. You see, as they had converted to Catholicism, they were dead to her. How could she say such a thing? Didn't Jesus himself, referring to a disciple's relatives, say "Let the dead bury the dead"?

Over and over again, we keep making the mistake of not realizing that someone really does believe that "stuff". The bad decisions that led to the tragedies at Jonestown and Waco were made because nobody could believe that they really believed that stuff. "Alas, a blog" back in march ran a post stating that the "Pro Life" crowd were really anti-woman because they simply couldn't believe that the pro-lifers really believed that Christian stuff. Alas, they do.

Of course, the differences we most often run up against are not THAT stark... but they are very real. I have often thought that the clearest proof that the average UU believes few things very deeply is their failure to understand that other people do- we tend to judge others by our own reactions.

kim said...

I want to repeat what Joel said, with a slightly different emphasis: We ALL, not just UUs, judge others by our own viewpoint.

One time I said something about not going to church to be told what to believe.
"You don't?" He said, and I almost thought there was an implied 'why else would you go?' in his tone.

I think authoritarian types, who ARE looking for someone to tell them what to do and think, often go to church for that. It’s better than many other choices unless they go to the poisonous churches based on fear and hatred.

I've had a Mormon very seriously ask me why I didn't run around doing evil all the time since I had told her I honestly don't believe that God is lying in wait at the end of my life to punish me for my sins. A friend's mother is very concerned that if her granddaughter should die in a car accident tomorrow, she will go to hell because my friend hasn't taken her to church.
People who have an external conscience really believe that if there isn’t something to fear there is no basis for good behavior. They don’t have the experience of having an internal conscience, so they cannot imagine that you do – as Joel said, we judge by our own view. And, as you have trouble imagining NOT having your own internal sense of moral behavior.

Another Christian once told me that she didn't mind torture because it saved the lives of soldiers like her husband. I asked her if she was sure her husband's life was worth so much more than an Iraqi woman's husband's life and the question seemed to flat out amaze her. Her husband was a Christian. He was saved. He was on God's side in this war. Duh?
I would have been tempted to say that if he was saved, then we needn’t worry about him at all, so therefore it’s definitely wrong to torture someone else on his behalf. :-)

All of these times, I felt a huge gulf opening up between the person I was talking to and me. (OK, except when I felt the gulf between the friend's Mom and me as I heard that story secondhand.) It felt like a theological gulf rather than a cultural one, but I'm willing to be talked another way on the issue. Actually I'd LOVE to believe that greater solidarity does exist but is getting lost in translation. It's a far more optimistic vision.
Actually, I think it’s a difference in world view. (Or “meme” if you prefer that terminology…)

OK, Chalicesseurs, what do y'all think? Are we missing that the message is roughly the same because of cultural differences? Or do the differences run much deeper than that?
I think parts of the vision are the same and parts are very different – like in that wonderful UU World article (by Doug Muder I think) about right wing folks having a strong commitment to family and left wing folks having an equally strong commitment to family, but neither crediting the other because of the very different definitions of family.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think the more mainstream and liberal folks in our country are out of touch with the myriad beliefs of subcultures that exist.

A few months ago I was lamenting to a coworker (a devout Southern Baptist who had graduated from seminary and was a leader in his church) about the evils of the sex slave industry. I'd heard an interview on Oregon Public Radio with a Mexican journalist who was enduring death threats due to a book that accused several high ranking officials of corruption and involvement in the industry.

"Who are these monsters who are buying these women and children? How can people think this acceptable?!" I was just really upset about it.

His response was "Well, I don't know what the Qur'an says, but the Bible says that the only standing between each of us becoming those kinds of people is the Holy Ghost."

I think I blinked at him a few times and mumbled, "Okay," but inside I'm thinking, WTF? I'm not Christian and I would NEVER participate in the sex slave industry. I mean, WHAT? That doesn't even make any sense.

But, the more I pay attention, the more I realize that his beliefs are held by many, many Christians. This is why so many of them are angry about the "gay agenda." They truly believe that they and their children have the capability to be gay, and it's only by the grace of Jesus Christ that they're restrained.

My DH has numerous Christian friends. One friend of his truly believes that my DH is going to Hell because he isn't saved. His wife, however, takes a different tack: she told my DH that he couldn't "really" be an atheist because he's "so moral." She told him that deep in his heart he truly believes in God and Jesus.

I agree with you on this issue; I say that religious liberals (particularly Christians) should always be mindful of the religious reality out there. We hope for warm interfaith fuzzies, but it's important to know what the beliefs are of the people you're trying to establish that fuzz-dom with. I say this because I can't help but think of all the ways religion has been used to invoke violence on others (e.g. the war in Bosnia).

Admiring Blogger said...

I'm an ex-Mormon UU and recently found your blog.

Some of the differences you describe are theological. However, the examples you describe have more to do with personal theology than denominational theology.

For example, can you believe that Real Live Preacher is a Baptist minister? Or that there are such creatures as Mormon feminists?

I know some people I would call "kneejerk liberal" or "narrowminded liberal," too. In other words, it's not like every religious liberal is liberal because they think for themselves; some still want other religious liberals to tell them what to believe.

Often the liberals within a denomination have more in common with the liberals of other denominations than with the conservative factions within their own denomination.

PG said...

My reaction to that story at PeaceBang wasn't classist so much as perhaps politically different. I saw nothing wrong with the woman's eating at McD's, etc., but I do object to people's prioritizing their individual little moments of self-congratulatory grace over creating institutions that will provide systemic assistance. If these men were homeless and didn't want to be, that points to something wrong in the society that does not help them to the services they need: housing, food stamps, etc. I would prefer that we maximize the number of people with their own access to food, housing and showers, and that there be *fewer* objects on whom we can wreak such grace as ignoring the fact that they lack hygiene and giving them a single meal. I don't consider myself to have a theology, and I don't think it's a class thing because I know people with less money and education who also would prefer that the poor be fewer in number. Perhaps that is what disturbs me in such stories: that they seem to idealize a world in which we see the Light of God only by momentarily reaching down to the less-privileged. I'd rather see the divine by living in a world where everyone who is employable has a job, and even those who are not have a place to live and something to eat that doesn't depend on a random stranger's choice to be kind that day.

What Kim said.
"I would have been tempted to say that if he was saved, then we needn't worry about him at all, so therefore it's definitely wrong to torture someone else on his behalf. :-)"

Yeah, shouldn't we try to keep all those benighted Muslims alive so they can be converted instead of damned to hell?

I wondered about this with the Terri Schiavo controversy too. I can understand how you would be worried about her husband's being allowed to remove her from life-support if you thought it would lead to this becoming a default policy even for people less organ-damaged than she, though in that case I can't figure out why all those people haven't created a PAC to push for changing the laws on spouses' ability to make medical decisions including to stop life support. But looking purely at the individual situation with no slippery slope problems, if you assumed that Ms. Schiavo's future in heaven was certain, why keep her soul caged in that poor body?

kim said...

PG -- Yeah, I can't help but think that things like you said re Terri Schiavo mean that those who profess to believe don't REALLY believe. Why would death be scary if you really really believed that after death you were going someplace much better?

fausto said...

Great point about the internal vs. external conscience, kim.

she told my DH that he couldn't "really" be an atheist because he's "so moral." She told him that deep in his heart he truly believes in God and Jesus.

In a sense she's absolutely right. The only difference is that most of us UUs would see her "Jesus" not as a real divine being but as an archetypal personification of moral principles that she uses as a vehicle to be able to connect herself to them, while your DH may not need to use that archetype to be able make the same connection to the same principles. It's in the connection itself, not the vehicle that facilitates it, where both the reality and the equivalence lie.

If, however, it turns out that we're wrong about Jesus being a figurative archetype, and Jesus is in reality exactly the personal divine being that she apprehends -- the Second Person of the Triune God, and Judge of the World -- her Jesus would presumably say, "You didn't know me by name, but I've been with you all along. That internal conscience of yours? That was me. Come along, you're one of mine."

Which is exactly what the Universalist half of our house has always maintained.

kim said...

You know how you write "lol" for "laughed out loud"? Well, my response was, "Heh, Fausto's cool." How do you write that?
Thanks, Fausto. That is so right-on. They are just different manifestations of the same energy. Have you seen Rev. Shelly Strauss Rollison's sermon called "Spiritual Maturity? If not, can I email it to you?

fausto said...

No, Kim, I haven't read it, but I'd love to. Do you have my e-mail address?

fausto said...

BTW, Kim, I don't remember if you were part of this discussion, which I reworked into a sermon here, but if not, have a look. I dig deeper into the same idea and try to relate it back to Christianity in language that might make sense to Christians.

Em said...

"Heh, Fausto's cool." I second that. What a great way to refer to the theology.

As for the original post, it saddens me that people out there really believe these things. (I can't remember if I've said this on your blog before or not.) The reason I left the Catholic Church, back when I was 15, was because I had always taken a very conservative view of things, and around the 14-15 age I suddenly realized that my Bible said that my best friends (all agnostics) were going to hell. I rejected this utterly. I came back to the Church sort-of as an older teenager/college student (and actually got Confirmed because I was worried that it might literally kill my grandmother if I didn't) but that nagging worry has never left me, even though I know plenty of Christians who happily ignore John 3:16...it just bothers me too much. I don't know why I can't get over that.

(Full disclosure: There are other reasons I left, too, namely divinity of Jesus and the things the Pope says. But they're not relevant to this particular discussion.)

I wonder if there are other people out there who left their churches because they couldn't accept a non-narrow interpretation of the church's doctrine?