October 18, 2008

Religulous

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 2:03 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

My partner and I went to see the latest movie celebration of Bill Maher and his opinions (and those of director Larry Charles.)

I laughed many times and clapped at a few lines.   It was pretty entertaining.  It was also silly, sometimes cheap and adolescent, poorly put together, and even stupid and wrong (for example his implication that 16% of Americans are non-affiliated with religion and thus are all atheists or agnostics who must band together.)

I liked when he said, “I believe in ‘I don’t know.'” That reminded me of my sermon on Paul Rasor’s “Faith Without Certainty.”  However, after Bill’s final lecture (mini-sermon,) with the penultimate image of a nuclear explosion echoing in my mind, I turned to my friend and said “That was depressing.”  The basic idea that human stupidity and our hunger for certainty, coupled with Jewish, Muslim and Christian orthodoxy, will all inevitably come to violence which will destroy us all, is a pretty sad one.   A Realistic but depressing view, and faithless.

My favorite segment was when he was talking to the radically liberal priest in Saint Peter’s Square.  I get a big smile thinking of this happy man saying the obvious and laughing: that the huge edifice of the Vatican was  incongruous with the life and teachings of Jesus, that Hell was a ridiculous idea, that most of the superstition and foolishness that Bill had been taught as a child was simply superstition and foolishness.  Then Bill asked him what could be done about all these people with crazy ideas and the priest laughingly said “nothing.”  What I heard was that we need to accept that somethings will not go away, chief of those being human stupidity.  Rather than try to fight or inform every poor soul on the earth, we need to simply be as loud and proud about what we are as the stupid and violent are about themselves.

We who understand the ultimate vitality of doubt do need to organize and claim power from the violent and build a better world.  We also need a lot more compassion, justice and equity in human relations, and to affirm the web of existence.  I think that someone, not Larry Charles, could have used Bill Maher to say that much more effectively, and without all that grainy stock footage of cheesy religious films.

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July 14, 2008

Phew 2!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:18 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

The second most striking thing for me about the Pew Center Religious Landscape results is their decision to place us in the category of “Other.” Not “Other Christian” (as we have generally been listed for most of the past century of sociological studies) not “Other World Faiths” but a strange border category of “Other Faiths;” and most of us seem to find this  perfectly acceptable.  It speaks to me of our changing identity, which is never fully formed from within, no matter how lovingly we work at our congregational “mission and vision statements.”  

In recent decades we have been dedicated to growing “our movement.”  Part of that effort has been a clarification of our “core” and that, I think has put us on a crossroads.  We are determining, some of us consciously, and others unknowingly, if we are to be a liberal religious movement or a liberal religion. 

For a long time Unitarians especially, but also most American Universalists, have insisted that “we” are not another “denomination,” that is: just another variety of Christian.  In part we avoided that label because in connoted a distinct creed and we were non creedal, but more than that we sought to draw on the living “Truth” rather than any human denomination of it.  In fact many, even Ministers, referred to us simply as “Liberal Religion,” as if we were all the liberal religion in the world.  In the 1800s we were primarily liberal Christian.  Interfaith work expanded that identity through the 20th cent. until we began to see religious liberals in Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Existetialist, and even Muslim forms. 

The result was that we created places that promoted certain values in the world; nice communities to be sure, but with a rather vage “liberal” identity.  Thus, it did not matter so much if we created more U, and then UU congregations or even more U or UU people. What mattered was if we established and nurtured the values of justice, equity and compassion, openmindedness, and reason in the world.  It did not matter if 90% of our youth left our churches never to return, what mattered was that our children were kind and educated: willing to work for peace and justice and a healthy environment. (I even know of a member of a UU curchwho did not mind at all that her son had decided to go along withhis wife and have a Catholic wedding or raise their children with a Catholic identity.  But when he said he was thinking of voting Republican she became unhinged.)  As long as there was a general liberal secular culture and liberalism in mainstream religious societies we could ride easy on the waves of culture. 

But if we are to be more than an embodyment of Liberal Religion, and are to become A Liberal Religion, then what is unique to us will have to grow in importance.  Our rituals will have to take on a stamp all our own and spiritual depth will be described as UU interpretations of ancient concepts rather than liberalized borrowings.  Above all we will have to see our young adult children not joining a UU church as a failure or an insult or rejection rather than an inevatablility.  We will become not just an “other” religious movement, but a true alternative religion.  We could still serve the larger cause of liberal religion, but as one of its children rather than as its presumptive head.  Someday we might even move from ‘other religions’ to ‘world religions.’  I don’t know for sure, but I think the Pew Survey is one more mark of a turn in our history from mere liberalism to UUism.  I know this path has its dangers.  But it excites me to think that we might someday be even more than 0.3% of the world, because if what we say is true, then we and the world will all truly be changed for the better.

July 11, 2008

Phew!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:48 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

The wonderful thing about the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey results is that they proclaim for all to see that we are not that special.  Our attitude of tolerance as one religion among many for example: 70% of all respondents, and 57% of Evangelical Christians (!) say that there is more than one path to “eternal life.”  Now maybe some of those evangelicals were saying that eternal life means eternal damnation and suffering, but I think it means that most are open to the idea that there are many paths to God and Heaven.  Nationally most people have accepted that there are many ways to interpret their own religions.  So diversity and inclusively are everywhere.

What I have long maintained is that we UUs are wrong when we make no distinction between UUism and liberal religion in general.  “We” talk as if our commitment to “freedom, reason and tolerance” are “so unique,” and we do come up some 20 or more percentage points above everyone else on most liberal religious questions.  But we are not liberal religion, it is everywhere.

Now we can keep pretending that we are the “one true” expression of liberal religion, or we can continue the work we have begun of shaping ourselves into a faith, rather than the anteroom to faith.  We must struggle with these questions: “What is different about us?”   “What do we keep of our Channing and Murray roots and what have we given up?”  “What practices and rituals are truly ours and no longer mere liberal reinterpretations and borrowings from Protestantism (or Native American traditions, etc.)?”  What is the difference between a UU Buddhist and just a Buddhist, what is the difference between a UU Pagan and a Pagan, or a UU Christian and all other Xians?” And above all we should answer “Why should anyone be active in a UU church?” Since answering that question will answer why those 200,000 who say they are UU but aren’t in our churches, should be.