Monday, January 28, 2013

Reading Buehrens/Parker - On what do we base our faith?

In part four of A House For Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century, Rebecca Ann Parker and John Buehrens write about "Foundations" the basis for belief in God.

There is the story of John Buehrens asking atheists "What God is it that you don't believe in?" that seems to get to the crux of the issue. People of the books say that God is "revealed" in the scripture and that very scripture warns against idolatry.

The psychologists tell us that everyone believes in something whether they are aware of it or not. Everyone has a motivating understanding of life that gives their lives meaning whether it is money, sex, family, drugs, work. As humans we have our gods which we worship and devote our lives to.

On Beliefnet where there is the "Belief - O - Matic", the 20 question quiz which helps people select a religion which best matches his/her beliefs, the first question is:

What is the number and nature of the deity(ies)?
1. Only one God - a corporeal spirit (has a body), infinite, supreme, personal; the Creator.

2. Only one God - a incorporeal spirit (no body), infinite, supreme, personal; the Creator.

3. Multiple personal gods (or goddesses) regarded as facets of one God, and/or as separate gods.

4. The supreme force is the impersonal Ultimate reality (or life force, ultimate truth, cosmic order, absolute bliss, universal soul), which resides within and/or beyond all.

5. The supreme existence is both the eternal, impersonal, formless Ultimate reality, and personal God (or Gods).

6. No God or supreme forces. Or, not sure. Or, not important.

7. None of the above.

My guess is that most Unitarian Universalists will pick 4, 6, or 7.

Parker supports North Whitehead's  ideas of God which are called process theology. She writes on page 105, "Rooted in science, reason, and intuition, process theology provides a way of understanding the existence of God that progressive theology can embrace in the twenty-first century". Process theology sees God as the force working for creation in an ongoing way. It focuses on becoming rather than being.

Parker writes a little further on page 106 "God's beauty shimmers, dances, melts, and flows. The angels circle up and down on Jacob's ladder. We set up marking stones at the epiphany places and build our theological houses. Meanwhile, God invites us to open the door and cross the threshold into mystery."

As Jesus asked his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" the number of people, especially young people, skip the question by replying that they are "spiritual" and not "religious". The so called "nones", the fastest growing segment of the population in the United States deny any religious identification and affiliation. The mythic stories told by the mainline denominations and religions fail to gain their allegiance and adherence. There is nothing there that they can identify with. These mythic stories are considered irrelevant to their experience and so they eschew participation. 

So what do these "nones" believe? My guess is that they believe in a moral life that is secular and humanistic and their fellowship is derived from being sport fans, music fans, and consumers of a materialistic culture which constantly tells them that their search for immediate gratification can be met with a pecuniary purchase. This is the American way, a way they deeply believe in, it having been preached to them by politicians and corporations since the days of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

What is it, if anything, which Unitarian Universalism has to offer them that is relevant, meaningful, empowering? The perennial theology of Unitarian Universalism drawn from the six sources is too pedantic, and the seven principles too pedestrian. Unlike Parker's endorsement, it seems that process theology doesn't quite capture the heart with sufficient inspiration either. What will be the foundation for a vibrant, viable faith in the Twenty-first century is yet to be defined and described. The meta-narrative is yet to be developed and disseminated. It will have something to do with Love of all living things and stewardship of the planet.


  1. We live in a different age and revelation is manifest in the world not in some book. Mainstream protestant churches haven't caught on to the fact that the book doesn't do it any more.

  2. I think Kurt Vonnegut's fictitious religion of Bokononism has a lot to recommend it especially its idea of "foma" which is harmless untruths aimed at exposing the futility of our delusions of power, reminding us of webs of connection in the most unlikely places. Gregory Sumner in his book about Vonnegut and his novels entitled "Unstuck In Time" writes: "At its core it (foma) is a distillation of Vonnegutian humanism:'Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.'"

    Most of the foundations of religious belief are foma - shit that has just been made up to make people feel better, give them some explanation for life experience that otherwise scares them and gives agents of the dissemination of this foma power and money. Stupid people in large numbers are invincible and have brought upon huge catastrophes like the holocaust and global warming. So we need to be more careful in choosing the foma we subscribe to. The nones have opted out of the traditional foma and its institutions which probably is a very good thing for the future of homo sapiens on this planet.

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