Previous section (Rieux’s introduction)
[Rev. Church’s] Introduction
Page xxii (Church)
The broad notion of “faith” relied upon by Rankin and Church is certainly not in itself objectionable; but Rankin’s statement is obviously a response to those of us who see a conflict, and I’m uncomfortable with it. It seems to me unfair to hear people like me claim that “A conflicts with B,” to redefine A so that there is no conflict, and then to attack the proposition that there is one. It’s little more than trying to win an argument by changing the ground rules halfway through.
I. “Direct Experience” Source
Pages 5-6 (Church)
With Jesus, resurrection or no resurrection, that was demonstrably the case: He lived in such a way that his life proved to be worth dying for. ...
The power of [Jesus’] love, the penetrating simplicity of his teachings, and the force of his example of service on behalf of the disenfranchised and downtrodden are what is crucial.
The rest of the first paragraph states an interesting form of existentialism; I wouldn’t go quite so far as saying that “the fact that death is inevitable gives meaning to our love,” but again (as with the above definition) this is well within the bounds of a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
The remaining material contains, however, a few clear allegations of fact—not to mention rather controversial ones. To quote Mark Twain:
It is believed by everybody that while [the Christian god] was in heaven he was stern, hard, resentful, jealous, and cruel; but that when he came down to earth and assumed the name Jesus Christ, he became the opposite of what he was before: that is to say, he became sweet, and gentle, merciful, forgiving, and all harshness disappeared from his nature and a deep and yearning love for his poor human children took its place. Whereas it was as Jesus Christ that he devised hell and proclaimed it!Many UUs are, as Twain was, unconvinced that Jesus was “demonstrably” a good person at all. And as for what is “crucial,” I find it hard to ignore the amount of screeching Jesus does in the Gospels regarding Hell. Like Twain, I am not convinced that love or “service on behalf of the disenfranchised and downtrodden” are the central elements of Jesus’ character.
Which is to say, that as the meek and gentle Savior he was a thousand billion times crueler than ever he was in the Old Testament—oh, incomparably more atrocious than ever he was when he was at his very worst in those old days!
Meek and gentle? By and by we will examine this popular sarcasm by the light of the hell which he invented.
To be sure, Church has no obligation to agree with Twain or me, or to explain our concerns in any significant detail—but it would be nice if, in statements like these (and in an introduction to Unitarian Universalism), he did not abjectly ignore the existence of different UU viewpoints on the question. Not all UUs revere Jesus Christ.
Page 19 (Buehrens)
At the age of twenty-one, like many people, I had grown away from conventional religion. My mother had raised me a nominal Roman Catholic. My father, a former Protestant, had little use for religion at all. The failures of religion were clear to me. It fails existentially when it suppresses our individual questions and doubts and when it implies that our experience must fit some predetermined pattern. It fails socially when it becomes superficial, pleasingly aesthetic, or fashionably political. Yet I also knew that mere secular existence often does little better. I had a yearning for community and transcendent values.
The final sentence above is the first of several instances in this book where “secular” is used to mean “dull,” “meaningless,” “joyless,” etc. (“Mere secular” is a redundancy in A Chosen Faith.) Meanwhile, “secular” is never a positive word in this book; surely all this is troubling.
Page 35 (Buehrens)
“[T]here are religious dimensions to explore”—again, this is a far more controversial statement (what, precisely, does “religious” mean?) than either author would like to admit. Again, there are UUs aplenty who do not understand “religion” in the broad sense presumed by Buehrens’ claim. I have no problem with honest advocacy on either side of that issue—but this book ignores the existence of dissenting opinions on “religion,” “faith” and several other pieces of terminology entirely.
That controversy aside, consider the implication of the “religious dimensions to explore” statement on Buehrens’ earlier dismissal of “mere secular existence.” Doesn’t it follow from the comment here (he makes a similar point much more clearly in Chapter 10) that “mere secular existence” is impossible? So what exactly is he criticizing on page 19?
Page 36 (Buehrens)
In my experience, UUs who forthrightly understand that they don’t believe in God are well aware that liberal theologians have formulated notions of the divine that differ from mainstream theism. That’s fine, but Rev. Buehrens needs to learn that we UU atheists don’t accept those, either. With such liberal god-ideas we usually either (a) suspect they don’t exist or (b) don’t find it meaningful to apply the term “God” to them. Buehrens says not a word that demonstrates he understands that such a perspective is even possible.
By quoting Hammarskjöld in this context, Buehrens ties spiritual “death” to those same backward “I don’t believe in God” rubes—which is pretty offensive. Nearly as dehumanizing is the forthright assertion that any person who does not see her life as being “illuminated by ... a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason” has “die[d].” (By the way, in the passage Buehrens quotes, Hammarskjöld actually used the word "illumined," not "illuminated." As becomes much more evident later on in the book, the authors of A Chosen Faith are strikingly careless researchers.)
This passage gets the first red flag of the book because it is the first personal insult directed specifically at persons within UUism. This is the first clear sign from the authors that they find certain UUs’ belief systems entirely unacceptable, the Fourth UU Principle notwithstanding.
Next section (Chapters 5-6)