Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Journey To The Center of UUism

David Bumbaugh has presented -- to several audiences now -- a document that talks about Unitarianism and Universalism, their merger, theological issues in that merger... opportunities missed (or delayed) and, as if that weren't enough, offers an observation and a proposal about views that lie at the very core of Unitarian Universalism.

It would be sad to let that remain something heard by groups here and there (and vigorously discussed by some), and Rev. Bumbaugh views the whole document as something that is "in the public realm, intended to be used to promote whatever discussion seems fruitful." So, I'm taking this excerpt of it and offering it for consideration and discussion, as well as offering some of my own thoughts and comments.

While we proudly proclaim the great diversity among us, every study I have seen of Unitarian Universalists suggests that our diversity rests in a powerfully homogeneous core of shared beliefs and attitudes. Indeed, the studies suggest that at the core we are far less diverse than many other religious groups. Let me suggest to you some of the content of that core:

We believe that the universe in which we live and move and have our being is the expression of an inexorable process that began in eons past, ages beyond our comprehension and has evolved from singularity to multiplicity, from simplicity to complexity, from disorder to order.

We believe that the earth and all who live upon the earth are products of the same process that swirled the galaxies into being, that ignited the stars and orbited the planets through the night sky, that we are expressions of that universal process which has created and formed us out of recycled star dust.

We believe that all living things are members of a single community, all expressions of a planetary process that produced life and sustains it in intricate ways beyond our knowing. We hold the life process itself to be sacred.

We believe that the health of the human venture is inextricably dependent upon the integrity of the rest of the community of living things and upon the integrity of those processes by which life is bodied forth and sustained. Therefore we affirm that we are called to serve the planetary process upon which life depends.

We believe that in this interconnected existence the well-being of one cannot be separated from the well-being of the whole, that ultimately we all spring from the same source and all journey to the same ultimate destiny.

We believe that the universe outside of us and the universe within us is one universe. Because that is so, our efforts, our dreams, our hopes, our ambitions are the dreams, hopes and ambitions of the universe itself. In us, and perhaps elsewhere, the Universe is reaching toward self-awareness, toward self-consciousness.

We believe that our efforts to understand the world and our place within it are an expression of the universe’s deep drive toward meaning. In us, and perhaps elsewhere, the Universe dreams dreams and reaches toward unknown possibilities. We hold as sacred the unquenchable drive to know and to understand.

We believe that the moral impulse that weaves its way through our lives, luring us to practices of justice and mercy and compassion, is threaded through the universe itself and it is this universal longing that finds outlet in our best moments.

We believe that our location within the community of living things places upon us inescapable responsibilities. Life is more than our understanding of it, but the level of our comprehension demands that we act out of conscious concern for the broadest vision of community of we can command and that we seek not our welfare alone, but the welfare of the whole. We are commanded to serve life and serve it to the seven times seventieth generation.

We believe that those least like us, those located on the margins have important contributions to make to the rest of the community of life and that in some curious way, we are all located on the margins.

We believe that all that functions to divide us from each other and from the community of living things is to be resisted in the name of that larger vision of a world everywhere alive, everywhere seeking to incarnate a deep, implicate process that called us into being, that sustains us in being, that transforms us as we cannot transform ourselves, that receives us back to itself when life has used us up. Not knowing the end of that process, nonetheless we trust it, we rest in it, and we serve it.

This faith statement is not a creed. (Perhaps we might attach to it the historic Universalist Freedom Clause: Neither this nor any other form of words will be used among us as a creedal test.)
Faith statement? And yet... I find nothing there that I can't agree with or accept. I think that he's managed to sidestep the endless, probably pointless, and generally useless discussions that pit theism and atheism and batter at each other--something that I've come to view as the current Unitarian Universalist version of the (possibly mythical) medieval discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Is that close enough for it to serve as a faith statement for the movement? If not, why not--and what would have to be changed for it to be... not perfect, but acceptable?


ScottMGS said...

Someone who disagrees with significant portions of that will probably feel pretty uncomfortable listening to UU sermons and participating in a UU congregation. Are you (or Rev. Brumbaugh) suggesting that we should be up-front with our non-creed creed?

ogre said...

As an expression of our not-creed, yes, Scott.

"Things Commonly Believed Us" is the title of William Channing Gannett's proposal to the Western Unitarian Conference in 1887.

While that's become out of date for us, the idea that we need to identify, label and present that--for ourselves and others--isn't.

David's certainly suggesting it. I think he's right.

Reading that, it's clear he's not expressing what we believe -- in the sense of what the consequential beliefs are that various of us derive and adhere to. But it's an expression of the beliefs that we share that ARE expressed in just about all the UU belief-systems I've run into.

Steve Caldwell said...

Ogre wrote:
I think that he's managed to sidestep the endless, probably pointless, and generally useless discussions that pit theism and atheism and batter at each other--something that I've come to view as the current Unitarian Universalist version of the (possibly mythical) medieval discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin."


Speaking as an atheist individual, I don't find anything objectionable in David Bumbaugh's description of the core of Unitarian Universalism.

What he is describing is a form of reverent humanism that doesn't mention god but doesn't deny god either -- leaving room for ambiguity and individual differences in belief.

If an atheist wanted a document that said there was no god or gods, he/she would not be satisfied with this.

If a theist wanted a document that explicitly affirmed a belief in god, he/she would not be satisfied either.

David P. said...

I played a recording of Brumbaugh saying this for my mostly UU-Pagan Fellowship this past May, and they absolutely *LOVED* it.

Chalicechick said...

My question would be "Can we gets some non-UU liberal Christians and Reform Jews and pagans, etc, etc and see if THEY agree with it? If they do, what makes it ours?"


ogre said...

CC, so what if others *also* agree with it?

Does it only describe what's shared at our core if no one else agrees with it?

(That's not true of Christianity (for example); there are untold numbers of sects that recite the Nicene Creed--and refuse to accept each other. They share a core... and yet insist that they're not the same as those other folks, and we accept, acknowledge, respect that--and can even understand the why (even if the why seems silly and even petty to us)).

Why is it OURS (assuming we can accept it as such)? Because it's an articulation of what a very long-term UU minister and academic observes as being that thing AND proposes it to US, as such.

If it floats some other people's boats as well, great. Maybe they're UUs. Or maybe THEY need to go about explaining why despite agreeing with it, they're NOT. (Not my problem!)

It doesn't claim to be the summary description of all UUism in detail. It claims to be a description of (some of) what lies at our core and which we share. Which is what any number of people have been begging for in recent years.

We don't have to define everyone (else) out. We only have to describe ourselves. They're welcome inside the circle we draw, or can figure out why they refuse to be.