Monday, March 24, 2008

UU World column: Unfinished With Christianity

My latest column "Unfinished With Christianity" is up on the UU World web site. This would be a good place to post comments.


AL said...

I think that many UUs are unfinished with Christianity,
and even the Holy Bible.

I was surprised as a teenager when I began reading the Bible --
it is much different from the dozen verses that I learned in a Christian Sunday school.

One book that was most revealing to me was published in 1963:

It is available through
from PADRES (MA) for $3.99 in new condition and from LAKLAUGH (CA)for $1.75 in used condition -- (plus shipping.)

Olive Oyl said...

A book that I read that opened my eyes was actually the basis of an American Baptist minister when I was a teenager - "Was Jesus Married?" - an out of print book, but wonderful! Really helped my mother and I in our search for a religion we felt comfortable in, which I didn't find till my late thirties!

Anonymous said...

Dear Doug Muder and other UUs,
Interesting that some of us have been struggling with the same issues, some of us who were brought up Unitarian Universalist and did not necessarily reject another Christian religion in our youth.
Although I started out in a Methodist church in New England before the age of 4, by the time I was 5 my parents were taking us to the newly built Unitarian church in Palo Alto, California, in 1958. I remember learning about animal babies and stars and planets in Sunday school there, with no memory of Christian tradition (other than Christmas and Easter). It was when we returned to New England and attended the First Parish in Concord, Massachusetts, throughout the 1960, that I not only formed my identity as a Unitarian Universalist, but studied within our Sunday school what was virtually a several-year course on comparative religion. Highlights for me were receiving a Bible engraved in gold with my name on it after a year of Bible study in 1964; studying roots of monotheism, especially Aknaten; taking Sunday school classes on the Life and Teachings of Jesus with Reverend Robert Dale Richardson, Sr.; our sacred dance group; and of course enjoying the wild ride of the LRY and Rowe Camp during those same years. After some years of moving around from Mass. to Maryland, back to Harvard, then out to Washington, California, and finally Vancouver, British Columbia (since 1979), I maintained an interest in UU congregations. But I have been disappointed in the relative disregard for the Christian tradition on the west coast, and especially in the anti-American stance of the Canadian Unitarian Council (so we don't even receive the UU World any more). This act of Canadian autonomy may have been good for Canadian Unitarians, but it was isolating for me to lose an important connection to my own heritage, the UUA in Boston.
Yesterday (Easter Sunday) I could not even drag myself to a service that had nothing to do with Jesus, and in the past I have found it strange that a Unitarian church would celebrate Seder but not Maundy Thursday. I have an old hymnbook from the First Parish and delight in singing the same hymns that my cohorts at UCV rejected in order to become Unitarians. In other words, the Unitarian-Universalist tradition in which I was brought up was less different from my grandparents' protestantism than from modern Canadian Unitarian tradition. I have also embraced in my time some forms of Earth-based spirituality more akin to my Concord transcendentalist heritage (somewhat panentheistic; compare Thoreau and Emerson) than to Wiccan rituals. The question remains, how to integrate a deep Christian heritage with a modern outlook on the Earth as sacred? The difficulty is that our local congregation, although tolerant of diversity, consists of common strands of humanism and paganism and buddhist leanings, but lesser threads of UU christianity, and little connection to early New England theologians (instead aligning itself with British and European traditions, sans Christianity). The worst part for me is the intense anti-Americanism that also led to the ousting of my favorite minister here in Vancouver, Rev. Sydney Morris. We also had some time ago the opportunity to learn from the Rev. Sue Spencer, a feminist and Christian Unitarian Universalist who had trained partly at King's Chapel, and I am grateful to her for sparking investigations into our spiritual autobiographies. But as you say, the reluctance of UUs in general to discuss our Christian heritage makes it difficult for those of us who might like to. I end up singing hymns at home on Easter, not being able to bring myself to attend either a United Church or a Unitarian Church, feeling trapped in a crack between them, only somewhat redeemed by earthly nature's signs of spring. Meanwhile, the only folks who do want to discuss Biblical passages are the Jehovah's Witnesses, but I don't subscribe to their interpretations either. They dropped by today, and we did agree on a few things: the teachings of Jesus that include the golden rule and loving one's neighbor and enemies; and the utter waste and wrong of war. Loving thy neighbor includes treating the JWs with the same respect I would want within my own congregation, a challenging but necessary effort.
My own sense of Christianity of course has been colored by UU cynicism so it is usually with a twisted sense of humor that I regard my own theological and spiritual struggles. For example, to the now-popular question "What Would Jesus Drive?" my answer is: If His traditional ride--an ass ( Equus asinus --were not available, of course He would drive an El Camino, for didn't He say (John 14:6), in Spanish, "Yo soy El Camino, La Verdad, y La Vida"?
Jennifer Getsinger, Vancouver, BC 2008-03-24

vtdatawonk said...

I love your comfort with the ambiguity of "our" institutional relationship to Christianity. As someone who grew up in our culture, with Christianity as the normative theology, but who never felt any connection to Jesus, I find my growing interest in him perplexing. As I get older, I find (or fancy) that I get some sense of the radicalness of Jesus' teachings, beneath the layers of cultural, institutional, and historical muck.

I like the concreteness of Jesus as more than metaphor, but also the understanding of Christianity as the point around which our personal and institutional theologies evolve.


Matthew said...

I picture Christianity as a statue they have dredged up from an ancient shipwreck, with only a gleam here or there betraying the promise of what lies beneath.

This metaphor makes me uncomfortable because I come from a Christian tradition with deep roots in the American Restoration movement. There was a strong belief, and I think a destructive one, that said that Jesus had it right, and all the intervening generations mucked things up, and so all we have to do is clean off the muck and recover authentic Christianity.

Now, I think I would prefer to say that we in the west have the benefit of several thousand years of people trying to learn what the message of Jesus means, and so we see (or create) good and beautiful meaning in the message of Jesus that Jesus himself may not have intended, but is nonetheless potent and good.

Doug Muder said...


I understand your point, and don't disagree if we're talking about how to interpret Christianity today. But I think the metaphor is a pretty accurate reflection of what Channing et al. were writing. The idea "Jesus had it right, and then his message got mucked up" was pretty common among early Unitarians and Universalists.

Rebellion against the doctrines the trinity and the atonement were practically the definition of Unitarians and Universalists, and each of them taught that those doctrines were later additions.

Philocrites said...

Intriguingly, Doug and Matthew, a later generation of Unitarians stopped insisting on the original perfection of Christianity. The so-called "broad church" Unitarians of the later 19th century -- especially Frederick Henry Hedge and Henry Whitney Bellows -- argued that Christian history was itself revelatory, and that even those periods of church history that embraced doctrines and practices that offended later liberals may have contained valuable insights, at least for their own times. Unfortunately, their historically sympathetic, ecumenical vision of liberal Christianity didn't find traction in 20th century Unitarianism.

kim said...

Jordan -- You might be interested in reading The Five Gospels if you haven't already. It's the work of The Jesus Seminar in the form of the five gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas. It is re-translated into modern English, and they have hi-lighted what they think Jesus probably really said. It gives a view of Jesus as a political radical that is very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Wish there was a Unitarian church closer to me. I'm 86 years old, baptized in the Congregationalist chuch, an elder in the Presbyterian church, later an Episcopalian and happiest as a Quaker. But now I have just finished "god is not great" by Christopher Hitchens & find that I agree with most of it, though in my world God is Great! But "all religions are man-made", to quote Hitchens, and that explains a lot of what is wrong with the world. Imagine, if we all practiced our faith in private, acted out our beliefs to the best of our ability, and worked together to correct the problems that face us, no matter who we are or where we live. A believer in Love

tracy said...

Very well put. I wish obsessive,radical die hard christians would just stop and mediatate on the reality that what they have been told for generations is all man made. I always thought I was weird when I was 11 because jesus walking on water and coming back from the dead and God being this overpowering male dominant figure who would punish us if we did'nt follow the rules of a little black book....intuition told me otherwise and I felt like an outcast. So at 12, I became a Buddhist and later on a humanist,a pantheist,an agnostic,taoist among other paths.
My sentiments and beliefs are in tune with your comments....

Bye for now, new friend!

www. mypace. com/mrtracysmith

P.S.- I'm not yet ready to label myself atheist because I do believe in a universal life force that is imbedded in every living form and a balance of universal nature is present. Sometimes, it can manifest itself as love. If that's god then, so be it. I'm not a believer in a lordlike, king on the throne figure who has human qualities, though. Think Alanis Morrisette at the end of "Dogma" meets "Final Fantasy:The spirits within". Yeah, that's my "image of god".