Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Plumbing the depths

"The old watchwords of liberalism – freedom, reason and tolerance – worthy though they be, are simply not catching the imagination of the contemporary world. They describe a process for approaching the religious depths, but they testify to no intimate acquaintance with the depths themselves. If we are ever to speak to a new age, we must supplement our seeking with some profound religious findings."

O. Eugene Pickett


OK, ya'll have helped me articulate what it is I really want to say.

The foundation, and central purpose, of religion is for people to go deeper within themselves. To live a transformed life through our acquaintance with the religious depths. Committing to this process involves learning to pay attention, to quieten our busyness, to open to something greater than our ordinary selves.

I accept, joyfully, a diversity of experiences and languages in these religious depths. I'm happy for any atheist to join in a Unitarian community dedicated to this purpose. But I'm not prepared to accept that this commitment to the inner journey is optional or unimportant. It is central and necessary.

If someone involved in this journey doesn't want to use the language of traditional religion, and calls themself a religious humanist, then that's fine. But I think I want to challenge humanism to come up with a more articulate language to deal with these things, and to be able to dialogue with other languages around these things. I don't think humanism has such a language at the moment and so where it predominates I think it tends to create communities that are unable to deal with the religious depths.

8 Comments:

Anonymous A said...

Ok, this I'll give you.

Freedom, reason and tolerance are how we do it, but what we do is something more than that? Seems like a good idea to me.

10:40 pm  
Anonymous Himeringo said...

Stephen, I've also been thinking about this conundrum for the past couple of days and I think that you hit the nail on the head.

Spirituality not optional in any religion. Any humanist who has a problem with this shouldn't be going to church, not even a Unitarian one.

3:23 pm  
Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Himeringo wrote:
-snip-
"Spirituality not optional in any religion. Any humanist who has a problem with this shouldn't be going to church, not even a Unitarian one."

I suppose it depends on how narrowly one defines "spirituality."

If one defines spirituality so narrowly that only those who are theists or those who believe in a supernatural element in religion can be considered to be "spiritual," then we have a problem here.

If that is happening, I guess that you may be asking for Unitarian Universalist humanists, atheists, and agnostics to leave Unitarian Universalism.

However, I don't think we need to be that limiting and narrow when we use the word spirituality.

1:07 am  
Anonymous himeringo said...

If one defines spirituality so narrowly that only those who are theists or those who believe in a supernatural element in religion can be considered to be "spiritual," then we have a problem here.

If that is happening, I guess that you may be asking for Unitarian Universalist humanists, atheists, and agnostics to leave Unitarian Universalism.


I must admit that I get annoyed if people start asking questions such as "How can we pray without offending the atheists in our congregation?".

If some atheists do get offended by prayer in a Unitarian church then yes, I do think they don't belong there.

Of course I'm talking about the UK.

12:34 am  
Anonymous A said...

I must admit that I get annoyed if people start asking questions such as "How can we pray without offending the atheists in our congregation?".

Why? Treating it as a non-rhetorical question, I think it's a good one. It's is asking how we can authentically be ourselves - and that includes all of us, theist and atheist.

We should frequently consider how we use prayer, both the language we use, and the concepts and ideas that we pray about. E.g. "Let us pray for those people of all faiths who are committed to religious freedom" is a poor choice because it needlessly excludes those people without faith who are also committed to religious freedom.

@Steve
I agree. Spirituality, should be as wide as the open sea - and when it is, I find there's room for me.

1:39 pm  
Blogger Jaume said...

There is a difficulty in communication that is more cultural than spiritual about humanists and religion and which is probably underneath this discussion. In the USA, and partly thanks to the American Unitarian church, a branch of humanism is described as "religious". In Europe there is a cultural clash between those who reject the supernatural or any non-scientific view of the world, and established religion, since the times of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. There is a mental barrier that separates the two groups, and this separation is not going to change in the near future. In Europe, Unitarians have a better chance to grow among "non-practising believers" than among atheists or among those millions who have lost interest in organized religion (or consider it a threat for our secularized societies).

9:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if growing is all you're concerned about, that is...

1:56 pm  
Anonymous mike killingworth said...

Well, if we had the money (which we don't) we could commission market research to find out whether our offer is more attractive to disenchanted Anglicans etc or questing agnostics. And then cut our cloth accordingly.

Since we don't, our congregations and ministers have to proceed on blind faith. A process with which some will be more comfortable than others...

The following story may be of interest. Last Saturday, David Usher held a training day for lay service leaders in the London & South Eastern District in the course of which we were given ten minutes to prepare a three minute service! Not one of us included prayer - althout invitations to meditate were more common than not.

On the assumption that lay preachers know which way the wind is blowing, this suggests to me that there is little appetite for a practice which projects God externally, but rather for one which invites us to find the divine essence within ourselves.

It is of course a view which is radically utilitarian in respect of the purpose of religious community - we come together, it says, to meet our individual needs, and for no other purpose.

If this is indeed a straw in the wind then searching questions as to the future of ministry (and in particular of what is appropriate ministerial training) follow as a matter of urgency.

10:54 pm  

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