I was taken aback. No one had ever asked me this question before. And I had never really considered the answer. Despite the fact that I was at seminary, I had never been asked to articulate my theology. I wasn't even sure what the question meant, to be honest. I didn't quite understand the distinction between the question "What is your theology?" and "What is your religion?"
"I'm a Unitarian Universalist..." I stammered.
"Yes," he pressed, "but what is your theology?"
I have no idea what I said next.
I was 24, just entering seminary. I had had only a couple of years as an adult in our congregations, as I had dropped out of UUism in college (too far to walk, no programs for young adults--a common story). But I was a life-long UU, and had gone through a coming-of-age program and participated in adult religious education programs. I wasn't new to the religion. But I was new to the concept of examining one's theology. The question scared me. Was he going to criticize my beliefs? Was it okay to believe what I believed? Did the word "theology" mean something much more advanced than I had to offer? I had explored a little Paganism, and was calling myself an agnostic, but I didn't know much about Humanism at all yet.
In the book Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century, Paul Rasor writes, "Even calling yourself a humanist or an atheist doesn't say much about you. To understand your theology, others need to know things like: What sort of God do you reject? Do you find any directionality or purpose in the universe or in evolution? What sorts of normative claims do you make about the way society should be structured, and where do they come from? Saying you affirm justice for all is nice, but what social arrangements count as just, and who gets to decide? These are important questions in any theology."
Over the course of seminary I did learn to articulate my theology, and to examine it deeply, of course. But UUs shouldn't have to go to seminary to find that sort of exploration. Of course, we do it in courses like "Building Your Own Theology" by Richard Gilbert, or in our own private reading. But there needs to be more in our churches to help us examine our beliefs, articulate them, and live them. In our closing song we sing, "Go now and live your religion" at UUCEL, but what is our religion exactly?
A few months ago, we had the opportunity to present on atheism and agnosticism at the Jackson Interfaith Forum. I, along with two of our members, talked with people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds about atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. Several more members attended and chimed in, as well. It was a great example of having to articulate our theology, but also of opening ourselves up to challenge, to the questions and doubts of others. That kind of exercise, if our faith is a solid one, will only grow faith, not tear it down. I'm hoping this coming year, as I think about fall from the solitude of my "study leave," will include many more opportunities for this kind of dialogue and examination of theology for our members and for myself. It's now 12 years since I started seminary, and one thing I do know: the exploration is never over.
This guy says on his webpage that he's not religious, but clearly watching his video is, for some, a spiritual experience. And, for others, it's funny, too!
"Let it be a dance we do..."
This past Sunday we had a labyrinth walk following the church service at church. Many people participated, and I found that the labyrinth appealed to young and old, Christian, Pagan, and Humanist. It's amazing how this simple tool can be used and appreciated by such diverse groups of people. There are several people who expressed an interest in having a labyrinth permanently on our grounds, and we have the space for it, if we could figure out how to do it so that it would be able to be easily maintained, mowed over, and parked over, and inexpensive. Those are hard hurdles, but not insurmountable.
Meanwhile, on the same day, a couple of our members and I presented on atheism and agnosticism at the Jackson Interfaith Discussion Group. We spent a lot of time in question and answer. The questions included the usual ones that I've gotten at things like this, such as: What keeps you from doing evil, without a belief in God? and Without God, how do you explain the Big Bang starting? But the questions also took us a lot deeper, into areas I find more fascinating: Is belief or disbelief something you can choose? How does one come by faith or lack of it? How do atheists define God? Do atheists beleive in a soul? In universal truth?
Of course, in true Unitarian Universalist style, the answer to "Do _______s believe ________?" is always, "Well, some do and some don't." But that's part of the point I was trying to make, that atheism is not monolithic. There are all sorts of different types of atheists and agnostics. And they include people who would not say that they are religious, and people who are part of a religion. And, as we see all the time in our churches, people who would say both of those things!
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." - Walt Whitman
Here's the one where he says, "God damn America":
Here's the one where he says, "America's chickens are coming home to roost."
Here's Jeremiah Wright talking with Bill Moyers:
The first part of the Press Club Q&A. The speech is worth watching in its entirety, but I'm not putting up all the links.
A piece of the speech at the Detroit NAACP. Also worth watching in its entirety.
A member sent me this link to a radio piece on "Exploring the New Humanism" http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/p