Dear friends and readers of all sorts,
Today’s post is, well complicated, and says some things that may be uncomfortable to read or to think about or discuss, but it’s something I have been wrestling with as of late… so here goes….
“Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal religion.”
That’s one of the things one often hears when U.U.’s are trying to explain our religion to others. This is usually followed up by a discussion of the Principles and Sources. But the U.U. faith was born out of the complex intermingling of (very) liberal Christianity from Unitarian and Universalist streams of Christianity over the last 200 or so years, and intermingled in the 30’s through the 50’s with Humanism, then the U.U. faith was born in the 60’s and was then invigorated in the 70’s and 80’s with the influx of Paganism. We U.U.’s are a complex new people with some very diverse and ancient roots.
But, Christianity is there, sometimes waiting to be dealt with.
I am not the only Pagan to be wrestling with the big C lately, there were some rather virulent comment streams over at the Wild Hunt that led Jason to institute a Comments Policy… Cat at Quaker Pagan Reflections has mused a bit on Christian ways of viewing history through a rosy lens…. and Kayliegh at Kalisti: An Apple in Pandemonium recently mused about the persistence of ancient Paganism despite Christianity’s coming to power in ancient Rome…
For YEARS I have been decrying the knee-jerk anti-Christian bigotry one sometimes hears or sees expressed in Pagan community spaces. Over all, when it comes to those Pagans who can’t stop talking about their Christian pasts or upbringing and especially who cannot let go of or move past anger or grievance with Christianity, I have to agree with Cat Chapin-Bishop,
“But when you take the time and trouble to write, not of your encounters with the gods, nor even of your personal journey from Christianity to Paganism (for I note that most of the offenders on this one are ex- but not post-Christian) to give me news bulletins about how uniquely terrible the religion of Christianity is, perhaps I may be excused for wondering how much room you have in your spiritual life for your own gods, if you must spend so very much of your time howling at the gods of others?” ~ Cat Chapin-Bishop from her post Turning our Backs on Jesus: a humble request
Of course some of this is influenced by the fact that I wasn’t churched as a kid. My family prayed at the holidays but there wasn’t really any serious involvement with Christianity or a particular denomination. So I came to Witchcraft and Paganism with as clean a slate as it is possible to have living in a dominantly Abrahamic culture.
I was, as a Pagan and a Gay man, wary of the more radical and angry elements within Christianity but I also had dear friends who were Christians through whom I could see that there was goodness and decency to be found within the core message and practice of that faith if not in the words and actions of some of it’s loudest proponents and largest organizations. It was after reading Bishop John Shelby Spong‘s excellent books including Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, that I could acknowledge that had my life taken other directions I could have happily become a Christian. Reading that book was, at the time, a truly revelatory experience for me as it not only opened my eyes to the detailed history of the Bible as a text/tradition. It also opened my eyes and heart to a true understanding of how one could actually be a Christian and live a life of love and decency and compassion actually engaged with the Teachings credited to Jesus. Sadly, despite a number of both dear and decent friends who are Christians, I had somehow always viewed them as the rare exceptions. Especially in the face of the angry and narrow and hateful words and actions of so many many prominent Christians observed over the course of my lifetime.
Lately, I am realizing that a part of my spiritual journey in the moment is to explore my relationship with Jesus and his teachings. They from one of the Seven Sources of Unitarian Universalism after all, and have had some influence on contemporary Western culture as well.
This has been highlighted again and again for me in the last few months at moments in the services at F.U.C.O where a particularly Christian hymn is sung or where Christian teachings are being referred to in the Sermon. The need to explore and meditate on my relationship to Christ and Christian teachings was brought to the surface most strongly at the Solstice Service that the Pagan group at church Mystic Grove sponsored, it’s actually something like the 10th annual Solstice Service, but it was only recently taken up by the Grove, it was originally started by our previous minister! Gotta love a U.U. church!
Anyway, the Winter Solstice…
Somehow, in the busy rush of the Season, and with everything going on I had missed out on the fact that the Service was being held in our Fellowship Hall and not the Sanctuary. (Reasons of tradition and logistics at work there, although it’s gotten to be such a big event there is discussion of getting the Sanctuary for next year…) So I turned the corner into Gore Hall and saw that the Service was in the Fellowship hall and not the Sanctuary and at first I felt a disappointment. This disappointment kept getting deeper…
As I realized it later, that disappointment mingled with the general stress of the Holidays, and the stress of being my first Holiday season after the break up with The Big Guy, and somewhere along the way that sinking mood plumbed into some of my emotional depths… to where I have, over the years, stuffed a lot of anger and resentment over a lot of things…
At the time, all I knew was that I was seethingly angry! Full of opposition and resentment, I could not look across the courtyard to the Sanctuary without feeling a simmering resentment that Solstice was in Gore Hall (despite my later, confirmed, intellectual knowledge that there were probably good reasons of Tradition and Logistics for this…) and NOT the Sanctuary. I was in NO head space for ritual or services, and so I left and went over to the R.E. building to help set up for the potluck and the Solstice Bonfire Vigil.
I ended up having a good time that night, but I also knew I had to do a lot of thinking about that night.
Not a few days before I had thanked Reverend Roberta for her lovely sermon and how it had given Christmas to me as a religious holiday as a U.U., yet in the face of this strange dark and mercurial mood I was wrestling with I decided to forgo Christmas Eve Service.
It took some time for me to un-knot and untangle my feelings and thoughts, but I realized that I had pushed aside but not actually faced or dealt with my feelings of resentment and anger at Christianity and how some of it’s more fanatical branches attitude towards other religions and towards some segments of the population; and even more anger at how the more liberal branches don’t ever seem to me to be nearly loud enough in their condemnation of the bigotry and intolerance being perpetrated just as much in their name and their Gods name as in the name of the more fundamentalist and Talibanesque branches of Christianity….
In setting aside these strong feelings and opinions over the years, as “not fair” or “not worthy” or …something…, I wasn’t allowing myself to really feel the anger and the upset, I wasn’t really letting it go I was just stuffing it away somewhere where it could sit and fester and lurk within my mind and heart.
If there’s one lesson I have learned in the last few months as I have thrown myself back into spiritual practice and meditation like a drowning man for the shore, it’s that if something comes up, be it a thought or a feeling or whatever then you need to BE with it for a while before you can truly let it go. There can be something very important in those fleeting thoughts and feelings.
So I have been thinking about my own ambivalent feelings about Jesus and the Churches that have come from his teachings, the Unitarians and the Universalists had many things quite right even before some of them joined into this sea-changed something rich and strange that is Unitarian Universalism, in my humble opinion.
A kind a loving God would NOT send anyone to Hell.
Jesus need NOT have been divine in order to bear his God’s Message.
Christ’s teachings, of love and compassion are much more to the point of Christianity than any literal bible verse.
As far as I am concerned the only Word is Love, and everything else is a story or an allegory or a metaphor; so I guess I would have been a VERY liberal Christian had my life taken another path. If I would have gone to Christianity.
Yet still, I find myself feeling a little awkward about my own feelings and thoughts about Christianity. In a lovely and thoughtful post recently, Cat reminded folks that many if not most of those Christian ancestors of ours converted at the point of a sword. As a Pagan and a history buff and as an intelligent person I cannot deny the sad simple fact that one seldom discussed aspect of the history of the spread of Christianity is that it is a centuries long history of genocide against any and all who dissent or disagree or who stood in the way of whatever The Church and then later The Churches wanted.
Pagans and Christian Unitarians and Christian Universalists, all good heretics all in a row…
At the same time I must in fairness and honor admit that Christianity also brought us Bach and C.S. Lewis and Shakespeare and the U.S. Constitution and so many, many, wonderful things along with the baneful. One cannot, and SHOULD not, ignore the contributions of Christians in the efforts to end slavery, encourage women’s suffrage, stand up for civil rights, and to stand up for GLBT rights, to stand and fight for the separation of Church and State and Religious tolerance…
Lately, as I mentioned above, there have been some virulent and extreme and in some cases breathtakingly bigoted and hateful comments about Christianity made on some of the Pagan blog comment streams. Folks making sad and disturbing jokes about killing “ash-zombie’s” (as in Catholics observing Lent), and others who have discussed the evil and bigotry of Christianity and how Jesus and Jehovah are false Gods and Islam and Christianity are false religions… you know the exact same sort of stuff that they whine and freak out about when OTHER religions say the same sort of things about THEM?
So I spoke up…with only a touch of my usual (and in some circles and Circles infamous) zen-like calm…
Thanks ______ and ____________!
This whole comment thread has it all!
Ignorance (in behavior if not in education) and hatefulness and bigotry!
The complete dismissal of the validity of another religion.
The complete dismissal of the divinity of another religions god.
Even casual jokes about killing other people because of their religious beliefs!
Could you two PLEASE go vomit forth your hatred and bigotry elsewhere?
(Can you believe that people have called me, ME, reactionary?! I should turn the marrow in their bones to boiling lead…*)
So anyhow after a LOT of heated back and forth drama of the type that has erupted all to often on that forum lately someone asked…
“Pax, I don’t know much about you. I wonder if you’re chagrined, though, that your post opened up another of the running battles that, frankly, are getting kind of old here.”
And I responded…
“Pax, I don’t know much about you. I wonder if you’re chagrined, though, that your post opened up another of the running battles that, frankly, are getting kind of old here. ”
Yes, yes they are getting old.
Though I am not a Wiccan, I have chosen to base my faith and life as a Witch in large part on the ethical and moral teachings to be found within Doreen Valliente’s Charge of the Goddess. I strive to live a life of Beauty and Strength, Power and Compassion, Honor and Humility, and Mirth and Reverence. I strive and struggle, all the blessed time, to follow Her law “Love unto all beings…’ As She counsels in (what I personally consider to be) Divinely inspired poetry, I strive ever towards my highest ideals letting nothing stop me or turn me aside.
I would LOVE to not have this sort of thing going on here.
But when I see people making casual jokes about killing “ash-zombies” meaning Catholics and other Christians observing Lent (comment mercifully deleted, I would like to think because of my request); when I see people making casual comments about how Christians are all deluded or evil or hypocrites, or how Jesus and Jehovah are false Gods (which puts the Jewish people where exactly I wonder…), or how or how anyone who believes otherwise is also deluded or a fool…
How can I NOT stand up?
Especially believing in the power and Power of Words, to touch and transform minds, and hearts, and to touch and transform the very atoms and cells of all the worlds; when I see people wielding words of anger and encouraging the worst sort of casual bigotry… with the sort of jokes and comments that, were they directed at Pagans on a Christian forum would (and frequently do) result in outrage and apoplexy…
How can I NOT stand up against these things?
… Even as I wrestle with my own ambivalence about Christianity…
A lot of evil has been done in the name of Christianity over the centuries, and a lot of evil has been done by Christians. Does this truly balance the good done in the name of Christianity and by Christians. I believe so.
I know that even as militancy and extremism and fundamentalism run rampant in both Christianity and Islam, I know and can see that there are also Christian and Islamic people of decency and open-mindedness and tolerance and compassion and faith standing up against these tides.
There is good and bad in every faith, in every person. There is good and evil done in the name of all Gods at some point or another, people of every faith have done wrong unto another in the name of their faith or with the conviction that their faith somehow justifies it. I know these things and try my best to stand against intolerance, and ignorance, and hatred when I am confronted with them.
Yet still, there’s this guy at Church sometimes, and I’m a little weird-ed out by him…
A fairly obscure reference, for those not familiar with him, to the improving works of Sir Terry Pratchett