Excluding Exclusion

June 28, 2006

Every statement you make has a dark side (cue scary music). That is, every statement a group makes about itself inherently opens the possibility for exclusion. The Introduction to Liberal Christianity I have been mulling over is no exception.

If we are serious about radical inclusion then this must be faced.

One solution to this problem is to make no group statements – We believe becomes I believe.

Dave Marshall expressed this well in the comments for my last post, when he said that the Introduction should “ought to reflect where you happen to be. Not necessarily written in the first person, but not attempting to put anyone else’s view for them.”

I could (somewhat provocatively) call this the Thatcher solution – there is no such thing as society. Like Thatcher’s comment, it is obviously true at a certain level. People exist in an entirely different way to the way something abstract like a society exists.

What concerns me, though, are questions like: If a group cannot make a group statement, then how can it make a group action? And at a more fundamental level, without a group statement can there be a group language and without a group language how can we talk to each other?

(Random thought – maybe we don’t need a creed but a lexicon?)

Another solution is to ground our groupiness in praxis – in shared ritual rather than shared stories. Groups that have tried this approach: ECUSA (mass), Quakers (silence), UU (to a lesser extent, though turning up at a building every Sunday is a group ritual). But all of these groups face seem to face problems if no one can give a group answer when people ask “Why do we do this ritual? Why is this ritual meaningful?”; which is one reason why I’m skeptical about the possibility of a religious group without a core story.

Yet another solution is to accept the unfortunate reality that exclusion will happen, and attempt make the pain of exclusion as minimal as possible. The pain of exclusion from the medieval Roman Catholic Church was intense (very intense if we include the pain of being burnt at the stake). A city with many religious faith groups, ranging from liberal to conservative, Catholic, protestant, Muslim, Jewish etc, has a lesser pain of exclusion – you can always go up the road to a church or mosque whose story you can identify with. But there is still pain; leaving family, friends. Even a church which formally allows variation of faith within itself usually has a core story, either expressed or culturally implied, which will cause pain to those left out of it (and I note the important difference between allowing doubt and allowing difference in beliefs).

And of course the most common solution is to say “We know the Truth, if you reject the Truth then it’s at your own risk. Any exclusion that happens is not our problem but yours and as soon as you realise we are Right then you can come crawling back to us.” But it’s not a solution I’m particularily fond of.


Aha! Links!

June 27, 2006

A golden rule of computing is “When all else fails, read the manual.” Or in this case the FAQ.

Links only show up in the list if they are in a category! One new category called “Links” duly created.

More links coming.

I’ve been doing some more thinking on the issue of an introduction to liberal Christianity. I haven’t found anything online yet, which let me to think – what exactly I am I looking for?

Two important threshold questions: Firstly, whose beliefs are being introduced; and secondly, who are they being introduced to?

In essence I’m looking for a conversation. Who are the participants?

Any liberal religious group, that is a group which allows variety of belief and encourages personal seeking by individuals, will have a large number of differing theologies. I have my own personal belief system; it has a number of overlaps with other peoples; but obviously won’t be the same. Also I will place differing levels of important on issues – universalism is more important to me than whether or not we should think of God in a unitarian or trinitarian manner, for example. So should an introduction only introduce common elements, or should it present a number of differing approaches, or should it pick one approach and stick to it only?

Secondly, who are we introducing our faiths to? The message must be tailored to the audience – it is no good talking about “unitarian ecclesiology” to anyone who isn’t already knowledgeable about Christian theological jargon. (Hmm, it is ever any good talking about “unitarian ecclesiology”?)

Some obvious options:

– Unchurched: people without a specific attachment to a religion who may or may not have had some exposure to traditional believe-in-Jesus-or-hell Christianity
– Non-liberal Christian: people with a working knowledge of the common themes of Christianity, but not from a liberal or unitarian or univeralist perspective.
– Other faith: people with attachments to other faith paths such as Islam, Buddhism or paganism
– Liberal Christian: someone who would identify with beliefs close to mine

Learning WordPress

June 23, 2006

Well, I’ve changed my template from “Rubric 1.0” to “Simpla 1.01” by Phu Lym, which I think is less harsh – more serif font. What does everyone think?

Putting together a website is really easy nowdays!

What I can’t seem to do is get a list of links over on my sidebar. I’ve dragged the ‘links’ tab to what I think is the right position, but nothing comes up! Oh well, I’ll keep trying.

Back in January, Stephen Lingwood from the UK who blogs lots of interesting stuff from a UK Unitarian perspective as Reignite asked:

I’ve been thinking about how I would explain my faith to someone. If a Unitarian came to me who was non-Christian or even quite anti-Chrisitan and asked me about my faith as a Unitarian that follows Jesus, I’m wondering what book I could point them to.

I would like there to be a book that was a very simple introduction to Christianity, like a confirmation book, but one that was a liberal and somewhat Unitarian. An inspirational little book about simply following Jesus and loving God, not about believing in a number of strange old doctrines.

I don’t want anything like John Spong that spends a good amount of time slagging off conservative Christianity. I want a simple introduction to a liberal Christian faith, from the point of view of someone coming from no Christian background.

I’ve just felt like I needed to refer to a book like that in conversations I’ve had to better articulate what I stand for.

Any ideas anyone?

I’ve been in this situation before too. For all my admiration for Jack Spong, his books are written to jolt the reader into seeing things differently; and the reader is presumed to be coming from a very different place to where most of the people I meet are. He wants Christians to see Christianity differently.

I’ve tried lending people books by older theologians who wrote for a mainstream audience like Harry Fosdick, but the language and presentation is too old. People can’t get past the tone.

So, I am looking for, in Stephen’s words “a very simple introduction to Christianity, like a confirmation book, but one that was a liberal and somewhat Unitarian. An inspirational little book about simply following Jesus and loving God, not about believing in a number of strange old doctrines”. I would personally add, a book which is Universalist too; because one of the main images people have of Christians is hellfire and silence on that issue will be read to be assent.

Or, since we live online nowdays, a website.

Other Christian’s have these sorts of things – check out Two Ways to Live or christianity.net.au – but I’m not going to be handing out those addresses to friends and family any time soon.

The good thing about a website is that you can present your message fractally (simple up front but you can zoom in on it, and as you do more detail comes into view) and non-linearly (you don’t have to force people into the old modernist pattern of a + b therefore c – as if you can logically bludgeon people into intellectual submission).

I don’t know if any US UU people like Scott Wells have anything they use or can link to?


Leviticus Morality

June 20, 2006

I read the comments of many people who draw distinctions between Jesus and the Old Testament, and Jesus and Paul. The Old Testament is full of massacres and harsh codes of law, whereas Jesus preached Love, they say. Paul was judgmental and focussed on sacrifice and the need to ‘believe’, whereas Jesus loved and included even Samaritan women.

There is truth in this – Jesus did preach Love and Inclusion, the Old Testament is full of massacres and injunctions against shellfish. But there is also danger.

The danger is to rip Jesus out of his context; a modern day act of Marcion. For me the Bible as a collection of books (a library, a biblioteca) is a story of gradual discovery. Jesus pointed his listeners to the Torah they already knew and said “Look, listen, it’s all here already – you were just looking at it the wrong way, stupido. Let all who have ears hear (that’s you, buddy)”.

In that light I present a passage from Leviticus, home of nasty quotes about gays, women, shellfish and slavery:

Leviticus 19:18
Love your neighbor as yourself


June 17, 2006

Once upon a time, there was a time where I had a friend.

And my friend did something which caused everyone I knew to shun and despise him.

It wasn’t a particularly bad thing, wasn’t something immoral. He didn’t steal money from orphans or defraud stockholders. He didn’t hate, or murder.

But no one would talk to him.

I was his friend and I should have stuck by him. So what if no one talked to him. I should have talked to him.

But I did not.

I was scared.

If I talked to him, everyone would shun and despise me.

So I turned my back on him when he called out my name.

To my friend: I am sorry.

Mark 14:66-72 “And he broke down and wept.”