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Posted by on Oct 30, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

Dogma. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Liberal_BrainI’d hoped my UU church would be different.  And much of it was.  I’d hoped that it would anchor itself in the undisputed world revealed by science.  And that it would fight for progressive values like equality and sustainable living.  And it did.  I was further pleased that it rejected unjust dogmas of other traditions.  

But I was puzzled to find it went overboard:  the minister and many members seem to deny all dogma, even those of logic and nature.   Many of my UU friends left other traditions because of bad dogma.  In the process, they seem to have abandoned all of it.

There’s nothing wrong with dogma.  It just really matters what we are dogmatic about.  First, if our own values are to be meaningful, we must reject their opposites.   Second, we must accept physical facts.  These two values must underlie any other values we hope to hold.  Without them, our own claims have no meaning, and/or we are setting ourselves against nature.

Science is messy and provisional, but it is the best way we have to know about the world.  So, it is not dogmatic to teach our kids about gravity, vaccinations, nutrition and countless other scientific facts.  It is loving and responsible.  We can remain open to new findings, but we can’t pretend that we don’t know that hand-washing prevents disease or that poverty is a social ill.  There is a limit to how open-minded we can be while remaining true to our values.

For example, it is not dogmatic to tell people that they will die when their bodies stop functioning.  We know this as solidly as we know anything.  Asking ‘what happens after we die?’ is a medical question, not a spiritual or religious one.  It’s like asking ‘what happens after we eat?’.  It’s not a mystery.  Ask a doctor and you’ll get a rather full answer.  The only reason we inject mystery into these questions is that we don’t like the obvious.

When it comes to God and the afterlife, many UUs sound like this poor woman:

Wife, on finding her husband in bed with another woman:  “What are you doing?”

Husband:  “Sleeping with your best friend”.

Wife:  “Well, who’s to say?  Whatever you’re doing, please make the bed when you’re finished.”

I hope you can see the problem.  If we are to be credible in any of our work, we must hold certain lines.  If we object to discrimination against gays, we must reject any God who is complicit in that matter.  If we say we accept science, we must admit death is the end.  Most of the UUs I know are brave and energetic activists.  But in certain areas, they wilt.  It’s a pragmatic response and it is well-intentioned.  But there is a limit to pragmatism, a place where it runs into our other values.  An example:

There is a stalled resolution in the US Congress to recognize that the Armenian genocide happened.  Everyone agrees it happened, but Secretary of State Clinton assured Turkey that the White House opposes the resolution declaring everyone knows it happened.  And that’s where it stands.

If you’re not Armenian, you may have a hard time getting worked up over this.  Until you realize that, Armenian or not, you’re a human being.  But then you further recall you’re an American and that Turkey is a key ally which controls key military routes.  So, you’re in a bind.  Your values have collided with your pragmatism.

Is this an apt comparison?  Well, it seems any God would be implicated not only in the Armenian genocide (by making it possible) but in every other instance of injustice and suffering.  This is perhaps religion’s greatest achievement:  keeping alive the idea that an all-loving God is a possibility.  It’s not.  It’s ruled out.  Any God who can help us does not do so equally.  To continue to make room for a loving God is to avert our eyes, to fix our gaze so that we can’t see the obvious.

What we should do in these situations is often a tough call.  But we ought to ask who is our pragmatism benefiting?  Real believers aren’t impressed when a UU makes room for God or the afterlife.  UUs firmly reject the red-meat Creator God who gave heart defects and mental illness to some, and fulfilling lives to others.  Believers know that the only god a UU is making room for is an airy Spirit of Life or Ground of Being.  On the afterlife, we have a similar situation.  No UU believes God has prepared bliss for some and fire for others.  When a UU believes in the afterlife, it’s not union with Yahweh.  At most, it’s a dim hope of continuity of consciousness, or mere recycling.  Returning our atoms to the soil isn’t an afterlife.  We do that while we’re alive.  So, we’re fooling no one by ‘making room’.  There simply isn’t room for a traditional God in UU.  Our 7 Principles make sure of that.

So, our pragmatism seems aimed at each other.  We know we’re all at different stages of recovering from religion.  We haven’t quite let go.  So at this point, it’s fair to ask what is the most loving and effective strategy for dealing with each other?  Being gentle is important.  But the UUs I know are grown-ups and love authenticity.  I think they can handle the truth, and will thank us for it.

Or at least I thought so.

In many cases now, I’ve seen them fold rather than admit the consequences of their positions.   In this one way only, I have more respect for real believers who admit their God plays favorites.  It is odious to me that they would commit to such a God, but at least they are honest about it, and don’t try to have things both ways.  They think the universe is a kingdom during rebellion and they are going to be inside the castle when it’s over.

UUs seem to reject all that, but can’t bring themselves to face the responsibility that comes with it:  that someone has to be wrong, and that it might be right to say so!  This makes me wonder if the critics of liberalism are right, that liberals are, at depth, just lazy, starry-eyed comfort-seekers.  I know this isn’t true of the individual UUs I know.  In private, they are great soldiers.  But when they gather, they go soft, as if they are afraid of their combined strength.

Every organization I’ve been involved with has some aggravating traits mixed in with their strengths.  This is the case with UU.  It is to be expected.  Humans are like that.  But I won’t stop hoping, and provoking, for more.