Friday, January 16, 2009

Disjointed thinking about UU theology


Yesterday, January 15, 2009, in a post entitled, "UU Theology - What are the questions that need answering?", Doug Muder added a comment which said in part:

Instead, I'd like us to offer a framework for thinking about these questions, and some techniques of spiritual practice. And I'd like our communities to give us some hope that people using this framework and these practices often reach answers they find satisfactory.


Doug makes an interesting statement which can be turned into a question, "What is a possible framework for thinking about the great existential questions which theology should/could address?" A second question might be, "Are there techniques of spiritual practice that deepen one's understanding of the perennial existential questions which theology attempts to address?"

I have some ideas about these questions and I don't think I can adequately articulate them in blog posts. It would take a couple of books or semester long lectures and a lot of research and discussion to come to some kind of satisfying explanations, but in a heuristic way I can share some ideas that I and others might want to explore. Let me also say that I am not a theologian. I am a layperson interested in this stuff.

In terms of frameworks, I have been exploring Ken Wilber's ideas of Integral Life Practice. Ken attempts to develop a framework which intellectually is sophisticated and makes some sense but I find it clunky and it doesn't resonate much with me.

Developmental frameworks make more sense to me similar to Fowler's ideas about stages of faith development and Kohlberg's stages of moral development.

Different theological explanations will appeal and satisfy people depending on their stage of cognitive and moral development. I believe that Unitarian Universalism appeals to people in later stages of faith and moral development than earlier stages of development.

Using Wilbur's ideas, a good theology has to answer questions at an individual, group, and societal levels of social organization and deal with ideas in symbolic and empirical ways.

A good theology must operate in symbolic (metaphor), narrative(story), cognitive(beliefs) and behavioral (application) ways.

As a way to get started I would pick an existential question and then look for the answers to that question from the sources which Unitarian Universalism has identified. Drawing from these sources, an attempt can be made to develop an integrated conceptual framework which may be helpful in addressing the question. This is not an exercise in comparative religion and philosophies but an attempt to distill perennial wisdom from multiple sources. It seems to me that as human beings we have much more in common than we do that is different when it comes to the existential questions. There is the idea of "natural law" and "free and responsible search for truth and meaning". Plato had his forms, and while there are multiple interpretations there are fewer "truths". These "truths" may manifest in multiple ways and resonate with people on different levels but that is a difference in interpretation not in the "truth". I am reminded of the saying that people are entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts.

Of course, we can now get into a discussion of post modernism and the denial of anything absolute, yada, yada, yada.

I know I haven't answered Doug's concern about a framework for a UU Layperson's theology.

Another commenter, Kelly, wrote in response to yesterdays post:

This is a great list of questions. I think the challenge we often run into with religion isn’t that the questions aren’t answered, but that the answers provided are really, really crummy, such that you just can’t choke them down. Or maybe the answers are good, but the religion’s practitioners don’t appear to live their own theology. Consequently, many people decide they’re better off coming up with their own answers and assembling a personal theology -- sort of an existential do-it-yourself project. I suspect the most satisfying scenario would be to have a fully developed personal theology and then find a compatible religion. My guess is this is what motivates many spiritual seekers to give UU a try.

What would be "an existential do-it-yourself project"? It presumes a person of advanced self awareness who is living an examined life. Such a person is in the later stages of faith development and moral development. It may be that Unitarian Universalism becomes a more exclusive religion, one that is not appropriate for the hoi polloi, one which is appropriate only for people who are ready for it.

As one person said, repeating Unitarian Universalism 101 isn't cutting it. Some people want more and the more may not be for everyone.

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