Friday, January 28, 2005

Quick Question (especially for UU Christians)

Over the weekend I hope to have something more substantial to offer, but right now a question about Paul Tillich. I had a Systematic Theology professor ask me "Why do the unitarians like Tillich so much? He is very trinitarian in his christology."
How do people feel about Tillich?

I tend to gravitate towards his notion of sin as separation and some of his ideas about the relationship between faith and reason. How about you?

I know that ChaliceChick mentions Tillich in serveral of her posts. (Thanks for the link on CoffeeHour and hopefully that means I might get a comment here)


At 8:57 PM, Blogger fausto said...

He allows for the possibility of a non-personal, non-sentient God. This is huge to a lot of UUs.

If God is non-personal and non-sentient, then Christology becomes less troublesome. What probably bugs Unitarians most about Trinitarian doctrine is the seemingly impossible idea that an ordinary flesh-and-blood human being could also be an eternal, supernatural deity. Replacing the concept of a personal diety with abstract qualities of divinity overcomes many of those objections. The idea that Jesus possessed divine qualities, and exemplified the possibility that we all may learn to share in some of them by emulating him, and thereby overcome our human state of separation, is not very far from classical Unitarian Christology, even if Trinitarians want to claim Tillich as one of their own.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Chalicechick said...

CC's aunt is a minor theologian (though she would claim I exaggerate in calling her that) who studied under Tillich many years ago. (The ChaliceDad is about 15 years younger than his brothers and sisters.)

CC grew up hearing about Tillich. Both her parents have studied him and like him, and the liberalism they get from him is likely the root of her not getting a lot of crap from them when she became UU.

Also, he took seri9ously the theological questions raised by the possibility of there being life on other planets.

Now THAT's some good theology.


At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Philocrites said...

Two things: First, about the Trinity. I'm fairly convinced that early Unitarians cared a lot less about the doctrine of the Trinity than their name would seem to indicate. Critics of theological liberals called them "unitarians" because the word was a loaded synonym for "heretic." But Channing and others embraced the term, rather brilliantly turning it into a synonym for "liberal." But the doctrine of the Trinity itself was pretty incidental to the overall debate. So what was the key liberal insight they embraced, even if it meant abandoning ancient doctrines like the Trinity in the process?

The real issue, for the liberals, was the authority by which people interpret scripture, doctrine, and experience. They protested against the "irrational" and arbitrary authority of "dogma" — received tradition — when they saw better reasons for a different interpretation. (In this they inherited an Enlightenment predisposition toward "simple" or common-sense interpretations over complex or multilayered interpretations. John Locke boiled Christianity down to five basic doctrines, an approach that many of the Unitarians liked a lot.) But it wasn't even the irrationality of a doctrine that offended them — at least not in the sense self-described rationalists use the word these days. After all, they believed in miracles and the immortality of the soul.

Morality seemed to the liberals to be the most universally accessible and rational criterion to apply to doctrine. The Unitarians might have embraced Jiminy Cricket's "let your conscience be your guide" in a radically comprehensive way: Judge even the most ancient and venerable doctrines by the morality of the idea. Hence Channing's "moral argument against Calvinism." We tend today to think they rejected the doctrine of the Trinity because it is somehow an innately incomprehensible notion — that it is contrary to reason — but most of the early theological liberals disregarded it because they had already disregarded the automatic claim to authority of the post-biblical creeds, but their real complaint was that other post-biblical doctrines — innate depravity, for example — were contrary to moral reasoning.

So that's my first point: The doctrine of the Trinity wasn't as big a breaking point for the Unitarians as we might think, and as early as the 1870s you'll find Unitarian ministers like Frederic Henry Hedge defending the spiritual value of the idea from a historical perspective. Today you'll find Trinity-friendly UUs, which isn't nearly the contradiction it may seem.

Second point: Tillich's modernism made a huge impression on mid-20th-century Unitarians. James Luther Adams was attracted to Tillich's early, pre-systematic writings in political theology, but he also seems to have found a great deal in Tillich's essentially pscyhological approach to doctrine and the interpretation of scripture. Tillich followed Bultmann in demythologizing the New Testament, but he found psychological principles at work in the stories that were their truth. Christ=the New Man, for example. His political and post-mythological interpretations gave many Unitarians a wholly new way to engage the Bible and even the creeds.

So those are some of my thoughts about why Tillich caught on so well for UUs. It took me several years to realize that the sort of theology I found so compelling in James Luther Adams and in Tillich in the mid-1990s wasn't actually current anymore among UUs, and felt that I had somehow arrived a few decades too late. The UUs who are still hung up on the irrationality of the Trinity, in my view, are trapped in an even earlier theology. I mean, what about the idea is so outrageous that it stands beyond the pale while all manner of idiosyncratic beliefs are all perfectly legitimate? Why, it's almost irrational, this UU anxiety about the Trinity.

Happily, these days UU Christians have found ways to speak openly again and many other UUs seem willing to engage some of the ideas that we have found so valuable.

At 6:03 AM, Blogger Jaume said...

I have to disagree with Chris on this one. The Trinity was indeed a big issue, just read Unitarian Christianity and the terms Channing uses to refer to the Egy Az Isten doctrine: "In the first place, we believe in the doctrine of God's UNITY, or that there is one God, and one only. To this truth we give *infinite importance* [my emphasis, J.], and we feel ourselves bound to take heed, lest any man spoil us of it by vain philosophy."

The other aspect was, of course, Rationalism. The Trinity and other evangelical doctrines were rejected for being against reason.

A problem that may need further study is that American Unitarians rebelled against Puritan revivalists, whereas European Unitarians rebelled first against the rule of the established Church (Catholic in the Continent, Anglican in England), and then against what they considered a mistaken reformation by Calvin.

As for current Trinitarian-friendly UUs, I am afraid that we all are no longer familiar with the dogmatic definition of the doctrine and the philosophical background of the time (4th century), and so our feelings about it are based more on our imagination than in conceptual thinking, so this "friendliness" is quite groundless.

At 7:29 PM, Blogger Bill Baar said...

Tillich wrote "Christianity as a religion is not important, for Christianity is more than a religion. It is the New Being that is important. Resurrection is not an event that might happen in some remote future, but it is the power of the New Being to create life out of death, here and now, today and tomorrow. Where there is a New Being, there is resurrection, namely, the creation into eternity out of every moment of time."

I still have my copy of Tillich's "The New Being" from College 30 years. He sounds awfully UU sometimes. His last sermon in the book was on Universal Salvation...

Tillich writes is accessable to educated but non-theological american readers. That's why we like him.


Post a Comment

<< Home