Thursday, August 04, 2005

Christianities, christologies and me

Scott's comment about Romans 8 in response to my earlier post and some of what he has been saying (along with Peacebang and others) about UU dabbling in world religion raises an issue for me.

In as much as we worry about cultural expropriation of Native American and other faith traditions and practices, to what extent does my use of Christianity follow the same dynamic? I have gone out of my way to criticize UU supersessionary rhetoric when it coms to Christianity.

As a ministry student, I find myself being asked to talk about Christianity to people fairly regularly and to explain people's questions about their own faith traditions.

I came to seminary as one of those people who thought Jesus was good and Paul was bad. I had read the Gnostic Gospels and thought Paul was too dualistic, too misogynist and too hateful of our bodies. It was John Buehrens who started me thinking differently about Paul. Soon afterwards I had the joy and suffering of reading all three volumes of Tillich's systematic theology. I'm not going to make my point here very well. The language and line of thought is new enough to me that I am probably incapable of explaining it to others.

Through Tillich I came to think of an adoptionist Christology that showed that the Spirit functioned in Jesus in a way that it can function through the rest of us when we are so "grasped and shaped." I don't believe in the Holy Spirit (tm) per se, but I do believe in spirit and in a drive for life and towards connection and communion as a fundamental element of what it means to be alive. And I think that Pauline christianity (especially as mediated by Tillich) is as good a way to describe the relationship between our material creatureliness and our ability to be (or at least our aspirations to be) more than mere matter.

All of this however does not make me a Christian in my own eyes, and it makes me wonder about how I use and abuse the Christian tradition. Am I in any way entitled to participate in discussions about the meaning of Christianity?


At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unitarian Universalists share a theological culture with Protestant Christianity, which is part of the Jewish and Christian tradition. That is why our theological students go to AATS accredited schools. The orthodoxies did not invent the ideas, they simply gave definitions to those ideas, and labeled our theological ancestors heretics in the process. So whether or not you identify as Christian, you are a participant in that tradition.

Native America is another culture, its ways of looking at the world are different. Misappropriation occurs when folks from the dominant culture take a idea or practice and make it white. For example, the Unitarian Universalist and the Christian are concerned with their own individual salvation, the Hopi have a ceremony that is about the renewal of the Hopi and Hopi place in the cosmos. For a Unitarian Universalist to take that ceremony and make it into 'discover your inner Indian" is to make it about the individual, and that is problematic.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger jfield said...

There are many important differences between UU appropriation of the Christian tradition versus the UU appropriation of Native American traditions, just as their is clearly a difference between UU (or humanist) supersessionary rhetoric about Christianity and "Christian" supersessionary rhetoric about Judaism.

I am certainly an inheritor of the Christian tradition and as a UU seminarian I believe that I am a member of the Christian tradition even if I am not a Christian. But I wonder if there are still ethical questions about how I might use the Christian tradition. I was a strict vegetarian and a left wing activist before I was a UU. I will now at least occasionally us biblical (usually gospel) arguments about issues with people that might respond to them. I'm not sure this is always ethical or prudent.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger fausto said...

Of course you're entitled to discuss the meaning of Christianity! As a heterodox seminarian you probably know more about orthodox Christianity, and how your own beliefs and predispositions align with it or not, than the majority of "legitimate" lay Christians do.

If you're worried about issues of authenticity and misappropriation, all you need to do is be careful about proper exegesis when relying on the Bible for inspiration or authority, and proper use of the sacraments when practicing them in worship. For example, just because Jesus says (according to the Gospel of John), "I am the true vine", don't draw on that verse to support an argument that Christianity is really another form of Druid tree-worship. That would be inserting your own meaning into the text.

That doesn't mean that the only valid exegesis is orthodox exegesis, though. The heterodox Unitarian and Universalist doctrines of the humanity of Jesus, the unity of God, and the final reconciliation of all souls placed us well outside the mainstream of Christian doctrine, and led eventually to the inclusiveness and eclecticism that now characterize UUism, but they were supported by perfectly sound Scriptural exegesis. Their peculiar exegeses and doctrines were far more authentic and appropriate (in the sense that concerns you) than, for example, our present-day UU water and flower "communion" ceremonies. To be sure, the Unitarians and Universalists who developed those doctrines considered themselves faithful, devout, authentic Christians, despite dissenting from orthodox doctrinal tradition.

And so can you, if the core of your faith includes the New Testament among its sources, regardless of the extent to which you disagree with the Pope or Jerry Falwell.


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