A Polytheist Among Unitarians

March 17, 2014 at 3:43 am 2 comments

After joining my local UU congregation some years back, I have struggled with figuring how I fit in, socially & spiritually into UUism. I sought out Unity for many reasons- a major one being that I wasn’t finding the social stability I needed in Pagan groups. I’ve belonged to, or attempted to help organizing, multiple Pagan groups that failed (it wasn’t just me, I swear!) I occasionally enjoyed attending chapel services in college, the worship service structure was psychologically familiar, and I like singing along with consistently good music- certainly music & chanting in pagan rituals can be good, but there is a lot less practice & professionalism. Having trained clergy with no other “day jobs” is also nice.

As a whole, I wonder how compatible polytheism is with Unitarian Universalism. Unitarianism is after all, a movement that started to try to make Christianity more monotheistic- by rejecting the very notion of the Trinity and emphasizing the Unity of God. The traditional Unitarian view of God emphasized his transcendence (even more so as the Transcendentalists came along) and took a liberal non-creedal form of Christianity, viewing Jesus as merely human, discounting belief in miracles in the Bible- Jefferson Bible anyone? When attempting to explain my church to others, I often call UUism “the church of Enlightenment values”. Reason, freedom, equality, science.

Neo-Paganism, on the other hand is a child of the Romantic movement- which was an earthy, emotional artistic reaction to the perceived stodgy and dry Enlightenment.

In spite of its broad philosophical/theological inclusiveness, Unitarian Universalism does have a distinct worldview, which emphasizes several “meta-narratives” large over-arching trends- The Myth of Progress and the Perennial Philosophy- which I will focus on for now.

The Perennial Philosophy is one term for the general idea that “major world religions” such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism all teach the same perennial truths. Proponents of this idea like to use metaphors like “we are all walking different paths up the same mountain” or tell the old story about the blind men and the elephant. That’s an old standby in UU Sunday school.  I also wonder if some blind people would find the story offensive? I used to find these metaphors more useful when I was back in high school, but my studies of religions have led me to the conclusion that their similarities are often over-emphasized to the point of oversimplification. Even Christianity and Judaism are much more different than they appear. Christianity is focused on salvation by faith in Jesus. Judaism is mostly focused on living a good life. The afterlife is not very emphasized in many forms of Judaism, but it is central to most forms of Christianity. Hinduism is hugely diverse, and I get the impression that certain types of Hinduism- those that focus on unity rather than multiplicity are favored over others in the Perennial Philosophy. Polytheistic religions don’t mesh into the Perennial Philosophy very well- Teo Bishop actually has a post on this, and after reading it I was not surprised that he returned to Christianity.

(I started this post way back in December, and have periodically been adding to it- time to release it into the world!)

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