Complicated week, as first weeks back after summer often are but this time enhanced - a death in the congregation which means a memorial service, my son applying for health insurance and getting denied, my colleague’s announced departure as of next June, getting a new tenant in my apartment and helping the homeless friend who was in it all summer find new digs. This evening, my spouse and I were guests of someone sponsoring a fundraiser for our governor, for which we will write a solid check. Ahead lies a wedding (don’t forget the rehearsal I am telling myself!) and of course the first Sunday back in our sanctuary.
I guess I am tired after all. But I tell you all this because I it has taken me a while to assemble some blogworthy thoughts. Mine is a generation that thinks writing should not be the process of thinking but the result of it.
Anyway, last night I was part of a panel on the moral and religious basis for progressive convictions and actions. I shared the dais of what was, and still for the moment is the Ladies Literary Society. It is a true auditorium in a building with a façade designed to look like a large home along the street. Something of an architectural trompe l’oeuil. (Is that the spelling?)
My comrades in discourse were a Dominican sister, a Conservative rabbi and a Muslim women scholar. We each had time to articulate our basic point of view and then answer questions. The crowd of about 150 – mostly older people - were sympathetic listeners, being part of two left of center political organizations.
Why tell you about this? Because the emerging commonality between us, overarching different confessions and scriptures, was a sense that plurality and diversity are not obstacles to morality and truth, but a means to morality and truth.
For my friends on the stage, this mostly represented a minority view from the prevailing wind of their religious community. The very nature of scriptural and confessional religions is to say “This is the truth; that is not.” Saying that is the essential act of faith – be it a book or what the book tries to say or the institution that claims to embody what a book tries to say. To equivocate on the truth value – saying there may be more or different truth out there – implicitly puts one at odds with the essential claim of the religion, I would say.
Of course, representing a single independent church, this is no problem. My problem is exactly the opposite. Without a scripture or denomination, our challenge is to legitimate ourselves at all. Far from being suspected of heresy, I am suspected of being an imposter. “That’s not a church,” or “That’s not a religion,” is what I face.
For lots of folks, including self proclaimed religious liberals (I actually think the term ought to be liberal religionists which is less economical I know but more semantically accurate) we define ourselves by the adjective not the noun. I think this is the source of our weakness, as nouns are things in themselves while adjectives are nothing without something else. What is the noun, the thing, the stuff, the guts, the core, the bit T Truth that we are about?
I think I know. Arrogant? Well even a blind man can catch a cat in the dark room if you listen really carefully. But I want to know what you think the noun part is. Be scrupulous. No neologisms here. Find a transcendental claim that unifies diversity without destroying it or demeaning it. Give the self- evident basis for morality in a pluralistic universe. Show how the parts fit into the whole, how the transient connects to the permanent, how individual life matters in a universe of indescribable immensity and silence.
Oh, and do it in a way that does not require believing in something essentially beyond the limits of reason or science.
I’ll be waiting.