Terminal Uniqueness

I’ve been screaming and yelling and doing everything but laying down on chancels throwing temper tantrums for years against liberal religious “terminal uniqueness:” that bizarre insistence lefty Christians and Unitarian Universalists have that we’re the really unique game in town.  We’re the thinkers. We’re the skeptics. We’re the ones who stand on the side of love. We’re the ones who don’t want to be told what to believe.

Yes. Just like every other mainline Protestant I’ve ever met, and I meet thousands.

I sometimes think that I will be in my bed at the Home For Extremely Aged Clergy Who Are Still Able To Sit Up And Take Nourishment and someone will start waxing nostalgic about how the Unitarians or the UCC held the torch for rational religion aloft in the 21st century, how we were such a great experiment in eclectic spirituality, and so all alone in our progressive presence… and I will sit up, whip the oxygen tube out of my nose, and go smother them with a pillow. A long trial will ensue. Was I in the throes of dementia or was it actual homicide? My defense will argue that it was justifiable homicide. I will get in some of the papers and make my case, and then I will die. My tombstone will simply say, “Victoria Weinstein: ecumaniac.”

Oh look at my photo! Here’s a CATHOLIC CHURCH in London that welcomes questions! And I’ve even personally met many Catholics who are not dogmatic! Open minds here? Ya don’t say! And you know what? I believe them!

Below that, another CATHOLIC community center that offers tai chi and yoga as part of their spiritual programming! Wait! When did Catholics start doing this sort of thing?

I have spent the past five years in constant conversation with clergy of all denominations from all over the Western world and can I tell you something? The progressive spirit is EV-REE-WHERE. Just the other night I was hanging out with a Salvation Army chaplain, a few Anglican priests and a Methodist minister. This sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s not. It’s just women sitting around talking about ministry, all smart and educated, all irreverent and clever, all thoroughly modern and open to new truths, all ministering to incredibly similar communities of human beings.

We think it’s our differences that keep us apart or that make us more appealing to newcomers?

Naw. I believe that it’s our insistence that we’re unique that keeps us all looking very silly and out of touch to seekers who have done some comparison shopping and can tell us for a fact that our differences are almost entirely cosmetic. Most Anglicans I know are just like every UU I know, except they love high liturgy. Methodists and Congregationalists get ornery over the same petty church politics. There are more goddess-worshiping tree huggers in the Catholic church than most pagans could possibly imagine.

The Unitarian Universalist who cannot think metaphorically and who refuses to respect how deeply metaphor ministers to many people’s soul in his congregation is just as doctrinaire and fundamentalist as the Bible-thumper who insists that every word of the Bible is God’s truth.

Same. I’m telling you. I think the future of the Church depends on our ability to move beyond terminal uniqueness.


12 Replies to “Terminal Uniqueness”

  1. I have a notion that the whole nondenominational movement is related to this – folks wanting to bypass denominational distinctions, not interested in “brand” uniqueness.

  2. Well put. Also, why would any person of faith EVER assume there is a “terminal” point anywhere in what God is doing in the world??
    enjoying your trip posts!

  3. I so agree! Thank you for putting this out there. Along the same lines, ending our insistence on our uniqueness might also help us end our negative critiques of other denominations.

    I fear our insistance on uniqueness is also what leads to many visitors to our churches being hounded with questions about what “hurtful” faith they came from, which turns people away from some of our churches. Who wants to be part of a church filled with negativity and a group of people with so much baggage that they can articulate all the things they don’t believe, but never what they do believe?

  4. Your point that there is a great deal of liberal religion in mainline religions is a valid one. I would also add that our commitment to social justice only helps us to catch up with some more conservative religious organizations, such as many African-American churches, that are not particularly liberal religiously in terms of doctrine. However, they are great partners for UU churches in pursuing many (not all) social justice issues.

    But I wonder where you’re going with this argument. Do you think there is anything that can or should be special in the UU religious message and practice? If not, why should anyone go to a UU church over a larger, more easily recognized and explained denomination?

    In other words, you are probably right that UUism is not really unique, any more than any recipe for food is unique. But does UUism have some blend of ingredients that has a particularly savory flavor and bite to it?

    [Good question, Tim. I think my point is, for me, that it doesn’t matter if UUism is unique or not. What matters is that congregations are all potentially unique but that the Church in general must provide good, nurturing food to the world rather than obsessing over its various denominational recipes. I really think that time is past. I don’t mean that theological specificity and the specificity of tradition doesn’t matter, but I don’t think that’s what is being taught or clung to so much as illusions of superiority and difference. I think that Unitarian Universalism is special in practice and in message, and I believe that also of the Methodists, the Catholics, the Mennonites, etc. Are they beautiful, powerful, transformational presences in the world? Do they have a real, life-changing ministry to offer those who come through the doors? Do they work together in mutually appreciative, peaceful, loving ways toward justice, on behalf of the poor, to heal the wounded and to welcome the stranger? Or do they focus on their differences so that each remains in its own corner clinging to a little bit of historical territory and power? I came into church life deeply believing that God was calling all of us to different realities, and that my allegiance to my brand was of utmost importance to that “brand’s” success. I no longer believe this. I want to help others not waste their time and loyalty in trying to build up little fiefdoms. I believe that changing our interior realities on this issue will absolutely bring more life and energy to the Church. Thanks for asking. – PB]

  5. Bravo!!! You know I hate the “we-so-different-from-everybody-else-and-we’ll-bang-you-over-the-head-til-you-recognize-it” smugness of UUs that most of the time I want to scream.

    @Tim–while on the surface most African American churches are conservative, in reality the Black Church is a much more complicated entity than most whites would believe it is. (sorry for lumping all whites together, but…) If it hadn’t been for being raised in the Black Church, I wouldn’t be going into the ministry (yes, the “liberal” church convinced me to go…but it was the Black Church that taught me that my arms are too short to box with God). And the Black Church talks about spiritual freedom in a way that I don’t think the liberal church understands. And it’s the Black Church that is doing truly urban ministry…ministry that the liberal church stopped doing with the end of the Social Gospel era.

    ok…let me stop before I take over Mmse. Peacebang’s blog.

  6. “Or do they focus on their differences so that each remains in its own corner clinging to a little bit of historical territory and power?” Hey, it’s a fight that been going on for over a 100 years in Unitarian and Universalist Churches, why stop now? 🙂
    [Dear, it’s been going on for hundreds of years in all churches! – PB]

  7. I read this post yesterday morning and it stayed with me through the day. I was thinking about how I totally, and completely understand where you are coming from and have met several people who are completely dismissive of people who’s take on all things spiritual falls outside their little box, both within liberal communities and elsewhere.

    I think if I didn’t have any children I would probably still be a “goddess-worshiping tree hugger” Catholic. But I do have children, and once they got to the age where the part of church life directed at them was indoctrinating them with ideas I really wasn’t comfortable with it was time to stand back and think again. I particularly think that trying to bring up free and liberated female children within an institution that will not allow them into a leadership role is something I can’t do. Leaving the Church has been difficult, becoming a Unitarian has not been easy, but I do feel proud to belong to a community that has as a central feature and inherent part being open to free thinking and new ideas – I don’t have to be a ‘Unitarian, but…’ in the way that I was a ‘Catholic, but…’

    Here’s to being loud and proud without being smug and self satisfied! [Well put, Nelly. Thanks for writing. – PB]

  8. In addition to giving up the message about theological uniqueness, could we also stop noting how we are so special in our congregational polity? Unlike, say, the Baptists (oops – they are congregational too – since they are our denominational cousins.)

  9. I don’t think we are theologically unique but rather theologically bereft – I worry that I’ll find out I have cancer and get to church to find that it is “save a whale” Sunday –

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