Theologically, I'd probably be better off at a Unity Church, or perhaps Unitarian, but I find the approaches of both more of a philosophy than religion.The letter writer is responding in part to an earlier Gellman column in which the rabbi asserts:
If you believe Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, who came to earth to die and be resurrected for your sins, then you're a Christian. If you don't, you aren't. Period.As an aside, I vaguely recall the earlier item in which that remark -- which of course is standard Christian doctrine -- appeared, and I was moved at the time to respond to him, but didn't. Like the letter writer I would take issue with his cut-and-dried definition of being a Christian, however widely accepted it might be. There's a lot to unpack in those words, and I know many Christians for whom that definition falls short or misses the mark.
Back to the letter in question. Gellman's response is basically reassuring:
Frankly, what you are is less important to me than what you're trying to become. Let's leave to God the final judgment about whether or not you are, in fact, a Christian.He concludes:
What is clear is that you're a Christian in your spiritual journey. You're honest enough, however, to realize that what you believe is different from the teaching of Christianity. Such honesty is refreshing. Many people are so wrapped up in their own egos that they insist the teaching of their faith is ever and always just exactly what they believe.
I encourage you to live with that difference and pray about that difference. God is not through with you yet, and you're not through with God or Christianity. The great Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig was once asked if he observed one of the ritual commandments of Judaism and he answered, "Not yet."
You haven't yet entered the mystery of Transubstantiation and Incarnation. Maybe you never will, and maybe the reason is that you're right and these are just symbolic truths. But maybe there is truth in these teachings that you can and will discover. The point is, you are comfortable in a traditional faith community, even if you're not yet comfortable with its full theology.
The best course is not to join a church that never challenges you, but to humbly affirm both your conscience and your inherited faith.And that's the theme I want to pick up here.
The implication that liberal religion is inherently inferior because it doesn't challenge us is a pretty common theme in critiques of Unitarian Universalism. Yet embedded in that critique are two assumptions.
The first is that religion by its nature should challenge us. That certainly fits the prejudices of many of us -- me included -- yet I find that it's a bit more slippery conceptually. Fundamentalist Christianity's belief in the literal accuracy of Genesis or in the necessity and sufficiency of belief in Jesus to save myself from an afterlife of eternal torture in hell challenge my beliefs in reason, science, and Divine Love. But for me, that's just a clue that those Fundamentalist beliefs are really off the mark.
On the other hand, "Love your enemy" is a profound challenge to which I'm much more willing to pay attention. In one form or another I encounter that in my own church as well as DairyStateMom's mainline Presbyterian church. Moreover, as challenging as her church and its pastors are (in the best of ways), I also find they emphasize just as much the deep comfort Jesus offers as the embodiment of God's love.
The second assumption is that there is in fact something unchallenging about liberal religion.
On this one I'm really torn, finding the claim at once to carry a grain of truth and yet be ultimately facile. I don't yet have a clear-cut answer to my conflicted response. Indeed, anytime I try to answer it in my head, what comes out is either tiresome, "tough-minded" UU bashing or else simpering, smug UU defensiveness.
I guess, to paraphrase the rabbi, I am not finished with this post yet.
*Curiously, while drafting this post I assumed the letter writer to be female and used the pronoun "she." Reading through it, however, I find that there's no clear declaration of gender.