UU Theological Diversity
Workshop Report contributed by Roland Siebert
The recently ordained Rev. Lara Fuchs recalled that this year the UUA and ICUU are celebrating the 450thanniversary of the Edict of Torda, an edict of religious tolerance declared in 1568 by King John Sigismund.
The idea of religious tolerance is closely linked, according to Lara, to the theological diversity that characterizes Unitarian Universalism today, representing part of its identity. But the freedom of belief of Unitarian Universalism does not make it easy, according to Lara, to be a Unitarian Universalist. On the contrary, quoting a blog by the Rev. Marilyn Sewell:
“Our faith, of course, does have requirements. To become a Unitarian Universalist, you make no doctrinal promises, but you are required to do much more. You are required to choose your own beliefs — you promise, that is, to use your reason and your experience and the dictates of your conscience to decide upon your own theology, and then you are asked to actually live by that theology. You are asked to take your chosen faith very seriously”
Does this mean that we should all become theological individualists, seeking each alone our personal and individual theology? No, says Lara, quoting the Rev. John Morehouse: “Theology is something that we do together, in community. Personal experience is important, but individual theology is not sound.”
How can we set up a sound theology? At first, we must realize, says Lara and the Rev. Mike Hogue, that we all see theological or spiritual matters through different windows.
If the windows on theology or spiritual matters that people look through are different, can we at least discover some similarities?
According to John Wesley, an 18thcentury Methodist, people use four sources in coming to theological conclusions: scripture, tradition, experience and reason. These sources were later combined into the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”
According to the Rev. Mike Hogue, one can conceive of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a four-cornered window on theological/spiritual matters. This conception holds that the sources of people’s theological/spiritual views are scripture (e.g. the Bible), tradition, experience and reason.
The traditional view, says the Rev. Mike Hogue, did not give equal weight to these four sources, but tended to emphasize scripture and tradition. However, since the European Enlightenment, the roles of experience and of reason have become increasingly emphasized.
As the Wesleyan quadrilateral window does not apply to everyone, according to the Rev. Hogue, another set of sources of theology could be described by the following type of window, putting Theos at the center of a quadrilateral containing Cosmos, Ethos, Logos and Pathos.
This type of window can facilitate, says the Rev. Hogue, seeing the ultimate (“Theos”, not necessarily God).
A third type of window, again quadrilateral, on theological/spiritual matters would be Metaphysics, Ontology, Epistemology, and Ethics.
The catch, according to Mike Hogue, is that we are not aware that we see things through a window until we dialogue with others who see through other windows. Not only do we discover this in dialogue, but dialogue also helps us to see through our windows in more complex ways.
Lively discussions showed that Lara’s workshop really met with interest. The workshop room was so crowded with participants that additional chairs had to be fetched from other rooms – proof that theology remains a topic of great interest to UUs. Time proved too short to finish our discussions, but our appetites were certainly whetted for more. Thanks Lara!